Start Articles Armed Forces Light Infantry: a New Tool for the Danish Army
Light Infantry: a New Tool for the Danish Army
Major Michael Johnsson
The latest defence agreement in Denmark includes building new capacities for the Danish Army to meet NATO requirements – most notably, the XIII Light Infantry Battalion.
After years of specialisation in counter-insurgency operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, the Danish Army has spent the last six years in transformation in order to meet the new geopolitical challenges, primarily taking place in Eastern Europe.
The Danish Army consists of two brigades. The 1st Brigade is an operational brigade that is currently transitioning into a complete standard NATO medium-sized brigade by 2023.
Based on heavily armed units, it is equipped with the new PIRANHA 5 APC in different variants, the CV9035 IFV and the LEOPARD II A7 MBT. All other vehicles in the brigade are also characterised by a high-level of ballistic and blast protection. Some of the initiatives undertaken to meet NATO requirements for the 1st Brigade include the re-introduction of air defences, brigade artillery, and other brigade assets. The 1st Brigade is foreseen to be a modern and well-equipped brigade by 2023, but it will also be a brigade with units possessing a substantial logistical footprint in every aspect.
The 2nd Brigade is a non-operational brigade comprising specialised units, such as a tank battalion, reconnaissance battalion, and the new XIII Light Infantry Battalion – a battalion that differs considerably from the other mechanised infantry battalions in the 1st Brigade.
Why so different?
The XIII Light Infantry Battalion is required to perform any operational task – within its capabilities – when deployed on major combat operations. One of the advantages of a light infantry unit is its ability to fight effectively on what are normally considered “no-go areas” for large armoured, mechanised formations. Another advantage is that light infantry units are easier to maintain at high-readiness levels and to quickly deploy on national and international operations.
Major Henrik Stilling of the Land Capability Development Branch, Defence Command Denmark, explains that the reason for developing a light infantry capacity is “…to strengthen the land forces’ ability to deploy a unit that is specialised in solving the full spectrum of operations in difficult terrain with (poor) or no infrastructure at all.” The Danish Army’s current infantry capability consists primarily of mechanised and armoured infantry units, all equipped with heavily armoured vehicles with high protection levels and massive firepower. However, these systems require a commensurate amount of logistical support when deployed abroad. This is both expensive and time-consuming.
Major Stilling also notes that when in theatre, mechanised and armoured units are not able to deploy their full firepower potential in close terrain, either urban or mountainous areas. This capability gap will be filled by Denmark’s XIII Light Infantry Battalion as a light infantry unit is capable of responding quickly to critical situations and to fight under difficult circumstances as and when required.
The newly formed XIII Light Infantry Battalion’s Commanding Officer, Lieutenant Colonel. Jesper Stroier, has a clear take on the need for their light infantry role. “We are not heavily armoured and might not bring the big punch to the game, but the strength of the light infantry is based on our ability to react and deploy far and fast with a limited footprint. To this end, the dismounted infantryman can operate amongst the population, against unconventional forces and (within) close terrain in a way (that) heavier formations can’t,” he maintains. “A light force is also easier to operate and be interoperable with its partners – and can easily work with local security forces. So, I find there is great utility for the light infantry on the modern battle field.”
“No Fight – No Victory!” is the motto under which the battalion was officially formed on 1 January 2019. It is stationed in the Haderslev Garrison in the southern Jutland region. Until 2023, the battalion will undergo a development, equipping and training to prepare and bring it to operational readiness. As a regular battalion, it will have a battalion headquarters, a support company, three light infantry companies and a training company with conscripts.
The battalion began with the establishment of its battalion headquarters, followed by the creation of the 1st Company, soon after the battalion’s formation in 2019. On 1 January 2020, the 2nd Company was formed with a 3rd Company to follow in 2021. In parallel, specialised platoons comprising snipers, anti-tank and mortar teams, and medics of the Support Company will be added. When fully operational in 2023, the battalion will consist of approximately 500 specialised regular soldiers and about 150 new conscripts.
Weapons and Equipment
The core weapons of the light infantry companies include:
- Colt Canada 5,56mm C8IUR assault rifle
- US Ordnance 7,62mm M60-E6 light machine gun
- Colt Canada 7.62mm C20 sniper rifle (for marksmen)
- M72 LAW (light anti-tank weapon) against light armoured threats
Battalion members will receive the same uniform and personal protection equipment as every Danish soldier. The battalion’s heavier equipment is detached to the Support Company in order to keep the infantry companies light and agile.
The Light Infantry Mindset
Lt.Col. Jesper Stroier, Commanding Officer of the XIII Light Infantry Battalion, served many years throughout his carrier in infantry units and with infantry-related projects. His professional career includes deployments to conflict zones – Bosnia and Herzegovina, Kosovo, Iraq and Afghanistan – and also brigade staff service posts. He graduated from the Advanced Command and Staff College at the United Kingdom’s Defence Academy in 2012. Lt.Col. Stroier served as the Danish Army Command Liaison Officer to Army HQ in the UK until 2016. He assumed command as the first Commanding Officer of the XIII Light Infantry Battalion in November 2018. Lt.Col. Stroier has a clear vision of what it takes to be a part of a very light unit: “Commanders and soldiers within the (XIII Light Infantry) battalion will need what we call the ‘The Light Infantry Mindset’ – to succeed and unlock the full potential of the light warrior. This mindset is based upon superior dismounted close combat skills, a better shot, ability to live from what you can carry and with little support, physical endurance and stamina combined with a will to get the job done when things get rough!
“We have worked hard on our branding and DNA. We want to create a strong team, where the individual soldier feels they belong to a bigger family with shared values and ambitions. When it comes to training, our aim is to focus our training on the key infantry skills as mentioned above. We want to be clear about what we ask from the commanders and soldiers – and we expect more. We want them to be adaptable and flexible in thinking and we want them to take individual responsibility for their part of the mission… in (the) XIII. To this, we are setting higher standards for physical training than the rest of the combat arms, and we want to build and test their mental strength and flexibility.”
The Support Company will have a:
- Reconnaissance platoon
- Sniper section – equipped with new 8.6mm Accuracy International AXMC rifles
- Anti-tank platoon – equipped with an AT missile system to counter heavy armoured threats
- Mortar platoon – equipped with 81mm mortars
- Support platoon and,
- Medic platoon
The role of the mortar platoon is to provide initial fire support for the battalion with each infantry company having their own intrinsic mortar fire control teams. Both the anti-tank missile and mortar systems are still in the procurement process.
Typical to combat battalions, its support assets, such as artillery observers, JTACs (Joint Terminal Attack Controller), engineers and others, will be attached to the battalion on a case-by-case basis. Otherwise, Lt Col Stroier warns that “we have to accept our limitations, if operating alone!”
Light Infantry vs. Heavy Equipment
Although essentially a light unit, the XIII Light Infantry Battalion still requires its heavy equipment and a substantial amount of supplies once deployed. In order to carry the required days of supply (DOS), a number of ATVs, 4×4 vehicles and trucks, will support the battalion’s infantry companies. The Support Company will also be equipped with a mix of ATVs, 4×4 vehicles – some with a trailer – and 8×8 trucks in order to transport its heavier equipment and the remaining DOS. Different vehicle types are currently being tested in order to balance the need for lifting equipment and maintain as low a logistical footprint as possible.
However, the battalion must still be able to carry its equipment in a dismounted role for either air or amphibious deployment, where the battalion will be operating alone for a number of hours or even days before replenishment. Under such circumstances, all heavy equipment – and ammunition – must be equally distributed among the 500 soldiers. Such situations pose a number of weight limitation issues when specifying the equipment required fulfilling the battalion’s requirements.
Becoming an Obvious Choice
While Denmark’s 1st Brigade is developing toward a heavy, well-armoured, high-tech “concept”, the development of the XIII Light Infantry Battalion and its very light concept, will be very interesting to follow over the next few years. Lt.Col Stroier has very high ambitions for the battalion, as noted in his Commander’s guidelines: “We must be the obvious choice for the Army, when there is a demand for a unit that will quickly, professionally and flexibly be able to take on demanding tasks at short notice both at home and abroad, and in the future we must be able to compete with the best of our partners.”
Major Michael Johnsson is a staff officer at Land Capability and Development Branch, Defence Command Denmark.
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