I feel like I’ve written about this topic more times than I’ve had hot meals, but I’ve refrained from touching it lately since it invariably results in Georgians screaming ‘You don’t know what you’re talking about because you’re a foreigner and foreigners don’t know Georgia even if they live here for years and years because you’re not Georgian blah blah blah blah!’.
I had a negative backlash to a proposed reform to the Georgian military, and I was more polite to my antagonists than they deserved, with hindsight. I caused so much consternation and anger by suggesting that a) the Georgian Reserve service needs to be revamped and reorganised and b) the 2008 conflict with Russia was, in fact, a winnable war. Rather than read my comments closely and respond with measured argument, I received a stream of abuse from angry Georgians who didn’t really know what they were talking about, but decided to comment on it anyway because I was a foreigner criticising something about Georgia. (Having said that, I had some very positive reception from those wonderful people at Geo Army.ge, who actually know what they’re talking about, since most are or have been soldiers themselves).
I recently commented on a news article on the Georgian Journal website wherein their resident military specialist (Irakli something-or-other) was talking about the need to reorganise Georgia’s Reserve forces. Hear hear, thought I, this is what we need, but then I read his article and realised his ideas were hardly revolutionary, and were in fact just simple improvements on the existing system of conscription and a less-than-efficient Reserve.
I stand by what I said last year. The Georgian Reserve service needs to be totally abolished, and replaced with professional part-timers who train one weekend a month and one weeknight per week. Reserve soldiers need to be present in every Corps (ie. Engineers, Logistics, Signals etc.) and not just emergency conscript truck-borne infantry. They must be able to reinforce and integrate with Regular soldiers easily, so their training must reflect that of their regular counterparts. That, more or less, is the British system, and a damned effective one it is, too. The point is, I don’t see why we couldn’t introduce the same thing in Georgia; I honestly can’t think of a single reason.
As I understand it, there is something of a Georgian Reserve like the one I’m always saying I’d like to see, but it still isn’t working quite the way it should. My friend Lasha is currently enlisted in it, but says the training times are not fixed dates of one weekend a month and one weeknight per week. He has also been suspended from duty until after the Presidential elections, since everyone in his unit supports the United National Movement of Saakashvili and he himself likes Georgian Dream. Now, if you’re a regular reader of this blog, you’ll know I don’t particularly have time for either party or either party leader, but the point is that a man’s political affiliation should never bar him from serving his country (providing he’s not a member of a racist or discriminatory group, anyway). Lasha volunteered to fight for Georgia, and he should be allowed to do so regardless of who is in charge of the country or who he wants to be. Soldiers volunteer to fight for their nation, not their President or Prime Minister.
There are a few things I don’t understand about the Georgian military, as well. Irakli Alasania recently said ‘We need the help of the Armed Forces of the USA to train our military to make it into a modern Western-style Army’. The Americans have been training Georgian soldiers since 2004. I was under the impression that modernising the Army is exactly what they’d been doing for the last decade. What the hell have they been doing for ten years if not exactly that? I find it hard to believe no progress has been at all, but then if the training given to Georgian troops had been successful, why do they still need the Americans? Can’t the Army become self-training like it is in every other country? I spoke to an American soldier recently who says Georgian soldiers are good troops, so if that’s the case I don’t see why the Georgian military can’t train itself these days. Surely the work of the visiting Americans is done.
Equipment is another issue that looks like it needs to be resolved, though my speculations come from outside observation rather than insider knowledge. For instance, I always see the Georgian soldiers on parade all wear spanking new combat uniforms, holding their American-made weapons fresh out of the box, while brand new Turkish/Israeli/American armoured vehicles rumble by. However, I looked at the pictures of Georgian Special Forces being deployed to the Dagestani border last year to deal with the crisis there last summer. The US M4 carbines and hi-tech armoured personnel carriers were nowhere to be seen. Instead, it was back to the old banged-up Toyota wagons and AK-47s; they looked like the Georgian Army of the ’90s. I have absolutely no idea what happened there. The obvious conclusion is that the military only has enough new kit to put on parades to look smart and shiny, while the real fighting is still done with the old-fashioned tried and true Soviet surplus…but that won’t answer either, since I’ve found that the amount of new armoured vehicles delivered to Georgia is well into the hundreds. What a mystery.
I remember I also put forward the idea of an airborne Rapid Response Force, since Georgia has a fleet of helicopters that could be put under one command structure which could then dispatch several hundred para-commandos to anywhere within the country. That idea was rubbished by one Georgian who said that Russia’s air superiority would undoubtedly render that idea useless. I disagree wholeheartedly. A friend of mine is a fighter pilot in the Royal Air Force, and I have his word for it that helicopters are notoriously tricky to bring down from a jet, particularly in mountainous terrain such as in Afghanistan or, indeed, in Georgia. So that won’t fly (HA!) either. Helicopters are (or should be, according to European standards) also equipped with flares, that defend against SAMs or AAMs (and if the Georgian Ministry of Defence doesn’t have any of those for its choppers yet, then it’s about time the Americans gave them something useful). Besides, Georgia does have a small fleet of fighter planes that engaged Russian pilots successfully in ’08. Indeed, according to several of my sources, Georgia managed to bring down a fair few Russian aircraft, causing the loss of several experienced pilots. Things that I’ve read and people I’ve spoken to make me think that Georgian fear of Russian air superiority might be overestimated.
Another oft-quoted reason for defeat is Russia’s greater number of tanks. You can read the specifications online about how Russian tanks can’t weigh over a certain amount, since they rely on rail transport to get around, which renders their armour significantly thinner than American or British counterparts. Georgia also has over 180 tanks of its own, which are of no worse quality than Russia’s. Perhaps the Georgian Army needs a greater number of anti-tank weapons, but I don’t think so. One man last year told me that the problem in the Georgian Army was management, and I think he’s right. Management…and structure.
At the moment, every Georgian Army Brigade has a tank battalion. Simply put, that means that all of Georgia’s 180 or so tanks are spread thinly over 5 Brigades, which means that one Brigade has just 36 tanks. Imagine a small pat of butter spread over too much bread. This is not how European armies are structured. First, however, let’s look at how the Georgian Army is organised.
HQ, Land Forces Command (Tbilisi)
Central Command Point
Mixed-Transport Aviation Base
Air-Defence Technique Repair Base
1st Infantry Brigade
11th Telavi Light Infantry Battalion
12th Light Infantry Battalion
13th “Shavnabada” Light Infantry Battalion
support role: anti tank battalion, motorized infantry battalion, mechanized battalion, mountain battalion, tank battalion, air assault battalion
2nd Infantry Brigade (Senaki)
21st Light Infantry Battalion
22nd Light Infantry Battalion
23rd Light Infantry Battalion
support role: anti-tank battalion, two motorized infantry battalions, mechanized battalion, tank battalion
3rd Infantry Brigade (The Mamelukes) (Kutaisi)
31st Light Infantry Battalion
32nd Light Infantry Battalion
33rd Light Infantry Battalion – deployed in Afghanistan
support role: anti tank battalion, motorized infantry battalion, mechanized battalion, tank battalion
4th Infantry Brigade (Vaziani)
41st Light Infantry Battalion
42nd Light Infantry Battalion
43rd Light Infantry Battalion
support role: anti tank battalion, two mechanized battalion, air-support wing, special reconnaissance and surveillance battalion, mountain battalion, tank battalion.
5th Infantry Brigade (Gori)
51st Light Infantry Battalion
52nd Light Infantry Battalion
53rd Light Infantry Battalion
support role: anti-tank battalion, mechanized battalion, motorized infantry battalion, tank battalion
Air Defence Brigade
Air Defence Brigade (Kutaisi)
Separate Tank Battalion (Gori)
1st separate Anti-Tank Battalion (Gori)
2nd separate Anti-Tank Battalion
Separate Light Infantry Battalion (Adlia)
Separate Pioneer Battalion (Saguramo)
Separate Technical Reconnaissance Battalion (Kobuleti)
separate Communications Battalion
Medical Regiment (Saguramo)
Two Artillery Brigades, equipped with everything from heavy guns to light mortars/air defence
Army HQ, Special Operations Main Division (Tbilisi)
Special Forces Brigade
Special Operations Battalion
Naval Special Operations Squadron
“Iverioni” Attack Battalion
Special Forces Training Center
That information was all pulled from Wikipedia, so if that’s inaccurate, I apologise, but as far as I know it’s up to date (I consulted some Georgian military friends and they say it’s more or less correct).
From where I’m standing, the fact that these combat formations have support units (such as engineers etc.) in entirely different brigades is something of serious concern. I also don’t believe that the Georgian definition of ‘Light Infantry’ is the same as a Western one, since for NATO countries light infantry soldiers are those who march everywhere without the use of vehicles, rather than simply being truck-borne.
Here, then, is how I would reorganise things in my imaginary Georgian Army:
1st Armoured Brigade
Rather than spread Georgia’s limited tanks thinly, I would concentrate them in two Armoured Brigades of 90 tanks each, giving Georgia two armoured fists that could witstand and repel enemy tank formations. Infantry in these units would be transported by the armoured personnel carriers which Georgia has inherited from the Soviet Union, purchased from Turkey/Israel/France or developed domestically. So, my fantasy 1st Armoured Brigade would look like this:
1st Armoured Battalion – 45 Main Battle Tanks, approx. 70 Armoured Personnel Carriers, giving a total of approx. 600 deployable infantry
2nd Armoured Battalion – as above
1st Truck Battalion – Truck-borne infantry reinforcements
1st Support Battalion – 1 Combat Engineer Company, 1 Signals/Communications Company, 1 Reconnaissance Company (Humvee/soft-skin vehicle equipped)
1st Artillery Battalion – General artillery/air defence guns
2nd Armoured Brigade – As above.
3rd Mechanised Brigade
This would depend on Georgia having enough APCs/IFVs (Infantry Fighting Vehicles) left over from the Armoured formations, but looking at the statistics, Georgia has ordered many different types of these vehicle from Israel, France and Turkey, as well as inheriting some from the USSR which will be upgraded (apparently) and developing its own vehicles. With that in mind, I’m sure there would be enough to put my Mechanised Brigade together.
1st Mechanised Battalion – Composed of enough APCs/IFVs to deploy 600 infantry
2nd Mechanised Battalion – As above
3rd Truck Battalion – Truck-borne infantry reinforcements
3rd Support Battalion – As in Armoured Brigades
3rd Artillery Battalion – As in Armoured Brigades
4th Light Infantry Brigade
I would imagine this to be a Light Infantry Brigade in the truest form of the word. These types of soldiers are no less capable of eliminating armoured units than tank formations, but they are forced to carry all of their equipment on their backs, including anti-air and anti-tank weapons. I’m sure Georgian soldiers would be up to the task. I’m listing all Light Infantry battalions as the same, but I see no reason why some couldn’t specialise in mountain, arctic or amphibious warfare. As far as I know, Georgia has schools for all three.
1st Light Infantry Battalion – 600 infantry
2nd Light Infantry Battalion – as above
3rd Light Infantry Battalion – as above
4th Support Battalion – as in other Brigades
4th Artillery Battalion – as in other Brigades
5th Light Infantry Brigade – As above
6th Airborne Brigade – Rapid Response Force
In Britain, these types of soldiers are halfway between special and regular forces (such as the Royal Marines or the Parachute Regiment or in the US, the US Army Rangers or Marine Force Recon). They operate in regular unit formations, such as platoons, companies etc. rather than the 4 or 8 man of Special Forces units, but will typically operate with limited support. Georgia has only a limited number of helicopters, but if I’ve done my maths right (which is questionable) there should be enough choppers to cater for this unit’s needs.
1st Airborne Battalion – 4 Hip Helicopters, approx. 96 infantry
2nd Airborne Battalion – As above
3rd Airborne Battalion – As above
6th Support (Airborne) Battalion – 3 Huey Helicopters, 1 Engineer Company, 1 Signals Company, HQ company etc.
1st Air support Battalion – 3 Hind gunships.
Special Forces Brigade
I would change this Georgian SF up a little, too. I don’t know what the role of the ‘Iverioni Attack Battalion’ is, though my friend Lasha’s father served in it. My point is, I don’t know how that battalion’s role is different to that of Georgia’s first Special Operations battalion. I would change it so that both battalions are about 100 strong of the fittest and most able soldiers across the military, chosen after a year-long selection course in the manner of the British SAS (the world’s first special forces, on which all others were modeled). I don’t see why Georgia needs a Naval Operations battalion, since it doesn’t have much of a navy, which I’d think would be a prerequisite.
1st Special Operations Battalion – 100 men, divided into 4 squadrons of 25, divided into 5 teams of 5.
2nd Special Operations Battalion – As above
1st Special Forces Support Battalion – 600 elite infantry, to provide supplementary infantry to SF operations.
2nd Special Forces Support Battalion – As above
I think due to my heavy use of vehicles in my fantasy Georgian Army, some of the Brigade sizes would end up smaller than they currently are. If so, I’d probably just create more Light Infantry Brigades.
I should also mention the structure of my imaginary battalions. Battalions are typically composed of about 600 men, divided into companies of about 80 and then split again into about three platoons. So an infantry battalion would probably look something like this:
Five rifle companies, of 400 men, listed from A to F. One Support Company of 80 men, consisting of a sniper platoon, mortar platoon and fire support platoon (heavy machine guns etc.). One HQ Company.
Simple and effective, however since I’m not an engineer or a gunner I can’t suggest with any accuracy what an artillery or engineer battalion should look like…I’ll leave that to the experts. But they should have the ability to destroy/build defences and provide artillery support on the ground as well as bring down enemy aircraft. That, then, is the rough structure of every battalion in one of my brigades, not including vehicles etc.
Thinking about it, I’m not sure quite how I’d like to organise the Reserve forces. On the one hand, I think there should be Reserve units for each Brigade respectively, wherein the part-time soldiers are trained in the same role as their regular colleagues and reinforce them at need. However, another idea could be to have Reserve Brigades made up wholly of part-timers, which would then deploy into battle as stand-alone units. Food for thought. One thing I am sure of, however, is that I would cancel conscription, freeing up sections of the budget and streamlining the Army to contain only well-trained professional regulars and reserves.
Other minor changes
These are just niggling things that I couldn’t really fit into anywhere else. I read recently in the news that some soldiers were learning to use mortars at an artillery school here in Georgia, and that confused me; mortars are not an artillery weapon. Well, they are, but in most armies the world over they’re not put into an artillery corps. Mortars are infantry support weapons, and are supposed to be carried and operated by infantry soldiers on the frontline. Artillery weapons are only those which are operated some distance away from the front, the howitzers and anti-tank guns, or the MRLS trucks still in use. Due to their size and effective range, a mortar should be considered an infantry support weapon, in the same way that a sniper rifle or heavy machine gun is considered as such.
This next point is slightly petty, but it still niggles me. One of the Georgian infantry battalions is named the ‘Mamelukes’, which I feel is an interesting and slightly inappropriate choice. ‘Mameluke’ roughly translates to ‘slave’ from Arabic, and historically were soldiers in Muslim armies with origins in conquered countries. Now, seeing as Georgians are (quite rightly) proud of their history and their Christian religion, I don’t see why it is a good idea to give one of their battalions a name which surely reminds them of the fact that they were once conquered. I would much rather see units named after regions, great victories or people of import. For example, why not have the Kakhetian Light Infantry, the Didgori Armoured Battalion, or Queen Tamar’s Royal Infantry? These traditions are evident in the British Army (for example the Mercian Regiment, Coldstream Guards, Duke of Lancaster’s Regiment) and I much prefer them to the American habit of just naming divisions, which gives their units much less discerning character.
I also don’t like the American-style headdress; you know, those baseball cap-type camouflage hats. In the British Army, the beret system is used; every regiment or corps has its own distinct symbol which is worn at the front, with a colour that dictates the type of unit that they’re from. For example, khaki for line infantry, dark green for rifle infantry, deep green for Commandos, black for tanks, navy blue for Corps, sky blue for the Air Corps, red for police, maroon for Airborne personnel, beige for the Special Forces, and so on. It’s an old system, steeped in history, and in the opinion of myself and my friends, infinitely nicer-looking than these American-style uniforms. The Americans do wear berets as well, but not often, and without the British system of colour distinction.
So there you go. That’s my rough draft of my imaginary Georgian Army. Feel free to comment and discuss, but don’t be a whiny loser prick over it, saying ‘Stop experting, I know better because I was born in Georgia and you weren’t’ or all the other rubbish I got hit with last year. Leave constructive comments, and if you don’t have anything sensible to say, say nothing at all.