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Suppose I take a troop of gorillas and modify them to have human-level intelligence. How effective would they be in a war when compared to modern human soldiers, when comparably equipped?

Aside from their intelligence, these gorillas have the same body structure and dietary needs that regular gorillas have, but with slightly larger heads to hold their enhanced brains. Their equipment is similar to human equipment, but modified to fit their bodies. Triggers on guns and buttons on consoles are enlarged to work with gorilla-sized fingers, and reinforced foot-gloves and knuckle guards can take the place of combat boots in helping them get around dangerous environments without cutting up their hands and feet.

These gorillas will be serving as combat troops, not piloting fighter jets and tanks, and they don't have any equipment that couldn't be produced with modern technology. They'll be fighting on modern, urban battlefields, similar to Stalingrad or Mogadishu, and their opponents will be human soldiers with the arms and equipment of modern armies. The gorillas are intelligent enough to make their own choices and have chosen, voluntarily, to join the army, knowing full well what that entails. They have received similar training to modern American infantrymen, prior to engaging in combat. How will the gorillas fare?

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Strangely enough, I was actually just thinking about making an intelligent-gorilla army in my own worldbuilding project. Strange the kinds of questions that turn out to be useful on this site. – DaaaahWhoosh Feb 24 at 20:39
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Gorillas by nature, are not particularly violent creatures, although they are often portrayed that way. – fi12 Feb 24 at 20:42
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Does this assume the gorillas WANT to fight the humans? Or are they being commanded to fight? – ChronoD Feb 24 at 20:46
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@ChrisG The gorillas have willingly joined the army as ground troops, knowing what that entails. They may not WANT to kill people, but are willing to do so if that's what the job requires, just like many other soldiers. – ckersch Feb 24 at 20:57
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What's the difference between a gorilla with enhanced intelligence and a human with enhanced musculature? Do they count as human for the laws of war? Have you considered what the morale effects are on both sides? Especially in the meat grinder of urban warfare. – pjc50 Feb 25 at 15:30

11 Answers 11

up vote 75 down vote accepted

They would make great infantry, and would pose a serious threat on the battlefield.

Stronger

Gorillas are stronger than a human being, and capable of carrying far more equipment/armor.

Each of them could easily carry an LMG + ammo, while a regular human soldier would only have an assault rifle and far less ammunition. Having to reload less often, and being able to sustain fire for longer would definitely give them a tactical advantage.

Last but not least, if they engage a human in hand to hand combat the human will, unless very lucky, lose. In an arms ripped off kind of way.

Lower Profile & Increased Stability

Gorillas are shorter than us, and that actually gives them a fair advantage in an urban setting. A low profile is a thing to be desired when you've got snipers and the such lurking in the shadows.

This also ties in with the fact that Gorillas are designed to operate in mountainous regions. They will excel at climbing over rubble, making their way through ruined buildings, etc.

Conclusion

These Gorillas will move faster than human infantry, carry more firepower, more ammo, and more armor. I pity the poor bastards going up against them.


Edit. Or Why Gorillas as a Replacement for Humans Is Silly

I'd like to address some of the points which other people are raising, and which, while relevant, I do not believe are deal breakers:

Endurance

A human may very well have more endurance than a gorilla - I actually have no idea. However, why would gorilla infantry be used in exactly the same way as human infantry?

Everyone seems to be thinking of gorillas as replacing humans, which to me, is silly: there's lots of military gear that would be too expensive to modify for their use. Instead, a trained gorilla soldier would make a perfectly complement to a human unit. Gorilla units would be used as heavy, shock infantry, right alongside conventional human units.

They could be used as support troops, capable of emplacing heavy machine-guns, or carrying mortars and heavy loads of ammo close to enemy lines, or even behind enemy lines.

How much endurance they have is irrelevant! They can last long enough to do terrible damage to the enemy, at which point you pull them back for R&R, and allow the more rested human troops to push forward.

Caloric Intake

In this day and age we are capable of condensing a thousand or more calories in something the size of a granola bar. Are you trying to tell me that feeding the gorillas, while expensive, would be a deal breaker? Really? No.

Aiming & Weapon Handling

Frankly, I don't see what the issue is. Humans run from cover to cover and shoot from behind said cover. Gorillas would be perfectly capable of doing the same. As far as having to unsling their weapons while they run, I don't see a problem: gear already exists which allows troops to do so in seconds, not to mention that special weapons (wrist mounted solutions, etc.) could be developed for them so they are not defenceless when their weapons are slung.

Edit Conclusion

Gorillas don't have to behave - or be deployed - in the same way that regular human soldiers are. They may not be able to fill the exact same roles, or perform in the exact same way. Like any weapon, they have their strengths and weaknesses, and that's fine. The trick is to use them in such a way that you gain an advantage over the enemy, and I believe that their value as shock troops / heavy infantry is simply over 9000.

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Gorillas, or for that matter, no other animal in the world, don't have even dexterity that is even close to human. They absolutely could not aim better than a 5 year old child. And this is a limitation in their build, not intelligence. It's the price you pay for strength. – Davor Feb 26 at 14:45
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@Davor - that's a silly statement. How would you measure the dexterity of a Gorilla, or a Chimp as compared to that of a human being? Furthermore, technology can and will make up for their physical limitations. We already have smart-aim guns which use servos in the gun to adjust the barrel and help the user aim better. And smart grenades which you can program to explode as they pass a certain point, or immediately after they enter a building, or after they've bounced behind a corner, etc. It's all experimental, but it can be done. Furthermore, machine-guns. I rest my case. – AndreiROM Feb 26 at 14:48
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The way you would measure dexterity of anything? I don't get it. They have differently attached tendons than humans. This gives them a much larger leverage, producing much greater strength with muscles that are not that stronger. But because of that, their range and precision of motion is terrible compared to humans. This is simple biology. – Davor Feb 26 at 14:51
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"so we'd probably still be better" Ok. That is a far cry from " I pity the poor bastards going up against them." from before. At this point you've completely abandoned the conclusion in your answer and are basically saying the exact opposite. Perhaps you should edit your answer to reflect the changes in your opinion? – Shane Feb 26 at 17:29
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"They would make great infantry, and would pose a serious threat on the battlefield. [...]These Gorillas will move faster than human infantry, carry more firepower, more ammo, and more armor. I pity the poor bastards going up against them." Do you honestly think that is the same as this: "I think Gorillas could make excellent, niche, soldiers. But I do agree that there are situations in which they would not be the best suited."? Your answer is unbridled enthusiasm for these amazing soldiers that would wipe the floor with humans. Your comments are MUCH more reserved and limited. – Shane Feb 26 at 18:46

If we catalog their relative strengths and weaknesses, Gorillas would be great at hand-to-hand action, but as overall soldiers, you'd probably be better off with humans.

Strengths:

  • Strength - They can carry more equipment. Would win most any hand-to-hand combat with a human.
  • Durability - An adult male gorilla weighs about twice what an adult male human weighs, and their bones are thicker too. So they can take much more punishment than a human could.

Wash:

  • Speed - Both can run in the neighborhood of 25MPH.
  • Swimming - Humans can swim. Gorillas can't. However, neither can swim very well with a hundred pounds of gear.

Drawbacks:

  • Endurance - Humans are adapted to chasing down bleeding prey over miles and days if need be.
  • Sleep - Gorillas need about 13 hours of sleep a day, which is about twice as much as humans need.

So as infantry, a human unit could march far further in a day, and could remain in action far longer once they got there.

If I were the Gorilla commander, I'd try to mitigate this by mechanizing my infantry, and rotating troops (which would require more troops for the same effect as the human commander). There's some terrain that mechanization won't work in very well though, and more troops needed per engagement is another way of saying "less effective soldiers".

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Endurance! People who've never trained for cross country marches severely underestimate human endurance. Over long distances we can outrun horses. – slebetman Feb 25 at 10:06
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@slebetman - Can, and effectively do. It is a typical hunting strategy in hunter-gatherer societies to throw a couple of spears into an ungulate (eg: a zebra, horse, gazelle, giraffe, etc.) so it can't quite keep up with its herd, and then just jog after it until it drops from exhaustion. Its called persistence hunting. Humans are designed for it. – T.E.D. Feb 25 at 10:35
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@hyde - I'd think they could SCUBA about as well, up until their endurance issues kick in. They'd have buoyancy issues, but that can be rectified with devices (Gorilla frogmen with water-wings!). Their naked bodies aren't as adapted to it as humans, but human frogmen wear wetsuits and all kinds of gear anyway. – T.E.D. Feb 25 at 11:36
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@Madlozoz - I addressed this in comments on another answer. But one thing to consider here is that a herbivore can eat rice too. The US military uses high-fat "instant" meals (MREs), and there's no reason to believe an "intelligent" gorillia species couldn't find a nice fatty plant-based equivalent. However, there is indeed no getting around that they'd have twice as much body mass to maintain with food. So that's probably twice as much weight in food no matter what you do. – T.E.D. Feb 25 at 12:48
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Shooting isn't the only activity requiring proper (precise, soft) arm/hands movements, which gorilla's body aren't capable of. How do you disarm a trap, or, say, clean your gun? Fix a trivial malfunction? How do you do basic technical maintenance of a complex device allowing you to shoot using your sight? In reality, "mechanized gorilla warrior" would be more like a person with prosthetic devices, unable to take care of themselves. That the opposite of an effective soldier. – enkryptor Feb 25 at 15:44

They would be good beasts of burden or soldiers in the trees but not so great otherwise.

Gorillas are slow runners on two legs, almost all of their speed comes when running on all fours. They are balanced and build for running on all fours the added weight of a pack would lean them further over. So they have a paradox either run fast on all fours and not be able to shoot or move slowly and clumsily on two legs with a large pack and have their hands free for combat.

They are stronger and shorter but in most all combat satiations you need to be able to move fast and shoot at the same time.

In forests this could be reversed because humans need to use their hands to climb and hold branches where many apes can hold branches with their feet. In the forest they would be more maneuverable.

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Human's don't "move fast and shoot at the same time". In fact, we run from cover to cover, and fire from behind said cover. You wouldn't hit anything by shooting while running. Also, why would human troops climb trees in the forest? That puzzled me. – AndreiROM Feb 24 at 21:23
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While It's true that troops don't shoot while running, they can begin to fire as soon as they reach cover. Gorillas would have to stow their weapons before running, then unstow them when they reach cover. This would greatly reduce the effectiveness of the (presumably) heavier weapons they could carry. Furthermore, it's not at all clear that gorillas are capable of operating bipedally for long periods of time, especially while carrying heavy loads. – WhatRoughBeast Feb 24 at 21:38
    
@AndreiROM Humans usually don't climb in the forest, because we move much more slowly in the trees. But it is not uncommon to position snipers in the tree tops. – sdrawkcabdear Feb 24 at 21:39
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@sdrawkcabdear - gorillas have far more muscle than humans. Watch a video of them climbing a tree. In an urban environment they wouldn't necessarily be scaling the outside of skyscrapers. They couldn't But what about getting to a better vantage point by pulling themselves up from balcony to balcony? Or climbing on top of a bus in one quick motion, then shooting the soldiers on the other side of it? They would have a lot more vertical mobility than a human. We are simply not as strong when it comes to climbing. – AndreiROM Feb 24 at 21:59
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Gorillas are mostly ground animals - some more than others, but they are not great climbers. They absolutely do not swing from tree to tree. That is orangutans. – pluckedkiwi Feb 24 at 22:01

They might make excellent soldiers for close quarters combat in tight urban environments, where engagement is expected to be almost exclusively melee. Unfortunately, this severely restricts their usefulness.

I'm reminded of storm troops in trench warfare of the first world war - fast brutal engagements where rifles are of little use as combat is more throwing grenades then jumping into tight spaces for brutal hand to hand fighting with clubs, knives, and sharpened shovels. In those kinds of situations, gorilla shock troops would be devastating.

Their ability to carry heavier weights might give an advantage for transporting heavy weapons through difficult terrain - carrying machine guns or mortar tubes, with lots of ammo, might prove useful.

Unfortunately for the gorilla, modern warfare is mostly skirmishers. The ability to quickly run around while engaging with firearms is of primary importance, and gorillas would be inferior for most modern purposes.

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I think the best way to utilize their strength in close quarters combat would be to load them up with 500lbs of armor, rather than gear. It might be possible, using modern technology, to make a gorilla nearly impervious to small arms fire, something that could never be done with a human without restricting their mobility to the point of uselessness. Would work great until the enemies made a shotgun like CQB weapon that fired armor piercing .50 cal rounds. – Allen Feb 27 at 4:45

They would make fearsome opponents in close combat but a lousy at even reasonable range for a human shooter. A good commander with human troops could probably counter them by playing to their weaknesses. Consider the reason for their strength. Their ligament attachment is optimized for strength, but at the cost of fine motor control. They'd be laughably bad snipers, but you wouldn't want to face one in melee combat. Their weapons would be short range (blunderbuss shotgun sort of thing, arm mounted canons) they might recognize this lack and create computer assisted aiming (remember they're as smart as people and so could recognize their weaknesses). Also consider area damage weapons like mortar but less directed. Humans are also tops in the world for endurance running. In history humans excel at running our prey to death. This would also give them a disadvantage for fast, long marches. (imagine a human commander pushing his or her troops hard in retreat, setting up distance attacks along the route and then flanking from high ground) All in all the advantages and disadvantages balance well and could lead to interesting circumstances. Differences in temperament should also be considered.

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Greetings, welcome to Worldbuilding. You've got some good reasoning here, but lack a conclusion. Do you think they would make effective soldiers? – Samuel Feb 25 at 23:40

Short answer - no, aside from few specialized tasks. Being a musclebound person isn't enough for be an efficient soldier.

Stamina

Gorilla has muscles. For a living creature, muscles don't go for free, they need a lot of energy from the organism's systems. Considering a bigger brain, the energy consumption problem become even worse. In the wild nature a gorilla sleeps half of the day, foraging for food the other half. Endurance won't be their strong suit.

Range combat

Gorillas might be good in melee combat, but modern combat is about shooting. And shooting is a complicated thing. Gorillas have worse sight than humans. More importantly, their hands aren't designed for precise soft movements, they won't hit any mid-range target. Human snipers will annihilate them.

Mines and barricades

Gorillas won't be good engineers. Even using a barbed wire cutter wouldn't be easy for them, mainly because of how limbs/hands are designed. They can't disarm booby traps, can't handle explosives well enough. Still, despite of a good brain, engineering is weakness.

Transmitting orders

Gorilla's mouth doesn't suit for complex sounds. Basically, gorillas can't talk. That mean they can't use radio, can't report effectively, can't give or transmit orders. They still can use sign language though.

In other words, a gorilla (as well as any other animal) is too specialized to be as efficient as human in such a complex area. It can be a good hunter, but it can't be a good soldier.

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I'm not sure about range combat.Their massive strength allow for a new paradigm Hollywood style. Imagine a brigade of gorillas with minigun. Those baby can shoot thru most walls, so as soon as the sniper is vaguely located, the whole building would be obliterated – Madlozoz Feb 25 at 13:23
    
@Madlozoz strength doesn't save you from bullets. – enkryptor Feb 25 at 13:26
    
@Madlozoz normally, you never see a sniper. His advantage is the range, not the wall he is hiding behind. – enkryptor Feb 25 at 13:29
    
I'm not saying they would win hands down. I just mean they are not defenseless. Shooting thru wall vs being mobile.... I would bet on the sniper but I wouldn't like to be in his shoes. Plus a 100kg bulletproof jacket can save you from bullet (if you carry lighter weapon) – Madlozoz Feb 25 at 13:32
    
@Madlozoz what good is shooting through walls if you can't hit a target? – enkryptor Feb 25 at 13:42

No, they wouldn't be more effective.

The biggest issue would be the massive amount of food they would need. A quick search quoted a male can eat around 50 to 75lb of food a day. A typical human soldier can be expected to consume 4500 to 5000 calories per day. This is slightly more than double the calories that a civilian would consume, leading me to expect a gorilla soldier would need to carry minimum of about 100lbs of food for each day. Even at base the amount of food needed would make a logistical nightmare that could easily be attacked.

Another issue would be endurance. Being much lighter we would likely be able to outlast the gorilla.

Obviously you wouldn't want to go hand to hand with them, but that doesn't happen often.

Edit -

Nutrient paste probably wouldn't save much in the weight. The issue is the fact vegetation is the main food source. A nutrition bar with lots of calories probably requires foods they may not be able to handle. I found an article on zutrition.com listing 8000 calories as the daily requirement for a adult male gorilla. That is three to four times what you would feed a human soldier.

The issue here is the only advantage gorillas have is strength. Strength is not a big plus in the modern military. The only thing I might use them for would be to carry equipment for the humans, and I doubt they could actually keep up with the humans. I don't think they could stand upright to shoot for long. Humans can and do move and shoot, especially in close combat situations (Think SWAT teams storming a building, they move forward with the weapon in the firing position). Equipment and training are the important factors in modern combat. If you look at many of the battles that have happened in the last 25 years, highly trained troops were able to attain kill ratios above 10 to 1. The Blackhawk down battle is an excellent example.

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IMHO it depend on where you deploy them. In a city, I agree with you. But if you deploy them as a command in a forest, they are way more effective than humans – Gianluca Feb 25 at 9:46
    
The issue here is that they are mostly vegetarian (well...that and having to maintain a 400lb body). Plants, particularly leafy ones that Gorillas like, tend to be much less dense sources of nutrition than animal matter. However, I think our advanced Gorillas would probably develop some kind of dense nutrient paste to get around this issue. – T.E.D. Feb 25 at 11:25
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@Gianluca in a forest, a professional squad equipped with enough trip mines and sniper rifles can protect an area from any amount of that too big, too muscular, not so fast and not so accurate beasts. – enkryptor Feb 25 at 14:29
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@enkryptor given that you have a professional squad of gorillas equipped the same way, you are right only if during the enhancement process you wipe out all the basic capacities that enable the gorillas to survive in their natural environment. – Gianluca Feb 25 at 15:13
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Even if we made them exactly like a human, except they are much stronger and heavier, they are at a disadvantage. You have to get more food to them. One of the reasons to use firearms, is to remove physical strength from the equation. If strength isn't an advantage, the human would be the better choice. – Philip T. Feb 26 at 5:38

Your gorillas will not perform as well as human soldiers.

  1. Their basic instincts are still more prevalent than humans

Where we had millenia to overcome some of our basic fears and instincts, it is still a problem that has to be overcome with rigorous training.
Granting an animal enhanced intelligence, does not allow it to suddenly overcome its base urges.
Once this weakness is observed by your enemy, it will be easily exploited.

  1. Their natural hunched positions make them slower to adapt to ranged combat

Humans have adopted an upright position, which makes aiming down the sights of a rifle a trivial thing to learn and easier to master.
On the other hand, the hunched position of the gorillas means that they will be less comfortable, by nature, in assuming a firing position.
Which means that they will likely adapt slower to ranged combat.

  1. Their physical needs make them far more reliant on a large supply chain.

Battles are fought on a battlefield by soldiers commanded by superior officers. Wars are fought over tables by logistic officers.
The fact that your troops can carry more means little in an actual combat situation. And while they can haul supplies while moving towards their position, they can't hold their posts packed like mules.
You'll need to foresee for their massive dietary needs.

  1. You don't win a war with one special unit, you win wars with numbers.

While you are sinking costs into R&D for monkey suits, your enemy has outfitted 10x their number in human troops. It's not worth it just to have a storm-trooper that hits harder with a club.

  1. Their active window is only a few hours a day.

Taking into account their 13-14 hours of sleep a day, 1-2hours spent consuming massive quantities of food, and another hour for moving between locations, you have troops that are active 9-7hours a day. This means if you want an around the clock troop presence, you'll need about twice as many troops as your human counterpart.

  1. The age of hand to hand has ended.

Your gorillas won't be any less susceptible to an expanding casing burrowing through their skull. Likewise a land-mine will take out human or ape alike.
If you plan on clearing out a building, specialized troops with equipment meant for close quarters combat will do a far better job.

I don't really think when clearing out an entrenched position, it matters if the hand that holds the shotgun is hairy or not. As long as you have more of them and are better supplied than your enemy.
By the time the fists come out, it's more likely in a drunken stupor during the aftermath of the conflict.

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I'm going to add this as an answer instead of commenting as it touches on different topics, particularly the fact that modern infantry isn't fighting in a lot of wide open areas like in the past. An urban environment is what was mentioned and doesn't seem to have been focused on enough.

  1. Experience - you describe a scenario where you take already grown gorillas and hand wave them into being intelligent. That's all well and good if you want to educate them to show off at an academic conference, but that is a horrible idea for a soldier. What you are really doing is creating the equivalent of physically superior child soldiers because they have almost zero life experience to draw upon as soldiers. They won't know even the basics about human life and our habitats and teaching this combined with everything else that they need to know to be effective soldiers in an urban environment would take years. Otherwise they'll simply be brawny thugs shooting anything that resembles what you have qualified as a 'bad guy' and most likely being tactically outmaneuver very quickly.

  2. Cost - Human soldiers have been the focus for our infantry for thousands of years. Unless you're planning to have had these intelligent gorillas around for a long time, then nothing will have been developed over time to suit them, it will have been adapted for them, and that is a problem. You even mention creating a new kind of 'foot' wear just for these new troops, along with modifications to other equipment. That is simply the beginning, as others pointed out, because they have not evolved for acting as humans do. If this organization decides to suddenly attempt this gorilla soldier idea, then it is going to cost them a ton to get what is likely very little return out of it.

Basically, gorillas are better for the exact opposite of what you're wanting them to do, which is fight in tight, modern, urban environments for a simple reason, they're animals and don't live or operate in these areas naturally. If you wanted melee soldiers for an older style of fighting in mountainous terrain, then they'd be great, but for this I would say no.

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Close quarter assault with specific tactics is the only saving grace I can see. And being disposable (you have some industrial breeding farm, don't you?)

As many mentioned before me, they have limited endurance, diet is a serious logistic problem and street/forest warfare is a lot about short burst of speed which is less efficient when you have a large body mass.
If humans can afford to retreat, they'll move faster and can lay ambush anytime.

Even more important: human-level intelligence is not human-like intelligence. Dolphins probably have human-level intelligence, but we simply can not communicate.

Being able to carry much weight allow to carry bigger guns. So there is that.

But I think their real strength would be hand-to hand combat.
Let's be clear: modern military stressing the importance of hand to hand combat is 84.6% testosterone fueled bravado. But with a brigade of gorillas, you can make dedicated tactics.
- Put a MASSIVE bullet proof vest. They can carry it
- Bring them close to the target (standard street warfare )
- Go berserk on the last yards. They would be especially good at this in the forest (rush through bushes is not natural for humans)
- Kill the target with bare hands (break the neck, step on them...) or bayonet.

I would call this a suicide attack (they kill the target only to die from their wounds) but hey! those are only gorillas...

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From the question: "... gorillas are intelligent enough to make their own choices and have chosen, voluntarily, to join the army, knowing full well [what] that entails...". These gorillas are not "only gorillas". It's not "but hey!" if they die. That's species-ism, and you ought to be ashamed of yourself. – wizzwizz4 Feb 25 at 19:10
    
@wizzwizz4 Yep! Exactly what is intended. Every army has its second class citizen (who join army on their own choice) that racist officers use as canon fodder. Now it would be specist officer using gorilla as such – Madlozoz Feb 25 at 19:16

You might consider using uplifted chimpanzees instead. They aren't quite as strong as gorillas, but they are still much stronger than humans without many of the disadvantages people have mentioned for gorillas.

  • Logistics: because they are more similar in size and physiology to humans, it's easier to reuse/adapt equipment, vehicles, weapons, & medical resources
  • Weapons Training: non-uplifted chimpanzees can already use projectiles as weapons
  • Instincts: more aggressive in nature and engage in inter-group "warfare" in the wild
  • Mobility: better adapted for climbing, covering longer distances (compared to gorillas, not humans), and less sleep/rest

References:

  1. Osvath, Mathias (2009-03-10). "Spontaneous planning for future stone throwing by a male chimpanzee". Curr. Biol. 19 (5)
  2. Wilson et al., Lethal aggression in Pan is better explained by adaptive strategies than human impacts. Nature, 2014; 513 (7518): 414 DOI: 10.1038/nature13727
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