Understanding Your Equipment

You have two choices: understand your equipment, or have someone else do it for you. A brief rant about imitating organizations in different contexts than your own.

A regular place I see learning go wrong is in attempting to imitate or take lessons from a different context than your own. One of the most common of these is looking at the way conventional militaries operate and trying to emulate it without understanding why things are set up the way they are.

Today, we'll be diving into the frequently misunderstood burdens that accompany any new equipment. Every piece of materiel that a professional army adds to its inventory comes with a huge amount of behind-the-scenes work that's often ignored - the logistical tail. When a new widget is adopted, the military adds:

  • a wild number of writers and researchers to determine how to best use the widget, how it should be integrated into doctrine, and to generate written manuals and update existing manuals with this knowledge
  • training courses (with professional trainers) and literature on how to use the widget
  • some number of soldiers trained as specialists on using the widget
  • training courses (with professional trainers) and literature on how to repair the widget
  • a group of professional maintenance staff whose job is to repair the widgets any time they break
  • provisions for the widget in the traditional logistics chains (when a company of soldiers deploys, how many widgets are included with their supplies?)
  • documentation for how to repair or replace the widget if it's beyond the capacity of the maintenance staff to repair (is it sent back, or destroyed? is any part of it sensitive or dangerous so it needs to be destroyed a certain way?)
  • stocks of the widget in warehouses and inventories (and regular maintenance and function checks while they're there)
  • stocks of any consumables and spare parts for the widget along with estimated consumption to allow for resupplying troops in advance of them actually running out

And this is for a fairly simple widget! For more complex systems like vehicles, heavy weapons, or communications networks, there will be sub-specialties for each component of the system and teams of specialists who train both individually and at a group level to operate it. Militaries do not simply adopt new equipment.

For guerrilla units, these roles are probably all combined into whoever is carrying the widget. They're going to need to know how to use it (both literally and how to best employ it in a fight), how to repair it, perhaps how to replace it if needed, what support they need for it (consumables and infrastructure such as electricity or ammunition), and be able to teach this all to someone else - turnover in guerrilla units is generally quite high.

Professional soldiers not only have the time to train on a wide variety of gear, they have support that enables them to be simply an operator of the equipment. If it breaks, there's someone whose job it is to fix it. If they can't remember some detail from the training course they took on the widget, there's a field manual (and most likely they’re in a whole team, squad, company, or larger of people who are also operating the exact same equipment who they can ask). Officers have been trained on how to best employ the widget and have doctrine manuals to refer to. If the widget is destroyed or runs out of consumables, there's a logistics train to replace it. A great many mistakes - both at a large scale, including things like design flaws with the widget, and at the individual scale - have already been made in training and that knowledge has been used to prevent those mistakes in the future.

All of the support that conventional soldiers have is either incredibly limited or entirely nonexistent for unconventional forces - whoever is carrying the widget is trainer, maintainer, user, and more all wrapped into one. As a result, it's important that whoever is carrying the widget have a deep, full understanding of it - guerrillas don't get many second chances.