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Low-Intensity Conflict and the Transformation in Military Affairs
Posted by: Dale Franks on Monday, January 30, 2006

Ralph Peters isn't a blind convert to Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld's doctrine of Transformation in Military Affairs (TMA).
From Iraq's Sunni Triangle to China's military high command, the counterrevolution in military affairs is well underway. We are seduced by what we can do; our enemies focus on what they must do. We have fallen so deeply in love with the means we have devised for waging conceptual wars that we are blind to their marginal relevance in actual wars. Terrorists, for one lethal example, do not fear "network-centric warfare" because they have already mastered it for a tiny fraction of one cent on the dollar, achieving greater relative effects with the Internet, cell phones, and cheap airline tickets than all of our military technologies have delivered. Our prime weapon in our struggles with terrorists, insurgents, and warriors of every patchwork sort remains the soldier or Marine; yet, confronted with reality's bloody evidence, we simply pretend that other, future, hypothetical wars will justify the systems we adore—purchased at the expense of the assets we need.

Stubbornly, we continue to fantasize that a wondrous enemy will appear who will fight us on our own terms, as a masked knight might have materialized at a stately tournament in a novel by Sir Walter Scott. Yet, not even China—the threat beloved of major defense contractors and their advocates—would play by our rules if folly ignited war. Against terrorists, we have found technology alone incompetent to master men of soaring will—our own flesh and blood provide the only effective counter. At the other extreme, a war with China, which our war gamers blithely assume would be brief, would reveal the quantitative incompetence of our forces. An assault on a continent-spanning power would swiftly drain our stocks of precision weapons, ready pilots, and aircraft. Quality, no matter how great, is not a reliable substitute for a robust force in being and deep reserves that can be mobilized rapidly.
Military leaders—and American military leaders in particular—are always attracted to new technologies that promise to transform military affairs. And what we're seeing today with "Defense Transformation" looks to me to be very similar to the claims made by air power advocates after WWI.

For instance, in the 1920s, the writings of Italian air power advocate Giulio Douhet, among others, formed a school of thought in American military circles, led by Billy Mitchell, that air power would break future enemies, without having to do any of that tedious mucking about on the ground by the infantry boys. We would be able to use tactical and strategic bombing to break the enemies will and ability to resist, and the infantry's role would be limited to walking in and occupying enemy countries after the Air Force had won the war. Sadly, the USAF was still teaching Giulio Douhet's doctrines in the 1980s and 1990s when I was on active duty. (Fortunately, the USAF's current promotion study guide for sergeants, AF Pamphlet 36-2241, both Volume I and Volume II , don't push Douhet's doctrines any more.) So, 40 years after Douhet was shown to be...uh...overly optimistic, the USAF was still pushing him, even to enlisted personnel, as late as 1993.

Of course, history didn't actually work out the way that Mitchell and Douhet envisioned. You can have the most powerful and destructive air forces imaginable, and have complete air superiority over the entire theater of conflict, but you don't own a piece of ground until an 18 year-old infantryman—or Security Policeman1—with a rifle is standing on it. Defense transformation strikes me, in many ways, as a repeat of the infatuation about air power that military airmen fell prey to in the interwar years of the 20th century.

It's really an interesting paradox. TMA promises a quantum leap in combat power and lethality. And, in fact, it does deliver on those promises—assuming that your opponent has a heavily armed conventional force. But where TMA falls flat is precisely where we find ourselves now: an unconventional, Low-Intensity Conflict (LIC). No matter how powerful and high-tech our combined arms TMA forces are, they are essentially useless in a LIC where the essential element of combat is infantryman against insurgent on a one-on-one basis. We simply can't bring the vast majority of our TMA combat power to bear against insurgents.

Sure, we can use Predator UAVs to strike insurgent safe houses or the like. But, if we build a force that can annihilate conventional, state-sponsored armed forces, we will always play catch-up in LIC.

Now, unlike Peters, I think the Chinese have little choice but to enagage us on our own terms in a state-to-state conflict. The nature of their armed forces, and the conflicts that are likely to arise therefrom, such as an attempted invasion of Taiwan, pretty much force them to engage us in conventional terms where RMA works to our advantage. But the Global War on Terror (GWOT) negates, to a large extent, the improvements that RMA provides for our conventional forces.

So we are stuck in an uncomfortable position. TMA gives us a much-needed edge in conventional conflicts, and it's an edge that we simply can't afford to ignore until the possibility of state-to-state conflict disappears entirely. At the same time, the GWOT requires that, rather than concentrating on TMA, we concentrate on the combat power and lethality of the individual infantryman, where TMA is, for the most part, of questionable value, except at the margins, such as using robots to find and defuse IEDs.

So, the real challenge the DoD faces, in the near future, is to balance the requirements of conventional operations with the requirements of LICs in Southwest Asia. And, even with the best will available, that's an extraordinarily hard balance to strike. Units that are predicated on fighting the LIC are ill-prepared for conventional warfare, while LIC-predicated units are not noticeably helpful in conventional warfare scenarios.

If I were to really think about it, I would probably come up with a proposal to redefine the missions of the Army and Marine Corps. Perhaps one solution would be to concentrate the USMC, with their combined arms force, on the LIC and amphibious missions, while making the Army the "big battalions" conventional force. That would require a major expansion of the USMC, while keeping the Army at its current size. But, even that has its own ingrained problems, because the Army has an institutional experience and knowledge base with LIC that can't simply be jettisoned.

The tension between LIC and TMA is more relevant than ever, and it isn’t going to simply go away. And, frankly, I'm not seeing any indication from the DoD that serious thinking is going on about the often opposing requirements of LIC and TMA at the strategic level.

I'd be very interested in McQ's thoughts on this matter.
_______________
1 Security Police, or, as the USAF now styles them, USAF Security Forces, are the ground combat force for the USAF. When I was an SP, we went to 6 weeks of infantry combat school, called Air Base Ground Defense (ABGD), at Camp Bullis, TX, after graduating from the SP Academy. For the unfortunate people—like me—that had additional heavy weapons specialties, we had to spend an extra week or two at Camp Bullis completing our heavy weapons specialty course before going on to ABGD. While air-to-air and air-to-ground combat is the province of USAF officers, ground combat in the USAF is, and always has been, the role of the USAF's enlisted soldiers. (Heh. And I thought I would be riding around in my little white patrol car as an SP. Somehow, my recruiter never got around to mentioning that I would double as an infantryman. I'm sure it was just an oversight.)
 
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At the risk of souning like a broken record, Tom Barnett has been beating this exact drum for the past two years. In order to clear away this schizophrenia between tech-centric war and manpower-centric LIC/MOOTW, his preferred solution is to split the military into two departments — a Leviathan war-waging force designed to employ overwhelming force with overhwelming speed and go home as soon as the smoke clears (comprised mostly of Air force, SEALs, Green Berets, Rangers, etc, plus a few other parts of the Navy), with all the rest of the military going into a larger SysAdmin force designed to flood the zone in the wake of the Leviathan and take over as they rotate out, structured for peacekeeping and reconstruction (plus the Marines for the occaisional Falujah-style op when necessary). This way there’s a clear distinction between two forces with two distinct functions, so each can be allowed to optimize along its own trajectory rather than one military being pulled in two directions at once.
 
Written By: Matt McIntosh
URL: http://conjecturesandrefutations.net
IMHO, you are dead wrong.

"No matter how powerful and high-tech our combined arms TMA forces are, they are essentially useless in a LIC where the essential element of combat is infantryman against insurgent on a one-on-one basis. We simply can’t bring the vast majority of our TMA combat power to bear against insurgents."

Our technology gives us major advantages in LIC. For example, our night vision goggles means we own the night, not the insurgents. That never happened before in any previous LIC. The VC didn’t infiltrate the wire in the daytime...

Our body armor also really hurts the insurgents, as ambushes become less lethal, and our forces then react more swiftly when attacked.

The Stryker is designed for LIC, and it’s part of the TMA. It’s very quiet and well protected and wheeled...

"Sure, we can use Predator UAVs to strike insurgent safe houses or the like. But, if we build a force that can annihilate conventional, state-sponsored armed forces, we will always play catch-up in LIC."

I would submit that a lot of weapon systems end up being dual-use and its mainly the tactics and training that need to be adjusted for each style of confict.

For example, our superior aircraft can destroy armored columns OR they can be used by Green Berets to provide air support for our proxy forces in an LIC.

I’d suggest the real trouble with LIC vs. Continental conventional war would be a Navy/Airforce problem and not so much an army/marine problem.

And people who believe quantity in depth can beat quality during a conventional war should be reviewing their history...you know, where Israel wiped out the larger Arab armies, or a platoon of M-1 can destroy a battallion of Iraqi armor. Though I’m sure there are examples of the other way around as well.
 
Written By: Harun
URL: http://
Regarding peace-keeping, I do think we have a problem where we used to rely on our allies for this, but they are not so reliable. (and we definitely use more specialized units in this field.)

Same with the big continental war. I suspect in a big war, we’d plan to have our allies to provide the "depth" but that might be very wrong. Say China attacks Taiwan...would we really get help from Europe? It was different in the cold war.
 
Written By: Harun
URL: http://
Hm. Something about Barnett’s answer feels wrong (or maybe just too rigid in its assumptions), but I’m not a professional analyst and I won’t pretend to be one.

Harun has some good points.


As for the Peters article...

I think Peters has a myopic set of assumptions about what kind of thinking goes on at the Pentagon. I think he sees the admittedly heavy emphasis on upgrading the force multipliers and the somewhat confusing (as in, "Is there a good reason for them to do this? I can’t tell") changes in force groupings(Units of Action, etc), and assumes it’s the same-old same-old Idea of technology-Instead-Of-troops.

It doesn’t help that, for as long as I’ve read his articles, I’ve seen an attitude from Peters that seems to perceive Donald Rumsfeld the way MK perceives George W. Bush - that if he [Rumsfeld] does something right, it was clearly by accident, and anything he does on purpose is for the wrong reasons and cannot possibly be as good as he thinks it is.

Then again, my seeing this attitude on Peters’ part probably leads me to dismiss the parts of his articles that even touch on the Pentagon, Rumsfeld, or TMA a little quicker than I should. Heaven knows, on most OTHER things, Peters tends to be spot on.

I wish like Hell that Congress would get off their duffs, cut a lot of pork from the budget, and use that to fund significant increases in the size of the Army and Marines. I wish they’d done that starting October 2001. It wouldn’t do as much good now, but it would be something. Of course, to go along with that, major changes need to be made as to what MOSes go in the Active Duty, Guard, and Reserve components, and that is going to take years still, even if there hadn’t been (and to a certain extent still are ongoing) turf wars and people who can’t adjust to even the concept that LICs are something we need to worry about at the Pentagon level.

Speaking of which, I see some of this happening at both ends: The Pentagon (especially the levels far BELOW Rumsfeld, who filter things up to him) basically says "We’re the Pentagon, we know best what’s coming." Everyone outside the Pentagon says, "They’re the Pentagon, they don’t know Jack, why should we pay any attention to them?" And so everyone ignores each other.
 
Written By: Dave
URL: http://www.thepatriette.com/dangerous
Evidently, there are plans to beef up the numbers of Special Operations forces including the development of a Marine Corps Special Operations unit.
 
Written By: JWG
URL: http://
Tom Barnett has been beating this exact drum for the past two years.
That was exactly what I thought when I read this, Matt.
 
Written By: Jon Henke
URL: http://www.QandO.net
Commentators and Defense Reformers, such as Hackworth and Peters, tend to be exiles from DoD. They may be self-imposed exiles, but exiles nonetheless and it tends to colour their writings. DoD is their enemy, in part because their Service and DoD failed to keep THEM (In the case of Hackworth-who I admire greatly- it is very obvious that he’s angry that DoD had the temerity to survive and even thrive after his departure.). So whenever I read Peters or Soldiers for the Truth, etc. etc. I always read with a grain of salt. I believe someone has mentioned that many of these groups are amazed that DoD gets things right, but never surprised that it gets things wrong, which in their case means not doing what THEY WOULD HAVE DONE. So I tend to be a little prejudiced AGAINST their opinions.

Someone has mentioned TWO DoD’s, it’s not going to happen. The Ground Forces, Army and Marines, are part of the US "General Purpose" Forces and that’s not going to change. There is no way that the US is going to field TWO armies, one to fight the PRC and one to fight the Sunni insurgency in Iraq. We are simply going to have to deal with the fact that the 1st Marine Division and the 1st Infantry Division are likely to have to face either opponent, even if because we may mis-scale our forces. "OOOOPS, the Conventional War forces are too small, we’re going to need to draft some of the LIC forces" or vice versa.

One thing that we might consider is, to borrow a cliché, to "focus on our core competencies." I would submit that the Army’s Core Competence is in multi-brigade combat. The US Army ought to focus its efforts on the planning, equipping, and supporting multi-brigade operations, world-wide. That would mean training the Divisional and Force staffs of the US Marine Corps. The Army, USAF and the Marines would jointly plan and train for these larger-scale operations.

The Marines might profitably focus on the battalion/brigade fight. They would be the one’s that teach the Army how best to shoot from behind trees, as it were. Certainly the US Army can’t be the "best" at everything and ought to look at what it has done well in the past. The Marines do a number of outstanding things and the Army ought to be willing to learn from them. As I say, tactical concepts and the idea of the "expeditionary force" are some of the things to teach the Army.

But ultimately both services will have distinct cultures and both will have to face both conventional and LIC contingencies. The best we can hope for is that each service will have the staff that have thought thru the problems of both and "seed" units that have the ability to operate in their areas of expertise and the ability also to pass that expertise onto follow-on units moving into a different, for them, mission.

Lastly, one area that might examined for "seed" units would be reserve units. Reserve units in South Carolina, Florida and Hawaii might be the PERFECT place to preserve/maintain the capacity for riverine combat and jungle combat. Obviously Alaska provides the US forces with the area to maintain cold weather capacity. Let the Active Forces train for generalized combat, using their basic weapons and systems well, and let the reserve forces focus on the more esoteric skills, that may or may NOT be necessary tomorrow, but will probably come in handy someday. Bottom-Line: let reserve units focus their limited training time and budgets on smaller, niche activities. Let the Active forces do the initial heavy lifting.
 
Written By: Joe
URL: http://
Has anyone read the book Blink? Gladwell talks about the Millenium Challenge within the Pentagon and how the Blue Team (the American military) thought like a large corporation with meetings and after-action review and on and on, without ever bothering to think like the rogue dictator they were supposed to be battling. Blue Team lost, badly, relying on their models, matricies, and meetings. They got so enamored of the technology and the process they forgot about war fighting.
 
Written By: A fine scotch
URL: http://
A fine Scotch... Millennium Challenge had some problems with it, on both sides. Van Riper’s claims were inflated and silly, in part, e.g.., using motor couriers rather than radio, OK, IF he’s willing to fight in 2002 as the French fought in 1940, or his distribution of an attack plan at Friday Prayers. Sure that makes neat press, but YOU try and really run a war like that. Now the Blue forces were a bit stodgy however, I note that when the US military went up against a REAL "rogue dictator" as distinct from a curmudgeonly retired Marine General, the US military won, handily.
 
Written By: Joe
URL: http://
I imagine that this debate has been going on since Og smacked Grob upside the head with a rock, and it’ll be going on for as long as men and nations perceive the need to be prepared for war. A few points:

- I give kudos to Rummy and Co. for at least trying to avoid the trap of thinking about how to fight the last war, which is a common accusation leveled against the Pentagon (and just about any military organization, for that matter).

- Personally, I am a big believer in gearing up the military primarily to fight medium- and high intensity conflicts. The most important reason, of course, is that losing these presents the gravest threat to US national security / interests. However, the weapons developed for MIC / HIC also have utility in LIC. For example, the technology we use to eavesdrop on al Qaeda communications were developed to eavesdrop on Soviet communications. The helicopter and the concept of air assault, which proved vital in Vietnam and plays a key role in the GWOT, were originally developed for combat against the Soviets in a nuclear environment.

- I believe that the key to preparing to fight LIC is not in developing technology, but rather in developing good doctrine and hammering it into the (often thick) skulls of senior military and civilian leaders. We failed to do this in Veitnam, and it cost us. Andrew Krepenivich argues in The Army and Vietnam(1) that the US Army did so poorly in Vietnam because its senior leaders (notably Westmoreland) tried to apply an inappropriate and ultimately self-defeating "big war" doctrine to fighting the communists, while Lewis Sorley in A Better War(2) shows how this changed - too late - when Abrams took over from Westmoreland in 1968. I think we’ve done A LOT better in Iraq.

- I like the idea presented by Joe about "seed" units in the Reserves and National Guard. I’d also like to see the military (especially the Army) beef up its language training, MP training, etc.

- Is the fight against terrorism really an example of LIC? I think that it is not, and therefore the military does not have a large role to play. Rather, the war should be fought primarily by our intelligence agencies, who should locate and eliminate terrorist cells. The military’s role in this is basically limited to providing the means, in the form of special forces and / or precision air and missile strikes... and to make any nation that supports terrorism have good reason to rethink that policy.

- I have tremendous faith in the initiative and adaptability of the American soldier when he is not hobbled by stupid directives from the White House or the Pentagon. He’ll see the situation on the ground clearly and understand what he needs to get the job done. The best thing is to give him what he wants and then get out of his way.




(1) Lewis Sorley, A Better War: The Unexamined Victories and Final Tragedy of America’s Last Years in Vietnam. New York: Harcourt Brace and Co., 1999.

(2) Andrew F. Krepenivich, The Army and Vietnam. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1986.
 
Written By: docjim505
URL: http://
One assumption you must start with is what are the conflicts we will be involving ourselves in during the next 10, 20, 50 years...

If you think that we’ve got to prepare for the Chinese hordes, then you’re going to rely on the Leviathan of Mr Barnetts description. The unrivaled military power to reduce the regime of a country into a sniviling, quivering mess in 2-13 weeks.

If on the other hand, you think that we’re going to be involved in a lot of small wars, peacekeeping, and disaster aid (basically all nation-building in nature) then you want is closer to what Mr Barnett calls the Sys-Admin force. Trained in fighting, but also with the language and cultural skills, and discipline to know when to use force or not. That would include much of the infantry, including MPs, civil affairs, Corp of Engineers...

I’d recommend everyone read his two books if they haven’t already. It really adds to the discussion.

Most everyone thinks that it’s an either/or. We either prepare for the war with China (which isn’t likely to happen), or we prepare for the Haitis, Somalias, and Iraqs of the world. (Network Centric vs 4th Gen Warfare)

Barnett sees that you really need both. A force capable of taking out a regime in 2-13 weeks, and then a follow on force capable of efficiently keeping the peace and helping to rebuild a country.

I would think a larger discussion would be what role should America play in all this. Sit on the side-lines or take an active part in lifting failed states out of the mud.
 
Written By: Keith, Indy
URL: http://
Well Keith, allies and partners can help in the follow-on, so that the US can have larger conventional war force. After 9/11 that really isn’t much debate about "nation-building" is there? It’s not either/or now, but rather this place or that?

Others have mentioned it, but the technology of the RMA is NOT mutually exclusive to the LIC. In fact, the LIC opponents are using technology, the Internet, ’cell ’phones, GPS, and the like. The US will too. And many systems are dual-use. UAV’s were invented to wage ’Net Centric war, yet they ae invaluable in Iraq, too, as one example. So let’s not be too dictomous in thinking to prepare for one thing we must therefore be limiting our ability to wage the other.
 
Written By: Joe
URL: http://
Allies do play an important role in helping create a sustainable SysAdmin force.

But peacekeeping has much more to do with (putting in the old venacular) winning hearts and minds, then killing the bad guys. You fight the bad guys with one hand, and build the local security/government with the other.

Barnett posits that planning for the super war, short changes the peacekeeping.

That is absolutely true in the debate over appropriations. The Leviathan wants it’s big toys, super carriers, jets, bombers. The SysAdmin needs the littoral ships, Strykers, and funds for bullets, armor, and such. Until a more balanced approach is taken, one will short change the other.


And let me add, I’m not the best representative of Barnetts ideas. He is. I really recommend you read his books, and thoughts on the matter.
 
Written By: Keith, Indy
URL: http://
docjim -
Personally, I am a big believer in gearing up the military primarily to fight medium- and high intensity conflicts. The most important reason, of course, is that losing these presents the gravest threat to US national security / interests. However, the weapons developed for MIC / HIC also have utility in LIC. For example, the technology we use to eavesdrop on al Qaeda communications were developed to eavesdrop on Soviet communications. The helicopter and the concept of air assault, which proved vital in Vietnam and plays a key role in the GWOT, were originally developed for combat against the Soviets in a nuclear environment.
I wrote a simple little piece on this for TNL.
(See page 3-4) It’s about the ABC problem and the "Axis of Evil." Not like I really know that much about the military, but...
 
Written By: OrneryWP
URL: http://
TO: Ornery WP

Sir;

I read your article. I am not at all familiar with The Shield of Achilles; I’ll have to look into this book. However, a few questions come to mind:

1. In your article, you state:
As long as we have those B-list threats, we cannot comfortably proceed with an A-list strategy.
Why not? What prevents us from upgrading our existing force to the "A" level while still keeping it strong enough to deal with "B" threats? It’s not like we have to scrap our existing military and start building a new one from scratch.

2.
Yet the Bush administration has stood by Donald Rumsfeld and his efforts to lighten the military and make it more mobile and information oriented.
The military has been chasing this chimera since at least the mid-1970s. The problem has been - and continues to remain - that even highly sophisticated "light" forces will probably be defeated by relatively unsophisticated "heavy" forces, assuming that the enemy also has numerical superiority (and he probably will).

One reads "military experts" periodically predict the end of the aircraft carrier, the main battle tank, the mech infantry division, etc, only to have a war pop up in which these "heavy" weapons prove their worth.

Don’t get me wrong: if we can make an armored fighting vehicle with the power, speed, and protection of an M-1 that only weighs 1/3 as much, this is a helluva attractive weapon. Ditto a carrier that displaces only 35,000 tons that can do the job of a current Nimitz-class carrier. But nobody’s been able to develop such weapons yet, and until they do, we’re "stuck" with what we have.

3.
The sales of current US technology to our allies would simply be the practical thing to do — more money to fund military research and better containment of tomorrow’s security threats while we make the costly transition.
Selling our military technology to ANYBODY outside of VERY trustworthy allies (like the British, Japanese, Australians, etc) scares the hell out of me. Remember how we sold the Shah all those goodies in the ’70s... only to see them fall into the hands of the mullahs when he was overthrown.

I also don’t see why the "transition" has to be so "costly". Yeah, we’d be fielding a lot of new weapons, but we do that periodically, anyway, as new technology is developed and new weapons are developed. The M-1 of 2006 is a great deal more sophisticated than the M-1 of 1983; ditto the F-15.

 
Written By: docjim505
URL: http://
. In your article, you state:

As long as we have those B-list threats, we cannot comfortably proceed with an A-list strategy.
Why not? What prevents us from upgrading our existing force to the "A" level while still keeping it strong enough to deal with "B" threats? It’s not like we have to scrap our existing military and start building a new one from scratch.
Well, maintaining a large conventional force while simultaneously pursuing big-bucks projects is possible, but very very expensive. If you want to build mass numbers of precision guided weapons, you’re going to feel pretty dumb blowing up a large number of Soviet tanks with an extremely expensive array of guided missiles instead of a few old A10 Warthogs. You don’t want to pull out a bunch of F-22s and risk them over targets that are worth squat. As long as you already have a large fleet of fighters that can do the job quite adequately for a fraction of the price, you want to take advantage of them while they’re still viable. With the new generation of Soviet missiles and jets and other defense systems being sold to our potential enemies, that time is running out. Take note of Iran’s purchases of air defense systems that will make anyone wince — even Israel’s elite air force.

If, on the other hand, there were no real B-list threats to worry about, we could move forward with a very focused RMA (or TMA, depending on how revolutionary you think the change is).

The kinds of peer threats we may see in the coming century — and considering that the pace of technological progress is accelerating, I’m talking a couple decades here, not 2060-2080 stuff — will be highly technologically empowered. If we have to field several multibillion-dollar weapons systems that won’t have any place on the battlefield of 2020, we may find ourselves in a place we don’t want to be.
Yet the Bush administration has stood by Donald Rumsfeld and his efforts to lighten the military and make it more mobile and information oriented.
The military has been chasing this chimera since at least the mid-1970s. The problem has been - and continues to remain - that even highly sophisticated "light" forces will probably be defeated by relatively unsophisticated "heavy" forces, assuming that the enemy also has numerical superiority (and he probably will).
To some degree, that is certainly correct. The light brigade still can’t stand up to tanks. If they have a very very large number of infantry, even a highly sophisticated special ops force (like that deployed in Somalia — Delta Force, Army Rangers, Navy SEALS, SOAR) is going to have trouble operating nearby. If some serious mistakes are made and we somehow end up in a war with China, we certainly won’t be occupying Guangdong and trying to fend off the PLA with a small light network force.

But on the other hand, heavy forces become a liability when your enemy has a wide range of sensors and precison guided weapons. If we start firing off space planes/CAVs to spot and destroy an enemy with a couple hours’ warning, the old tank batallion is on its way out. Heavy, high-visibility, low-mobility forces that require a lot of material logistical support become a liability, because they represent a large investment. Meanwhile, ever-more powerful weapons are getting smaller and smaller. The trend in great-power warfare is toward more precision weapons, fired remotely if possible. If they have a large force concentrated in one place, networked forces can inflict a severely punishing blow using much smaller numbers empowered by more powerful technology. So in a sense, you can’t go A-list without going all the way, and fighting fire with fire. To fight a stealthy, mobile force with a lot of offensive firepower, you generally need to have a stealthy, mobile force with a lot of firepower too.
One reads "military experts" periodically predict the end of the aircraft carrier, the main battle tank, the mech infantry division, etc, only to have a war pop up in which these "heavy" weapons prove their worth.

Don’t get me wrong: if we can make an armored fighting vehicle with the power, speed, and protection of an M-1 that only weighs 1/3 as much, this is a helluva attractive weapon. Ditto a carrier that displaces only 35,000 tons that can do the job of a current Nimitz-class carrier. But nobody’s been able to develop such weapons yet, and until they do, we’re "stuck" with what we have.
Thus far, I’m definitely for keeping the aircraft carrier battle groups and main battle tanks. But that’s only because the weapons on the near horizon that will make them so much more vulnerable have yet to be deployed on a wide scale by our likely enemies.

Let’s say Russia or China becomes a likely foe, and they develop a weapons platform that can be fired over a general area, independently seek out, identify, and attack several different mechanized targets? Well then, any tanks we send in will be sitting ducks; they’re hard to hide, they’re big, noisy, and hot; they’re often going to be loaded with electronics gear that can be identified from afar; and all the armor in the world can’t defend against top-of-the-line precision-guided munitions.

Many people discount the next generation of weapons because from a linear perspective, the munitions and electronic systems you hear about on the news don’t seem to be getting that powerful, that fast (indeed, from what you see on CNN, Iraqi Freedom looked an awful lot like Desert Storm... still talking about Abrams tanks and Tomahawk cruise missiles... still looking through cameras fitted to the tips of missiles that head straight down the proper vent or window). I would caution that technological progress is actually accelerating, and so is its deployment. See Kurzweil’s Law. The 20th century was like 20 years of technological progress at current rates, and the next century will look like 20,000 years of technological progress at the current rate.

That said, I think I can answer your last point too.
I also don’t see why the "transition" has to be so "costly". Yeah, we’d be fielding a lot of new weapons, but we do that periodically, anyway, as new technology is developed and new weapons are developed. The M-1 of 2006 is a great deal more sophisticated than the M-1 of 1983; ditto the F-15.
Okay, now those retrofits cost mere millions of dollars, and retrofitting may prove less and less useful for such fundamental problems as stealth characteristics in the body design of fighters and the like. Imagine deploying new weapons systems (including space weapons like the CAV), huge nets of sensors around the world, missile defense platforms, etc. ... and having to do so faster and faster just to stay in the game. An arms race with another prosperous peer would be extraordinarily costly, because the pace at which new systems made old ones obsolete would only quicken.
The sales of current US technology to our allies would simply be the practical thing to do — more money to fund military research and better containment of tomorrow’s security threats while we make the costly transition.
Selling our military technology to ANYBODY outside of VERY trustworthy allies (like the British, Japanese, Australians, etc) scares the hell out of me. Remember how we sold the Shah all those goodies in the ’70s... only to see them fall into the hands of the mullahs when he was overthrown.
While our potential, rising peers are still behind us in this game, though, we can contain them by giving their neighbors the technology we used yesterday... because they are still between yesterday and the day before yesterday. That means that in, say, China’s case, they have to deal with Taiwan and South Korea and India and Pakistan having a sort-of B-list military that they have to deal with for the same reasons we have to deal with the Axis of Evil before we go fully A-list. They can’t afford to try to "skip" a generation or two and convert their entire military to next-gen weapons because they can’t afford to spend the next decade hoping they don’t get caught with their pants down... they can only buy limited numbers from the Russians or Israelis or perhaps the Europeans, and deploy them in specific spots. For example, Iran’s major purchase of a small number of highly sophisticated air defense platforms to defend certain unnamed high-value targets.

I wouldn’t advocate selling our most prized technology to anyone. I’m talking about legacy systems like old fighters that wouldn’t stand a chance against the US five years from now anyway. And sell specific weapons systems to specific countries to try to contain their neighbors (eg, China).

I appreciate your comments and questions; I wish I knew more about the subject, honestly, because I doubt I will have fully satisfied your questions. And of course, I could be mistaken.
 
Written By: OrneryWP
URL: http://
What A level threats are there??? Realistically of course...

Will China attack one of it’s largest trading partners?

Russia?

India?

We can launch a whole fleet of stealth bombers from the middle of the United States, fly anywhere in the world, and bomb the shit out of those regimes.

All of those countries are intimently connected to our economy. If they attack us, their economies are hurt as much as ours.
 
Written By: Keith, Indy
URL: http://
Keith;

Your argument makes sense, but unfortunately people aren’t always rational. Before World War I, there was a book called The Great Illusion published by an economist named Norman Angell (he later received the Nobel Prize). I haven’t read The Great Illusion, but I understand that Angell made the same argument that you present: the economies of Britain, France, Germany, etc. were so intertwined that the entire world economy would collapse if a general war broke out. Therefore, he argued that war was so obviously self-defeating that no sane nation would embark upon it.
Are we, in blind obedience to primitive instincts and old prejudices, enslaved by the old catchwords and that curious indolence which makes the revision of old ideas unpleasant, to duplicate indefinitely on the political and economic side a condition from which we have liberated ourselves on the religious side? Are we to continue to struggle, as so many good men struggled in the first dozen centuries of Christendom — spilling oceans of blood, wasting mountains of treasure — to achieve what is at bottom a logical absurdity, to accomplish something which, when accomplished, can avail us nothing, and which, if it could avail us anything, would condemn the nations of the world to never-ending bloodshed and the constant defeat of all those aims which men, in their sober hours, know to be alone worthy of sustained endeavor?
http://www.lib.byu.edu/~rdh/wwi/1914m/illusion.html

OrneryWP;

I appreciate your thoughtful comments and responses. Personally, I find thinking about future warfare to be a very interesting exercise.
Let’s say Russia or China becomes a likely foe, and they develop a weapons platform that can be fired over a general area, independently seek out, identify, and attack several different mechanized targets? Well then, any tanks we send in will be sitting ducks; they’re hard to hide, they’re big, noisy, and hot; they’re often going to be loaded with electronics gear that can be identified from afar; and all the armor in the world can’t defend against top-of-the-line precision-guided munitions.
The demise of the tank has been predicted by various people almost since they were first developed during WWI. Problem is, that for every good offense, there’s a good defense. People thought that the wire-guided missile would spell the end of the tank; then Chobham armor was developed. Perhaps future tanks will have point defense laser systems to shoot down incoming PGMs, or made be made stealthy, or have armor that makes Chobham look like sheet metal. Who knows?

Don’t get me wrong; I’m not arguing against your basic premise, but I think that having an "A" military is not so hard or expensive as one might think. We’ve been doing it for decades, after all. We have worldwide nets of sensors in the form of satellites, radar stations, and SOSUS. It may be necessary to expand those systems, or replace them with something better, but this is not so much a step change in what we’ve been doing as a move along a rising curve of capability.

It would be interesting to apply Bobbitt’s arguments to history. It strikes me that the "dreadnought revolution" would be an interesting case study.
 
Written By: docjim505
URL: http://
Keith -

Unfortunately, we have to take into account the possiiblity that our enemies might not view that as too great an impediment to war.
China, for example, may someday not too far off think they can take Taiwan quickly and make it a fait accompli because retaking it would be too costly for Japan and the US (and our allies). Just one of several scenarios. Assuming that great powers will always act in enlightened self-interest is to ignore several historical examples of where they have not.

Russia may yet slip.

I doubt India will be a security threat to us any time soon.

Though we don’t know for sure what 2025 will be like, we still need to be prepared for whatever may come. It would be nice if we enjoyed a position of unchallenged might still, with American forces providing security and reassurance to our allies.
 
Written By: OrneryWP
URL: http://
docjim -
It would be interesting to apply Bobbitt’s arguments to history. It strikes me that the "dreadnought revolution" would be an interesting case study.
Oh, Bobbitt’s work is very much about history. I used only one or two briefly mentioned concepts he brings up in his book, but "The Shield of Achilles" is a much larger, sweeping work. It’s about the state and the interplay of strategy, law, and history.

I highly recommend it. I have enjoyed no other nonfiction book quite as much as "Achilles."
 
Written By: OrneryWP
URL: http://
I highly recommend it. I have enjoyed no other nonfiction book quite as much as "Achilles."
Thanks. I’ll have a look at it.
 
Written By: docjim505
URL: http://
It’s really an interesting paradox. TMA promises a quantum leap in combat power and lethality. And, in fact, it does deliver on those promises—assuming that your opponent has a heavily armed conventional force. But where TMA falls flat is precisely where we find ourselves now: an unconventional, Low-Intensity Conflict (LIC). No matter how powerful and high-tech our combined arms TMA forces are, they are essentially useless in a LIC where the essential element of combat is infantryman against insurgent on a one-on-one basis. We simply can’t bring the vast majority of our TMA combat power to bear against insurgents.
Wrong.

The most recent LIC is the WoT. At the start of the WoT elements of the Saudi, Afghani, Sudanese, Iranian, Libyan, Syrian and Iraqi (& probably Pakistani) governments were attacking America and Americas interests using proxy forces. Afghanistan and Iraq have been eliminated as sponsors of the fighters, Pakistan and Libya have been intimidated into submission, Saudi had reduced funding and Iran has decided what it really needs is a very force capable military. All this was achieved using high yield sophisticated (TMA type) forces and low yield infantry working hand in glove - the seperation suggested does not actually exist (full spectrum dominance was dominating).

Since mid 2003 (for energy policy and diplomatic reasons) the high yield forces have been benched. They leave only infantrymen eyeballing the enemy in Iraq & Afghanistan to do everything and they cannot do it. No matter how many infantry, or how skilled they are, it is impossible to fight and win a LIC using the current strategy. The infantry do a very good job in Iraq, but they are not scaring anybody in Qom, Khartoum, Damascus or Ridyah.
 
Written By: Unaha-closp
URL: http://
Unaha-closp:
The infantry do a very good job in Iraq, but they are not scaring anybody in Qom, Khartoum, Damascus or Ridyah.


I don’t know about that. I can’t help but believe that the idea of coming eyeball-to-eyeball with a bayonet-wielding US Marine or paratrooper would cause Bashar Asad and his ilk to wet themselves. It would me, anyhow.
 
Written By: docjim505
URL: http://
It would me, anyhow.
Me too. Think moving them within eyeball range is a good idea.
 
Written By: Unaha-closp
URL: http://
If there is any doubt as to whether US infantry or SOF ’scares’ anyone, like our current enemies in the ME, you might want to first ask whether or not airpower really ’shocked and awed’ the Baathists or Slobodan Milosevic?

My $.02 on LIC and TMA- intellectual masturbation. You can learn more from one of Plutarch’s lives or Tacituses annals than we’ll hear from any of these generals and admirals sniveling for their job, despite the successes you’re not hearing about.

War is conflict. Utopian attempts to humanize it and make it sterile will only result in more human tragedy. As long as we’re constrained by out of date European-centric morality, which I do agree quite vehemently with Mr. Peters about, we’ll continue to follow in their decline.

Speaking of books, the essential one for this debate would probably be Martin Van Crevelds ’Transformation of War’.

 
Written By: Sunguh
URL: http://pmclassic.blogspot.com

 
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