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Though the lower-echelon units of a combined arms team may be of homogeneous types, a balanced mixture of such units are combined into an effective higher-echelon unit, whether formally in a table of organization or informally in an ad hoc solution to a battlefield problem. For example an armored division -- the modern paragon of combined arms doctrine -- consists of a mixture of infantry, tank, artillery, reconnaissance, and perhaps even helicopter units, all coordinated and directed by a unified command structure. The mixing of arms is sometimes pushed down below the level where homogeneity ordinarily prevails, for example by temporarily attaching a tank company to an infantry battalion. Combined arms doctrine contrasts with segregated arms where each unit is composed of only one type of soldier or weapon system as to provide maximum cohesion and concentration of force in a given weapon.
Combined arms operations dates back to antiquity, where armies would usually field a screen of skirmishers to protect their spearmen during the approach to contact. In more elaborate situations the armies of various nationalities fielded different combinations of light, medium, or heavy infantry, cavalry, chariotry, camelry, elephantry, and artillery (mechanical weapons), with the cooperating units variously armed with side-arms, spears, or missile weapons in order to coordinate an attack in time and space that would best disrupt and then destroy the enemy.
For example, the classical era Roman legion was notionally a unit of heavy infantrymen, but it was normally fielded with integral or attached skirmishers, and some legions even incorporated a small cavalry unit. The legion was sometimes also incorporated into a higher-echelon combined arms unit, e.g. in one period it was customary for a general to command two legions plus two similarly sized units of auxiliaries, lighter units useful as screens or for combat in rough terrain.
20th Century warfare
The helicopter has had profound influences on modern warfare.
In the Vietnam War, troops were deployed in large part by helicopters. For this reason, U.S. troops in Vietnam saw more than six times as much combat as in any preceding war, because so much less time was spent on logistic delays. The result was that the same size of infantry became at least four times as effective for its size, when supported with fuel, ammunition and helicopters.
In the Soviet war in Afghanistan, helicopters were treated much like flying light tanks. They were almost always the first assault element to make contact in a battle, and often the most effective. Titanium and composite armor made them invulnerable to fire from light arms.
In the 1991 Gulf War a mix of strikes by fixed-wing aircraft including carpet bombing and precision bombing was used in combination with large numbers of strikes by attack helicopters. During the ground assault phase tanks and other AFV's supported by attack aircraft swept over remaining forces. The front moving line moving forward at upwards of 40-50 km/h at the upper limit of the Army's tracked vehicles.
In 2000, the U.S. Army began developing a new set of doctrines intended to use information superiority to wage warfare. Six pieces of equipment were crucial for this: AWACS, an air-borne look-down radar JSTARS, GPS, the lowly SINCGARS VHF digital radio, and ruggedized PCs. The mix is supplemented by satellite photos and passive reception of enemy radio emission, forward observers with digital target designation, specialized scouting aircraft, anti-artillery radars and gun-laying software for artillery. Everything feeds the network.
Therefore, many U.S. ground vehicles moved across the landscape alone. If they encountered an enemy troop or vehicle concentration, they would hunker down, lay down as much covering fire as they could, designate targets and call for help. Within a few minutes, loitering aircraft would concentrate fire to cover the ground vehicle. Within a half hour or so, heavy attack forces would concentrate to relieve the isolated vehicle. In an hour and a half, the relieved vehicle would be resupplied.
Opposing forces have found the system vulnerable to deception and asymmetric attack. One of the most disruptive actions of simulated opponents was to substitute motorcycle couriers for electronic communications. This effectively made the location of enemy command and control centers invisible to radio-surveillance satellites. Another significantly disruptive activity was to move assets and use decoys. Relatively simple decoys fooled aircraft ground-search radars and satellite scanning.
- House, Jonathan M. Toward Combined Arms Warfare: A Survey of 20th-Century Tactics, Doctrine, and Organization. U.S. Army Command General Staff College, 1984. Available online or through University Press of the Pacific (2002).
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