Tuesday, August 11, 2015

The Army Is Out Of The Conventional Warfare Business

ComNavOps rarely comments on Army issues but this item ties directly back to what we’ve repeatedly discussed about the focus of the Navy and the military in general.  I’ve stated that under CNO Greenert the Navy has become focused on the low end of the threat spectrum and peace time operations such as humanitarian assistance instead of the Navy’s primary responsibility which is to wage and win high end combat.  Well, here’s an example of that loss of focus in the Army.  From the DoD website (1),

“The NTC [National Training Center, Fort Irwin, CA] has changed its focus from conventional warfare, Work [Deputy Defense Secretary] said, to hybrid and counterinsurgency warfare.

That’s just stunning.  The Army is no longer focused on conventional warfare.  This at the same time that Russia is actively gobbling up countries using conventional arms and developing whole new families of heavy armor vehicles and China is building a massively capable conventional army and navy.  The rest of the world is gearing up for large scale, high end conventional combat and we’re focusing on counterinsurgency.  At some point, the world is going to hand us our heads if we don’t remember what a military is for.

Back to the Navy …  Converting a third of the combat fleet to the LCS is just insane.  We need hard hitting, hard fighting warships not glorified Coast Guard cutters.

Well, apparently the Navy is not alone in choosing the wrong path.  This is an indictment of our senior military leadership.

(1)US Department of Defense, “Work Observes Large-Scale Military Exercise at Fort Irwin”, Terri Moon Cronk, 7-Aug-2015


  1. i think what we're really seeing is the last gasp of the small wars/SOCOM mafia. there are whole segments of the Pentagon that are dedicated to fighting that kind of war for one reason. it directs money toward aviation/special ops and reprograms the conventional military into only a supporting rather than supported force.

    the transformers are ensuring that when China strikes, we lose. luckily its the last gasp. so what I see happening going into the future is that more and more you will see a move toward actually preparing to deal with China. that will mean that SOCOM/small wars zealots will see their pet issue moved to the backburner. that means that they will become quiet professionals again and the push to get involved in wars all over the planet will diminish. i hope i'm right.

    1. Solomon,

      I am a retire SOF guy and agree with your overall assessment that the armed service's mission is to fight high end full on wars.

      The tax payer does not need; nor is he willing to pay for five (5) National Guard forces, or five (5) USAIDs!

      That said, there has to be a balance and the military needs to be prepared for contingencies and light footprint insurgencies. The reality is that the Pentagon is like a building full of 3rd graders: whatever "game" is on has everyone chasing the kick ball and wanting to play.


    2. GAB...

      but what is the balance? if you look at the Marine Corps we're reworking ourselves into basically being a USAID or a support element for SOCOM. make no mistake about it. SPMAGTF's are not designed for conventional missions. i've crunched the numbers and they're only really capable of one task. TRAP missions. everything else will require a larger, more capable force (and that includes real deal embassy reinforcement). so what does that leave us with? they're designed purposefully to be perimeter security when SOCOM kicks a door! pathetic.

      but back on task. what is the proper mix? tell me so i can scream it at HQMC but things are pretty jacked up now.

    3. Guys, I'm not sure what you're driving at with the idea of balance between light and heavy (I think that's what you're talking about). I would think you prepare for high end combat and then the low end stuff is just a matter of scaling down. Got a small, simple task? Fine, send a MEU instead of a MEB. Still too big? Fine, send a Company instead of a MEU. Still too big? Send a squad landing team (I read SNAFU ! ).

      Equipment wise, there's nothing wrong with having some low end, light stuff like the JLTV but that should be 1% of your force, not your main battle vehicle.

      Maybe I'm missing the point, here?

    4. We've always had a range of light to heavy forces. They are valuable in different situations.

      Light forces have a lower logistics footprint, are cheaper to buy and "own", and can be moved strategic distances faster. Heavy forces take a long time to get anywhere, are voracious consumers of logistics, are very expensive to buy and "own", and destroy local infrastructure even in peacetime (e.g. M1 vs average rural road or bridge). Medium-weight forces are a middle ground.

      If we say we will only field heavy, high-end ground forces, the Army will shrink dramatically. We can't afford it.

    5. Of course we can afford it. It's just a matter of priorities. We can all name any number of defense programs that are consuming the budget and offer no good value in return.

    6. 1) I don't think it's a good idea to field all heavy forces for the reasons listed earlier.
      2) I don't think we want to afford it. We have other priorities that need attention too.

    7. One place where the Army can improve significantly is in the IBCT (formerly light infantry). IMHO, all non-airborne/air assault IBCTs should have full vehicular mobility. Right now, any time we deploy an IBCT we have to cobble together a huge number of vehicles for them to actually use in theater. This is a hangover from the Light Infantry Division days when we absolutely had to have units that we could move by air in X days, regardless of what value they provided on the other end.

      We can learn a lot from our ISIS opponents. Even HMMWV mounted infantry forces would have far greater combat power, mobility and value.

      The Army wants to dump a lot of HMMWVs for JLTVs, but I don't think JLTV is suitable for what I have in mind. It's way too heavy, can't carry enough dismounts, in the current configurations, and costs too much. It's a useful supplement, however.

      I'd base the IBCT platoon around four cargo/troop carrier armored HMMWVs (M1152A1). I'd pick one of the Recap designs, if possible. Give it detachable cargo area side protection, and a .50 cal or 40mm AGL mount. Take advantage of all the little mods we've designed for the SPECOPS community.

      Stripped down, each may be slingable by an H-60 over short distances, or two by an H-47. Three fit in a C-130. Eight to 10 in a C-17.

      In contrast, only one Stryker sorta fits in a C-130 (over short distances). Only three fit in a C-17.

      IBCTs could hold these HMMWVs in motor transport units at the company, battalion or brigade level, if needed.

      It would certainly be an added expense to outfit the IBCTs this way, but its with the realization that virtually any operational deployment will require similar augmentation anyway.

    8. I'm not at all advocating an all-heavy Army. Of course there are needs for lighter units. What I'm saying is that we're going way, way too far the other direction. The Marines are shedding tanks and artillery faster than fleas off a hound in a bath. The Army has essentially halted tank/IFV/APC development and is pouring resources into light vehicles like the JLTV.

      Seriously, in a real war, what role will light infantry on jeeps (essentially) play? Russia is armor heavy as are the Chinese. That's kind of a mismatch. Well, we won't match light infantry against tanks, duh! OK, but where are our modern tanks, IFVs, APCs, and heavy artillery? When was the last time we trained with an entire large unit of armor?

      We're remaking our military for peace/insurgency ops with no thought of Russia/China/NK/Iran.

    9. To continue, if we were Ukraine how would our light infantry match up against the Russian armor? It wouldn't. We'd get chewed up. Well, we won't use light infantry against armor, you say. OK, but then why are we putting so much effort into something we won't use in a real war?

    10. CNO, don't discount light infantry vs tanks. Look at what Hezbollah did against the Israelis, and what the Chechens did against the Russians.

      If we design our light infantry TOE well, and train them well, they can be a very thorny problem for armor, under the right circumstances. (e.g. we need to pack infantry units with Javelins and other man portable anti tank weapons. )

    11. "Look at what Hezbollah did against the Israelis, and what the Chechens did against the Russians."
      Ambushed a few lead elements and then pissed their pants when the artillery received weapons free orders?

  2. Interesting topic. To play devil's advocate does anyone really think we would/could fight either Russia or China in a land war? Both are nuclear powers so defeat on land would really have some dire consequences.

    That being the case who thinks the Army will plan for that eventuality? Likewise the AF, because to hurt a big country like these would require a bombing campaign like Europe in WWII.

    So 2/3's of the Military can't see themselves involved with these threats - So hello Navy and USMC to provide enough pressure (economic and political only) because the USMC does not want to be landed on the shores China or Russia (even if we had the lift) and left to slug it out.

    This would require a large realignment of the Service resources. But the Army and AF want to (WILL) keep their share of the pie. So the mission they can see for themselves is the medium to small involvements.

    Unfortunately this is gonna continue for a LONG time.

    1. "Both are nuclear powers so defeat on land would really have some dire consequences."
      (Attempting) The occupation of Beijing or Moscow would likely be met with a nuclear response, but a Russian land army being obliterated in Poland or a Chinese Marine Division being sank would be quite different.

      The UK maintains an "in extreme self defence" policy on nukes, not a no first use.

      The US army WAS geared up to fight the Russians on land in Europe and the USN DID fight over islands in eastern asia

    2. I agree with TrT. There's nothing horrifying about fighting Russia or China. Combat won't instantly go nuclear. A war would be over a third party piece of land and combat would end when one side or the other decided it wasn't worth the fight any longer. Combat with Russia over their expansionism would not include the desire to conquer all of Russia. We would be content to stop their expansion and, at most, restore pre-war boundaries and conditions.

      TrT makes the great point that we and the Russians were totally prepared to conduct a massive conventional war in Europe even though we were both nuclear armed.

    3. You are both missing my point and thinking that things have not changed since the Cold War.

      We prepared for a land war only because it was a continuation of WWII thinking and the Dulles Brothers idea of strategy. WWII is over and the containment ideas have been disproven. Physics shows that you cannot contain continuously rising pressure in a vessel indefinitely. The same is true for developing nations. We contained the Soviet Union only because their own internal system took the pressure off (economically and socially collapsed). We cannot do that with China (at least so far) they are increasing the pressure not decreasing it.

      Secondly where do you think we would fight either country? If it is proxies that are remote, then everyone will have the same problem of trying get to and support large heavy land forces there. If it is adjacent to their borders then it would require huge land armies on our part and that was my point. NO one in the US is willing to state that our goals should be to have the US 5th Army based in Warsaw.

      So back to my main point, there is no one telling the Army/AF that they have to take on a large peer force, so they are not going to prep for it.

      I also agree with this logic, but happen to feel that having a strong Navy should be the result of this exercise and unfortunately because of the pie sharing decision making in the Pentagon, that is not gonna happen.

    4. So, you're OK with Russia gobbling up Europe a small piece at a time? OK with China taking the entire Pacific an island at a time?

    5. I didn't say I was okay with that.

      I am pointing out that no one has given the Army/AF the mission of being able to oppose Russia in Europe in a conventional large land battle.

      What Island do you see us opposing China with in a large land battle? I said we need a strong Navy to keep them from trying to take them, but once they took one it is not a mechanized party to dig them out. I believe the biggest single island campaign on WWII involved only 4 divisions and they were not heavy mech.

      Don't be surprised when the Military does what it is told to do, that is the underpinnings of our system. Not perfect but much much better than Putin's! If we want the Army/AF to be ready for a large land battle we need to tell them that. Right now I don't see anyone doing that.

      However I will suggest that we can deal with Putin much more economically by having oil below $80/bbl. $40-$30 is even better. Gold is down also, so he even more cash strapped than a war would make him. Putin has made Russia a raw material exporter to support his regime. Commodity prices being low is bad news for him.

      China is more of problem but they have to get to islands to take them and a strong Navy would stop that.

    6. You're aware that the US military requirement (2015 Quadrennial Defense Review) calls for the ability to win one major regional conflict while containing a second regional conflict? That's the military's direction to prepare to take on Russia, China, or whomever. That should take care of your concern about no one telling the Army to prepare to fight Russia/China/whoever.

      Regarding your thoughts on oil prices, I just checked and the crude oil spot price is $49/bbl. Putin doesn't seem to be paying much attention to the cost of oil.

    7. I agree with Anon here.

      However even if the NTC continued to focus on conventional wars, should we still be training to fight the traditional NTC Fulda Gap scenario? What would a major conventional war look like with the Chinese? The Russians?

      It probably won't look like fighting the Soviet hordes on the plains of Germany.

      Maybe we need a new training center on an island somewhere. I hear Iwo Jima isn't in use much these days, maybe the Japanese would let us train there..

    8. Of course we shouldn't be training to fight the Fulda Gap scenario anymore than we should be training to fight Bunker Hill. Although, come to think of it, Putin seems dead set on bringing back the Cold War scenario!

      No, we should be looking at our various military strategies (OK, first problem is we don't have any) and training to those. However we think we'll beat China is how we should train. However we think we'll beat a resurgent Russia is how we should train. However we think we'll beat Iran is how we should train. News flash, though - Russia and China are building heavy armored ground forces and formidable air forces while we're building and training for insurgencies. There's a disconnect here or there would be if we had a viable military strategy.

    9. Putin has not been able to meddle in Greece because he has no cash. He has not grabbed more of the Ukraine because he sees the sanctions causing him (and his cronies) pain, so the price of oil and commodities are having an impact.

      As for a major regional conflict, what do you suppose those words mean in the Pentagon right now? I imagine it is Afghanistan and Iraq style wars of 10+ years, volunteers only, contractor supported, against a 2nd tier or lower opponent.

      Again I doubt anyone in the Government is telling the Army/AF to have a mechanized Army ready to deploy to ANYWHERE and fight. Mush less have a mechanized infantry Army to go to a second part of the world.

      What did we use in Irag to get to Baghdad, 4 divisions? I am almost certain that is what the planners see as a major regional conflict now. You know how the careerists look at guidance and planning, they only bring their bosses what they think they want to hear.

      I agree with most of what you are pointing out, I just disagree that the guidance is clear.

    10. Why is it that the American taxpayer is being asked to fund the defense of nations that are collectively more numerous than Russia (and the USA), and more wealthy (total GDP and GDP per capita) than either Russia or the USA?

      Europe in the 21st century in not the Europe of 1910 or 1938, if they are unwilling or unable to fend off the Russians then they deserve their fate.

      Likewise, we are not the economically dominant power we were at the end of WWII and are headed down the same road that has wrecked every great power from Rome to the British Empire. We missed a golden opportunity at the end of the cold war to realign our strategic thinking, return our forces, and revitalize key segments of our economy (manufacturing, transportation, telecom, power…).

      History is about the long game, which generally favors avoidance of warfare and attention to one’s economy and institutions. Being strong and prepared militarily does not mean pissing away money and strength by intervening in every 3rd rate country just because we do not have an answer to CNN at 3am. We are like cats focused on the shinning thing in front of our faces, while real decline has set in in our political, judicial, and social institutions.


    11. GAB, I'm with you 100% in concept. However, if we deem Europe, or some countries in Europe, to be vital to our national strategic interests, such as for basing/staging to counter Russia or Iran, then we do have a vested interest in Europe's defense. I think we do have an interest. Look at the latest example of our desire to use airbases in Turkey. If things continue to go badly regarding Russian expansion, we'll want secure basing/staging in Europe.

      Now, if we don't believe that Europe is in our national strategic interests then, by all means, let's leave them to their fate.

      I believe the former is more the case than the latter. A free Europe is in our best interest. Now, that doesn't mean we shouldn't be asking Europe to pay more of their defense (or all). In fact, we should be playing hardball politics on this issue.

      I would disagree somewhat about our economic dominance. In simplistic measures it may be true but there's a deeper reality. We have not lost our dominance, we've rented it out. Consider manufacturing. We've lost many jobs to China and other countries. On the surface, those countries have gained and we've lost, however, "their" jobs exist only because of our demand (and unwise decisions). Thus, it's our "dominance" that is creating their jobs because we have unwisely opted to allow the jobs to leave our country. If we were to suddenly and magically pull back all our overseas manufacturing (say, through the imposition of simply equitable tariffs) our "dominance" would instantly reappear.

    12. CNO,

      I favor the USG ruthlessly pursuing direct American interests, not ill defined, and often ill-advised foreign policy “concepts” – in particular, I do not see the value in supporting peoples who are unwilling to put skin in the game. There is no threat to Europe for which the Europeans lack the funds, technology, or manpower to handle. They tell this to our faces, but Foggy Bottom and the Pentagon continue to maintain the largess of bases in Europe. The lack of informed public debate is stunning.

      I also take issue with the utility of overseas bases argument, specifically when it is used simply to maintain our ability to intervene; no one ever addresses the opportunity costs of maintaining bases overseas. The 50-60 thousand troops in Europe are mostly staff and support troops, sitting on bases that are hugely vulnerable; and the cost delta between garrisoning troops overseas versus within the USA is considerable. Ask how much more could be devoted to training combat forces as opposed to paying for schools, hospitals, fire departments, and so forth.

      WRT to bases, recall that Turkey was our enemy in WWI and has consistently stuck its finger in our eye when we asked for assistance during the first Gulf War and during the 2003 intervention, and they have been shockingly anti-Israel – they are only allowing our airstrikes because it fits into their broader campaign against the Kurds (our allies). In short, they ruthlessly pursue their interests. I suggest we do the same.

      The broader question is how to prioritize the funds to better the overall U.S. position in the world? Alternatives for consideration outside of DOD include spending for the intelligence/counter intelligence, FBI or DHS budgets. NASA also has a claim to materially improving U.S. technological leadership.


    13. my point about "paying for schools, hospitals, fire departments, and so forth" pertains to providing these services to support overseas bases.


  3. "Converting a third of the combat fleet to the LCS is just insane. We need hard hitting, hard fighting warships not glorified Coast Guard cutters."

    Perhap, but historically the navy has consisted of a large portion of frigates and destroyers which were smaller than the LCS.
    Freedom class , 3500t. Independence class 3100t.

    What is unusual is naming a ship, most of the rest class honoring US cities, after Cooperstown NY, home of the Baseball hall of Fame

    1. Ztev, while the Navy has had smaller vessels, you'll note that they carried far more offensive punch than the LCS. A Fletcher class destroyer, relative to her time, has quite heavily armed and highly effective. The LCS, not so much.

    2. I'm normally the guy cheering winning the information war, but even
      I cant back the LCS against a (lighter) WW2 destroyer, no amount of information dominance is going to allow a 57mm pop gun to do more than inconvenience a Fletcher class.

      Whereas a modern RN destroyer facing a KG-V battleship would win the "information war", and then sink it with missiles at range.

      To be fair, I'm quite a fan of littoral combat ships as well
      Its just that I see
      As a littoral combat ship....

    3. "... a modern RN destroyer facing a KG-V battleship would win the "information war", and then sink it with missiles at range."

      That's interesting. I know little about the modern RN destroyer or the KG-V BB so I can't comment on your hypothesis. However, if the scenario were a USN Burke versus an Iowa class BB, there's no contest who'd win that. The Iowa would get nothing more than scratched paint, at worst. A Burke has no anti-ship missiles. OK, some have had 4-8 Harpoons at one time but Harpoons have been tested against BB armor and shown to be totally ineffective other than necessitating some touch up of the paint. I love these kind of old/new matchups. They're fun to contemplate!


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