Small Wars Journal

Why Do We Still Need a Huge Army?

… asks Chris Rawley at his latest Information Dissemination post, Libya Lessons: Supremacy of the SOF-Airpower Team… Or, Why Do We Still Need a Huge Army? BLUF for Chris:

I realize the above concepts are controversial, but I also know that the US became a secure and strong nation and will remain powerful because of sea power, not land power. And a globally deployed Navy/Marine Corps team, combined with a robust range of airpower and special operators is the force we need to defeat just about any conceivable future threat. So why shouldn't the Army take a disproportionate share of the impending DOD budget cuts?


Grandpa Bluewater

Wed, 08/31/2011 - 7:19pm

The Nation requires a preeminent Navy which includes a strong Marine Corps, and...
an Army which is the long term repository of Air-Land and all-service applicable capabilties (Mortuary - for example). The Army needs to be the bank of expertise for major war, be it in a resourced reserve, active duty cadre, or division or corps level strength in garrison. 10 divisions deployed, combat ready, to Europe, in two weeks is not a current strategic goal; nor are the left over post WWII forces of occupation/cold war western European defense properly pre-positioned for the National Military Strategy, or the Operational Plans developed as contingencies for that Strategy.

This is because, at the moment, our strategy is essentially a collection of leftovers with a (hopefully) versatile short order cook standing by to approximate the a la carte request of the customers. To extend the DoD as a restaurant metaphor a bit, SOF alone is a DC hot dog cart, not a 24/7 cafeteria with banquet rooms available at no notice, which is what is required for the next century. History, academics' foolishness aside, is far from over, and future history is far from accurately predictable.

And the Air Force? It might be best to fold some of them back into the Army ((TAC)and the Transports), and place the remainder under the Secretary of the Army as a separate service organizationally similar to the USMC/Navy relationship. The idea would be to keep it's technological strength intact, but adjust the roles and missions to increase responsiveness in the lab, joint equipment fielding, and on the battlefield.

First, we need an over-arching strategy. Containment served, and was able to deal with fiscal limits which varied over half a century. Now we need something else.

What we don't need is a fire sale at the fire house like 1946, lest we wind up facing something like the can of worms that opened itself in 1950, e.g., nothing at the hot dog stand but hot dogs, and crow.

Whatever we decide will determine what dish we set before the NCA at 0300 - likely within a decade, two at the most.

Mr. Rawley's idea provides a good middle ground option for us and has worked well enough in Afghanistan in 2001 and recently in Libya, both times against a rabble. I wish we had had the nerve to try it in South Iraq in 1991. It would have given us a good betwixt and between option to support those we encouraged to rise up against Saddam whom we then abandoned. It also would have given a more fair test of the concept than the two examples cited.

However, to say because it has worked twice against a rabble it can therefore replace large formations in conventional big battles is in keeping with the great and hallowed American military cultural tradition of saying that the latest magic machine can make war cheap and easy for us. The only difference with Mr. Rawley's idea is that he has added magic men, 10 foot tall SOFs, to the magic precision guided machines. It really doesn't matter how long the SOFs train or what their washout rate is, in his context the magic men are just little groups of light infantry with radios, forward air controllers with some local gunslingers around, if the locals are willing. They will call in airstrikes that can be delivered if the weather is good, the gps works and there are enough air bases near by so a lot of airplanes can be kept overhead long enough and often enough to keep them from being snapped up. This makes for a great movie or video concept, as has been mentioned, but I don't see it replacing a combined arms force in a real honest to goodness big battle.

I think we have already tried pretty much what Mr. Rawley suggests. In every war we have fought since 1943 we have had overwhelming air and artillery supremacy and the ability to literally almost rain bombs and shells on enemies heads wherever and whenever we pleased, weight of fire taking the place of precision of fire. But in order to actually get those enemies to move, we had to send in the PBI, otherwise those enemies just dug deeper, hid better and stayed put. Addition of the magic men to the magic machines won't change that. It won't make war easy.

Mr. Rawley you stated that the airplanes would keep the tanks from concentrating ergo the little FAC teams will be safe. Why would you need concentrated armor to take the little FAC team? If they moved dispersed or the wx was bad the enemy may do good enough, even with no tanks at all.

I wish our oceans gave us the protection they used to, but I fear they do not; not in an era when it takes well over a decade to get a combat airplane into service. We will be fatally crippled long before years needed to overcome prior years of neglect have passed.

Bill M.

Wed, 08/31/2011 - 6:41pm

In reply to by Vitesse et Puissance


You wrote, "It is not even applicable to past scenarios such as Kosovo 98, Haiti 93 or Somalia 91."

If you are referring to my earlier post, that was my point, not that the SOF-USAF/USN Air team could resolve those problems. At most they could have provided some disruptive and suppressive fires, it took boots on the grounds, and lot of boots on the ground to provide any degree of stability and peace enforcement.

It also didn't work in Afghanistan as I stated below, that team successfully broke the Taliban's back while AQ slipped across the border, and then when the policy was made to transform Aghanistan into a shinny city on the hill, the SOF/USAF team's relevance became much less of a factor (while both SOF and air power remained critically important). As I pointed out in the previous post, the SOF-Air team in Northern Iraq didn't break the Iraqi Army, the large conventional force in the south did, and units from the North pulled out as quickly as they could to reinforce Baghdad.

To be frank it is hard to believe that a military officer even suggested this one trick pony (as you correctly called it) as a replacement for a standing Army (that has already been greatly reduced in size since the end of the Cold War), even if he is in the Navy. If the intent was to be provocative, he succeeded, if the intent was to provide a viable alternative I would give him a D at best.

Vitesse et Puissance

Wed, 08/31/2011 - 12:43pm

In reply to by raydifarrell

On the face of it, it is the "re-arming at leisure for WW3" business that bothers me most. The US has cut (army) force structure after every war in the 20th much for the myth that the post-WWII era was an anomalous period in which the US remained armed at daggers drawn. In fact, we popped and cropped our end strength like a yo-yo, at great cost to training and to the professional soldiers caught up in the drawn-down. The pattern appears to be repeating itself, even though the drawn-down looks to be larger than was the rather anemic build-up. And if we look at the history of the British Empire, the same pattern exists. After the Boer War (about the same time as the US post-Phillipines draw-down), the British slashed their ground force end strength - and were confronted with the mother of all force generation challenges in 1914-16. Two years to mobilize during a conflict is about 23 months too long with in the operational environments of today and tomorrow. I look without satisfaction for voices who recognize both the depth and the likelihood of this challenge. The USAF-SOF combination is a one-trick pony, and will not work in all circumstances. It is not even applicable to past scenarios such as Kosovo 98, Haiti 93 or Somalia 91. The original question as to why the US needs a "large" standing army is really more rhetorical than anything else - clearly the author had his mind made up in advance as to both the problem and the solution. Inevitably, the hard questions of "how large" an army is needed, and "how quickly" force generation must take place are left both begged and unanswered by this kind of presumptuous argumentation. I say this both as a strong supporter of maritime strategy and maritime power, and as a believer in a more balanced and nuanced deployment of what we loosely refer to as "smart power". Inevitably the tension between mass and economy of force holds firm. Those who ignore that essential balance do so at their peril.

Bill M.

Wed, 08/31/2011 - 10:38am

In reply to by raydifarrell


When you just look at % of global defense spending it appears we're over spending compared to our potential foes, but I think that view point is misleading. We have global interests (right or wrong, but it is reality), so while a 1989 Iraq may have only spent 2% (I'm guessing as a means of illustration, I have no idea how much they spent) of global defense spending, it was more than enough defense spending (mostly ground forces) to enable them to take over Kuwait and threaten Saudi. To win decisively we not only needed a numeric and/or technological advantage, we needed to move and sustain that advantage to the Middle East (expensive), and at the same time maintain forces in Europe, Asia, etc., not to mention constant modernization, force generation, etc., which is an investment that many of our allies benefit from, and the relative global stability that this force provides (debatable, but I tend to think this is true) benefits the global economy.

As for necessary wars, as you said that is debatable. While in some respects Korea and Vietnam conflicts were based on flawed policies, but at the same time it "may" very well have limited aggressive communist expansion by sending a message that we were serious about our line in the sand. We'll never know for sure, but I think it impacted future decisions by the Soviets on their internal risk calculus on military adventurism. Necessary? Don't know, but I think they were important.

Desert Storm was probably necessary, although reportedly completely unavoidable, and Saddam invaded based on signal our Ambassador in Baghdad sent him. Who knows, but allowing that type of aggression to stand (especially in the world's major oil production center) was probably not an option.

Going back to a smaller ground force, the Marines are already projected to shrink in size and that is probably appropriate, because they're doing the job the Army should be doing in Afghanistan. They should be a semi-elite expeditionary force, and right sized for that mission. I wouldn't reduce their funding, but simply focus the $$$ saved from downsizing on needed modernization. The Army has already been downsized considerably since the end of the Cold War (even with the recent and small expansion since 9/11), so I would like to see some numbers based on analysis when people say we should downsize our ground forces. By how much? What organizations specifically need to be downsized? Why?

I think the general consensus across the board (both novice and expert) have dismissed the combined SOF/Air team argument as a replacement for ground forces, but why do we need a large ground force? I think our mission says it all, to deter/prevent conflict and when necessary to decisively win.

All that said some downsizing is expected and probably needed, but I have yet to see a valid argument on why we don't need a credible standing Army.


Wed, 08/31/2011 - 5:33am

Although a (Canadian) army officer, I agree with the general observation that the USA does not need a large army. But I do not buy the thesis that SOF and strike capabilities are all that the US needs to support its national interests. Armies are needed to fight any kind of war that matters, and there is the rub.

Which wars really matter? Which ones are luxuries, to be fought for minor national interests because the nation is rich and can afford them? And which ones are in defence of vital interests and must be won regardless of the cost and pain?

I have argued before on this site that the US has not fought a war of neccesity since 1945. (A war which the US won, despite having rather small and obsolete land and air forces only a decade prior.)

We can disagree about this or that conflict, but it seems clear that most of the wars since then have been in the 'war of choice' catagory. The maintenance of US unchallengable supremacy has, however, been an expensive luxury. I believe that those days are ending.

You may object that there is small political constituency for deep defence cuts in the US today, but I would suggest that (a) support for isolationism is growing within the US; and (b) fiscal realities will simply force the issue. You just can't balance the US budget without cuts to the big ticket items, and I bet US voters would rather trim a few divisions and CVNs, rather than cut medicare (though they will likely end up having to do both).

And this is not foolhardy. US global dominance is stupendous. I think sometimes my american friends are so close to the issue that they forget how total it is. Not just in standing forces, but long-term war-fighting potential. And in allies. The USA accounts for about half of global defence spending, but friendly nations account for about half of the remainder as well. The US could cut its existing military forces and procurement programs in half and still be dominant for decades to come. It will mean a much reduced global policeman, however. So be it.

And if a new challenger arises? So what? Protected by its location, the US will always have the luxury of re-arming at leisure for WW3.


Tue, 08/30/2011 - 6:54am

In reply to by Robert C. Jones

Robert - Thanks for your critique. The problem with using historical citations to advocate for a robust navy (many have tried) is that many people are shortsighted, and don't have an appreciation for what happened 100 years ago, much less 20 years ago. Additionally, JCIDS/POM/JROC/(insert byzantine planning process here) don't rely on history either. They are forward looking. That, and I was writing a 1000 word blog post for a certain audience vs. a scholarly journal, which tends to shape the arguments a bit.

However, wouldn't you say that (wrongly or rightly) the US involvement in Libya has had just a little to do with the current situation there?

Robert C. Jones

Tue, 08/30/2011 - 6:42am

The author makes the right conclusion for all the wrong reasons. Examples of recent events don't really prove anything. Nothing we did drove any of the Arab Spring events to date; and we have little concept of which of our actions have helped or hindered our efforts in Iraq or Afghanistan.

In history, however, we can look to a centuries long case study of the British Empire; a maritime nation that found that even the narrow channel provided the separation adequate to allow them to assume risk in regards to an Army, and to focus their military on the power projection of a mighty navy. That small Army learned that it could expand its own limited capacity considerably by building competent partners from the populaces of the places they were sent to operate, and need not be large themselves to be successful.

While this is a different era, and colonialism and colonial military partners are not viable (IMO) in the current information environment; the geostrategic realities of where the US sits on the planet is an immutable advantage. "Location, Location, Location."

Historically we have assumed too much risk I think with some of the extremely small armies we have maintained, but we must remember the foul taste that England left in our mouths for standing armies. I think we are long over that, but it remains a geostrategicly supportable argument, that the US does not need a large standing Army today.

Would that prevent us from being able to launch quickly into large operations such as Iraq or Afghanistan? Yes. That is an additional benefit of keeping our active Army appropriately sized for the needs of the era it exists within.

We need to look to history for our insights, not yesterday's newspaper.

Bill M.

Tue, 08/30/2011 - 1:07am

In reply to by crawley

1) I guess it depends on your point of view on how successful we actually were in Afghanistan in 2001/02, since the objective was to get UBL and his core followers, the Taliban were simply in the way of that. Our forces performed superbly against the Taliban, and ever since the Taliban have by default become the main effort. Some argue if we brought in more conventional forces initially we could have stopped UBL from escaping. I'm not buying that argument, because that implies we had better intelligence than we did, and that we could actually deploy those forces quickly (have enough rotary wing lift) to blocking positions. The CIA argues that SF leadership wasn't aggressive enough, and refused to take the necessary risk to get UBL. Don't know, wasn't there, but the point is our SOF/Air combo didn't achieve our objectives (short or long term) in Afghanistan. With better intelligence, the type of intelligence that I think we can now produce perhaps it would have been a different story.

2) My comments about Bosnia and Kosovo had little to do with the air campaign, and everything to do with the necessity of deploying large numbers of ground forces to provide stability (peace enforcement). Can't do that with the SOF-Air combo.

3) Your argument also dismisses the historic record about the limits of air power in England (who courageously endured a nightmare of bombing runs from Germany), how Germany and Japan endured the bombing runs (until the atom bombs were dropped), etc. In short, your argument really doesn't pass any common sense test when you try to apply it broadly to every perceived threat. The rinse repeat statement falls flat.

You want to downsize the Army after Afghanistan, and as someone else already stated we played that game before and it has always bitten us in the rear. It takes time to stand up a competent army, and while you can relatively quickly stand up a poorly trained and equipped Army, I don't think the American people will tolerate that. The Army needs to be right sized based on the best estimates and then add 15%, but we're already downsized. As for being forward deployed, an Army in Europe or Korea is as forward deployed as sailors and marines floating about in the Med. Army forces from Europe have responded to a number of real crises in Eastern Europe, Africa and the Middle East. We don't know where the next threat to our national interests will emerge from, and there are a lot of good reasons (economic and other) to have our soldiers forward deployed beyond the obvious one of being closer to a potential hot spot.

Most of the professionals in the Army agree that we need a bigger Navy and won't argue that the Navy projects national power unlike any other service, so my comments are not intended to be anti-Navy, but to simply refute your comments on why we can shrink the Army because SOF/Air teams can now do their mission.


Mon, 08/29/2011 - 8:22pm

In reply to by bumperplate

I agree with pretty much everything you say concerning Libya. I don't necessarily agree with the war, or US involvement in it. My point is not that the Libyan campaign writ large was a success (that's still TBD). It's that the strategy to use airpower (supported by foreign SOF), achieved the goal of deposing Ghadafi without the need for a massive third country ground intervention. Future interventions that required US direct involvement can, and should be designed similarly. And of course, no slap to our tremendous brethern from the SAS was intended, if that's how I came across.

Had Saddam moved his armor under cover to garages, etc. then it wouldn't have been very effective in massing to defeat an insurgent/SOF/air-power force, would it?

"We cannot afford to let any capability or any branch suffer disproportionately" - And with that assertion, I disagree completely. Show me how say 25% cuts to the active duty army would be more damaging to our national security than cutting the equivalent (71) number of ships from the Navy.


Mon, 08/29/2011 - 7:48pm

In reply to by crawley

Ok, I'll make this one a bit longer:
1) Your first sentence undercuts the credibility of the rest of the piece. How can you speak of lessons learned from Lybia? What lessons...we've been "leading from the back", remember? We don't even know who the rebels are, let along what they intend to do. There is virtually no situational awareness regarding Lybia right now. Things were foggy in Afghanistan but at least we thought we had a bead on who was who and what they intended to do or not do. We have none of that in Lybia. So, any assertions based on lessons learned from Lybia is faulty to begin with. That situation is just getting started. If the rebels and the new government declare tomorrow they want sharia and support AQ or another similar group, will we again declare SOF + Air was a winner?
2) As for the Navy/USMC being forward deployed during the 90s with the Army in garrison - I was a part of that Navy/USMC team during the 90s. It didn't get us to an end state in Somalia or Kosovo. You bring up, precisely, my point about a lack of BOG - it wasn't there. And, why not? Because the Army was not involved and because the USMC did not have a large enough presence. I was on some of those ships and I watched and worked with EOD and SEAL team pax going into Somalia every day. They did great work but they didn't team up with Naval Airpower and finish it on their own.
So, that's Lybia, Kosovo, Somalia - no real evidence to support this ISR/SOF centric approach you speak of, and no evidence or cause to think the Army should be reduced in size.
3) 2001 Afghanistan - SOF and Airpower v. Taliban. Tell me, what is going on with the Taliban right now? Did that SOF/ISR/Air power demonstration weaken or prevent the Haqqani network from taking shape, or prevent any alliance between Taliban and AQ elements or did it even eradicate the Taliban as a fighting force? That initial operation was powerful and productive, but it was not decisive.
4) This is somewhat minor and subject to great debate, but the word on the street is that the Brits have had some of their SOF in Lybia. But according to you, if the US had been involved this would have ended long ago. That's a pretty nasty slap to the capabilities of some of our allies, including the Brits. Seems like quite an assumptive leap in my opinion.
5) When was this capability tested, the one you speak of, for destroying large conventional armies without having to employ our own conventional forces? Desert Storm - no. OIF - no. Our conventional forces have been involved in wars against conventional forces. I'm not sure where your assessment comes from regarding this assertion.
6) Range of expected combat missions...seriously, have we not learned anything in the past ten years? We cannot pick our wars, not all the time. We cannot bank on an expected template of wars, file them into a recipe book and build our respective forces according to that list. Adaptability and flexibility are key and must not be abandoned because of cost or presumed efficiency.
7) By your course of action, the only thing an enemy needs to achieve parity or dominance over us is some creativity at defeating our ISR assets - and they have been doing that with microwaves, 2x4 pieces of lumber, sheet metal, cold blankets etc, for quite some time - and robust ADA capabilities. If they just focus their energy on shooting down anything that flies, certainly they'll overrun our non-existent conventional forces.
8) Iraq - so, if we had a lot of SOF and no conventional armor, you think the Iraqi military would have stayed in formations, dug-in positions, and just sat where they were? Once they figured that out they would have been parking tanks and BTRs etc in garages, homes, alongside mosques etc. I see your point and on paper it makes sense but it doesn't pass the test of taking it to the logical extension and viewing from the enemy's perspective.
9) Conventional forces cannot be reconstituted rather quickly. WWI and WWII would illustrate rather easily. Our learning curves in those wars was extremely steep and painful.
10) Totally agree with your assertion that sea power was instrumental in shaping the global dominance of our military and our nation. But, don't forget, we had to do a lot of fighting on land as well. The Mariannas Turkey Shoot didn't win WWII - it took a lot of Joes, wearing out a lot of bootsoles, stomping over a lot of miles.
11) The Army needs to be fixed, not disbanded.

As a group (those in uniform), these petty articles trying to pit one force against another, making one branch look good at the expense of another, must stop. We are all headed, most likely, to austerity. We cannot afford to let any capability or any branch suffer disproportionately, because another important lesson has been the power of joint operations. If the Navy is gutted, most assuredly it will hurt the Army at some point, and vice versa. Same applies to the USAF & USMC. We are all interconnected and must prosper together.


Mon, 08/29/2011 - 6:31pm

In reply to by bumperplate

1) There is no "easy" solution to Afghanistan as it currently stands, nor did I imply that in the post. But do you dispute that the success of the initial operation to push the Taliban out of power? Or would you have preferred that we went in with 200k conventional troops?

2) I don't recall large numbers (if any) of USSOF on the ground during NATO's air campaign in Kosovo. I seemed to rememember the initial policy was no BOG. Which is one of the reasons the bombing was ineffective. But I'd also argue that our ISR capabilities now are tremendously more developed than they were in 1999.

I never said that some ground forces weren't required in some scenarios, just that the US Army isn't justified in maintaining a large active duty force structure once they pull out of Afghanistan. And when they do pull out, where will they go? Back to garrison in Europe and the US, where they were during most of the 1990s while the Navy and Marine Corps was forward deployed.


Mon, 08/29/2011 - 5:52pm

Two things

1) where is the "easy" solution for Afghanistan, according to the author's premises?

2) why is it that during the ifor/kfor/bosnia/kosovo mess that SOF and ISR were not so great at finding and blowing up SU-27 parked in farms, using highways as runways; and why is that SOF/ISR were out there dropping bombs on compact cars with telephone poles sticking out of them, and calling those kills on armored targets?

If the solution to all wars and all military action is a combination of sea and SOF power, the author needs to make a much stronger argument than we see here.

I wouldn't call this controversial, I'd just call it ill-advised and myopic.

I might be mistaken but weren't the SOF operations in Northern Iraq supported by some conventional forces? Specifically the 173rd and some tank companies flown in from Germany?


Vitesse et Puissance

Wed, 08/31/2011 - 1:00pm

In reply to by crawley

As I recall, SF had their hands full just hunting down Scud missiles during the air campaign phase of Desert Storm. In a proliferated world, this might in and of itself justify an increase in SOF end strength. My question is - how do you put the entire puzzle together ? It is the nations with the larger ground forces who are becoming nuclear-capable. This may have broad implications for conventional ops - shades of the "integrated battlefield" of the 1980s. That is a debate worth having, but we delude ourselves into thinking that we will be able to continue on the RMA trend line of increasing mobility and C4ISR capability in exchange for reduced force structure ad infinitem. Some claim we have already hit the wall - I'm less pessimistic on this question. All I would claim is that we need to drive ahead with our lights on, look where real benefits can be had, and for heavens sake put the lessons of the past in perspective.


Mon, 08/29/2011 - 6:40pm

In reply to by Michael G

Michael - Thanks for the comments. One question: If we did ODS today, given our current force structure and capabilities (much smaller, but I'd argue more capable in many respects, especially the SOF-airpower integration piece) would we do it the same way we did in 1991?

Michael G

Mon, 08/29/2011 - 2:43pm

Wow did he open a can of worms. Several points:

First: Not surprised. I expect the anti-Army, pro-Navy/Air Force doctrine proposals to be the next coolest thing since COIN. The Army has had too much influence over the last ten years, and the other services would like a more balanced distribution (…of funds that is) in the coming decades. Like I said, I’m not surprised.

Second: Someone doesn’t seem to like the Army. My guess is the author, who serves on the United States Special Operations Interagency Joint Task Force, and is a surface warfare officer by trade, might explain the Anti-Army, anti-conventional force bias in the article.

Third: He’s right. The Airpower/Special Operations combination is absolutely devastating. Early Afghanistan, northern Iraq (to some extent), and now even Libya are good examples of his theory in action. In my opinion this is intervention done right. Starting small (SOF) and staying small (no massive intervention land forces, but rather host nation forces) is the way to go. Why fix something that isn’t broken? It’s relatively cost effective, and it seems to work out too.

Fourth: He’s wrong. Airpower and sea power, even SOF supported, cannot defeat every enemy threat, especially the large conventional ones. Dessert Storm is a pretty good example. Dug in Iraqi forces could not be defeated until American Armor and Infantry (working in combination with air assets) swept them up, regardless of how many bombs we dropped on them. Isreal in 2006 provides another example. Additionally, with the proliferation of modern guided rockets, artillery, and missiles, the threat to our air and sea dominance capability is only going to be challenged to a greater extent in the future; sort of a big problem for a Naval/Air power centric model.

So the author does have a point: a large expensive land army is probably not the best structure for the future. However, I would argue that a large naval/air/SOF structure isn’t the right idea either.


Bill M.

Mon, 08/29/2011 - 12:32pm

This piece is pretty superficial and draws some faulty conclusions in some cases. The author's comments on Special Forces in Northern Iraq demonstrate a lack of understanding of what happened. His comments about SF and Airpower being effective in the North are true as far as they go, but he either didn't know or dismissed the fact that the bulk of Saddam's forces in the North pulled out to go south to reinforce Baghdad from the approaching Army and Marine forces. If Saddam's Army decided to push across the green line with their armor columns both SOF and the Kurds would have no choice but to withdraw into the mountains and run a guerrilla campaign, which is hardly decisive against large conventional forces who have prohibitions against employing the tactics necessary to win against such a threat. In other words, they wouldn't employ a hearts and minds campaign.

As Shinseki pointed out, the issue with OIF was we didn't have enough GPF ground forces to stabilize the situation (and it was doubtful even if they did employ that they would have the skills and wherewithall to suppress an insurgency anyway, but in theory if we had a well trained Army the right size force could have suppressed the insurgency). To the author's other point about SOF and Air causing Saddam's regime to collapse with more patience and less chaos, perhaps but that is largely an unknown and the Iraqi officers I spoke to in 2003 said they were not fighting for the chair (meaning Saddam), but for their country. To assume that dropping a few bombs would cause an Army to quit in mass when they're defending "their" country seems a bit arrogant.

If we had a more isolationist foreign policy we may be able to get buy with the author's prescription, but as a world leader I suspect we'll see more Bosnia's, Kosovo's, Haiti's, and the threat of major theater war will persist, and the requirement for a large ground force will remain an enduring requirement. The author claims we were successful in Libya (also naively claims if U.S. SOF was employed Qadafi would be gone immediately that ignores the challenges we faced finding Saddam, UBL, Bosnian war criminals, cartels, etc.), but that is yet to be seen. SOF and air may be able to decapitate regimes, but then what? What is success? What is required to achieve it?

It is easy to get excited about the SOF/Air team if you have a video game mentality, but the real world is more complex and requires more options. On the other hand, the utility of the SOF/Air team is proven and appropriate in some situations.


Tue, 08/30/2011 - 10:31am

In reply to by Dave Maxwell

<i>An either or approach among Services and capabilities will not serve our future strategy.</i>

I think the real concern is that the either/or approach among Services and capabilities is necessary to serve our funding strategy. It's time for tough choices in ths sevices, and the across the board cuts to each service - which is clearly the easy way - doesn't maximize capability options.

One aspect not covered in the piece by CDR Rawley is how the Navy force structure plan today does not emphasize the types of vessels that best support SOF from the sea. Amphibious ships and submarine totals, for example, are at the bare minimum and both are actually below acceptable memimum thresholds heading into the future in an attempt by the Navy to hold AEGIS ships and CVN numbers.

While changing the force structure of the Army is one step towards fighting with a more SOF-Airpower model leveraging local manpower on the gruond, changing the force structure of the Navy would also be a necessary step in such a change.

Dave Maxwell

Mon, 08/29/2011 - 10:11am

No two wars are the same and trying to develop a force structure template from a past war(s) is unwise. One size does not fit all. But the below "recipe" sounds nice (and sounds somewhat like Simpkins' Race to the Swift) but when this gentlemen's proposed Army goes down to 200K there will not be sufficient manpower to sustain an Army Special Operations Force.

"Look at the range of expected combat missions over the next few decades:
-Overthrowing a dictatorial regime? Use SOF married to an indigenous force of irregulars supported by naval forces and air power.
-Want to defeat a large conventional army? SOF and ISR will target enemy ground formations for destruction by air power and naval fires.
-Need to counter an irregular threat? Apply SOF, naval, and air power. Rinse. Repeat.
-Steady state shaping operations? SOF excels at these, and the navy's forward deployed forces are always positioned to respond to emerging crises."

But this article sounds like a not so veiled pitch for a large Navy/Marine force by using a smoke and mirrors focus on SOF.

Again, I fear we are about to embark on some very intense inter-service infighting as all the Services fight to maintain force structure, modernization programs, reset costs and their share of the budget. It would be nice to prioritize and resource based on strategy rather than pipe dreams like the one below (which is not to deny that SOF can and will play an important role in any strategy but so will all the Services whether the conflict is conventional, irregular or hybrid).

And I think America has been safe and secure and became a great power because of Land and Sea (and later Air) power. An either or approach among Services and capabilities will not serve our future strategy.