Infantry weaponry is whatever weapon is carried by forces fighting on foot, and does not need to be platform mounted for use. The weaponry used by infantry is usually specific to the role or regiment, and in the case of analysis, can often be very telling of which unit is involved in a conflict, or who is supplying said conflict. This article will take a particular focus on infantry weapons recognition of Russian equipment, however, this applies to more countries than just Russia.
In 2014, Crimea found itself suddenly playing host to a large population who enthusiastically supported Russian intervention and annexation in the region, or in other words, Russian forces sent to conduct the intelligence and battlefield preparation of the area ahead of the main force. Largely these ‘little green men’ were dismissed by Russia as members of “civil defence squads” supported by the Night Wolves motorcycle club (a club with known Russian nationalist links).
However, these units were armed with GM-94 pump-action grenade launchers, fitted with EOTech red-dot sights. The sights alone run at around £600, and the launcher itself is only issued to Russian Special Operation Forces (SOF) or (RU: Sily spetsial’nykh operatsii; SSO) or specialist internal security units. These two factors confirmed what many believed; that the little green men were, in fact, elite Russian forces.
This is just one example of where analysis of the weaponry carried by forces can betray a particular force’s location, which in turn gives a starting point for the analysis of strategic intent. After all, why send SSO somewhere that you are not interested in?
Where the particular utility lies for analysts in the analysis of infantry weapons is in more than just saying “these people are here”. As stated above the weaponry they carried gave Russian SOF away. This also extends to the less special members of the armed forces.
The Russian military habitually arms its central and western military districts with the more advanced equipment long before the southern and eastern districts. The AK-74 rifle was the last major rollout of a new standard-issue infantry weapon to the average soldier of the (then-Soviet) military, and one that has only been replaced recently in the western and central districts by the AK-100 series, and more recently the AK’s 12 and 15.
The AK-12 and AK-15 represent a marked change from the AK-74M and its AK-100 derivatives, by offering a primarily polymer set of furniture, and an improved quality of manufacturing, as well as a new set of working parts that facilitates a two-shot burst functionality. This provides lightness and robustness ahead of the other Kalashnikov weaponry. These shiny new rifles have only been issued to Russian SSO, Airborne Forces, SVR, and FSB troops. This indicates what is where, and allows the analyst to build the larger picture and to aid the big picture.
Furthermore, the accurate identification of weaponry relies on more than just shape and features but also marking on the weapon. Features such as serial number formats, selector markings, and factory marks can also allow for the analytical team to understand the strategic movements of a country. By employing ground teams to seize and examine weaponry used by fighters a country may understand who has the backing of a state actor. Additionally, the overall condition of the weapons is indicative. If a weapon is worn in any particular area, or it has very little (if any) factory finish it shows how old the weapon is and how likely it is that the weapon has been in that particular area or in good condition.
For example, an American SF team may raid an enemy position and seize an arms cache, only to discover that the Kalashnikov pattern weapons seized are marked “АВ” and “ЕД” instead of “АВ” and “OД” indicates that the weapons are Bulgarian in origin. This rules out other suppliers and narrows the potential paths the analyst has to follow to reach the source.
If an armed group in Ukraine appears carrying cutting edge weaponry carrying Kalashnikov factory marks, one can surmise that the weapons were either purchased individually (given that Kalashnikov advertises its weapons for civilian purchase with certain modifications) or supplied in bulk.
If a whole unit of Ukrainian separatists is carrying clean weapons, relatively unscathed, an capable of automatic fire, then it becomes unlikely that every member of that unit went out and bought themselves a brand new Kalashnikov-made weapon of military specification. The conclusion then becomes that these were supplied through an official channel
With these points considered, it becomes clear that the infantry weapons recognition has greater utility than simply knowing who is armed with what; it allows analysts to put together a greater strategic picture. It tells us who is supplying who, who is where, and which people are important to which country.
Image: TFB (link)