Thursday, February 22, 2018

America Needs to Think About the Next War—Before It's Too Late

February 21, 2018

A U.S. Soldier with the 1st Battalion, 18th Infantry Regiment, 2nd Armored Brigade Combat Team, 1st Infantry Division, Fort Riley, Kansas, issues a command to his squad during platoon live-fire qualifications, Dec. 18, 2017, at the Novo Selo Training Area, in Mokren, Bulgaria. Flickr / U.S. Department of Defense

Inside democratic societies, shrewd and far-sighted defense strategies focused on modernizing armed forces for future wars are always difficult to achieve. Thus, when a modernization strategy succeeds as it did in 1991 with the Battle of 73 Easting, Americans should pay attention.
At 4:18 PM on 26 February 1991, the two lead cavalry troops of an 1,100-man Armored Cavalry Squadron consisting of Abrams tanks, Bradley infantry fighting vehicles and supporting artillery charged out of a sandstorm and attacked a full-strength 2,500-man Iraqi Republican Guard Brigade with T-72 tanks, BMPs and artillery in the Iraqi desert along the North-South grid line referred to as “73 Easting.” In the extreme violence that ensued, courageous and intelligent American soldiers applied a new, as yet untried combination of armor, mobility and firepower that crushed the Iraqi force.
By historical standards 73 Easting was an exceptional “first battle.” Most first battles from Bull Run and Kasserine Pass to the Ia Drang Valley ended badly. The Army’s senior leaders relearned the same bitter lesson: “Every successful business model, or military organization for combat, works until it doesn’t.”
The Battle of 73 Easting was different. The Armored Cavalry’s winning combination of organization, technology and human capital—the new, 1991 Army business model—was created in the mid-1970s, a time of draconian defense cutswhen U.S. warplanes couldn’t fly for a lack of spare parts, ships sat in port without fuel and soldiers exercised with tanks and guns that differed little from their WWII predecessors. However, when the funding for Army modernization finally arrived in the 1980s, the really hard work—thinking, experimentation and evaluation—was accomplished. New fighting formations could be fielded.
New business models don’t invent themselves. And devising new joint operational concepts along with new fighting formations assimilating new technologies and employing new tactics is hard work.
Fortunately, the new national military strategy points the way: Air Force, Naval and Army Forces must move away from low intensity conflict operations in permissive environments. New forces must be built that can deter, and, if necessary defeat capable nation-state opponents in high intensity conventional conflict. The new strategy also discards the doctrine of brute force—blind faith in the superiority of numbers—in favor of lethality and capability, not numbers in future force design.
Unfortunately, inside the U.S. Army the flood of cash from congress—$192 billion with $37 billion for modernization—is replacing the brute force theory with a fatally flawed strategy: impetuous, undisciplined spending to make the old Army fight better. The Army’s senior leaders are spending $27 billion of the Army fiscal 2019 modernization dollars on legacy systems; the contemporary equivalent of upgrading Sherman Tanks in the 1980s for war in 1991.
Put differently, the money has arrived as it did during the 1980s, but in contrast to the Army’s senior leaders in the 1970s, today’s senior leaders have not done the hard work to construct the new business model:
Identify the form that future warfare will take and the new warfighting missions that joint operations to deter, neutralize or destroy new threats will demand;
Perform the analysis to link the national strategy with operational concepts and desired capabilities;
Develop the new joint warfighting organization for combat—the new business model—through unconstrained experimentation and rigorous field testing;
Build the new command and control structure to integrate capabilities across service lines and guarantee unity of effort;
Ensure capability integration and shared technological development with aerospace and maritime forces (R, D&A).
During the 1970s, the politicians who were nominally in charge of overseeing the U.S. Army’s spending habits did not have to ask the Army’s senior leaders many hard questions. The officers who worked quietly in the background to build the new Army on the ruins of the force that fought in Vietnam knew their trade. Several fought in WWII, Korea and Vietnam.
The next “first battle” will be just as brutal as the Battle of 73 Easting, but it will be different. Winning it will require the methodical adaptation of men and machines inside new organizations for combat to achieve decisive victory in war.
Touting a collection of programs without an inherently joint warfighting organizational construct is not the way to modernize. Establishing a new headquarters with more generals from the same source that failed repeatedly to get the job done since 1991 is not an answer; it is obfuscation.
If the nation is to win the first battle of the next major war, then, the appointed and elected leaders of the executive and legislative branches must weigh in and ask the Army’s senior leaders the hard questions. They must be ready to reallocate resources to address the absence of a coherent and effective modernization strategy inside the U.S. Army before billions are lost.
Col. (ret) Douglas Macgregor was decorated for his leadership under fire in the 73 Easting. He is also a PhD and the author of five books. His most recent is Margin of Victory (Naval Institute Press, 2016).

Thursday, February 1, 2018

Upcoming Event


Mission Command in the 21st Century Army
28 Feb 2018 1330-1500
Arnold Conference Room, Lewis and Clark Center,
Fort Leavenworth, KS
Also Streaming Live on Facebook,
Army Leader Exchange


Futures Seminar
U.S. Army War College
Carlisle Barracks
12 March 2018

Why the Army Isn't Prepared for the Next Great War 
January 31, 2018
After years of service inside the U.S. military’s cutthroat bureaucracy, senior officers can recite the lessons of the past, but very few can grasp their future implications.

Douglas Macgregor

Next week the Senate Armed Services Subcommittee on Airland will hold a hearing on Army modernization. Just twelve months ago, in a similar hearing, the U.S. Army was, according to its own senior leaders, in dismal shape. The question for the senators, who oversee Army readiness to deploy and fight, is whether anything has really changed since February 2017. The recent past explains why.

Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld famously said, “You go to war with the army you have.” Like a stopped clock that’s right twice a day, Rumsfeld was correct. Wars are seldom decided in a single, dramatic battle or by the appearance of a new, alleged “leap ahead” technology. Wars are decided in the decades before they begin; through years of innovative field experimentation and rapid prototyping based on rigorous analysis and historical study.

Rumsfeld was lucky. Instead of fighting in “the Super Bowl,” the U.S. Army confronted a “pick up team” consisting of Afghan and Arab insurgents. Without armies, air forces, air defenses or modern intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) assets, the insurgents were too weak to seriously threaten America’s Cold War legacy Army.

Joint operational maneuvers on the scale of the 1944 breakout from Normandy or offensives to penetrate sophisticated air defenses like those the Germans built—operations that cost the U.S. and British Air Forces eighteen thousand bombers—were not required. Unfortunately, military “success” against pickup teams sets up armies for failure in the Super Bowl.

In 1940, Gen. Maxime Weygand, the supreme commander of French Forces, told a room of shocked politicians and generals, “We have gone to war with a 1918 Army against a German Army of 1939. It is sheer madness.” Weygand should not have been surprised.

After World War I, senior military leaders in the French and British Armies were compelled to concentrate on low-intensity conflict: suppressing rebellions (counterinsurgency) in from Africa to Southeast Asia while the armies they commanded transformed into colonial police forces. Superior French and British military technology and organization from World War I triumphed, but experience in hard-fought campaigns against non-state insurgent enemies between 1918 and 1936 did not transfer to war with the Wehrmacht or the Imperial Japanese Army.

Just five years after World War II, American soldiers endured a similar experience. Gen. Matthew Ridgway, the eighth Army commander in Korea, concluded that the primary purpose of an army—to be ready to fight effectively at all times—was forgotten. In the aftermath of the worst war in human history, American soldiers were as unprepared for the enemies that faced them in Korea as the French and British were for the Germans in 1940.

Today there is a growing concern in the halls of Congress that the U.S. Army is on this familiar path. Members worry because the Army’s senior leaders are conditioned to low-intensity conflict while America’s potential opponents in Russia and China are preparing for the Super Bowl. America’s potential opponents are reorganizing their ground forces to exploit new technologies within the operational framework of ISR-STRIKE.

New mobile armored battlegroups designed for high-intensity conventional warfare are emerging inside the Russian and Chinese Armies that mark a dramatic departure from the structure and thinking of their Cold War predecessors. The new fighting formations integrate loitering munitions or “Kamikaze Drones” with the precision strikes of devastating rocket artillery. Both weapon systems and warfighting concepts are finding their way into many foreign armies. All of these developments must be viewed in the context of integrated air defenses; systems that seriously degrade, even, cancel out American air supremacy.

The problem is that after years of service inside the U.S. military’s cutthroat bureaucracy, senior officers can recite the lessons of the past, but very few can grasp their future implications. Even fewer are prepared to alter the status quo to secure victory in the future.

Keep in mind that in a succession of Army chiefs of staff unveiled expensive new “transformation” programs purported to modernize the World War II/Cold War Army. They were hallucinations. The goal was to preserve as much of the old institutional status quo as possible by papering over deficiencies and maintaining existing career patterns. Meanwhile, senior officers hammered bits of new technology into the old organization for combat to create the illusion of change.

In The Innovator’s Dilemma, Clayton Christensen argued that private sector corporations must create specialized, autonomous organizations to exploit new technologies or risk squandering revolutionary capabilities inside status quo organizations. In view of the billions of dollars lost on failed Army modernization programs, Senators may want to consider establishing a special-purpose organization that is not subordinated to the Army hierarchy; a joint organization designed to field new, ground-combat formations for joint warfare.

The lessons are unmistakable: If you prepare for a sandlot pickup team and you go to the Super Bowl, you lose. And, equally important, armies cannot reform themselves.

Douglas Macgregor, is retired Army colonel, decorated combat veteran and the author of five books. His newest is, Margin of Victory, Naval Institute Press, 2016.

Image: Flickr