18 January 2012

The Army's Struggle for Doctrinal Relevance

The Army is having trouble envisioning how they fit into the country's long-term strategic plan. Really? You can't envision anywhere you'd need to fight? Or nowhere that you can politically admit to cough*Pakistan*cough?

"We're looking with a bit of envy at AirSea Battle," said one junior officer, Maj. David Williams, in a frank presentation to a panel of generals – all outranking him by at least three paygrades – on January 12th. And, Maj. Williams went on, many officers are "nostalgic" for AirSea Battle's inspiration, the Army's "AirLand Battle" concept published in 1982 to defeat the Soviet Union in Central Europe. Both visions offer the clarity of "a specific threat, a specific location, a simple narrative" to present "to the American Congress and the American people," Williams went on. By contrast, "if you take the national security priorities recently released...there's a bunch of things out there," he said. "We need to pick one, [and] the most important thing is focusing on the hybrid threats."

Hybrid is the buzzword for adversaries combining the tactics of guerrillas with the firepower of a state. Israel's humiliation by Hezbollah in Lebanon in 2006 is the prime example of a hybrid war, but there are aspects of the phenomenon in America's own experience from Korea and Vietnam to Afghanistan and Iraq. One of the most influential advocates of the theory, RAND scholar and Army veteran David Johnson, argued at the conference that the U.S. could learn from the Israelis, who after 2006 focused on the hybrid threat – with significant success, as shown by their improved performance against Hamas in Gaza in 2008 – while remaining flexible enough to "build up" to a major state-on-state conflict or "build down" to irregular warfare.

From a public relations perspective, hybrid war gives the Army a scenario sufficiently scary and sufficiently probable to justify its budget. For internal audience, the attraction is a single, unifying mission that allows the Army to simultaneously draw on its decade of experience in counterinsurgency and revitalize its skills for larger-scale combat. One outspoken officer at the conference, Col. Wayne Grigsby of the Army's Combined Arms Center at Fort Leavenworth, advised the generals to drop the current doctrine's array of tasks in favor of a single Army "core competency" in "joint combined arms fire and maneuver" – i.e. fighting – while deemphasizing counterinsurgency-focused functions such as "wide area security."

But the top brass weren't so sure. "Decisionmakers don't want large-scale land campaigns today for a variety of reasons," said Lt. Gen. Richard Zahner, the Army's chief of intelligence (G-2). "They're going to come looking for you because you can offer them solutions they don't otherwise have, [and] no decision maker wants to have just a single option." Instead, Zahner said, the Army's pitch to policymakers bent on budget cuts should be pragmatic: "Listen folks, you may not want us, but we're the guys who are going to give us a whole range of new options when Plan A doesn't come out the way you anticipated."

By: Brant


Guardian said...

Again my "Israeli strategy" comes to mind. Committing the Army (and/or USMC) to a conventional or hybrid operation on the ground for 1-6 months is an entirely different place in the continuum than committing the ground forces to a 10-year-long COIN campaign. The Army should be thinking in terms of Desert Shield/Desert Storm, OEF-1, and OIF-1, not the OEF and OIF "sequels." I can think of several places (Pakistan, Iran, etc.) where we might have to seize and hold ground for a while, take care of some problems, and then leave (without trying to "reform" the irreformable).

SO said...

The Issraelis didn't so much turn towards training against mythical hybrid threats.
They diagnosed that their combined arms training and aggressiveness was badly lacking in 2006. They had lost too much of their conventional warrfare skills by bullying Palestinians for decades.

As a consequence, they had to re-focus on conventional warfare to fix their issues.

The U.S. had the opposite problem in 2003; prepared for smashing red divisions, not prepared for policing.
Nowadays they've neglected conventional combined arms warfare so much after many training rotations with violent occupation duty in mind that they need to re-emphasise conventional combined arms warfare again.

The author of that long quote got the Israeli thing totally backwards.

Anonymous said...

I sure hope nobody in Washington is trying to tell the Army that they won't be needed in the future. Every time we say that, someone's packing their bags to a new place of 6+ years: Bosnia, Somalia, Iraq, Philippines, Afghanistan, Djibouti, Colombia, Pakistan (oops! we're not supposed to admit that one, right?)

-- Mike P