Friday, September 30, 2016

Reply to: Boots on the Ground: Why America Must Invest in Dominant Infantry Forces

Americans know from experience that we lose vast numbers of light infantry in major wars and, for that matter anyone who is not protected. During WW II, the US Army lost 155,000 infantrymen. During WW I, our losses in the infantry in only 110 days of fighting exceeded 110,000 dead. On the other hand, despite the loss of more than 5,000 tanks in the European Theater during WW II, only 1,800 soldiers, noncommissioned officers and commissioned officers died in tanks.

Ultimately, whatever you do with an infantryman, at the end of the day, he’s still a human being with very little mobility, protection or firepower. After landing at Anzio, out of the 767 Rangers who made it into Cisterna on 30 January 1944, only 6 made it out. It’s an important example of what happens to light infantry regardless of how good it is when light infantry confronts effective opponents with modern armor, artillery and automatic weapons.

We should be far more interested in achieving dominance in accurate, devastating firepower from across all domains.  On the ground that means fire from unmanned systems in every domain, as well as, mobile armored platforms. True infantry in the light sense Scales mentions are a niche capability. We need some and the some should be first class if they are to survive at all since we should not forget how easily they can be killed, injured or captured.

Thanks, Doug
September 29, 2016


Boots on the Ground: Why America Must Invest in Dominant Infantry Forces

Bob Scales

There is an old saying that generals and admirals are like bass…they’re drawn to bright shiny objects. The same holds true in spades for politicians. America has sought to win its wars by investing huge sums on big shiny objects that float and fly in the hope that our wars can be won by expending materiel rather than men.

To avoid bloodshed in battle we plan to fight our wars by assuming (or hoping) that our allies will substitute their soldiers for ours; that we will fight using “non kinetic” forms of national power such as diplomacy, information and economic leverage; that tomorrow’s warriors will fight in cyberspace and that if any killing is necessary it will be done by armed drones.

Unfortunately throughout the “American Era of War,” that period of conflict since the end of World War II, America’s hopes for bloodless battle has rarely been realized. Our great fleets are intended to sink enemy fleets. But America’s last major ship-on-ship battle was fought in 1944. Our expensive flights of fighter jets are designed principally to shoot down enemy planes in air-to-air combat. But the last time the air services fought against a serious aerial opponent was the Christmas bombing offensive over North Vietnam in 1972. We have yet to bury the first cyber soldier on either side.

Why don’t our enemies fight us like we want them to? Simple. Over the past seventy years they have learned and adapted. Here’s what they’ve learned: First, spot the Americans the air and the sea (and space). Our enemies have proven that they can win on the ground alone. Second, they win by making the war last and by just killing Americans. They want to kill Americans not as a means to an end by as an end in itself. They know that our great national vulnerability is public opinion. The surest way to affect public opinion is to kill Americans as publicly and dramatically as the global media will allow. A useful corollary is to highlight to the media our killing of innocents through mistake and miscalculation.

And it seems to be working for our enemies. The score for non-western enemies who use western-style, conventional weapons against western militaries is 0 and 6: four Arab Israeli wars (1948, 1956, 1967, 1973), and two against the American military—Desert Storm in 1991 and the March to Baghdad in 2003. These same former colonial subjugates are (arguably) on the winning side when fighting western militaries their way…on the ground, using unconventional tactics and means: against the United States in Korea, Vietnam, Iraq, and Afghanistan; against Israel in Lebanon, against the French in Indo China and the Soviets in Afghanistan.

So if a football coach were virtually undefeated on the ground it would make no sense to switch to a passing game. The same holds true for our adversaries.  There is absolutely no reason for any future enemy to deviate from this winning strategy. So if the enemy will continue his ground game and if his end state is to kill Americans what should the next Administration do differently? The answer to that question and the secret of future victories is embedded in three numbers: 81-4-1.

Let me explain: in wars fought in the American Era, since the end of World War II, eighty one percent of all Americans killed at the hands of the enemy (not resulting from accidents or disease) have been infantrymen, not Soldiers and Marines but infantrymen, a group of men numbering four percent, or about 50,000 out of 1.2 million men and women on active duty. Most men and women in uniform perform jobs no different from their civilian counterparts. They fix trucks, cook meals, punch away on computers and do routine administrative tasks.

Infantrymen are different. This small band of brothers is our intimate killers. They go out every day to close with and kill enemy infantrymen. In combat an infantryman lives an animal’s life. The primal laws of tooth and fang determine whether he will live or die. Killing is quick and close. A typical firefight in Afghanistan is fought at less than three hundred meters. Experience with close combat in Afghanistan reinforces the lesson that there is no such thing in close combat as a “fair fight”. Infantrymen advance into the killing zone grimy, tired, confused, hungry and scared. Their equipment is always dirty, dented or worn. More than half of American infantrymen die by surprise while trying to find the enemy. They die on patrol in ambushes, sniper attacks or from booby traps and IED’s.

Pilots, artillerymen and missile crewmen also kill to be sure. But they kill from a distance. An infantry soldier and marine looks into his enemy’s eyes as he shoots him and watches as the life pours out of his body. The “one” in 81-4-1 is the shocking part. All together this band of brothers who collect together in small units, squads and teams, receives less than one percent of the total defense department budget allocated to pay for equipment and small unit training. IF our greatest vulnerability is dead Americans and IF infantrymen are the ones most likely to die then wouldn’t it make sense for the richest country in the world with the world’s most expensive military to try to do all it can to keep these men alive?

Well, sadly, after fifteen years of war, we still spend overwhelmingly on stuff that will never be employed for its intended purposes while we continue to shortchange those who do the dying…with tragic consequences. Why? One answer comes from Beltway insiders who proclaim confidently that after fifteen years of war our political betters will never put “boots on the ground” again. One candidate, Secretary Clinton, has stated that under no circumstances will she allow ground troops to fight against ISIS. Truth is more than five thousand soldiers and Marines are fighting ISIS now. If she wins Clinton will put more boots on the ground not because she wants to but because her enemies will force her to. As my friend Dr. Conrad Crane writes about ground forces throughout our history, “We will never be able to never do this again.”

What if the next Administration took the bold step to make our close combat Soldiers and Marines truly dominant on future battlefields? Could they put paid to the consequences of too many “fair fights?” Of course they could. And what’s so amazing is that such a reform would be both certain and cheap…and decisive. The challenge of achieving dominance in the close fight is political not fiscal or technological. The technology is “popular mechanics” not “star wars.” The cost isn’t pennies on the Defense Department dollar but bits of pennies. Much of what will save soldiers lives can be bought today at Walmart, not Lockheed Martin.

Let’s begin reform at the tactical level of war by looking up. Most Americans die in combat trying to find the enemy. So why not give them the means to identify the enemy from a distance? The next Administration should establish the policy that no ground unit go into harm’s way without a constellation of drones orbiting overhead: strategic drones in the stratosphere linked to small units capable of sensing the approach of large enemy formations; smaller “killer” drones orbiting at lower altitudes capable of immediately taking out enemy soldiers at very close range with just a push of a button on the squad leaders “killer app”; and small hand held drones, perhaps no bigger than a small bird, capable of silently intruding into vehicles and buildings to spot ( and perhaps kill) enemy soldiers waiting in ambush. These swarms of drones would constitute an “unblinking eye” that will always see the enemy no matter how hard he tries to hide.

All American teenagers tweet. So, why, please tell me, do young infantry soldiers, many just out of high school, find themselves isolated and out of touch with their buddies in what can only be the most horrific circumstances of direct combat? A simple soldier “combat internet” would easily mitigate combat isolation, the most debilitating aspect of a soldier’s close combat experience. Borrowed technology from sports science would allow a soldier cell phone to monitor his emotional state in combat by measuring galvanic skin response (sweating), heart rate, respiration and (soon) brain activity.  Just imagine a commander with an emotional “dashboard” that would tell him in exquisite detail the psychological fitness of his soldiers. What a huge difference in fighting prowess such a simple capability would give to a small unit command team.

Decades of research tells us that a soldier should never carry into combat more than about a third of his body weight. That’s why the World War II soldier’s load was about sixty pounds. Today our Soldiers and Marines in Afghanistan carry more than a hundred pounds…in 100-degree heat at 11,000-foot altitude just before closing with and striking the Taliban. Is it any wonder that the Taliban can easily retreat when the fight gets too hot? So, why can’t we provide our infantry with some means to lighten his load? How about a small follow along, unmanned robotic vehicle? Google and Uber are already experimenting with robotic vehicles. How hard would it be to pay them to develop a soldier’s robotic companion?

If you haven’t seen it go to Netflix and rent the movie “Top Gun.” Tom Cruise’s dog fighting skill came from a school established during Vietnam to give pilots a fighting edge against the North Vietnamese. They learned then that over 90% of all pilot losses occurred during their first four missions. The sophisticated Top Gun dog fighting simulation allowed pilots to fight their first four missions bloodlessly and many pilots’ lives have been saved since.

So why do our infantry have to learn to fight by bleeding and dying? Why don’t we give them their first four close encounters without shedding blood? We live in a world where electronic gaming is everywhere. Doctors learn surgery in simulations that don’t endanger patients, airline pilots experience dangerous situations in flight simulators, professional athletes practice play calling using simulations. How hard would it be to immerse a small infantry unit in a series of hundreds of infinitely varying combat situations where they would be able to make life or death decisions and engage and maneuver against a simulated enemy? Think how cheap an off the shelf close combat simulator would be. Think of how many lives would be saved.

For the first few decades after World War II science and technology favored the big shiny stuff. Development of precision bombing and aircraft stealth technologies gave the United States a decisive edge in the skies over Iraq and Kosovo. But times have changed. Hezbollah gave Israel an ugly surprise in 2006 when they managed to fight off the IDF using off the shelf systems such as cell phones and shoulder fired anti aircraft and anti tank missiles donated by Russia and Iran. Today micro miniaturization will allow soldiers to communicate using cell phones; the day will come when tiny drones, soldier sensors and miniaturized guided weapons will allow infantry small units to defeat much larger and heavier mechanized forces. The technology is here now.

Lenin is alleged to have once said that in war “quantity has a quality all of its own.” That sentiment certainly applies to close combat fighting. No matter how much technology is applied numbers still count and in virtually all our most recent wars we run out of infantry long before the enemy.  With the exception of Desert Storm the Army and Marine Corps have had to make painful choices as a result. Infantry are hard to recruit in wartime. Too often very poor human material must be recruited into the ranks at just the time when the price for accepting bad soldiers is high casualties and immoral conduct or poor performance. In Iraq and Afghanistan the price paid for too few infantry has been psychological and physical damage that will take generations to erase.

The solution of course is to recruit more infantrymen and take the time to train and bond them together such that they become superbly prepared for the hardships of close combat. Instead of four percent the Defense Department should increase the proportion to close combat Soldiers and Marines to about six percent of active duty personnel or about 70,000 total. Infantry units should be “overmanned” by about fifty percent to account for the wastage that comes from casualties and accidents in combat.

If the past is prologue over the coming decades the nation will spend trillions for a few more knots of speed, inches of precision or bits of bandwidth. I believe to the depths of my soul that some of that money would be better spent making our close combat Soldiers and Marines better at what they alone can do: kill the enemy in close combat. Our enemies today no longer fear our ships and planes. They have learned to minimize the destructiveness of our big shiny objects. But they do fear greatly the sight of an American Soldier or Marine closing in with the intention to kill. We must, as a first priority, give these (mostly) men the tools they need to succeed and survive.

Maj. Gen. Bob Scales, USA (Ret.), is one of America’s most respected authorities on land power. He commanded two units in Vietnam and is the recipient of the Silver Star for action during the Battle of Hamburger Hill. He commanded units in Korea and the United States and completed his service as commandant of the Army War College. He’s the author of Scales on War: The Future of America’s Military at Risk published by Naval Institute Press.

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