The Steppes and the Triadic Principle: Tactics and Formations of the Modern Kazakhstani Army

Throughout human history, the art of warfare has always played a decisive role in the outcome of conflicts and has influenced the destinies of nations.

21/09/2023 - 17:22
Source: Ministry of Defence of Kazakhstan Official Website
Source: Ministry of Defence of Kazakhstan Official Website

Strategies and tactics developed by great military commanders and strategists have become a key factor in determining success on the battlefield. However, even great strategies can be rendered powerless without effective formations and tactical coordination at the level of units and brigades. Colonel Erbolat Adilbayev, the Chief Researcher of the Military Scientific Research Center of the National University of Defense (NUD), discussed the evolution of tactics and the prospects for the Kazakhstani army in an interview with

- Tell us about how tactics have evolved in the Kazakhstani army.

- Tactics, its forms, and methods of troop deployment have always been influenced by weaponry and military technology throughout history. Tactics are one of the components of military science, encompassing the theory and practice of preparing combat actions for units at the lowest army level. Today, we have moved away from the old tactics, and the Head of State emphasized the need to rearm the Armed Forces with the latest weapons. Currently, we see many military conflicts, and it is precisely on the battlefield where new types of weaponry are tested. Major powers are not just waging wars but testing new types of weapons, thereby introducing new forms and methods of employing troops.

At present, large army units are not deployed. The nature of modern warfare has become predominantly remote. There are weapons capable of destroying the enemy at long distances without the use of live forces. Armed conflicts involve small groups, such as battalions. There is no need to deploy large forces. Today, UAVs (Unmanned Aerial Vehicles) and drones can detect concentrations of live forces within a matter of hours and eliminate any accumulation of equipment and personnel within two hours. Therefore, we do not observe large combat formations today.

Modern warfare has become relatively short-lived, with its dynamics increasing due to the aviation and missile components.

- Many retired Western generals often criticize the downsizing of their countries' armies, arguing that live forces still play a significant role in modern warfare.

I agree with this view, but only to a certain extent. This is because we have not yet completely abandoned Soviet weaponry, but it is worth noting that we have already squeezed out all the service life from it. Even if we try to modernize it by adding some equipment to increase its effectiveness, it will eventually become impossible to do so. In any case, human beings are important on the battlefield. Therefore, the role of live forces is indeed crucial. However, when it comes to the numerical strength of troops, it is an international practice: if you calculate the number of servicemen based on the population, it always constitutes only 1%.

We have two options: either we rearm and reduce the numerical strength of the army, or, conversely, we compensate for problematic areas with live forces. If we are to procure weapons, we need to equip every unit, not just with 2-3 samples, but also with spare parts and components.

- Which countries served as a reference point in the formation of the armed forces? And how is a Kazakhstani army brigade structured?

We formed brigades from regiments, but if we consider foreign experience, they formed them from divisions. If we look at the Western understanding of a brigade, it is much larger in terms of numbers.

We studied the experience of many countries in forming units. Western, and Soviet, and we tried to find experience applicable to the physical and geographical conditions of Kazakhstan. As a result, we arrived at the structure we have today, which incorporates the experience of other countries.

The structure is based on the triadic principle - it includes tank battalions, artillery battalions, and support companies. It is also necessary to pay attention to the organizational structure. Every unit is formed based on the possible probable nature of the enemy's actions, and the structure is then created according to the tasks derived from this. Naturally, the tactics of actions are also taken into account. To a greater extent, we currently observe integrated tactical groups where one unit is supplemented by other units from various branches of the armed forces. As combat practice shows, such mixed units are capable of performing combat tasks autonomously for a very long time.

Since nobody relies on a rigid positional defense now, defensive tasks are impossible to accomplish; you need to constantly move and maneuver. Therefore, based on our perspective, today's structure is mobile and flexible, but it still requires improvement.

- What level of autonomy do our troops have? How much are they subject to a vertical chain of command?

The course of a battle doesn't always unfold as planned. Every battle is unique, even with identical weaponry and training; it can be entirely different. This depends on the terrain, weather conditions, plans, and so on.

Regarding a rigid system, I don't believe that armies with such a system win. Based on current conflicts, and countries understand this as well, winning a battle is impossible with a strict command system. Creative thinking is required on the battlefield - whoever can process the situation in their mind faster, make a decision, and issue orders will win. At the same time, the decision should be rational. What will it be? Within a large formation, it all depends on a creative approach because it reacts quickly, almost in real-time, issuing orders.

Yes, there are cases where it's impossible to execute an order, sometimes a retreat is made. But the term "retreat" itself is a kind of maneuver. In fact, it's a tactical step - whether forced or intentional. Yes, it doesn't always work out, but there are many factors at play here.

- How do Kazakhstan's physical and geographical features influence the formation of tactics and formations?

Kazakhstan itself is a very diverse country in terms of geography. It has deserts, semi-deserts, mountains, and forested areas - it has it all. Yes, conducting specific combat operations in these conditions, especially in winter, can be quite challenging. We have plains and steppes as well. For example, in northern Kazakhstan, in some areas, there are even wooded areas - this means that tactics should be different. Moreover, everywhere there is a sharply continental climate. There is a concept of situational assessment, where the commander must take all these factors into account.

- Logically, in the dominance of steppe terrain, the emphasis for the troops should be on strong anti-aircraft defense, correct?

Defending in open terrain can be quite challenging. Against drones, reconnaissance assets, and electronic warfare means, we need new weaponry. The tactical properties of our nature can have both positive and negative effects, depending on the weapons hypothetical enemies possess.

- Is our army ready to fight in the steppe?

Let's admit it, there haven't been any real combat actions on the territory of Kazakhstan for a long time. Since 1942-1943 a front-line zone was declared in the West Kazakhstan region. Since then, there have been no combat actions on the territory of Kazakhstan.

- What about Zhanaozen?

There was a tactical battle there, but I'm talking about large-scale combat actions. It would be ungrateful to answer this way because comprehensive calculations are needed. But I can assure you that we are ready to respond to any aggression. In our information space, there's a lot of talk - they start considering things that they can't actually implement. Every battle changes every minute and every second. It depends on the level of training of the personnel and the commander's ability to manage. Nowadays, we're not talking about the size of formations. You can achieve a lot with a small number, paralyze an entire army. But I want to say-  our army will always provide a corresponding response.



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