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Taking inspiration from nomadism?

General Military Review No. 56
History & strategy

A group of Reguibat nomads, called "blue men" by their wearing of a blue chèche, reviewed before leaving on a mission in the 1950s. During trips that could last more than a month, the mission of these groups was to find out about independence movements at the Algerian-Moroccan border by establishing contacts with other nomads coming from Mauritania or Morocco. Gérard BEAUVAIS/ECPAD/Défense
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The confrontation between nomads and sedentary people appears to be a constant in conflicts. Even today, the adversaries (particularly in the Sahel) faced by the French army use modes of action strongly inspired by the nomadic lifestyle. A reappropriation of the nomadic fact can therefore only be useful, both to better understand those we are fighting against but also to develop other capacities that will allow us to better take the ascendancy. Thus the study of the origin of Mongolian nomadic combat, the evocation of the nomadisation of "Western" troops in History and what this evolution has brought them could allow "conventional" units to reinvest this field of war.

I tell you with certainty, if your peasants, I do not say your kings and lords, would agree to go like the kings of the Tartars and be satisfied with the same food, they could take over the whole world "1. Nomads have always fascinated us. Wasn't the Mongol empire the greatest territorial empire? These "savages" from the steppes managed to take over the largest territory in history when nobody was expecting them. Their way of life, their organization, their ambitions must therefore have some virtues to have led to such successes. Moreover, the conflict between sedentary and nomadic people is certainly one of the oldest reasons for confrontation. Finally, this singular way of life, although threatened, continues to exist in the steppes of faraway Asia. This resistance to "the degrading obligation to be of one's time" as described by Hannah Arendt is in itself a feat. Do we not still have lessons to learn from these horsemen-archers today? In a modern world, mostly sedentary, which draws its strength from its roots, nomadism does not seem to be the primary inspiration even for the armed forces. There is little more than portable loudspeakers that are "nomadic" ...

Yet today's conflicts still seem to be a confrontation between sedentary people, entrenched in camps ( FOBs - Forward Operating Bases) and much more mobile nomads. The impact of casualties, rapid technological developments, the difficult understanding of the stakes of distant conflicts all this pushes Western armies to become more sedentary when their opponents are increasingly mobile. History shows that the advantage, despite technological superiority, has not always been on the side of the sedentary. It therefore seems useful to reappropriate nomadism both to understand the opponent but especially to have "other strings to our bows" allowing us to take the ascendancy.

To draw inspiration from nomadism it is therefore useful to recall the history of the empire and how, from Temudjin to the Golden Horde, nomads conquered in the 13th century a territory extending from the eastern shores of China and Russia to the gates of Vienna. Then how in the past, the western fighter has already succeeded in adopting nomadic modes of action. Finally, why armies today could be inhibited by too much sedentarisation and how they could regain operational capacity by reappropriating what makes the strength of nomadism.

From Temudjin to the Golden Horde

" I want to forget that the return is inevitable "2.

" TCHOU !!! ", it is by this onomatopoeia pronounced like a lash, that the descendants of Genghis Khan still throw their horses galloping in the steppe. This nomadic life which seems by definition doomed to pass, a kingdom made of ephemeral, is finally of an astonishing perenniality. This way of life remains, probably because it is the only one allowed in such a harsh territory. Faced with the arid vastness of the steppe, sobriety is the order of the day. The yurts continue to constitute the landscapes of the suburbs of Ulaanbaatar, out of pride surely, nostalgia, too, but especially because the yurt constitutes the essence of what makes the strength of the nomads. The freedom offered by mobility and little ownership. The onslaught of modernity has not yet put an end to this unattractive way of life.

Coming back to Genghis Khan, his first achievement, at the origin of all the successes that followed, was the unification of the tribes around 1200. Thus united, they will stop waging war against each other to wage war against others. But this is not just any tribe. They are subjected to living conditions that produce enduring and predatory men. The resilience of men is therefore a given, and hardiness is their natural way of life. The operational preparation is permanent and is essentially carried out through hunting. Much more than a sport it is a necessity for survival, so motivation and meaning are obvious. Then it is carried out on horseback. Everybody is up to date with their driving qualifications and has a perfect command of their "vehicle". Shooting is regularly practiced and the penalty is not a "H+L".3 rewarding, but the dinner. Finally, hunting is a collective effort that requires an optimum level of interoperability.

After the unification of the tribes, Genghis Khan will strengthen the military organization. It was pre-existing, but he will densify it and put in place a strong discipline. Then the selection of leaders is based on merit.

Ethnic or social origin does not matter to Genghis Khan, only human value counts. This promotion system has several virtues. The first is that the chiefs from the troop are particularly loyal. They know to whom they owe their ascension. Second, since performance is the key element in climbing the ladder, Genghis Khan is sure to surround himself with the best. Finally, it helps to break up the tribal organisation and create cohesion. This justice in the organization is reinforced by the exemplary nature of the chiefs. The "combat ration" is the same for everyone, as are the living conditions. The legitimacy is therefore total.

What about the tactics adopted during combat? The image that remains of these nomadic hordes is often that of savages destroying everything in their path. Like the locusts in the Ten Wounds of Egypt4Their legend, not always usurped, depicts swarms of horse men, arriving as quickly as they leave, leaving nothing but desolation behind them. The reality is markedly different. The Mongols indeed had a real strategy, which was confused at home with the tactics and which was particularly successful. The general objective was the same: to ensure the survival of the reunited tribes by seizing territories that would allow them to live.


Every operation is prepared; through intelligence, reconnaissance and an information campaign or even psychological operations. Any territory to which the troops wish to move is recognised in order to identify the routes and supply possibilities. The purpose of intelligence is to understand the state of mind of the peoples that it is planned to submit as well as their organization. Finally, information campaigns make it possible to spread the terror that already makes the reputation of the Mongolian hordes, but not only. Depending on the adversary and the goal sought, it is sometimes considered more useful, on the contrary, to recall, for example, the great religious tolerance of the future invader. This already testifies to the adaptability of Genghis Khan, who is not satisfied with a predefined tactic but seeks to carry out the most effective operations at the lowest cost.

Battle formation

Movement and fire5 are the major characteristics of combat. Each fighter contributes to it, so the distinction is made between heavy cavalry and light cavalry. The first is at the front of the two-row system with spaces between each rider. The horses are caparisoned6The soldiers are armoured and armed with spears(urga) with a hook. The second is at the rear in three rows. The soldiers this time armed with two bows for long distance or closer fire. The battle begins with long-range fire from the light cavalry to start wearing out the opponent. Once the opponent is weakened, the heavy cavalry rushes in to shock and disrupt. Once contact is established, the light cavalry infiltrates the spaces left by the heavy cavalry to continue attrition by firing closer together. The objective being nevertheless to avoid contact or at worst to limit it.7 which has the gift of frustrating the sedentary opponent who is not used to fighting from a distance and instead seeks contact in order to use the sword. Finally, orders are given by flags during the day and lanterns at night, in silence, which further increases the speed of execution of the cavalrymen's manoeuvre.

Modes of action

First of all the modes of action are linked to the strategic culture of the Mongols marked by the geographical fact of the steppe. The dispersion and the deconstruction of the opposing army will be privileged. This fragmentation of the enemy has this major advantage that it allows to reverse a balance of power often originally unfavorable. The key word is usury. It is made possible because the nomads do not care about time.8. They don't have a deadline to meet. Shamanism permeates their relationship to time. Everything on the steppe is an eternal beginning. So it is with their campaigns, which they can interrupt for several months before returning to attack. Moreover, the families follow. So they are never uprooted and everywhere at home. Armed to wear out. This tactic is all the more effective as the enemy does not have this flexibility. To achieve this objective, they carry out successive lightning attacks interspersed with withdrawals, targeting the enemy parties identified as the weakest. They will then pretend to retreat to lure the enemy into ambushes or really retreat to reorganize themselves and force the opponent to a pursuit likely to cut him off from his supplies. Finally, when the enemy is cornered, they will provide an escape route to better massacre him during his flight. They always surprise the enemy because they adapt to the circumstances and do not have the same relationship to time and logistics.


Although reputed at best to enslave or, at worst, destroy the defeated, the Mongols have proven to be more refined than that. This subtlety comes from the fact that, after the unification of the tribes, everything had to be rebuilt. Genghis Khan was therefore totally open. The absence of prejudices allowed him to appropriate the techniques of his opponents. The conquered peoples were not discredited and their qualities or abilities were recognized with lucidity. Learning the skills of conquered peoples enabled the hordes to develop their art of warfare. The most obvious example is the integration of Chinese engineers, particularly their knowledge of poliorcetics.9a domain totally unknown to nomads. The Mongols, as unexpected as it may seem, ended up not only mastering the art of siege but also perfecting it. They have successfully implemented it during the Khorezm campaign.10. They also used foreign troops as replacements by entrusting the infantry to the Chinese and the garrison guard to the Persians.


Finally, it is obviously impossible to ignore the nomadic logistics. Their limited needs could lead one to think that it is negligible. In reality, if their logistical footprint is small, the organization is well existing but not very visible because it is particularly effective. They can already project themselves far and wide by being able to travel more than 100 kilometres a day. This is possible because each fighter has three to five horsepower. He can thus change his mount either if he needs rest or if he is injured. They use what they find on the way for supplies. Nevertheless, " centuries before America invented its legendary Pony Express, Gengis designed a vast system of horse-drawn relays ".11. From a culinary point of view, once again, frugality is the order of the day. This exchange between the gastronome Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin and a Croatian captain is a perfect illustration of this: " Mein Gott," a Croatian captain told me in 1815 when I was giving dinner to a Croatian captain, " you don't need so many preparations to make good food. When we are in the country and we are hungry, we slaughter the first beast we can get our hands on; we cut off a fleshy piece, sprinkle it with salt , ... we put it under the saddle, ... we give it a galloping time, and ... we feast on it.12. Finally, the morale of the troop is ensured by the permanent presence of the families who follow the fighters and catch up with them to settle with them at each break time. So they are never totally out of place and this moral strength is essential for the fight.

What about Mongolian nomads today? Maintaining nomadism as a way of life is a precarious balance.13. Modernity is quick to settle down. However, attached to their traditions and living in an environment not very conducive to "unbridled" urban planning, Mongols have so far managed to make the most of technological advances to maintain their culture and above all to make the younger generations want to perpetuate it. Thus, if the herds of horses are still galloping in the steppe, their guardians alternate horseback riding with their Chinese motorcycles (motorcycles on which we find our opponents in the Sahel). Solar panels and individual wind turbines power the yurts. This way, nomadism is perpetuated without isolating itself, but making it last remains a daily challenge.

To sum up " all the key words generally attributed to the Grande Armée, which today embodies the quintessence of the military revolution, are already present in the Genghiskhanid army: mobility, flexibility, articulation, capacity to move, adaptability, the central role of fire, mass, quality of communication channels, preparation, intelligence and espionage ".14. Eight centuries after these dazzling conquests we can say that the warrior spirit among the Mongols has been preserved in the most traditional way. The most obvious testimony: the three national sports in Mongolia that remain are wrestling, archery and horse racing. Three emblematic disciplines of nomadic combat.

"Men are especially fascinated by that which is furthest from them."15

" If we have to fight nomads, then let's use the means of nomads and nomads themselves ."16.

Some Westerners have observed what could be described as an "orientalisation" of combatants. These men have "fallen in love" with the land on which they are fighting but also with the culture of the men who inhabit it. Yet this process is subsequent to another, which is the search for efficiency. Their situational intelligence or common sense enabled them to understand that victory would only be possible by appropriating the techniques of their opponents, who were often nomadic. Thus nomadic modes of action have already been adopted by Westerners, whether to adapt to the terrain, the opponent or both.

First of all, in France, at the end of the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th century, the "Alpine Group", an early nomadic "GTIA", was set up. The aim was to protect the border with Italy in the face of an upscale rise of the transalpine "Alpini". It was not a question of conquering territory or subduing an adversary, but rather of defending and adopting the most coherent system in a terrain that is naturally compartmentalised and therefore requires a great deal of autonomy. A battalion of Alpine chasseurs with its mountain artillery battery, its sapper section, its signallers, a strong mule echelon and its free squad of foot scouts left in autonomy to monitor a sector of the Franco-Italian border or to map areas still little known. The men thus went on nomadic journeys far from their barracks, from May to September, sleeping alternately outside or at the inhabitants' homes and using the people as guides. This training was largely inspired by the experience gained by the 12th Battalion of foot chasseurs in Algeria. This battalion would carry out two major campaigns there between 1864-1868 and 1875-1879. It was notably from 1 January 1866, when the battalion joined Colonel de Sonis' column, that it developed its "nomadic skills".17. Having already a good knowledge of Algeria, the battalion will nevertheless live its most difficult expedition but also the richest in lessons from April 15, 1866.18. Indeed, the colonel de Sonis (a fine connoisseur of the terrain and the populations, friends as well as enemies) had the objective of seizing Si-Laâla. To do this, he will launch a "raid" that will last 45 days with an unprecedented organization. He will split his column in two, a light cavalry-dominated light, with camels as mounts. A second, "lighter", predominantly infantry in which the animals carry the loads rather than men. This adaptation will allow the light column to reach its objective in half the time it should take to surprise its opponent. The use of beasts adapted to the terrain and the adoption of an ad hoc organisation to better fulfil the mission were all lessons that the 12th Battalion would bring back to the Alps. This pragmatic structure will also work wonders in Morocco, where Lyautey had requested Alpine groups as reinforcements, groups whose operational style will inspire his text on the hunting spirit.19.

Another continent and, this time, the goal of domination. General George Crook, the architect of the conquest of the American West against the Indians, quickly grasped the interest of understanding his adversary, adopting some of his modes of action and integrating some of his members into his units through the creation of mixed sections. He was only able to defeat the Apaches in 1871 through the intimate knowledge he had of them and the integration of Apaches into his reconnaissance units. This process is similar to the use made by the Mongols of Chinese and Persian fighters with the permanent objective of using the know-how of the adversaries to fill in its own gaps. General William Sherman said of General Crook that he was the best of all Indian fighters. Like the Mongolian nomads, his logistics were superior to those of other units, although they used the same means. In particular, he was very attentive to the care given to the mules with which he loaded his best men. Then they were equipped only with the most powerful material. Finally, he was directly involved in the loading plan in a scientific way. All this enabled him to make the animals carry twice the weight of what was usually prescribed. Finally, where his predecessors had failed, he succeeded in pacifying Arizona and getting the Apaches back into the reserves.

For the French, the one who has certainly exploited 'nomadisation' the most is the commander, future general, Laperrine in the Sahara. In 1891, he asked to go to North Africa when he was a cavalry captain in the 2nd dragoon regiment. After a few years on the spot and for the sake of efficiency, he asked to create the Saharan Meharist companies in 1897. It was a tool that was, in his opinion, the most suitable to fulfil the mission. This creation did not take place without resistance from the administration and the military authorities, who took a negative view of this departure from the norm. He succeeded, however, and recruited nomads with their mounts, which he placed under the orders of the French. These units were characterized by their lightness, flexibility and few needs. The men were accustomed to the harshness of the country and knew the pitfalls. Finally, they were always ready and could move without a convoy. The first and most decisive proof of their effectiveness was the battle of Tit on May 7, 1902, during which Lieutenant Cottenest's command routed a "rezzou" of 300 Touaregs. Although pre-existing, the first five Saharan companies were officially created on 30 March 1902. They were autonomous, composed of around 70 meharis and a mixed staff (French and local). Although evolving, the use of these nomadic units would last for some sixty years. Other companies will be created later to become the Saharan Carried Companies of the Foreign Legion (CSPL). General Laperrine will be recalled to the Sahara in 1917 by General Lyautey in order to re-establish a situation that is constantly deteriorating. In this capacity, he was appointed temporary superior commander of the Saharan Territories. He therefore reorganized the units once again and restored their confidence. The nomads of the Saharan companies, who had ended up settling down20...had retreated behind the walls of the bordjs...21 where they were waiting for the rebel gang attacks. They therefore left their shelters and resumed their nomadic life, but without freeing themselves from the capabilities offered by new technologies such as radio for links or aviation to enlighten and support the troops on the ground. Within six months security was restored and the lost posts were all retaken. This education will be perpetuated with the creation of the autonomous nomadic groups in Djibouti, which were set up in 1967 and officially recognized in 1970.

In reality, the ability to adapt to the terrain and to one's adversary goes beyond nomadization. What emerges from history is that it is important to understand one's enemy and to oppose him with modes of action capable of breaking his momentum. This often requires an appropriation of our opponent's techniques. This is what General de Lattre de Tassigny described as "The best soldier in Indochina", Chief Warrant Officer Roger Vandenberghe, succeeded in doing. He was at the origin of the creation of commandos with returned Viet-minh soldiers by adopting all their codes, from dress to modes of action. Head of Commando 24, also known as the Black Tiger Commando, he had entrusted one of his deputies, Sergeant Tran Dinh Vy, with the drafting of a document setting out the principles they applied during the fighting. This description corresponds, for many of its points, to the tactics of the nomads. For example, in the method paragraph, it is stated that " maneuver the enemy by false movements .... Simulate fictitious retreats followed by lightning counter-attacks. If the enemy is too numerous, do not attack unnecessarily; hide or withdraw while guarding ".22. It also states that "the enemy's usual methods should be used, with the addition of the fruit of experience gained ".23.

In the end, the ideal synthesis is to succeed in using the advantages brought by technology without relying entirely on them and above all without losing one's mobility and therefore one's freedom of action. This is possible and has already been done: Turenne in 1675 during the battle of Turckheim, von Manstein in 1943 during the third battle of Kharkov. The perfect embodiment of this synthesis is probably Napoleon's Grand Army. They had means that only sedentary people could afford and they knew how to use them without being fixed by the weight that these new technologies could represent.

The nomadisation of Western troops is therefore not a new phenomenon and, above all, it has proved its worth. The most surprising thing is that the armed forces seem to be perpetually oscillating between nomadisation and sedentarisation, with a tempo that lags slightly behind the types of conflicts they face. The entrenchment of troops in camps at the expense of long-term patrolling has already shown its pitfalls. As for nomadism, all those who have been inspired by it have been successful.

"White Squadron, already dropped like a ship..."24

" The two most powerful warriors are patience and time. Remember that great achievements take time and success doesn't happen overnight."25.

Western armies and their Sahelian allies are today facing a battle that is once again similar to a sedentary versus nomadic combat. We might think the opposite, inasmuch as the forces are deployed far from their country, on the territory of their adversary. However, once there, the troops tend to lock themselves in camps. This tendency is obviously justified by a need for protection, logistical support and the re-conditioning of the men. It can, however, have perverse effects and fix the forces. So how can nomadism be reappropriated today to restore freedom of action and efficiency?

In the Sahel, government troops, which are rather sedentary by nature, are traditionally opposed to nomadic communities (Tuaregs, Toubous, Goranes, etc.) and indeed face a nomadic adversary. The best option is still to rally a part of them by playing on the internal oppositions of the groups, but this is not always possible. The forces of Operation Barkhane, the G5 Sahel and UNAMISMA must therefore sometimes also face the pastoralists, the Fulani. The situation of these nomadic pastoralists has deteriorated considerably as a result of increased drought and unfavourable economic policies. In order to make their demands heard, they have therefore begun to practice "armed transhumance".26. Mostly Muslim, they form a recruitment ground for the jihadist movements of the region (mainly the katiba Macina; yesterday the Mujao27). The old confrontation between nomads and sedentary people has therefore never disappeared. So what is the enemy we are facing and what are his modes of action? He is extremely mobile, projecting his pick-ups and motorbikes like a "motorized cosmos"...28. It is autonomous, refuelling itself from nurse vehicles. It seeks to wear out the opponent and does not hesitate to retreat if the balance of power is too unfavourable to it to attack again at another time or another place that will be more favourable to it. Above all, he has time ahead of him. The nomad's horse is therefore motorized: "the Chinese motorcycle, queen of battles". The fighters develop stunt skills and this cosaquerie is the simplest possible combining the essential: the Chinese motorcycle, the kalashnikov and the mobile phone. " War strategies are being invented today in the Sahel. All the logistics of Boko Haram are based on motorbike platoons. These two-wheelers are at the service of "helping hands", but they also make it possible to quickly concentrate hundreds of combatants, to practice encircling villages and to encourage rapid dispersal .29. Our enemy of today is therefore fighting in a way that is extremely close to that of the Mongolian nomads. Faced with this, the local armed forces are also reinvesting nomadism by recreating Meharist units. For example, the Mauritanian National Guard patrols on camels.30. Her filiation is ancient since she was born in 1911. She thus goes back to the origins of her creation. Moreover, she recruits mainly among the nomads of the east of the country and the warrior aristocracy of Hodh Ech Chargi. There is nothing folkloric about this unit and the European Union has invested 300,000 euros to finance the purchase of camels and their equipment. Both the enemy and government troops are therefore returning to the bases of nomadism because this is the most effective way of operating in a semi-desert or desert environment.

Adapting to this way of fighting, for Westerners, does not seem impossible. In 2006, in Iraq, when Colonel Gronski left Ramadi, he established that it would take at least three brigades to control the town.31. But there was no question of deploying them there. The solution came from the integration of local soldiers. The revival movement(Sahwa) composed of members of Sunni tribes came to 'inflate the numbers'. This massive presence allowed the Americans to leave the bases outside the city in which they had settled to create mixed combat posts and reinvest in the city centre. It took only eight months after Colonel Gronski's departure and using this tactic to regain full control of the city. Aware of the effectiveness of involving the locals, General Petraeus extended this mode of action to the entire theatre of operations. The virtues are numerous and had already been identified by the nomads: use of the local population's knowledge of the terrain; recruiting locally may mean fewer enemies; and finally, it allows people to leave the bases and thus a sedentary operation to regain mobility.32.

Other examples, this time French, show that there is a curiosity or even an interest in nomadism in the armed forces even if the process is not fully exploited. In 2014 in the Central African Republic, the Scorpion Joint Battle Group (5th RIAOM) will be the first to use this method.33) conducted nomadic patrols. The aim was to patrol for several days, over a long distance in autonomy (food, water, ammunition, fuel). The aim was to link up the territory in order to guarantee the free movement of people, gather intelligence and reassure the population. This nomadisation also made it possible to meet many local officials, which undoubtedly contributed to a better understanding of the environment and to strengthening the legitimacy of the force. More recently, in February 2020, it was the Altor Desert Battle Group (DBG), armed mainly by legionnaires of the 2nd foreign parachute regiment, that nomadised for a month in the Liptako, in autonomy, alongside the Nigerien armed forces. In order to be as agile as possible, supplies were delivered by air (LPA) from an A400M. This operation made it possible to reverse the paradigm between nomadic and sedentary forces because a group composed of sedentary forces but having adopted nomadic modes of action succeeded in dismantling fixed logistic blocks of forces, which were nomadic.

More specifically, what could we gain today by becoming more "nomadic"? :

Mixed units

Like the companies in the Meharist companies, the creation of mixed units is a good solution to restore flexibility to the forces and help them adapt more easily to the environment in which they operate. First of all, it helps to preserve personnel by using local forces. These forces also make it possible to adapt more quickly. They know the environment, the people, the geography and so on. The time that Western troops spend trying to understand the environment in which they are evolving (without ever fully succeeding) is thus saved and gives them greater reactivity. Today, this structure also helps to restore the confidence of local troops who, although they know the terrain very well, suffer the same ills as Western armies because they have become sedentary.

Freedom from time

Secondly, the nomads were not constrained by time. Western troops are much more so. First of all, because there is real political pressure for quick results. Today, however, operations are conducted over years, the time needed to wear down an adversary who will rebuild himself if he is not gradually destroyed. Indeed, it is not possible to destroy a nomadic adversary on a massive scale; attrition can only be gradual through harassment. Military action is, moreover, only a prerequisite for more global action, to which only politics holds the key. The duration of mandates also constrains action. Most units deploy for four months. This tempo guarantees a sufficiently long presence in metropolitan France for training, quality operational preparation and to carry out missions on national territory. However, when compared with the time spent in the desert by units at the beginning of the 20th century, it is legitimate to question the effectiveness produced by such short mandates.

Lightening logistics

Finally, from a logistical point of view, all the units would dream of the autonomy that the nomads had at their disposal. Without achieving such lightness, made impossible today by the technological weight of the equipment used, it must be possible to reduce the logistical footprint. Some avenues have already been explored and seem promising, such as the use of 3D printing of spare parts. But it is above all the weight of logistics that we must try to lighten so that it does not become a factor limiting the mobility of forces. One of the solutions, probably the most radical, is to do away with road refuelling, using the LPA instead. This is the solution implemented for RWG Altor. This option removes the protection constraints on logistics convoys (particularly vulnerable) and allows for freedom from the delays imposed by the terrain.

However, this system has a few drawbacks, the main one being that the volume of one LPA per A400M is large and therefore weighs down and fixes the force punctually (the Altor RWG received 40 tonnes of food, water, fuel and ammunition in two drops).

The idea would therefore be to maintain the absence of a footprint without adding to the weight of the force. And that's where the heavy transport helicopter comes in. If France does not have one, the British are deploying CH47 Chinook helicopters as part of Operation Barkhane and cooperation with Germany, which has CH53 Stallion helicopters, is envisaged by the Air Force. The advantage of the helicopter is that it can keep up with the pace of the manoeuvre by delivering the right logistics at the right time when the troops involved need them, as many times as necessary. The concept could be that of a "flying oasis". Indeed, the steppe and the desert have in common that the men who live there are condemned to search perpetually for wells for their survival. Wells, camps, fixed logistic plots, so many obligatory crossing points where the troops are vulnerable because an adversary can wait for them there. Delivery by helicopter therefore allows the effect of surprise to be maintained.

Lastly, French logistics doctrine provides for the establishment of temporary logistic blocks or divisional support groups. The mission of these two structures is to provide, on an ad hoc basis and within the framework of a specific mission, resources whose supply via existing groupings does not allow the current mission to be carried out under good conditions (often because of excessively long periods of time). But these are still organizations with a heavy footprint that are intended to support large units. It would therefore be necessary to succeed in regaining some "VLRA spirit" (light reconnaissance and support vehicle). A mechanical workhorse, of simple design, it was easily repairable. It had a range of about 1,200 kilometres, a 200-litre water tank and could carry between 1,500 and 2,500 kilograms of payload. The "VLRA Spirit" is a lightweight support adapted to the requirements of a highly mobile maneuver. In the same spirit, at the end of the 1960s, the South African Army sought to acquire a logistics vehicle that would meet their tactical concept of deep attacks in the context of the conflict with Angola. A logistic version of the Ratel infantry vehicle was therefore developed. This vehicle, protected, had a handling arm to manoeuvre six containers (of ammunition, fresh food, etc.). It also had a generator, three spare wheels, 2,000 litres of fuel either for self-fuelling or for refuelling up to two vehicles simultaneously, a refrigerator, a freezer with 500 litres of fresh water and the possibility of using a hot shower. Finally, it could travel up to 700 kilometres on the road or drive up to 14 hours in rough terrain. Too expensive, only two prototypes were developed34. However, the idea remains interesting because it combines the rusticity and versatility of the VLRA while being protected. This is often a dilemma that is difficult to resolve, lightness or protection.

Today, the Western armed forces are barely beginning to nomadize again and have not yet fully reinvested in the subject. However, the first examples (nomadic patrols in CAR, GTD Altor in Niger) are particularly effective. These initial successes should therefore naturally encourage us to "rename" ourselves.

The Mongolian nomads' campaigns have been particularly impressive and instructive. Obviously not everything is to be imitated and does not necessarily apply to the needs and possibilities of the forces today. On the other hand, it is indeed a source of inspiration. Initiatives such as the military operational partnership show that nomadism is a skill that must be relearned and implemented. Today it is essentially particular units that use nomadic modes of action. It is important that conventional troops reinvest in this field of combat. Finally, nomadism is a synthesis of the eight factors of operational superiority described in the prospective document Action Terrestre Future. Indeed, we find in nomadic processes mass, agility, endurance, moral strength, command performance, understanding, cooperation and influence.

Beyond that, to inspire initially means to animate with a divine breath. It is important to recall this because it is impossible to speak of nomadism without evoking the philosophical dimension that is constitutive of this way of life. It is more than just a process, it is a mysticism, a conception of life. There is nothing romantic about that when we know the rigours imposed by this life. It is no coincidence that many of the chiefs who implemented nomadic procedures (Chief Warrant Officer Vandenberghe, General Laperrine, General Crook, Lawrence of Arabia, Marshal Lyautey, etc.) were also fascinated by the land, the men and the culture.

There will always be something that will escape us in these men that will attract us. Yet our society has moved far away from this. " Nomadism is a vigour that produces a fighting and impulsive force for the birth of the state. But when the initially nomadic group begins to take control of the enjoyment caused by urbanity and the use of lust, this State, and subsequently the entire nation, loses its means of defence .35. The question may not be: should we take inspiration from nomadism, but can we? Are there still "Captain Laperrine" in our ranks?

" The call of the desert has always been irresistible for the city's thinkers: I don't think they find God there, but that they hear more clearly in solitude the living word they bring with them .36.


1 William of Ruysbroeck, Franciscan sent by King Louis IX to the Mongols, 13th century.

2 "I want to forget that the return is inevitable. I have no desire to return. I wish that the journey could last a lifetime; nothing attracts me to the West where I know that I will feel alone among my contemporaries, whose concerns have become foreign to me ". Ella MAILLART: Forbidden oases, Payot, p. 100.

3 This is a common expression used in the military world to characterize the accuracy of a shot. To be effective, a shot must be grouped together and therefore have the lowest possible height and width (H+W) on the target.

4 Old Testament Exodus 10:1-20 " If you refuse to let my people go, tomorrow I will bring locusts into all your territory. They will cover the surface of the ground so that you will not be able to see them. They will devour all that has not yet been touched, what the hail has left you; they will devour all the trees that grow in your fields .

5 The expression "fire" is used here in reference to jet weapons or indirect weapons in opposition to shock.

6 Horses, like men, are protected by leather and silk. Leather limits the penetration of the weapons and silk is used in case of penetration to be able to remove the arrow and limit the risk of infection.

7 " But it should be noted that, if they can avoid it, Tatars do not like to fight hand-to-hand and prefer to injure or kill horses and men with their arrows; they come to close combat only after having weakened men and horses with arrows . John of Plan Carpin, an Italian Franciscan monk sent as extraordinary ambassador by Pope Innocent IV and who stayed in Karakoroum, the capital of the empire, in 1246. InGérardCHALIAND: Les Empires nomades de la Mongolie au Danube, Perrin, pp. 132-133.

8 At least at the strategic level.

9 Art of conducting a siege.

10 " Mobility, surprise, ability to concentrate at the end of a long-distance maneuver, the Khorezm campaign is a model of its kind . Gérard CHALIAND: Les Empires nomades de la Mongolie au Danube, Perrin, p. 126. This campaign took place between 1219 and 1221 and marked the beginning of the invasion of Muslim countries by the Mongols. The starting point was the Khorezm, a territory located south of the Aral Sea.

11 Arnaud BLIN: The Great Captains of Alexander the Great at Giàp, Perrin, p. 164.

12 BRILLAT-SAVARIN: The Physiology of Taste, Flammarion, "Champs".

13 " Money had been far more effective than seventy years of communism in destroying their traditions. Prohibiting them had at least pushed them to hide them, protect them, preserve them. The possibility of selling them had led them to betray them. Corine SOMBRUN: The Spirits of the Steppe, Pocket, p. 332.

14 Arnaud BLIN, op.cit. , p. 164.

15 Stefan Zweig, Clarissa.

16 Marie Joseph François Henri LAPERINNE-d'HAUTPOUL.

17 Charles LAVAUZELLE et Cie, Historique du 12e Bataillon de Chasseurs, Éditeurs militaires, pp. 13-18.

18 "The hard necessities of war in the still unknown seas of sand, in pursuit of an enemy who finds salvation in a desperate flight through an entirely deprived region that only he knows ". Charles Lavauzelle et Cie, op. cit. , p. 31.

19 " The Hunting Spirit? It is the speed of execution of people who understand and gallop ". Marechal LYAUTEY, Letter of May 3, 1931, Château de Thorey.

20 The context is not foreign to this sedentarization. Indeed, in the middle of the First World War, the number of soldiers was reduced and the most experienced soldiers were sent to fight on the European continent.

21 Ottoman military citadel.

22 Charles-Henry de PIREY: Vandenberghe le commando des tigres noirs, Indo Éditions, p. 67.

23 Ibid.

24 ".. .no voice reached the earth ". Joseph PEYRÉ: L'escadron blanc, Grasset.

25 Léon TOLSTOÏ, War and Peace.

26 In the Central African Republic, the Fulani pastors set up units of archers to protect themselves from thieves. They also have AK47s.

27 Movement for Unity and Jihad in West Africa. Armed terrorist group active from 2011 to 2013, mostly composed of Malian Arabs but including Fulani.

28 Christian SEIGNOBOS: Boko Haram: warlike innovations from the Mandara Mountains. Cosaquerie motorisée et islamisation forcée, Afrique contemporaine, 2014/4, n° 252, pp. 149 to 169.

29 Christian SEIGNOBOS, op.cit.

30 Philippe CHAPLEAU: In Mauritania, the army patrols on camels, Ouest France, 30 November 2018.

31 " But the devil was in the numbers, and Gronski never had enough troops to tame the ennemy. He was stretched far too thin and couldn't possibly fully cover and hold his battle space [...]. "We were only a brigade combat team operating in an area large enough for a division," he explains . " William DOYLE: A Soldier's Dream: Captain Travis Patriquin and the Awakening of Iraq.


33 5e Régiment Interarmes d'Outre-Mer, holding garrison in Djibouti, a traditional land of nomadism.

34 Steve CAMP and Helmoed-Römer HEITMAN: Surviving the ride: A Pictorial History of South African-Manufactured, 30° south Publishers, Durban, p. 175.

35 Ibn KHALDUN, The History of the Berbers.

36 LAWRENCE of Arabia, The Seven Pillars of Wisdom.

Title : Taking inspiration from nomadism?
Author (s) : Commandant Fiona BURLOT

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Control of "motorized" suspects during the Barkhane operation. The Chinese motorcycle: the modern horse of the coups. Jérôme SALLES/armée de Terre/Défense