Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Bad Habits

Any coach will tell an athlete that practicing poorly is worse than not practicing.  The only thing worse for an athlete than not practicing is to practice incorrectly and develop bad habits.  Bad habits are worse than no habits.  It’s much easier to teach someone new habits than it is to try to unlearn bad habits.  Closely related is the mindset that develops from bad habits.  The athlete thinks they’re better than they are because they’ve been practicing but they don’t realize that all they’re doing is practicing the wrong things and getting good at the wrong things.  When the actual game comes, they fail and wonder why.

The job of the United States armed forces is to fight and win major wars.  You can throw in all the deterrence and peacekeeping and humanitarian assistance and embassy protection and whatever other missions but those are just sidelights – necessary, to be sure, but not the real, overriding mission.  The way the armed forces prepare for their main mission is to practice (train).  Unfortunately, for the last couple of decades the armed forces have been engaged in a seemingly endless series of nation-building, police actions that have had the unintended consequence of developing bad habits in the military.  We’ve forgotten what major war is and we’ve certainly forgotten how to wage it.

We have high level unit commanders (battalion and above) who have never exercised their units as complete entities.  We have rank and file who think combat is a carefully scripted and highly regulated set of rules of engagement that are intended to prevent collateral damage.  We have Marines who have served an entire career without ever setting foot on a ship.  We have a Marine Corps that is shedding tanks and artillery to become lighter.  We have a Department of Defense that is more focused on women’s issues, gender integration, hair styles, number of pull-ups, diversity, and humanitarian assistance than trying to figure out how to kill as many enemy as possible in the most efficient manner possible.

We think war is going out on a patrol in the morning and coming back at night for a hot meal, some video game time, and a good sleep.

It’s not just that we’ve forgotten what war is, it’s that we’ve developed bad habits without knowing it and now we think we know what war is even though we’re not even remotely close.  Instead of developing new and more powerful tanks and artillery, we’re focused on developing better IED resistant HUMVEEs because we think that’s what combat is.  Instead of training how to apply a division’s worth of combat power in a coordinated and devastating fashion, we’re training how to talk to a villager while respecting their culture and sensitivities.  Instead of emphasizing area munitions that can kill anything in a wide range, we’re trying to develop non-lethal weapons.

Let me ask you a question.  How big is a carrier strike group today?  Answer, it’s four or five ships due to budget concerns.  When war comes, we’re going to attempt to operate multi-carrier strike groups (as we learned the hard way in WWII and the Cold War) and yet we’re only practicing with mini-single groups.  Our Admirals have no idea how to operate a multi-carrier group, tactically, because we aren’t practicing it.  Worse than not knowing how, is that we’ve developed bad habits and think we know how to operate a carrier group. 

War with China, Iran, N. Korea, or Russia will come as a rude awakening.


  1. comnav.. you already have the case proven in Lebanon 2006 war, where the feared IDF turned out to be a paper tiger. Some of the reason of the defeat :
    - decades of doing COIN with palestinian youth as enemy using rocks and stones as weapon.
    - too much focus on airpower , so much so that budget for ground troops are cut to dangerous levels in favor of IAF. Turned out IAF failed to stop hezbollah rockets and even ran out of PGM in just 10 days.
    - IDF elite units like Egoz, Maglan, Golani all inexperienced in acting as a cohesive unit because they are too used to small scale operations and not brigade sized maneuvers.
    - hubris and arrogance and failure of intellligence in determining enemy strength. The soldiers are expecting hezbollah readiness as "they just have a tent and a few AK"..
    - Total chaotic political leader and top military level leaders that contribute to sudden callup of IDF reserves. Leadership are never involved in large scale training and they made bad decisions continuously.
    - Lack of infantry training causes beginner mistakes even to the elite formations, like putting too much soldier inside.a single building and get slaughtered when the hezbolah destroyed the building with ATGM..

  2. addendum :

    the last point happened to Sayeret Egoz and a Reserve Paratroop unit engineers.. 50 soldiers inside a building ? and the hezbollah just used 2 ATGM to destroy it, causing 9 death and many wounded..

  3. Hey i resemble that remark!

    One good bit is that the USMC and Army never completely got away from doing the big stuff in the California desert.

    The downside is after a decade of fighting the small wars we have decided that the future is more small wars and or maybe it isn't so let's just prepare for everything.

  4. i think USMC still train as brigade sized units , but the US's Socom who got the spotlight will skew the reality of war in the future.. Spec ops might be great in COIN but in real warfare it is the ordinary units that will carry the day..

    a glaring example that every military should notice is the destruction of Ukraine armored convoy by rebel's grad salvoes.. when the last time US faced an enemy that equipped with artilery / rockets like in ukraine? i remember reading about US marine unit on truck that got massacred by NVA artilery in DMZ area..


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