Small Wars Journal

Go Army, Beat Navy

Forget ships and drones: The future of war is still on land. By Douglas A. Ollivant, Foreign Policy.

The conventional wisdom holds that the future of American conflict will be dominated by drones, SEALs, and a massive combined naval/air team in the Pacific. This scenario envisions little purpose for land power outside the limited but potent capabilities inherent in Special Operations. But there is an alternative view that believes the conventional wisdom to be utopian and unwilling to consider the most likely conflicts to occur in the future...


Dave Maxwell

Fri, 09/28/2012 - 9:31pm

Although Doug makes some important points I do have to say that his essay reminds me that "We have met the enemy and he is us." We really need to put an end to the inter-service rivalry.

A few excerpts (Apologies for so many but I think they are important):

"Regrettably, the Army seems to be struggling to express a coherent narrative about its future. The Army has long been known to be strategically inarticulate, unable to effectively express its role in the larger defense establishment since the fall of the Berlin Wall.

The Army's identity crisis contrasts with the Air Force and the Navy, which have hitched their future to a very clear -- if misguided -- narrative known as Air-Sea Battle, introduced by the Pentagon in 2009.

The Army correctly discerns, but will politely not say, that the Pentagon's "pivot to Asia" borders on strategic silliness."

I think he makes an important point here:

"The Army instead looks to more plausible spheres of competition. One can quickly divide them into two "baskets" -- threats posed by underdeveloped and essentially non-governed spaces, and threats posed by collapsing states.

Here's the good news. The Army (as well as the Marine Corps) has rehearsed for both these contingencies. The dramatic eight years of the Iraq war have taught these services a great deal about how to deal with a collapsed state. (Hopefully, they've also learned a few lessons about how to not collapse them, if at all possible.) And the continuing conflict in Afghanistan has ingrained very painful lessons about operating in essentially ungoverned spaces. These two environments are inherently different and pose almost completely different challenges, but the Army has demonstrated its ability to learn and adapt, if not always as quickly as one might hope. Just this week, Foreign Policyreported the formation of a "strategic land-power cell" between the Army and Special Operations Command. The new cell is an example of the Army's dedication to adopting new ways to integrate Special Operations with the larger land-power forces. Army strategists are also beginning to think about responding to the challenges posed by weapons of mass destruction in less-than-stable areas."

Although I think Doug makes an important point the bulk of the security of north Korean WMD will be provided not by US ground forces, but by ROK ground forces (and of course if the ROK-US alliance is really good by north Korean forces if we can be successful at co-opting and coercing the 2d tier leaders of the nKPA):

"In the most challenging of these scenarios -- the collapse of the North Korean regime -- there could be upwards of 100 nuclear sites (for weapons, refining, research, reactors, weaponization, stored fuel rods, etc.), in addition to chemical and biological sites. The need to secure these sites will overwhelm available assets in theater, plus available Special Forces, in short order. Without overstating the scope of the problem, it is quite easy to see a force of tens of thousands being required in the North Korean "worst case" for at least a short period until these sites can be dismantled and materials transported to secured central locations."

I think this penultimate paragraph is very important:

"But it is difficult to envision a future contingency that moves beyond a Special Operations scope, in which large quantities of trained and ready land power are not required. Practically speaking, what are the relative odds of a full-scale U.S.-China conflict compared with a North Korean regime collapse? For that reason alone, America should continue to invest in general-purpose land power. Like the other services, the Army and Marine Corps should ensure that they do not sacrifice focus on more likely missions in order to ready themselves for high-end conflict -- though also like their sister services, land forces must also devote time and resources to prepare for existential threats. But when there is a crisis, there is no more useful tool than several thousand young Americans who are trained, organized, and equipped to resolve problems among the population in unsafe and ambiguous environments."

And I agree that this is one silver lining:

"One silver lining of America's wars in Iraq and Afghanistan is that its land forces now understand ambiguity very, very well."