Lithuanian Armed Forces division – demand, possibility, challenges and prospect

Lithuanian Armed Forces division – demand, possibility, challenges and prospect

When the independence of Lithuania was re-established in 1990, Lithuanian Armed Forces capability development was geared towards three to four brigades and logistical and combat support units. Upon NATO accession in 2004, one of the main tasks for the Lithuanian Armed Forces was to fulfil the “expeditionary capability and unconventional warfare” strategy prevailing in the Alliance. The process of division development had taken a pause but the need for a national division did not.

Formation of a division-level unit was in a consistent process of thinking as our military units were attached to Allied divisions and Lithuanian officers detached to NATO Allies’ division headquarters. The Lithuanian Land Force Headquarters was designed as groundwork for a future division headquarters.

It depends upon the geographical and geopolitical security situation that Lithuania is in need of an armed forces that is able to complete wide-spectrum national defence operations. The Russian military invasion of Ukraine on 24 February 2022 completely altered the security situation in Europe and the NATO threat assessment with it. Russia is now named at the main conventional threat. An analysis of the course of the war in Ukraine reveals that Russia is transitioning from battalion-level tactical groups to division-level units. NATO Allies are transitioning likewise. Thus, in the event of war in our country, alongside with NATO Allies, it would be a division-level unit war: the initial response would be given by integrated Lithuanian Armed Forces units and Allied units deployed in Lithuania in case of a military aggression. With that in mind, the Lithuanian Armed Forces is already learning and training division-level warfare – planning, organization, interoperability and C2 the sizeable tactical unit. If Lithuania had its own division, such pre-made homework would enable a smoother and quicker integration and interoperability with NATO Allied units. Most of the deploying NATO units would be the size of a brigade with division-level enablers: aviation, long-range artillery, reconnaissance air defence and engineer capabilities. Standard NATO planning and control procedures, terminology and division-level units would facilitate a major challenge-free formation of operations capabilities and battlefield efficiency.

In NATO terms, a standard division is a tactical level land force unit that is comprised of from three to four maneuver brigades, combat and combat supply support, command and control and protection units. Divisions are categorized as heavy, medium and light depending on their tasks and battlefield functions. For instance, a typical light U.S. army division includes three armored motorized brigades, an amour battalion, an artillery brigade, an aviation unit, logistical capabilities and a force protection brigade. The division-level unit carries planning and completes maneuver defence and offensive operations by itself or as part of a corps. Three main functions of a division in accordance with military doctrine are to: 1. Detect the adversary, 2. Immobilize the adversary, and 3. Neutralize the adversary. A division has organic capabilities to carry out reconnaissance tasks, ensure maneuver and mobility, destroy the adversary with its firepower in a wide battlefield action area, ensure logistic self-sustainment and supply, and ensure force protection of the entire capability. A division is capable of maneuver defence against a substantially larger enemy force – two or three divisions.  

The trends of modern warfare impose effective fire range and power, mobility, countermobility and survivability standards. Development of a division in the Lithuanian Armed Forces is a long-term project that will shape the entire further progress of the Lithuanian Armed Forces. A long-term wartime structure , a division-level unit, project is already in the stage of design: the purposeful efforts at the moment are focused on developing combat platforms, personnel training, sustainment of the existing capabilities and stockpiles. The future division headquarters is formed on the basis of the Land Force Headquarters and has reached the division-level operational planning and command capability. It is already training as the Lithuanian division at NATO Allied corpse-level exercises.

Depending on the possibilities (resources), the Lithuanian Armed Forces aims to have a light-medium national division capable of full-spectrum operations individually or with NATO Allies. Its strength would amount to 17-18 thousand troops. Infantry Brigades Iron Wolf and Griffin and reserve Light Infantry Brigade Aukštaitija would provide the basis for maneuver units. The Lithuanian Armed Forces currently has already approx. three thirds of capability needed for division with the remainder necessary for division formation and enabling to come shortly and encompass the HIMARS high mobility artillery systems, Caesar long-range self-propelled wheeled howitzers, Vilkas infantry fighting vehicles, reconnaissance and combat drones, etc. Other considerations are development of amour, reconnaissance, engineer support and division-level artillery battalions. Additional support (combat aviation, air defence and additional artillery capabilities) would be coordinated with the Allies.

The division development is assessed to shape the development and tasks of the entire Armed Forces or even all the armed capabilities of the state in wartime. The Land Force can transform into regular (maneuver) and territorial defence force. The National Defence Volunteer Force and Lithuanian Riflemen Union combat and civil resistance capabilities would be tasked with enemy force tracking and rear defence. The capabilities would assist the arriving Allied forces with supplies, safe deployment in designated areas, and contribute to securing of critical functions of the state.

Formation of the first national-level division is an important but not the only response to the Russian aggression. The Armed Forces continues enhancing territorial defence units, steps up active reserve training, continues providing troops and units with modern supplies, works on proper infrastructure for Lithuanian and Allied forces, trains consistently and continuously. Arrival at the full operational capability of a medium-light infantry division may take up to ten years and additional defence appropriations.

Info credit: LITHAF