Thursday, August 10, 2017
Thursday, August 3, 2017
Tuesday, August 1, 2017
Tuesday, July 18, 2017
It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to see that qualified, fresh blood is desperately needed in the Army’s general officer ranks.
Senator John McCain, chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, told President Trump's nominee for Army Undersecretary, Ryan McCarthy, a Lockheed Martin Executive and former aid to Secretary of Defense Bob Gates, that “the U.S. Army is facing a crisis.”
Senators drew attention to the Army's ever-growing multibillion-dollar acquisition graveyard including the titanic $20 Billion Future Combat System and the Warfighter Information Network-Tactical, a six-billion dollar failed communications program.
It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to see that qualified, fresh blood is desperately needed in the Army’s general officer ranks, as well as, in the office of the Army Secretariat. The Army does not need an unqualified hedge-fund manager, a flamboyant social engineer, or another “revolving door” defense industry executive committed to “business as usual.”
The Army is on track to lose more than money unless President Trump appoints a forceful and informed Secretary of the Army—one who is prepared to impose accountability on his generals and demand sweeping change. It’s going to lose the first battle of the next war. And, in the twenty-first century, Americans may not get a chance to fight a second battle.
The Army’s problems are not financial. Thanks to the FY17 National Defense Authorization Act, the U.S. Army will receive an annual sum of $137 to $149 billion—a sum that is vastly larger than the Russian National Defense Budget. The failures in Army modernization and readiness are due to the Army generals’ fanatical resistance to fundamental organizational reform, prudent modernization and change in the way the Army must fight in the future.
Gen. George Washington told his officers, “If we are wise, let us prepare for the worst.” Washington’s wise words are being systematically ignored by the Army.
On July 18 the 173rd Airborne Brigade, along with allied NATO airborne units, will conduct a Joint Forcible Entry exercise near Bezmer Air Base, Bulgaria. The goal is to demonstrate an airfield seizure operation that will then allow for the “all wheeled” Second Cavalry Regiment to “build up combat power” and prepare for follow-on operations.
This exercise equates to practicing for suicide. Our East European partners know it and the Russians know it. Any joint theater-entry operation requires U.S. aerospace and maritime supremacy, as well as, overall battle-network superiority in the objective area. Try this “forced entry” against a defended Russian, Chinese or North Korean Airfield and the “exercise” would end in minutes with the total annihilation of the paratroopers and the brigade of light, armored trucks. The Army four-star generals are stuck in a World War II fantasy.
Civilians frequently assume that general officers are ruthless and unsentimental when it comes to discarding obsolescent tactics, organizations and technologies. They are not. How else did the U.S. Army enter World War II with regiments of horse cavalry long after the German army had overrun most of Europe with armored forces?
However, the Army four-star generals are ruthless when it comes to crushing innovation inside the regular army that threatens the status quo. They are more comfortable sinking billions into unproven technologies that promise war-winning capabilities in the distant, uncertain future, as well as spending money on the upgrade of old platforms and systems designed in the 1970s. Clearly, few in Congress object to these actions.
To the aforementioned disasters must be added the relentless commitment of nearly two hundred thousand of the regular Army’s 475,000 soldiers to overseas “train and advise,” “presence,” and special operations support missions in Africa, the Middle East, and Asia. It’s no secret that counterinsurgency operations seriously eroded the U.S. Army’s capability for high-end conventional warfare, but the dispersion of two hundred thousand soldiers around the world is even more dangerous.
In 1932, General Douglas MacArthur, who was the Army Chief of Staff at that time, told members of the Senate and the House that “the dispersion of the Regular Army in small detachments throughout the continental United States makes it impracticable to have immediately available, an adequate balanced and efficient force of regular troops to meet the first phases of an emergency.” Congress punted, MacArthur retired and ten years later in 1942, Americans played catch-up in a war the U.S. Army was not prepared to fight.
Bad news is never welcome in Washington, DC but it’s necessary. The fighting power of an army lies in its combat formations, not in gross numbers of soldiers. Today’s Army is spread too thinly around the world and its fighting formations are Cold War relics. If today’s Brigade Combat Teams faced an air-defense threat, rocket artillery and loitering munitions (drones that loiter over the battlefield for hours and attack targets by flying into them), let alone a capable, opposing Army, then it would face certain defeat.
None of this means the nation needs a warmed-over version of the World War II/Cold War Army. Another transformation scam like the Future Combat System—a “Potemkin Village” system designed to attract money yet changes nothing of substance—is the last thing Americans need. Instead, the nation needs new combat formations designed for joint, integrated, “all arms” warfare in a battlefield environment more lethal than anything we’ve seen since World War II.
The world Americans have known for fifty years is crumbling. The potential for a 1950 Korean-style emergency grows with each passing month. History may well judge the Trump presidency by the selection of the next Secretary of the Army.
Col. (ret) Douglas Macgregor, U.S. Army, is a decorated combat veteran, a PhD and the author of five books. His most recent book isMargin of Victory: Five Battles that Changed the Face of Modern War.
Image: A U.S. Army Soldier, assigned to 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 101st Airborne Division, fires an M4 carbine rifle during partnered live fire range training at Tactical Base Gamberi, Afghanistan, May 29, 2015. Flickr / The U.S. Army
Monday, July 3, 2017
Millions of Americans voted for Donald Trump because he promised a new national military strategy that would diverge sharply from the ideologically driven interventionism of the past twenty years. “We went from mistakes in Iraq to Egypt to Libya,” Trump told voters. “It all began with a dangerous idea that we could make Western democracies out of countries that had no experience or interest in becoming a Western democracy.”
Barely six months into the president’s first term, Trump supporters are seeing familiar trends—a threatening Turkish military buildup on the border with Syria, the American shoot down of a Syrian Jet and rising tensions with Russia, Iran and North Korea. They sense that a true “America First” strategy is not going to happen with the president’s current national security team. They want to know why.
Part of the answer is that changing the Washington status quo is never easy, especially for a president whose life has revolved around business, not politics. The rest is easier to understand: personnel is policy.
Imagine for a moment that you are a highly successful businessman with a global reputation. Fate makes you the director of surgery at a major metropolitan hospital. You know little about medicine and nothing about surgery, but you are a prudent person. You consult with the surgeons on the staff and with the hospital’s board of trustees. You select those surgeons that you are told are “the best and the brightest.” Problem solved, right? Wrong.
What if it turns out that the doctors you appointed to run the Department of Surgery have never performed complex surgeries? What if their experience is limited to treating cuts, bruises and performing the occasional appendectomy? What if the few truly major surgeries they performed resulted in fatalities and even led to malpractice lawsuits?
In that case you’d be mistaken to rely on the error-prone experts. And the same is true when it comes to assembling a foreign policy team. Rather than risk repeating mistakes, you’d reach down past the retreads and choose a new leadership team that is divorced from previous foreign policy misadventures. After all, that’s what President Trump promised.
Yet when it came to selecting people to advise the president on national defense and military strategy, the Trump team picked men for jobs in the Department of Defense and the White House on the basis of high-media profiles, medals and uniforms—as well as advice from former secretaries of defense and four-star generals who were leading figures in the three trillion dollar debacles of Iraq and Afghanistan.
That’s why no one should be surprised that the “best military advice” President Trump’s senior national security leaders can offer is to reinforce the strategic disaster in Afghanistan and expand the slow, ponderous fight against ISIS in Raqqa into a broader American military intervention into the regional snake pit called the Syrian Civil War. People do what they know.
Like their predecessors in the last two administrations, the current national security team is not pursuing a coherent national military strategy tied to concrete strategic interests. On the contrary, they are committed to open-ended military operations without any expectation of conflict termination.
Meanwhile, Washington’s fanatical urge to spend lavishly on America’s Cold War Industrial Age military structure defeats any attempt to build a new twenty-first century armed force, let alone question the American military establishment’s ability to fight a modern opponent that is not deaf, dumb and blind. An accurate and sobering self-assessment of the U.S. military’s strengths and weaknesses—its ability to perform major surgery—is missing.
The problem confronting the president is serious. Today’s international system is radically different from the world of 2001. The United States no longer has an overwhelming monopoly on key military capabilities. Great-power war is no longer a remote possibility.
In his book Currency Wars, James Rickards offers the example of a forest fire that is analogous to the outbreak of a major war. Whether a fire destroys a single tree or a million acres, the destruction begins with a single bolt of lightning. The same bolt of lightning can strike a thousand times with little or no effect, or it can cause a catastrophic fire. Wars between great powers or alliances of regional powers are similar. Major wars are the massive forest fires no one expects, but given enough sparks, they inevitably occur.
Mr. President, you said, “It’s time to shake the rust off America’s foreign policy. It’s time to invite new voices and new visions into the fold.” You were right. If the Trump Presidency is to succeed, we’ll need a new national security team with an “America First” mind-set.
The country needs a team with an acute sensitivity to the vulnerability of U.S. military power far from American shores and an appreciation for the importance of conflict avoidance. Events in the Middle East, Asia and eastern Europe suggest there is no time to lose.
Col. (ret) Douglas Macgregor, U.S. Army, is a decorated combat veteran, a PhD and the author of five books. His most recent book is Margin of Victory: Five Battles that Changed the Face of Modern War (Naval Institute Press, 2016).
Image: President Barack Obama greets President-elect Donald Trump at inauguration ceremonies swearing in Trump as president on the west front of the U.S. Capitol in Washington, DC January 20, 2017. REUTERS/Carlos Barria