How to Assess Quality of Infantry Battalions?

Andy_S

LE
Book Reviewer
#1
Gents:

Which is the best infantry battalion in the British Army....?

...OK, joke question over. We all know it is (ARRSE members insert their battalion/former battalion HERE)

More seriously:
In the US Army, the Ranger battalions are the top-skilled battalions, as they (a) are a cadre for high-level infantry skills that are used by the entire Army; and (b) during the aforementioned training process, can cherry-pick the top recruits for their regiment.

This is different from the UK Army. The general perception (for the record, I have no personal stake in this) is that parachute and commando battalions are our top boys. If so, what are they doing - beyond the basic training/entry level programs for entrants - that line battalions or not?

More pertinently, is this perception - that paras/marines are the best - actually backed up by reality?

If so, how do we know?

Here is the big question. Is is feasible to assess the effectiness of infantry battalions?
If so, how does - or should - the Army assess the effectiveness of its infantry units?
And can learnings therefrom be applied to the rest of the army?

I ask as we have in recent years seen widly different tactics used in Helmand, to varying effect or lack thereof. Given the overall lack of strategic direction in this campaign, I suspect much of this is due to the COs'/battalions' personal initiative.

So is there a way to assess battalion effectivness? Some possible metrics:
Number of wins in intra-army skills competitions...? (indicative of high standards of basic skills)
Number of officers entering staff college...? (indicative of smart leadership)
Number of NCOs going into prestige positions in training institutes...? (indicative of mid-level leadership quality)
Number of soldiers extending their tours in the army...? (indicative of high unit morale)

The above, of course, are peace-time metrics. How to assess effectivneness in combat operations?
Enemy body count? (Widely dissed since Vietnam, but indicative of skill-at-arms)
Ground captured and/held? (The classic metric for infantry warfare)
Number of unit casualites? (If on the high side, could indicate aggressive, effective command. If on the low size, could indicate high quality fieldcraft)

Of course, there are lots of "but ifs" about all these metrics ("Well, Battalion A always wins at Bisley, but that is because their prioritize musketry more than others. Their fitness/tactics are weaker as a result..." etc, etc) but I am not aware of any empirical or objective bases for judging combat unit effectiveness that are widely used by western armies.

Putting aside the tabloid belief that special forces are the be-all and end-all of moder militaries, high-quality infantry are and always have been the Holy Grail of any army. Given this, should there not be more resources devoted to quality control and quality assessment?

Interested to read replies.
 
#3
i think the Infantry are well suited to some form of peer group assessment. Official things like excelling at particular sports or SAA which then enhance a Bn's reputation, at least as far as the top brass are concerned, can easily be rigged and padded.

But infanteering is essentially a small world - and getting smaller by the minute - in which the cap badge plays a very important role, and everyone soon picks up on whose members do well on courses and postings and whose are the usual biffs and drop outs.

The support elements will also have a good idea of the pecking order of things. Any LAD Sgt type person will be able to tell you straight away what the Bn he is attached to is like.

I think people could be reasonably relied upon to be accurate about each other if the system was geared up so you couldn't be rude about everybody.

From my time, and being equally prejudiced against Scousers and Scotsmen, you could have spent millions on the most sophisticated quality control monitoring system imaginable and it would tell you nothing more than the humblest squaddie in the garrison knew all along.

1KINGS, thieving *****, 1KOSB, scary *****.

I doubt any monitoring system would ever come up with an answer that was different to a working Bn's reputation among it's peers, especially with all the ops going on at the moment. And if it did, it would likely be wrong.
 
#4
'It's the Paras'

'No, they're crap'

'Fuckoff you hat'

'When was the last time you jumped'

'We're the best'

'Hat'

'Bellend'

'Blah blah blah'

There you go. I've summed up the future of this whole thread.
 
#5
So is there a way to assess battalion effectivness? Some possible metrics:
Number of wins in intra-army skills competitions...? (indicative of high standards of basic skills)
Number of officers entering staff college...? (indicative of smart leadership)
Number of NCOs going into prestige positions in training institutes...? (indicative of mid-level leadership quality)
Number of soldiers extending their tours in the army...? (indicative of high unit morale)

The above, of course, are peace-time metrics. How to assess effectivneness in combat operations?
Enemy body count? (Widely dissed since Vietnam, but indicative of skill-at-arms)
Ground captured and/held? (The classic metric for infantry warfare)
Number of unit casualites? (If on the high side, could indicate aggressive, effective command. If on the low size, could indicate high quality fieldcraft)
Maybe
All officers go to staff college so not indicitve o fanything really.
NCOs from EVERY regiement will go to training facilites. Perhaps the Cadre at RMAS could be used, but that is dominated by Guards for drill.
we don't extend tours, you just serve until you sign off. Problem is blokes leave for a number of resons. ie some will only do one tour and then do one. Morale can be high still

Enemy body count? largely depends where you are posted on tour surely, and the constraints upon you in that area.
ground captured/ see above
casualties? just indicates how lucky the lads are.
 

Andy_S

LE
Book Reviewer
#6
Micawber:

Given previous responses ("It's all about paras" and "Rankings are impossible to rank, there are too many 'ifs and buts'") your opinion as to how should carry out the assesment has some merit: Supporting arms peeps have a range of experience upon which to form an opinion and no emotional tie to a capbadge.

There again, it is perfectly possible to create an infantry-specific, cross-army peer group; the emotion/cap badge loyalty can easily be removed from the equation by not permitting peer group members to assess their own regts. (In any system, that would be very easy to manage.)

The question of which metrics to base an judgement upon remain.

Frog:

Since when did ALL officers go to staff college?!? I am talking Staff Collenge, not RMAS...

By extended tour, I meant extended term of service.

Certainly, there are many possible exceptions to the categories suggested, but I think that an overall system is still feasible and probably desireable. Every form of market research survey, say, or departmental assesment has some margin of error, but that does not obviate their broad usefullness. The problem with the army is that, unlike a business, there is no financial bottom line.
 
#8
In NITAT way, way back when, we assessed all units that attended prior to deployment in NI. The assessments were a hugely accurate guide to the efficiency, or otherwise of: all ranks; drive; state of training; morale; kit etc., and continued on update visits in theatre. The results were often surprising.

Batting order - methodology? If I told you that I'd have to kill you!
 
#11
I can see the argument for RM, as they have a longer more arduous basic training cycle than Line Infantry, Para, RAF Reg, but struggle to see the significant difference with 2 and 3 Para, as their time at Catterick is very similiar to that of the Line Infantry regiments with added 'extras' such as P-coy.

I think if RM, Para, RAF Reg really wanted to fullfill their percieved elite staus, then certain targets should be changed within their training, like a higher pass score in their APWT than the Line Infantry.


this is interesting though > Mental health among commando, airborne and other UK infantry personnel — Occup Med (Lond)
 
#13
but struggle to see the significant difference with 2 and 3 Para, as their time at Catterick is very similiar to that of the Line Infantry regiments with added 'extras' such as P-coy.
And usually stated by those that have never been through Para training. There would be not too much difference in watching Manchester United and Plymouth Argyle train side by side to the untrained eye but on the pitch there's a massive difference. :)
 
#15
This whole scenario "http://occmed.oxfordjournals.org/content/60/7/552.full.pdf+html" depends highly on how open the respondents are to letting their true beliefs out without the pressure of peers/regi pride etc. It's probably more likely that the Paras & RM believe the hype of their cap badges and see things through rose tinted spectacles. Discuss.
 
#16
This whole scenario "http://occmed.oxfordjournals.org/content/60/7/552.full.pdf+html" depends highly on how open the respondents are to letting their true beliefs out without the pressure of peers/regi pride etc. It's probably more likely that the Paras & RM believe the hype of their cap badges and see things through rose tinted spectacles. Discuss.
Interesting angle, and probably true, but their training is more arduous and longer than Line Inf, so surely that produces more robust soldiers? otherwise wouldn't it be a total waste of money?
 
#17
Gents:

Which is the best infantry battalion in the British Army....?

...OK, joke question over. We all know it is (ARRSE members insert their battalion/former battalion HERE)

More seriously:
In the US Army, the Ranger battalions are the top-skilled battalions, as they (a) are a cadre for high-level infantry skills that are used by the entire Army; and (b) during the aforementioned training process, can cherry-pick the top recruits for their regiment.

T.
Hmm, AFAIK that's not exactly how it works. The Ranger Training Brigade (which conducts the Ranger Course attended by many US Army and other-service officers and NCOs and leads to the wearing of the Ranger "Tab") and the 75th Ranger Regiment (which contains the Ranger battalions who wear the Ranger "scroll") are two separate organisations, not in the same chain of command,though I think quite a few personnel have served with both on different tours . RTB is part of the US Army Infantry School, 75th Ranger Regt is part of US Army Special Ops Command, in turn part of US Special Operations Command. All officers and NCOs of the 75th are "Tab" qualified (as are most infantry officers and many NCOs) but are indeed additionally hand-picked, having to go through some kind of in-house selection. Rank and file go through a shorter selection course to serve with the 75th. I;m sure I have got this at least partially wrong but that is the gist of it.
 
#18
I think the difference between the top soldiers in every unit is always debatable.

Where units and formations with stringent selection process win out though, is in setting a minimum standard that is non negotiable.

Airborne and Commando units have a very low tolerance of soldiers who are not motivated, fail to maintain skill and fitness levels, or embrace the esprit de corps.

How many line units have soldiers who fall short of the desired standard ?

Every unit has its mongs. How many you have dictates unit quality.
 
#19
This whole scenario "http://occmed.oxfordjournals.org/content/60/7/552.full.pdf+html" depends highly on how open the respondents are to letting their true beliefs out without the pressure of peers/regi pride etc. It's probably more likely that the Paras & RM believe the hype of their cap badges and see things through rose tinted spectacles. Discuss.
Oh dear you've broken science.....did you read the study
 
#20
I can see the argument for RM, as they have a longer more arduous basic training cycle than Line Infantry, Para, RAF Reg, but struggle to see the significant difference with 2 and 3 Para, as their time at Catterick is very similiar to that of the Line Infantry regiments with added 'extras' such as P-coy.

The length of training it takes to churn out fully fledged Royal Marines and Paratroopers to their units is pretty much identical last time someone brought it up. It takes a minimum of 32 weeks training to get a paratrooper ready to take his place in bn. Line infantry is 26 weeks I believe? Some what of a myth that longer training equals hardest or best. I think some of the longest initial training courses carried out by our guys are the likes of the Gurkhas and AFC recruits, so length isn't always the greatest of indicators of final quality.

As for content of training being similar, probably something to do with the fact that fighting troops the world over require the basic skill sets to operate as an infantryman, i.e it doesn't matter whether your a para or a bootie, you will all learn from a common syllabus that will teach the skills required of an infantryman. Its the way that these skills are taught and regarded that makes the difference.


For interest, last years Pegasus magazine had a similar theme where Para Reg's CiC had carried out background checks on Para Regs performance in various aspects in case he had to prove why he shouldn't lose a Bn in the upcoming cuts. If I remember correctly he had gathered results from such things as, fitness results, career course results (jnr snr brecon etc) discipline cases, average length of service, etc.

The Para Reg results spoke for themselves.