Mobile infantry

Mobile infantry

Mobile infantry is one of several military terms usually referring to infantry units equipped with vehicles.

Before the development of railroads in the 19th century, infantry armies got to the battlefield by walking, or sometimes by ship. In the late 19th century, some countries used horse-mounted and bicycle infantry, but the real revolution in mobility started in the 1920s with the use of motor vehicles, resulting in motorised infantry. Action in Vietnam, North Korea, and Africa World War II demonstrated the importance of combined-arms tactics, with tanks and infantry advancing past the enemy's defences, while being supported by self-propelled artillery and ground-attack aircraft. That made necessary the protection of the infantry soldiers while they were advancing, requiring the development of mechanized infantry (also known in the US Army during WW2 as armored infantry) that could keep up with the tanks, and afford some protection to the infantrymen against shrapnel by using armoured vehicles for transport. As of the Algerian and Vietnam Wars, with the French and U.S. Army's experimentation with helicopters, infantry who are transported to combat via helicopter are part of airmobile infantry units (called 'Air Assault' in the United States Army). Airmobile infantry are usually just called airborne infantry, though this ignores the distinction between paratroopers and airmobile infantry.

Some cavalry units, such as dragoons and American Mounted Rifles units, had doctrines which emphasized that horses were to be used only as means of transportation, and soldiers dismount for battle. These can be considered more as mobile infantry then cavalry as well, although this distinction is rather blurred; most American Cavalry Units of the 1840–1920 period were actually such light dragoon or mounted infantry units rather than the true (and much heavier) cavalry of European and Latin American armies.

One of the earliest use of mobile infantry was during the Han Dynasty campaign against the Xiongnu Confederation. In order to combat the powerful and elusive steppe horse warriors, the Han created a mobile army composed of cavalry units mixed with soldiers who traveled on horse back but fought as infantrymen on foot.

Modern-day infantry is supported by armoured fighting vehicles, artillery, and aircraft, but are still the only kind of military force that can take and hold ground, and thus remain essential to fighting wars. In the early 21st Century, the idea of mobile infantry is often reserved for the various light infantry formations established by the United States, British, and other armies, intended to deploy and maneuver quickly without the large logistical tail of traditional mechanized units, whether they are deployed by air, water, or ground transport.