Based on an analysis of contemporary land conflict there are some clear indicators of what can be expected in terms of development of warfare and the equipment that will be a priority.
Speaking to delegates at a conference in January, Ben Barry, the land warfare specialist at IISS, said that heavy armour and artillery would become more important for military forces and despite western reductions in numbers they are key tools for the future.
Naturally this was positive news for an armoured vehicles conference. He highlighted incidents in the Crimea, where Spetznaz, airborne and naval infantry were used for an initial insertion by Russia followed by BTR and Tigr armoured vehicles.
The conflict now raging in eastern Ukraine between government forces and separatists has employed armoured vehicles, heavy weapons and artillery.
Barry says that indirect fire (IDF) such as artillery and mortars are back. It is being used by forces in Ukraine and by ISIS – and this is not with novices firing off random rounds but by experienced units that are using this weaponry on its own or in advance of an attack.
This causes sustained significant damage to locally raised militias and some Iraqi regulars, who are not trained to respond to this kind of attack. These weapons can cause damage to light vehicles such as HMMWVs.
A 155mm round exploding within 10m of a vehicle can usually achieve an end kill or even if it is armoured then it can neutralise anything on the outside of the vehicle’s armoured envelope. The accuracy of munitions and use of GPS technology to reduce the CEP of rounds from 200-400m down to just a few metres means that IDF is now much more effective.
The ability of concentrated artillery fire to take out stationary light and medium armour and sufficiently limit heavy armour will make these key systems for the future.
Barry said this is a ‘wake up call for the army and manufacturers’. He added that ISIS is ‘the most adaptive insurgency this century’ and have been successful in combined arms operations: They can also outflank and manoeuvre their opponents, use captured weapons to good effect, avoid airstrikes as well as using suicide bombers and foreign forces.
Preparing 12 Iraqi Army Brigades to complete a fightback will take time but Barry is confident that most fighting in the future will take place in cities and populated areas, which will require a counter-insurgency force trained in urban warfare.
He also believes that heavy armoured forces will remain the key component of any modern army and that if NATO has to exercise Article 5 it should be prepared to fight Russia when required – and Russia has a lot of armour.
However Barry said that mobile infantry forces are also important and should be equipped with anti-armour weapons. His assumption that there is a trend for wars to be fought among the people and that urban operations are the ‘new normal’ seems to be largely accurate.
But whilst his assessment is pretty convincing, it appears to be focussed largely on developing more armour to face Russia in what could be the next major European war. What is more likely is that whilst there will be a lot of fighting in urban areas, there is also an equally likely chance that insurgent forces are not able to dominate, hide in or use urban/populated areas to their advantage.
This means they will have to base themselves away from the reach of government forces and this means striking from the desert or jungle – places where they cannot be found. There are examples of this kind of conflict in Africa such as in Mali, Nigeria, Chad, and the Central African Republic, where insurgent forces don’t always have the ability to hide in urban areas and are forced into the desert or jungle.
This will mean having a lighter self-sustainable mobile adaptable light infantry force that can deploy rapidly, track, locate and then engage in areas inaccessible to even light armour.
Therefore all that seems certain is that equipment demands will come from across the board and the ability of industry to provide more accurate, efficient and cost-effective solutions will mean that armies can continue to maintain the fullest spectrum of capabilities available in all areas from heavy to light.