The infantry is once again the queen of the battlefield

Wednesday, April 13th, 2022

The current war in Ukraine is causing no end of trouble for the staff officers and civil servants working on next year’s budgets, Edward Luttwak remarks:

The infantry is once again the queen of the battlefield, empowered as it is by anti-tank missiles that pursue armoured vehicles until they destroy them, and by portable anti-aircraft missiles that are the doom of helicopters, even if they cannot intercept much faster jets. This means that current combat helicopter and armoured vehicle purchases should be cancelled until they can be redesigned with much better protection; that is active defences that detect and intercept the incoming missiles — a process that might take years. (So far only Israel has active defence systems for its armoured vehicles )

By contrast, killer drones that can reliably destroy armoured vehicles and anything else beyond the horizon are grotesquely underfunded given their demonstrated combat value, largely because they are captive to air force priorities, set by pilots and ex-pilot senior officers. Only with political intervention can the stranglehold of the flying fraternity be overcome — they are today’s reactionary horse cavalry that resisted tanks in the Twenties. But the main thing, of course, is to have more infantry and to train it very well, and that raises the need for compulsory military service which only Sweden has confronted so far — by re-instituting it.


  1. Altitude Zero says:

    I have a lot of respect for Luttwak, but this is a bit premature. There’s no doubt that tanks and helicopters are significantly more vulnerable than they used to be, but we need to find out what is actually happening in Ukraine before we go overboard. Always remember, many analysts who tried to learn the “lessons” of the Spanish Civil War concluded that the era of the tank and the interceptor aircraft was past. This turned out not to be the case, to put it mildly.

  2. Freddo says:

    The problem with infantry weapons is that they are too cheap, so it is harder to waste tens of billions on developing the next generation of weapons. Big ticket items will remain essential in generating the desired amount of political kickbacks, contractor work, and other ways of grift.

  3. Gavin Longmuir says:

    Luttwak is highly unconvincing on military matters — but he is dead right about the failure of the US bureaucrats to understand the world they live in:

    “Unless the US remedies its CIA problem by emptying out and fumigating the place, before restaffing it with people who care enough about the world to learn its languages, the US will continue to fly blind — and crash into the next Ukraine.”

    This is in part the burden of having the world’s Lingua Franca as our mother tongue. We can see this best with China. With more English speakers than England, China understands what is going on in the US and can play us like a fiddle. We, including our spies and our diplomats, do not understand China — or the Ukraine — or Russia. No miracle weapon is going to compensate for that failure.

  4. Wang Wei Lin says:

    In the end, you have to get boots on the ground to control a region. Otherwise it’s an asymmetric situation with the advantage going to the little guy.

  5. Contaminated NEET says:

    “that raises the need for compulsory military service”

    You first, fella.

  6. Mike-SMO says:

    It is a complex situation. I don’t know anything about the Ukrainian Military.

    “Compulsory Military Service” means Conscripts. Russian conscripts in the north came in expecting a victory parade, served as targets, committed atrocities and were sent home. A year as a conscript teaches you how to load and clean your rifle. Effective war fighting may be limited to countries that can afford to maintain large standing “professional” armies. Lots of conscripts means lots of casualties and upset parents. You need a narrative, like defense of the homeland to make that work. In the south of the Ukraine, where Russia has friendly militia and limited goals, they are recruiting troops from Syria and the “stans”. Future wars may be limited to situations where a sudden hi-tech strike can take out the elite leaving “occupation” to an insurgent group that may be friendly to the foreign interests. Mass invading armies may be something for the “movies”.

  7. Roo_ster says:

    This Luttwak fellow is an ignoramus.

    Armor protection Systems have been around for years, maybe running on two decades. Israel is not the only country to produce one that is effective and to deploy them. Russia has developed several and deployed them, but most of the units they have committed to Ukraine are equipped with somewhat older armor lacking APS systems.

    Also, counter-mortar/arty/UAV systems are coming online and will make the currently-effective UAVs ineffective. Pretty much ANYTHING that gets above the terrain feature separating Us & THEM will be liable to destruction: UAV, manned, or munition.

  8. Captain Obvious says:

    Another civilian that has never been in anyone’s military or even got his hands dirty in a real job is going to push advice. Armchair pukes with a GI Joe fantasy. Infantry has its uses. DUH. We’ve known that armor is vulnerable without infantry support since 1918. How about lecturing us on how water is wet? Maybe said expert might explain how light infantry does best in areas with close cover, as opposed to say, a desert. Or is 1991 too far to recall. And how the Romans figured out that heavy infantry sucks in forests. Luttwak is a master of the obvious.

  9. VXXC says:

    I’ve lost a lot of respect for Luttwak over Ukraine.

    Mind you, he’s clearly biased, and clearly getting paid [he makes it a public point to say 'first always get paid].

    The Infantry is the Queen of battle blah blah until the other side lets loose with artillery that far outranges any antitank weapon and that can quite be used to have your tanks and infantry walk over rubble and corpses — and Luttwak knows this, I’ve read several of his books.

    Even Luttwak on his Twitter is saying it’s time to negotiate.

    In the end, people need to look at a map and see where Ukraine is, and then ask themselves if it’s worth nuclear war, because we’re headed that way.

  10. VXXC says:

    “The current war in Ukraine is causing no end of trouble for the staff officers and civil servants working on next year’s budgets.”


    It’s actually fortunate that the picture of the Horse Soldiers riding into battle in Afghanistan didn’t cause us to go horse cavalry, which would be of course CHEAPER than tanks. Mind you this would have been followed by a lot of drama when the horses starved for lack of fodder never mind PETA being made a cabinet level appointment [but we NEED DRAMA don't we?]

    Real World: The Ukraine war taught the participants what the Israelis already learned and applied, that “light skinned” and “deployable” armored vehicles like the APC M113 and BTR80, etc. are iron coffins where you will burn to death.. The Israelis made the Merkava series for that reason. The Infantry support vehicle must have the same armor thickness of the tank. If not, you will see the troops riding Desant, that is, on top of the vehicle. If you take fire or artillery, you dismount or disperse. This is better than burning to death.

    Look for the next installment of our school*-minted Sergeant Majors to be bitching about seat belts being worn on top of the tanks and APCs.

    *Yep, all school-made SGMs, and no one respects their punk asses.

  11. Lucklucky says:

    “Russia has developed several and deployed them, but most of the units they have committed to Ukraine are equipped with somewhat older armor lacking APS systems.”

    Where is the evidence they work as intended, and why were they not deployed in the Ukraine Invasion?

    In the West everyone is buying Israeli APS Trophy (USA, Germany, UK etc) or Ironfist (Dutch at least).

  12. VXXC says:

    “Where is the evidence they work as intended, and why were they not deployed in the Ukraine Invasion?”
    [meaning APS].

    The first question is unknown to me at least.

    They have deployed certainly with reactive armor.

    As to why they are holding back their best armor…they’re saving that for a bigger war say with NATO or the US. They are also holding back on most of their air force.

    Let us understand the US Army and military have had quite a chance to look at the Russians very hard since 2014 and are not nearly as cocky or confident as the US civilians. All our shortcomings have of course been identified as well as the Russian’s perceived strengths.

    Have a look at a good effort by a Senior and experienced Captain in 2017 suggesting how a US BCT [Brigade Combat Team] of 4500 can defeat a Russian BTG [Battalion Tactical Group] of 1100 despite being outgunned in Artillery, EW, Air Defense, and not having Air Supremacy [we've had it since 1945 and this will be an enormous shock].

    His conclusions are you outnumber them so disperse as they do tend to focus on a target before committing [the Russian must have gains to justify risk] and then use your manpower superiority to exhaust them and attrit their lesser resources [attrition from superior manpower].

    However the Russians have 168 BTGs as of 2021 and we only have 60 BCTs including the National Guard’s 28 BCTs. This means full commitment of armies may not work for attrition.

    Oh and the Russian is better networked down to the tactical and unit level than we are, we fell behind you see chasing Haji around.

    The Russian is ready for land war in Europe and the US military is not, never mind NATO. They’ve been preparing for a decade. We haven’t.

  13. Goober says:

    The idea that Russia has been “holding back” it’s best armor has been proven to be incorrect. They are losing their better tanks at the same ratio as they have them in service, roughly. (IE, if T-90s make up 10% of the force, they’re making up about 10% of the losses, as well).

    The only tank we haven’t seen in Ukraine is the T-14 Armata, but they only have something like 16 of those, and the rumor is that they’re having serious reliability issues with them, so it’s not terribly surprising that we haven’t seen them yet.

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