Small Wars Journal

Guard Should Specialize In COIN: War College Study

Guard Should Specialize In COIN: War College Study by Sydney J. Freedberg Jr., Breaking Defense

… The Army’s “can-do” culture can be its own worst enemy, said Lt. Col. (soon to be Col.) Paul Larson, one of the co-authors, at the American Enterprise Institute this morning. “We are so eager to accomplish whatever mission we’re handed,” he said, “that we don’t engage in an honest conversation” about what the Army can and should do. In their “Elihu Root Study” (named after a famous Secretary of War), the “Carlisle Scholars” group open fire at several sacred cows. Their three key recommendations (in my mind) are

  • Have the regular Army specialize in conventional wars; focus the Reserves and Guard on counterinsurgency.
  • Dissolve the Army’s administrative theater commands and use their manpower to build more operationally-oriented corps headquarters.
  • Build dedicated advisor units, something Army Chief of Staff Gen. Mark Milley is publicly considering.

The study’s most controversial recommendation is that regular active-duty Army should focus its training primarily — though not exclusively — on conventional war (“Combined Arms Maneuver” or CAM), which requires constant training and rapid deployment in case, say, Russia threatens to blitzkrieg the Baltics. Have the Reserve and National Guard focus on counterinsurgency and stability operations (“Wide Area Security” or WAS). Guerrilla wars and reconstruction efforts tend to unfold over longer timescales — long enough to mobilize citizen-soldiers — and they require skills best acquired in civilian life, from law enforcement to city management to agriculture.

The problem with this idea is that the Army National Guard has fought for decades to retain its combat forces and expensive, high-end warfighting gear, from M1 tanks to Apache helicopters. (The Army Reserve, by contrast, specializes in support roles such as military police). However, conventional warfare is traditionally far more prestigious in the Army than counterinsurgency or peacekeeping, so many in the Guard feel the study’s division of labor would relegate them to second-class status…

Read on.