Thursday, March 30, 2017

Book Review by Allen Boyer

Margin of Victory: Five Battles that Changed the Face of Modern War

Douglas Macgregor. Naval Institute Press, 2016. 268 pages. $34.95.
By Allen Boyer

This book is hammered together from two sermons and five cautionary tales, and it holds up marvelously. Author Douglas Macgregor, an Army tank officer who fought in Operation Desert Storm, touched off a fierce debate with his first book, Breaking the Phalanx (1997). Breaking the Phalanx was controversial because it called for slaughtering some of the Pentagon’s most sacred cows: closing regional military commands, scrapping the Navy’s carrier program, and buying attack helicopters rather than Air Force support planes. Margin of Victory is less controversial, but it can be just as provocative.

Following Clausewitz, Macgregor focuses on “wars of decision,” conflicts that change the shape of the political and economic world: “wars the United States cannot afford to lose.” He argues that we cannot predict against whom the United States will fight, or where, or when; we can bear in mind only that the next war of decision will inevitably occur; and we must concentrate on winning the first fight. Nor can we afford to wait, he warns: “Wars are decided in the decades before they begin, not by the sudden appearance of a new, technological ‘silver bullet’ or the presence of a few strong personalities in the senior ranks during a single battle.”

The first battle that Macgregor discusses, the British Expeditionary Force’s defense of Mons in 1914, is a study in flashback. Mons was a fighting retreat – very nearly a disaster. But the point of Mons, Macgregor finds, is that the British had a force that could stand up against German infantry and artillery. The British Army of Queen Victoria’s day fought tribal warriors and Boer militia. Its proud regiments were unprepared to fight a well-trained, well-equipped modern army. From 1905 to 1912, Sir Richard Haldane had struggled to build the B.E.F., an elite force of seven divisions (six infantry, one cavalry) that could deploy quickly against any foe in the world. At Mons, Haldane’s vision was vindicated; the B.E.F. held the French flank, preventing German victory.

The Battle of Shanghai, which raged for four months in the fall of 1937, was reckless and thoughtless – a bloody opening to a war for which neither side was ready. To gain control of Shanghai, Chiang Kai-shek put at risk his army. Even when surprise was lost, the Chinese futilely threw division after division into the attack, wasting units trained for years by German officers. The Japanese landed an army starved by years of financial cutbacks. They had tanks, artillery, and aircraft – but too few. The Japanese had “failed to change enough to achieve a true margin of victory,” Macgregor writes. Neither side could overwhelm the other. The Japanese pressed on into China, while the war grew increasingly bitter. The battle to control Shanghai ended with the destruction of Nanking.

The third battle, the Byelorussian campaign of 1944, features two armies that pursued different paths of reform. The Wehrmacht had developed the tactics of the blitzkrieg – calling down artillery and dive-bombers on enemy strongpoints, punching open the way for tanks and fast-moving infantry. However, German success with these new tactics concealed the weakness of German logistics; supplies for panzer divisions were pulled by draft horses. The Russians looked further ahead, to a concept of “deep battle” – broad strikes far into enemy territory, backed by up strategic reserves and immense supply chains. Russian resources, deployed by a unitary command  (“a Soviet marshal could [order] in minutes what took General Dwight D. Eisenhower months of negotiations with US and British air force commanders to do: unleash 700 long-range bombers”) won the day.

The shortest battle described in this book, between the United States Army and the Iraqi Republican Guard, is one in which Macgregor fought. On the afternoon of February 26, 1991, at a map gridline called 73 Easting, Cougar Squadron of the Second Armored Cavalry Regiment swept the desert clear of Iraqi forces, wrecking more than 70 tanks, 70 armored vehicles, 44 trucks, and 32 bunkers. This was the swift, devastating tank battle of which the Army had dreamed for fifty years – and yet it was not decisive. War planners called a halt to Operation Desert Storm, leaving Saddam Hussein in power.

Macgregor’s chapter on the Yom Kippur War of 1973 tells how two different armies each played to its own peculiar strength. Anwar Sadat, like Viscount Montgomery before Alamein, trained his soldiers exhaustively and massed artillery to support and protect them. He learned from Russian wartime experience in crossing rivers under fire. He sneaked five Egyptian divisions into trenches on the west bank of the Suez Canal, which was defended by only five Israeli battalions. When the Egyptians stormed across the canal, the defenders panicked – but when the Israelis regained their nerve, their daring brought the chance for a brilliant counterstrike, their own attack across the canal. The Israeli drive into Egypt could hardly be stopped, but the Egyptian beachhead in Sinai could not be dislodged. The two armies fought each other to a standstill, from which statesmen eventually forged a peace.

Margin of Victory is a meditation on military history. After his best divisions were ruined, Chiang Kai-shek, who had gambled on capturing Shanghai, became the wary, evasive, do-nothing despot whom General Stillwell despised. The fact that Chiang could shift strategy so radically underlines the unpredictability of war. Hitler’s generals and Stalin’s marshals both planned to fight sweeping tank battles, and they ultimately fought sweeping tank battles – ignoring casualties, since they answered to dictators, not voters. Because armies will fight the kind of wars they prepare for, this history suggests, the Army must choose carefully the kind of war it prepares for. However, Margin of Victory is also a soldier’s pamphlet. Captain H.R. McMaster, the young officer who commanded Eagle Troop of Cougar Squadron, the spearhead of the attack at 73 Easting, is now Lieutenant-General McMaster, the president’s National Security Adviser. A generation of soldiers have heard Macgregor’s preaching, and may share his faith.

Allen Boyer (ΦBK, Vanderbilt University, 1977) is a lawyer and writer in New York City.  His fifth book, “Rocky Boyer’s War: An Unvarnished History of the Air Blitz that Won the War in the Southwest Pacific,” will be published in May.  Vanderbilt University is home to the Alpha of Tennessee Chapter of Phi Beta Kappa.

Saturday, March 25, 2017

Video Link: All Arms Warfare in the 21st Century

Date: Wednesday, March 15, 2017  
Time: 03:30 PM  
Location: Room SR-232A, Russell Senate Office Building


Upcoming Event:

Pritzker Military Museum & Library and
Naval Institute Co-Sponsor Events in Chicago this Spring
The Pritzker Military Museum and Library, in co-sponsorship with the Naval Institute, will host three author events and one oral history event this spring in downtown Chicago. Visit the Pritzker's website for more details on these events.

Decorated combat veteran and author, Douglas Macgregor, PhD, will discuss his newest book Margin of Victory: Five Battles that Changed the Face of Modern War. The book details five military battles of note in the 20th century.

Win the close fight - Jerusalem Post newspaper

Military interdependency vs. interoperability

By Nicolette Fudge | Published Thursday, March 23, 2017

Col. Douglas Macgregor, USA (Ret.), executive vice president at Burke-Macgregor Group, discusses the difference between the interdependency in the military and interoperability.

The U.S. Army Can't Get Ambushed by the Future

More money without new leadership won’t fix the Army.

Douglas Macgregor

When U.S. forces begin the destruction of the Islamic State, it will defend its territory—its so-called caliphate—and “hold ground.” Without air and missile defenses, or rocket artillery and mobile armored forces with accurate, devastating firepower, “holding ground” is the only option. U.S. air and ground forces with token “allied and partner” participation will methodically grind Islamic State fighters out of existence. “Holding ground” will be a death sentence for ISIS.

However, the destruction of ISIS belongs to the past; battles between the U.S. armed forces and insurgent enemies without armies, air forces or air defenses. Future battle will be different.

Recent events in eastern Ukraine, Mesopotamia and the western Pacific suggest the potential for conflicts in regions where major wars incubated in the past. When and how these wars will break out is difficult to predict, but the trend lines suggesting how they will be fought are visible now.

In a future conflict with nation-state opponents, U.S. command, control and communications, particularly space-based capabilities, will be disrupted. Theater ballistic missiles and self-navigating long-range cruise missiles will strike ports, airfields, refineries, desalination plants and food-storage facilities vital to U.S. forces.

The skies over the battlefield will be crowded with loitering munitions and unmanned aerial vehicles. These agile cruise missiles are designed to engage beyond line-of-sight ground targets. With proximity-fused, high-explosive warheads, these systems will remain airborne for hours, whether day or night. Equipped with high-resolution electro-optical and infrared cameras, enemy operators will locate, surveil and guide the drones to targets on the ground—U.S. ground forces.

When these loitering missiles are integrated into the enemy’s strike formations, armed with precision-guided rocket artillery that fires high-explosive, incendiary thermobaric warheads, including submunitions with self-targeting antitank and antipersonnel munitions, warfare as we know it changes. The rockets fired from just five Russian BM-30 Smerch launchers can devastate an area the size of Central Park. At the same time, integrated air defenses will protect the strike formations from U.S. air and missile attack while enemy armored forces maneuver to exploit the chaos and close in with accurate, devastating direct fire from automatic cannon, antitank guided missiles and high-velocity guns.

Imagine the impact of the aforementioned events on the contemporary Army’s thousands of paratroopers and air-mobile or truck-mounted infantry. The consequences for gas-guzzling “upgraded” tanks and infantry fighting vehicles designed in the 1970s will be no less profound. Without integrated air and missile defenses to protect them from top attack, or their own precision-strike capabilities to counter the enemy’s strikes, the mix of enemy capabilities employed as described will crush them too.

None of this is news inside the Pentagon. In the building, it’s an open secret that without a strategic reset, today’s Army ground forces are ambulatory patients lining up for rescue by American air power. The problem is that the U.S. Air Force is already overstretched. U.S. air power must also contend with the proliferation of lethal air-defense technologies in combination with electronic warfare—a recipe that can degrade, and in some cases negate, the effects of America’s precision-strike weapons, GPS-based navigation and guidance systems.

Twentieth-century warfare taught that armies are more often defeated by dogma based on earlier successes than by the skill of new enemies. The last century also taught the importance of integrating new, survivable warfighting capabilities inside new, highly mobile organizational constructs at progressively lower levels. Unfortunately, the possibility that the U.S. Army’s 1942 organizational constructs—brigades, divisions and corps—may be the wrong answer to twenty-first-century opponents is anathema to the Army’s three- and four-star generals. This is why more money without new leadership won’t fix the Army.

During a February 27 meeting at the Lexington Institute, Maj. Gen. David Bassett, Army Program Executive Officer for Ground Combat Systems, said, “Sometimes I’m asked, ‘do you really think it’s a good idea to keep the Abrams tank until 2050?’ No, [but] you develop a strategy for the resources that you have. . . . What we haven’t done is give you a strategy for the resources that we don’t have.”

When general officers openly admit to doing stupid things, civilian leadership is vital, particularly when Congress gives the U.S. Army $120 billion a year, a sum roughly equal to the Russian national defense budget. Even with this enormous sum, the Army four-stars insist they cannot make more than three brigade combat teams ready to fight.

Informed and courageous civilian leadership with a fresh set of eyes is needed to develop a new modernization strategy tied to a new twenty-first-century Army. Otherwise, there is no guarantee that the U.S. Army’s high-profile, multibillion-dollar acquisitions graveyard will not continue to grow exponentially, with more failed programs like the Ground Combat Vehicle, Armed Aerial Scout, and the staggering foray into science fiction with the $20 billion Future Combat System.

So, what is to be done?

First, the new secretary of the army must focus on streamlining the Army’s overhead and building more ready, deployable fighting power at the lowest level. Consolidate multiple four-star commands (Training and Doctrine Command, Army Materiel Command and Army Forces Command) into fewer three-star commands (Training and Readiness Command and Doctrine and Materiel Command). Demand that the U.S. Army explore cross-domain C2 with the air and naval forces for integrated “All Arms/All Effects” warfare. In future conflict, there will be no time for a pickup game—the lashing together of dozens of single-service headquarters.

Second, the secretary must insist on full-spectrum rapid prototyping of new operational capabilities—organizing construct, human capital strategy and equipment, not just the technology. End the wasteful practice of making the old force fight better by tinkering on the margins of obsolete World War II formations. Put differently, prepare for the future in western Russia now, not in ten years. Organize new formations around the joint warfighting functions of ISR, STRIKE, maneuver and sustainment for integration with aerospace and naval power.

Third, stop Army forces from modernizing in isolation from the aerospace and maritime forces. Demand that the Army explore mature technologies already in use in other services that facilitate unity of effort across service lines.

Fourth, in January 2016, the National Commission on the Future of the Army recommended piloting an initiative called the Reconnaissance Strike Group (RSG), a six-thousand-man formation under a one-star. The current version of the FY17 NDAA directs the JCS chairman to establish an RSG office, to model, assess and report to the Senate Armed Services Committee on the RSG. The RSG is what Clayton Christensen described in his book The Innovator’s Dilemma: a special-purpose organization designed to lead change by exploiting new but proven technologies in a joint, autonomous setting. Use the RSG to make Army experimentation and innovation routine, not exceptional.

Fifth, look to defense industries in Germany, Israel, Sweden and other friendly or allied countries for new platforms and technologies that can be rapidly prototyped, modified and eventually, manufactured on U.S. soil for the U.S. Army. The reason is simple: U.S. defense industries are behind because they evolved to mimic the industrial-age client they serve. If the U.S. Army is to attain cutting-edge platforms for overmatch in future battle, it must look beyond American borders for the solutions.

In military affairs, new facts should lead to changes in military strategy, organization and tactics, but that’s not always the case. After the totally unexpected loss of fifteen thousand British soldiers in the first week of World War I and the onset of trench warfare, Britain’s minister of defense, Field Marshal Kitchener, exclaimed, “I don’t know what is to be done—this is not war!”

Wayne Gretzky understood the challenge. He noted, “A good hockey player plays where the puck is. A great hockey player plays where the puck is going to be.” For the next secretary of the army, it means moving the Army team to where the fight can be won.

Colonel (ret) Douglas Macgregor is a decorated Army combat veteran, a PhD and the author of five books. His newest is Margin of Victory: Five Battles that Changed the Face of Modern War, available from Naval Institute Press.

Image: M1A2 Abrams tank during training. Flickr/U.S. Army

Thursday, March 9, 2017

The U.S. Army May Have Prepared for the Wrong War

Daniel L. Davis

On February 7, Vice Chief of Staff for the Army Gen. Daniel Allyn stated that only three of fifty-eight combat brigades in the U.S. Army were sufficiently trained for wartime deployment, blaming the condition on sequestration. It is not the lack of money, however, that is behind the army’s inability to maintain ready forces. Rather, it is the obsolete force structure the army has maintained since World War II. Fortunately, modern thinking and a new organization for the army could reverse this trend—without requiring an increase in the budget.

Just four years earlier, then Army chief of staff Gen. Ray Odierno claimed that the United States only had two trained army brigades, also blaming the lack of readiness on sequestration. The army is by no means under a cash crunch with an annual budget of $148 billion.

It is more, by itself, than the entire defense budgets for Russia, Germany and Japan combined. Sequestration is not what is making the U.S. Army inadequately ready. It is how the money is spent and the way the service is organized that makes the difference. Russia and China have both recognized the changing nature of war and have abandoned the formations born during World War II. Their armies have materially improved as a result.

Beginning in 2010, Russia’s ground forces began eliminating the division structure it had used since the battle of Stalingrad in favor of smaller, more lethal combined arms formations. An analysis of Russia’s reformation in the U.S. Army’s Infantry magazine last year warned that “in Eastern Europe, Russia has been employing an emergent version of hybrid warfare that is highly integrated, synchronized, and devastatingly effective.”

The new Russian battalions “are characterized as highly integrated, extremely powerful, and exceptionally mobile,” the authors explained, noting they were composed of “of a tank company, three mechanized infantry companies, an anti-tank company, two to three batteries of artillery (self-propelled guns and multiple launch rocket), and two air defense batteries.” Chinese ground forces, likewise, have reformed their formations and upgraded their warfighting doctrine.

The Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) ground forces began reorganizing their main fighting formations more than a decade ago to take advantage of advances in the technology of war. They moved away from masses of infantry troops to armored, mobile all-arms formations. Like the Russians, they are mostly eliminating the division structure in preference for smaller, more lethal and survivable brigade combat groups. The Department of Defense (DoD) soberly recognizes these trends and their potential implications.
Prior to the 2003 invasion of Iraq, U.S. ground forces still retained a robust conventional training focus and had a clear ground advantage over Russia and China. In the years since, however, a reorientation on becoming masters of counterinsurgency tactics has resulted in a significant deterioration in conventional fighting skills. More importantly, the United States lost a decade when it could have modernized, reorganized, and improved the army. The advantage America once had over Russia and China has been eroded. If changes are not made, the U.S. Army could soon fall behind them. Fortunately, there is help on the horizon.

In 2015, the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) established The National Commission on the Future of the Army and charged them by 2016 to make an assessment of the size and force structure of the future army. One of its key recommendations was that “Congress should require the Secretary of Defense and Joint Staff to oversee the modeling of alternative Army design and operational concepts—including the Reconnaissance Strike Group (RSG).” The RSG is an element of a larger army-wide transformation model designed by retired U.S. Army Col. Douglas Macgregor.

The RSG is a six-thousand-person all-arms, all-effects battle group that is “designed to lead change by exploiting new, but proven technologies in a joint, integrated operational context,” according to Macgregor’s online briefing. The Senate Armed Services Committee adopted the recommendation of the Army Commission and the 2017 NDAA ordered the creation of an RSG Office to model and assess the effectiveness of the new construct.

The RSG is organized within a comprehensive operational construct that synthesizes maneuver, strike, ISR (intelligence, surveillance, reconnaissance) and sustainment capabilities. Unlike current army formations, the RSG is a self-contained organization that is an all-arms, mobile armored combat formation commanded by a one-star general that has substantial striking power and greater survivability than current force units.

The Russian and Chinese have already begun moving to this type of reformation. The RSG, manned and led by highly trained American soldiers, has the potential to reestablish the U.S. Army as the world’s unchallenged land power.

It is far from certain that sequestration will be lifted any time soon and in any case, it doesn’t appear that the army will get anywhere near as much of a budget boost as it wants. If the United States wants more than two or three of its fighting brigades combat ready on a consistent basis, it's time to give the RSG and larger army reform serious attention.

Daniel L. Davis is a Senior Fellow for Defense Priorities and a former Lt. Col. in the U.S. Army who retired in 2015 after twenty-one years, including four combat deployments.
Image: M1A1 Abrams tank in Iraq. Flickr/U.S. Army 

All Arms Warfare in the 21st Century

Subcommittee: SUBCOMMITTEE ON AIRLAND Date: Wednesday, March 15, 2017 Add to my Calendar Time: 03:30 PM Location: Room SR-232A, Russell Senate Office Building


To receive testimony on all arms warfare in the 21st century.


  1. Lieutenant General David A. Deptula, USAF (Ret.)
    Dean of the Mitchell Institute of Aerospace Power Studies
  2. Colonel Douglas A. Macgregor, USA (Ret.)
    Executive Vice President of the Burke-Macgregor Group
  3. Mr. Paul Scharre
    Senior Fellow and Director for the 20YY Warfare Initiative, Center for a New American Security