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Forward-looking reflections on the operational superiority factor Mass

Foresight Letter
History & strategy

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Future Land Action (ATF) retains the mass among the eight factors of operational superiority (FSO) declined from the principles of warfare. It was, contrary to the American doctrine, neither a principle nor a factor retained in French doctrine until then. The definition used in ATF is as follows: "Beyond the mere balance of power, mass is understood as the capacity to generate and maintain sufficient volumes of force to produce the effects of strategic decisions over time, taking into account the imperatives dictated by the space/time framework of each operation. "6 Mass, which has its own value, is only well understood within the FSO system. It is a necessary but not sufficient condition for success.

The future need for mass

This reminder made, it is not uninteresting to wonder about the meaning of the mass on the horizon 2035. Having a tactical mass will then remain decisive as an instrument of power for several reasons. A conventional large-scale operation remains likely, including in the context of relief to populations on our soil in the event of a major disaster. Our potential adversaries will not have given up the idea of having a mass, and the mass will always play an important role in deterrence and prevention. The process of escalation will not be accelerated by technological means and will remain complex. History teaches that a rise in power limited to "firming up" takes 3 to 5 years and that, for a more structural rise, it takes at least 10 years. 7. Stabilisation operations will still require significant manpower. The mass default will lead to higher risk taking. To take just one example, communication lines are stretched further and securing them becomes problematic.

Mass and dispersion

With increasing lethality on the battlefield, the concentration of forces will become increasingly difficult. One of the main problems related to mass then becomes the following: concentration on purpose at the right time, dispersion the rest of the time. Dispersion is an effective tactic during the preparatory or "enemy modelling" phases because, in addition to the security it brings, it maintains doubt in the enemy as to the real intentions. However, dispersion does not mean giving up the principle of concentration of effort. What is sought is a manoeuvre combining dispersion, infiltration and rapid concentration on the decisive points; this should be allowed by the new CIS.

Creating ambiguity

Therefore, if the concentrated mass is increasingly vulnerable, creating ambiguity in the adversary becomes even more important. Fortunately, new technologies do not erase the centrality of the duel in combat and it will always be possible to achieve surprise. Camouflage can be part of this. While using proven processes, it should be possible to integrate electromagnetic and cyber means that will degrade the enemy's sensors or surpass his ability to discern targets. A "refurbished" camouflage function could help mask the manoeuvre mass for a period of time. Swarms of UAVs would also saturate the adversary's detection capabilities and provide an additional layer of safety and protection for units.

Concentration can be facilitated by deception operations 8. Robots and drones could help us rethink them, with, for example, a new generation of decoys. The Israeli company General Robotics has been involved in the Hyena project since 2012: these are light, semi-autonomous platforms reproducing the sound, radar and thermal signatures of armoured vehicles. 9An interesting tactical use of these decoys would be to use them alongside armoured units in order to entertain at least part of the fire and to test the enemy's device. More complex maneuvers would use them to lure the enemy in the wrong direction, or to force him to uncover himself. Decoys would thus play the main role in a deception maneuver, allowing the forces - the mass - to be concentrated on the decisive maneuver. In order to ensure that surprise has its place in future manoeuvres, it might be necessary to formally establish it as a principle, then as a doctrine, with a document of its own, and to make it a subject in higher military education. It would be a matter of restoring its status as a principle of war in the sense of Foch, who associated it with his principle of safety.

Drones and robots

If necessary, returning to a massive army in 2035 would be complex. Qualitative skills are therefore crucial. Scorpio is the answer to this need and represents an expected qualitative leap. But there would be other avenues to explore.

Using drones and robots is a first direction, insofar as their cost would make it possible to acquire them in quantity, without weighing on the funding of other programmes. At a first level, entrusting the missions most exposed to remotely-operated devices would redirect personnel, for example from the discovery level to assault capabilities. It is also possible to imagine "dummy" systems, i.e. kits that could be installed in vehicles so that they can be remotely operated occasionally.

These remotely operated combat vehicles would be used for contact intelligence, convoy escort, forward refuelling and terrain development missions. In the logistical field, all or some of the vehicles in a convoy could be replaced by at least partially autonomous vehicles. Land development and, in the medium term, the construction of forward positions - an operation which makes the troops very vulnerable - could be carried out with vehicles with a high level of autonomy, while the engineers would remain under armour and at a distance. Autonomous work systems already in use, in particular in the mining sector, and many civilian research programmes are already moving in that direction.

Another way to increase the mass would be to differentiate a core, made up of the most sophisticated (and manned) machines, dedicated to The outer layer, made up of a swarm of "escort" vehicles that would surround it, protect it and help it to engage in combat. For this outer layer, losses would be accepted because it would be made up of numerous machines at a relatively affordable cost, which is possible today given the progress of research. With this configuration, the delicate moment of contact could be made by the robots. 10This would facilitate the delineation of the enemy's position and considerably speed up the manoeuvre. These hopes have yet to be sifted through practical experiments to prove the real benefits of using them in the midst of chaos and uncertainty.

What mass for what maneuver in 2035?

As far as manoeuvring is concerned, the friendly mass must be dynamic in order to hit hard and dodge the opponent's blows. Swarming, which can be defined as "the rapid regrouping of units of different sizes and natures on a target, which penetrate the three dimensions and through divergent access routes, before dispersing just as quickly once their mission has been accomplished". 11is a type of manoeuvre that meets this requirement. The three main variables of its success are: the elusiveness of the units, information superiority and remote fire capabilities. 12. This demand for dynamism and mass mobility will find its answer both in the tactical (or even strategic) mobility of the vectors and in the info-valuation of the whole. However, it also raises the question of light forces, capable of conducting a fluid combat. The concept of use envisaged for Scorpio's discovery level comes close to this. However, one could go further. For example, reconnaissance units could use motorcycles or quad bikes, or even flying machines, to infiltrate the enemy's rear to identify targets. In the longer term, the technological outlook allows us to envisage hyper-mobile machines that could assist in this search for mass manoeuvrability.

This is the case with DARPA's radical Ground Vehicle-X Technology project, which seeks to break the trend of increasing vehicle weight by obtaining protection by other means: extreme mobility and low detectability.


6 Future Land Action (ATF) , Land Staff, September 2016, p.37.

7 Guillaume Garnier, "Les chausse-trappes de la remontée en puissance", Focus stratégique n°52, Ifri, May 2014.

8 "Effect resulting from measures aimed at misleading the adversary by leading him to misinterpret friendly attitudes in view
.incite it to react in a manner prejudicial to its own interests and reduce its capacity to respond. Disappointment includes concealment, diversion and intoxication. »

9 Babara Opall-Rome, "Israeli Firm Revives Old Concept With Advanced Robotics", Defense News, October 3, 2016.

10 Between 2003 and 2007, 60% of American losses were due to first contact with the enemy Christopher Coker, Future War, Polity, 2015, p.88.

11. Joseph Henrotin, article "Essaim (tactique de l')", in Didier Danet, Ronan Doaré and Christian Malis (eds.), L'action militaire de A à Z, Economica, 2015, p. 147-154.

12 "Effect resulting from measures designed to deceive the adversary by leading him to misinterpret friendly attitudes in order to to induce it to react in a manner prejudicial to its own interests and to reduce its capacity to respond. Disappointment includes concealment, diversion and intoxication. »

Title : Forward-looking reflections on the operational superiority factor Mass
Author (s) : Pôle Etudes et Prospective (CDEC/PEP)