A Combined Arms Response to "Death of the Armor Corps"

A Combined Arms Response to Death of the Armor Corps

by Major James Smith and Major James Harbridge

Download the full article: A Combined Arms Response to Death of the Armor Corps

Since the emergence of Counterinsurgency (COIN) as a strategy in 2004, it has gained widespread acceptance both within and outside of the military. It has gained so much acceptance that it has essentially become Army dogma. Most writing on the subject is overwhelming supportive. However, one officer has stood out because he has dared to write articles that question COIN. Colonel Gian Gentile has been the one dissenting voice in the Army. He has used well researched and written historically based articles that question COIN as an underlying strategy of the Army. He has called for a return to core competencies of our various branches.

Colonel Gentile looks beyond the fifty and one hundred meter targets and sees targets that look more like conventional military adversaries with armor and artillery instead of insurgents with machine guns and improvised explosive devices (IED's). Whether or not one agrees with his assessments and suggestion, his work is terribly important to the Army because it does not toe the party line. In fact, when Thomas Ricks published his list of the top voices in Foreign Policy magazine, Colonel Gentile was the only one who was not pro-COIN. His opinion is imperative or else we might all drink from the COIN Kool-Aid and relive the days of Active Defense where Army doctrine was the result of one man and debate was discouraged. We are familiar with the result of how that doctrinal era turned out. Sadly, Colonel Gentile seems as if he has finally given up, gathered his pistol and canteen and ventured off to Fiddlers Green. In his most recent article, The Death of the Armor Corps, Colonel Gentile seems to be complaining that no one is listening. Gone are the well thought out historical examples, and they are replaced by incomplete contemporary examples. The result is a product that appears to stubbornly refuse to accept that what makes our military great is our ability to adapt and innovate while still retaining the ability to relearn our core competencies. As former company and troop commanders, we thoroughly enjoy the musings of Colonel Gentile, thus we have four simple reasons why Colonel Gentile should get back on his conventional horse, buckle his chinstrap and continue his charge for the combined-arms high ground.

Download the full article: A Combined Arms Response to Death of the Armor Corps

Major James "Jimmy" Smith and Major James Harbridge are currently serving as instructors in the Defense and Strategic Studies Major at the US Military Academy, West Point. Major Smith is an Armor Officer and Major Harbridge an Infantry Officer. Their intent here is to provide a Maneuver officers perspective. Both have served in combat, commanding a company or troop-level unit.

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Jimmy Smith:

I knew where you were coming from and what you meant -- but I disagree with the premise that his words were not well received and wanted to highlight that what we say and how we say it colors what others think. And do. So I took advantage of your minor lapse but in good faith...

"I would suggest that Lind's ideas on Maneuver Warfare were probably not well received when synchronization ruled the day. Airland Battle was a big change from Active Defense, but clearly the emphasis still lay on the big gunfight."

Not as I recall; all the announced 'believers' in the Active Defense and Airland Battle were Colonels and above -- most everyone else knew better in both cases. In private conversations, many 'believers' were somewhat agnostic to say the least. The US Army has never been nearly as monolithic as even many people who've served in it a few (sometimes many...) years think it is.


This is another minor quibble:

"...a period of MAD and highly synchronized, top-down, conventionally focused warfare."

In part. In part also because the USSR was the nominal (note that word) BIG threat and in part because the Army needed new hardware and one way to get it was to amplify the threat and need. We may not be quite as devious as the Afghans or Arabs but we're close. Many things are not as they seem or are recorded (though Gian has trouble accepting that... :D).

I also disagree on DuPuy -- he was forceful enough that he became the squeaking wheel that got what it wanted. He was wrong on many counts but I will acknowledge he got more right than he got wrong. I think that's true for most of us, so he was exceptional only as a result of being forceful and rising to a position with clout in a very competitive but not completely meritocratic system. So all things considered, good for him even if he was occasionally wrong. ;)

I would say their results were acceptable, no more (and only barely so IMO). Perhaps that's because vividly recalling the era, I remember a number of sometimes fairly senior voices in opposition that were silenced by the system. Lind was far from the only such voice and many were in uniform until invited to don civilian attire. The pressure to speak with one voice is, umm, quite strong in the carpeted offices. Quite strong...

The problem is at that level, minor mistakes can have catastrophic consequences. They can also be unduly costly to correct. Committees are a very inefficient way of making decisions and with a better personnel system promoting only the best people instead of the most competitive, no committees would be needed. Until such a system arrives, we have committees: GOSCs, Councils of Colonels, PBACs and such to minimize the types of mistakes that resulted from single player decisions made in the 70s. Shy Meyer tried to fix it and unnamed others stalled him...

Which is why I totally agree with your last line:

Hopefully, all the senior folks about today will have enough sense to do that. Many -- not all -- of their predecessors did not.

Mark, thanks for inclusion of flexibility. I would suggest that the conditions you set in your unit might have had something to do with their success.

It is amazing what Soldiers can accomplish when they are granted the initiative to solve this dilemma of flexibility.

Naysayers, give em' a chance. You might be shocked and amazed with what they can do...

Ahhh, alright, alright! Now looking back, I see what you two mean though. My apologies. You two were supposed to automatically know where I was coming from, i.e. read my mind for my intent. I intended to pull that out from the rest of the reading. Very true...the idea has been used tons of times before as you both have kindly highlighted. Although, I intended on using that quote for two reasons. 1) Relate to the dangers of strictly using history as basis for our future. 2) To pull out an example of this thought-process during a period of warfare that was intently focused on Soviet hordes. I would suggest that Lind's ideas on Maneuver Warfare were probably not well received when synchronization ruled the day. Airland Battle was a big change from Active Defense, but clearly the emphasis still lay on the big gunfight. Lind's example was merely a catalyst to demonstrate some maverick ideas not necessarily accepted during a period of MAD and highly synchronized, top-down, conventionally focused warfare.
On another note, I do not mean to de-constructively criticize DePuy in any way. I would hate to have been in his shoes in 1976. Post Vietnam, disheveled force, lack of leadership or foresight, etc. I could go on and on. However, he stepped up and had to make some serious decisions during a period when the Army was arguably at its nadir. It is easy for me to look back and play armchair QB. Truthfully, it appears he was a great focal point to the professionalizing our force. I would also submit that Active Defense Doctrine was a watershed. So many positive changes came from our Army as a result of AD.
Thus Ken, I guess perception is reality. Starry and DePuy might appear to be egocentric, but I would suggest their results were better than the unforeseen alternative at the time.

Jimmy,

Academia is a series of endless conversations with no resolution. That's great in some ways. It challenges me to question my beliefs, expand my world view, and learn more, but at the end of the day there is no resolution. No resolution means neither accountability nor responsibility. We both know differently. I try to take and give from it as best as I can in hopes of applying it in my life.

Passion, intensity, and purpose are required to motivate men to patrol day in and day out on roads that continue to blow up.

Humor and making fun of one's self is required to make sure that you do not fall victim to your own hype. If you recall, the Greeks initially correlated comedy to tragedy.

"Never do the same thing twice Even if something works well for you once, by the second time the enemy will have adapted. So you have to think of something new." I bet this was a rather fascinating and dissident point of view at the time of publication in 1985."

Ken caught it before I did. You dropped the ball on that one. Ugh, Ugh. Cough, cough. Roger's Rangers?

Keep writing brother.

Mike

Great discussion.

Mike - thanks for your comments. We did indeed do very good, hard training from which we learned a lot of lessons. I know that those training days out on the range were a large key to our success during the surge, and certainly it was a key to the BCT's success, dispersed across such a wide variety of terrain and confronting an array of different threats.

To Carl and several of the other commentators concerned about the death of Armor I add these observations from a true blue Infantry officer about tanks, their protection, firepower, and the men that use them:

They are indispensible. We saw regularly their value in Iraq throughout all 3 of my tours (2003, 2005, 2007-08). We saw how the combination of firepower and protection can provide enormous value and tremendous support during all phases of COIN operations. Furthermore, as we analyze the Israeli campaign against Hizbullah in Lebanon in 2006 we can again see clearly the need to have a well trained Armor force to confront hybrid threats.

We also recognize that the current fight is not necessarily the future fight and that a return to combined arms warfare that combines infantry, armor, artillery, CAS/CCA, engineers, et al. is an absolute necessity as we begin to drawdown forces committed to OIF/OEF. The key will be to re-establish training that emphasizes these fundamentals and creates a base on which other training - for operations in Haiti or a COIN campaign - can be conducted. The CSA's vision for a unit with 24+ months of dwell is to focus on the tasks of the Full Spectrum METL that have not been trained as much in recent years due to short dwell time.

I also have to support the authors' description of the Armor corps, and its officers, NCOs, and Soldiers, as inherently flexible. My attached tank platoon made the transition between platforms (tanks, wheeled vehicles, foot patrols) several times and each time did so masterfully. They did not encounter an armored threat when they returned to their tanks, but they used the advantages of their platform to confront the threats they encountered in the best way possible. That is what we seek from our officer and NCOs of any branch.

Jimmy Smith:

""Never do the same thing twice Even if something works well for you once, by the second time the enemy will have adapted. So you have to think of something new."
I bet this was a rather fascinating and dissident point of view at the time of publication in 1985."

You're kidding, right?

No it was not. Lind merely repeats common wisdom. First time I heard it was from a Marine Corporal in 1944 when I was a Navy dependent. First time it got dispensed to me as guidance was at P.I in 1949 from another Marine Corporal who happened to by my D.I. I heard it -- and repeated it myself -- hundred of times over the next 45 years. Not least trying to pound it into the heads of about five years worth of AOBC (and AOAC and BNCOC and ANCOC) students at Ft. Knox in the early 80s. And more a bunch field grades and a few random GOs later on...

One of the last times I saw it in print was when a news report quoted a Somali militia officer as saying that Delta and the Rangers had done the same thing six times in a row before the battle of Mogadishu; he was amazed because they were supposed to be the super duper pros and even he "knew that tactically, you never do the same thing twice..."

All of us were saying something that had been handed down by generations of soldiers for centuries. Pay little attention to civilian strategists; most will mess up your mind and have little new to offer. Colin Gray is one exception, Frank Hoffman another but the majority provide little of substance.

The real question is why too many senior people in the US Army do not abide by that common sense rule?

I think the answer to that is our terribly flawed training system...

All those folks above AOB level I mentioned above -- they had all been taught that, probably practiced it, many for real -- but they got lazy and wanted to not apply it or let it be applied, mostly due to excess time sensitivity and lack of patience. Folks have to be constantly reminded that war is a thinking mans effort -- and it requires patience.

As an aside, DuPuy was a smart guy and he did some good things -- he also did and said some exceedingly dumb things -- and the marginally effective for the nominal job Bradley is one result of that. That was due to his misunderstanding the voluminous data he had from the Yom Kippur war and the fixation of he, Donn Starry and Building 4 on NW Europe and open plains as a battle site. :(

Moral of that is do not do your war planning on your desired or even the common wisdom expected scenario -- you better be prepared to go anywhere and do anything and if you go too light (specifically, think the limited number of dismounts from the Brads among several other things that appear in this thread...) or with a scenario in mind you'll pay one way or another.

He and Starry are classic examples of egos overruling common sense. Thus I'm not nearly as sanguine as you regarding those future leaders getting it right. Their predecessors surely did not -- and who taught the current and thus the future crew...

The gods of war and blood will feast at any table they sit, MAJ Smith.

Whether they dine on armor or infantry or lard their meals with any of the other arms is beyond what mere menu we might suggest for them.

This is always as it as been.

Touche Carl. I appreciate your comments. Although I would say again that it is acceptable to agree to disagree. Hopefully through discussion and discourse this can ultimately result in a nation protected and prepared for the next challenge. I am sure that the mounted maneuver branch will play a fitting role because those future leaders will ensure that it occurs, regardless of what DePuy personally thought the role of leadership played on the battlefield in the past.
The whole idea of combined arms in integrating all facets of the force directed towards the threat that we presently pose, not the one our Hobbesian perspective thinks it should be. Were in good hands. Plenty of units are scanning their CITVs in training as we speak. I can promise you that you will not have to translate your blogs to Chinese, Farsi, Spanish, Russian or Korean etc, anytime soon because of these leaders. Although I don't think the branch can take all the credit. A few other branches, services and non-mil elements might be on the table too!

My quibble, MAJ SMith (Jimmy variety) is that I think you've missed the present and the trend to the future, too. I don't much imagine the US shall busy itself with long, expensive COINtastic occupations of goat-poo spackled hinterlands within our memory -- well, at least the next three decades, much like our hangover from Vietnam.

Moreover, I strongly question whether the counter-revolutionary model we've inherited from the Maoist epoch is fitting for the 21st century. Rather than arguing about armor's place within a debunked theory about insurgency, I'd rather we just see the wars as they are and not as we should like them to be.

History, or any other social science, isn't intended to be predictive. It's merely a thought exercise, one that tends to train the brain for valuing risk and risking some of our intellectual values.

If you haven't noticed, I've applied a fairly Hobbesian vision of our world and warfare, assuming that it's more akin to the weather -- omnipresent, given to falling or rising pressure, but nevertheless in flux within a constant state of unrest.

Perhaps because I've been in some particularly dicey sitreps, either as a reporter or as a uniformed combatant, I have some thoughts on the efficacy of armor.

This might be seen as influenced by Sun Tzu, or Mahan or Clausewitz or even Hobbes, but in reality it's because I've spent too many of my adult years watching foot soldiers slaughter each other with industrial age weapons and believed the tanks -- for all their totemic, obscene bluster of clanking and blasting monstrosity -- tend on the blood-soaked field to be the hammer and men like me, trying to pick with the eyes the mine from the mallow and the oncoming RPG above the rye, the nails.

Rather than history, I suggest that we study experiences, and listen to those of us who might have a few of calculated prudence.

"Fools say they learn by experience; I prefer to learn by other people's experience. That experience, far wider than any of us can hope to acquire for ourselves, is contained in history. It is ours for the finding, if we only look for it thoroughly enough. We need to see clearly and remember the real lessons of the last war, but we can only achieve this if we have a good background."

I'll spare you my Facebook gag, which is to name that tune: It's Liddell Hart, exorcising some ghosts of trench murder he survived and encouraging fellow strategists to consider a means of appraising the hag's face of war without succumbing to her kisses.

My background -- not a strong one, or even one particularly informed -- screams to keep the tanks, their maneuvers, their fires, so as to spare the lives of men like me.

Call that "selfish" if you want, but it's what my and other backgrounds insist to be true.

Mike, you continue to have such a wonderful spirit for the profession. I would be a lucky guy if I was able to balance humor and academia as you have. Great to see that you have stayed the course and are encouraging others to share their thoughts here.

I would like to reiterate what Mike said-thanks to all who have shared and debated. With all the organizations to support, this is definitely the one to consider.

Carl, on another note, I wanted to thank you for your professional stance regarding the importance of examining historical data with application towards the future. Again, I don't completely agree with this stance. I think it is an important one, but not the only element to consider when wrestling with the subject of what Armor's future role is. Actually, I think your approach (unless I am misinterpreting) is rather dangerous. I believe that if you want to really intellectually prepare yourself (and your unit) for conflict then you need to take a much more holistic approach. One that must necessarily include history, but other facets as well.
Apparently, I have an affinity for the Marine Corps. (Yet another point of self-discovery I owe to this blog). Now that we have taken to quoting others, then I would like to recognize Bill Lind and his perspective on Maneuver Warfare and how it relates to this debate:

"Therefore one of the first principles [to Maneuver Warfare] has to be: There can be no fixed schemes. Every scheme, every pattern is wrong. No two situations are identical. THAT IS WHY THE STUDY OF MILITARY HISTORY CAN BE EXTREMELY DANGEROUS. Another principle that follows from this is: Never do the same thing twice Even if something works well for you once, by the second time the enemy will have adapted. So you have to think of something new."
I bet this was a rather fascinating and dissident point of view at the time of publication in 1985.
Carl, if past history was all to this game then historians and librarians would be millionaires. It is imperative to understand the present as well.

Cole-

We all spend time on SWJ in the hopes that our experience may help influence the real decision makers and those that would come after us. No one is right; some are wrong, but the hope is that our stories and statistics prove that one plus one can be greater than two. SWJ provides one such venue. Your voice is important.

Today, my youngest brother and I were paddle boarding in the Intercoastal Waterway along the NC coast. Paddle boarding is a relatively new sport, standing upright on a surfboard with a paddle rowing like you're in a kayak. He had some issues with turning. On our last run, I headed towards the dock shouting, "here's how you do it" expecting to do a sharp turn at the edge of the dock. Ego trumped ability. I missed the turn and slammed into the dock. I put a major dent in my new board, and it will now be in the shop for four days to get fixed. Shows you about what I know at times :).

If you relook my initial comments to Jimmy Smith, the same truth holds. Jimmy and I joke harshly b/c we push and force each other towards higher goals. We demand more from each other. That's the Armor Officer Corps that I grew up in. We're self-confident, at times abrasive, and cool under pressure. We're the break the glass in times of war breed. And Lord help the fool that attacks Jimmy.

This mentality is still alive and well.

If you step back from it all, then platform and technology become irrelevent within the fog and friction of war. Case in point is trying to conduct unilateral surveillance vertically from a UAV. Palm groves, triple canopy, and restricted terrain provide concealment for the guerilla in the same manner that a tank would find concealment using camaflauge. Patton proved this during Operation Fortitude, the Allied deception campaign to thwart the Nazi's defense on D-day.

Just another way to look at it.

For the rest of y'all that have learned something from this blog, pay up. Donate some dinars. Ok, scrath that. No dinars. Donate some Dollars to help out Dave D. et all. Particularly those of you that have made money from book, newspaper, and magazines sells from the free work here on SWJ.

I'm dropping 500 bones tommorow, and I contribute for free. If I ever have a best selling memoire, then the first check will be $10,000 towards SWJ. What say you? Please don't make me envoke the shame.

Mike

Cole:

2) They pretty much stopped by late 69. Only took five years to learn the excess costs. Most later and nowadays are successful because that painful lesson was learned. The occasional 'must do' or poorly planned will only serve to emphasize that hot LZs are to be avoided if possible.

3) One can't assure much of anything in combat. One can do ones best to avoid being stupid.

4) The issue is not CAs, it's where they're placed.

5) METT-TC. sometimes high casualties are unavoidable -- usually, they are not.

6) Re reading my post, I came across as saying something I did not mean to imply. My point on the civilian job was that, just like a Troop who's never used a military rifle other than an M4 will say it's great and Gian Gentile will fight to the death for tanks, we all do what we know best. My apologies. What I should've said was along the line of -- don't let familiarity with one facet obscure the benefits of others. We -- including moi -- all fall prey to our own experience. :(

7) Good, then we both are trying to stay current.

8) I'm unsure how we'd keep all the tanks in the south and I did not mean to imply we would or should, merely to point out that North Korea would not be a walkover ala DS/DS and 2003. My personal belief is that the equal mix, two companies of Inf and two of Tanks is the best way to go given current technology.

Mike Few:

1) Glad to hear XVIII Airborne is on top of heavy/light. Could change with a heavy GCV. As for fuel and mechanics, tried postulating a Day 1 load with more logistics later. Realize that lot of fuel would initially come from allies or offloaded from C-17s/KC-130s/KC-X.

2) My mention of optionally-manned 4-wheelers was implying small 2-man ATVs. We seem to have lots of small UGVs and some really big ones planned with few middle ground.

3) Great info about real-world UAS employment. A former Infantry NTC OC and a group of us other combat arms schoolhouse peons were convinced that remote video terminals were essential for TUAV/Shadow.

4) In the palms, seems like you could fly a noiser UAS low for a while and then have it leave with a higher, and/or quieter one continuing the surveillance for deception. Your HQ CP could use mIRC to communicate that to a GCS. Loiter orbit direction also can reduce Shadow noise by orienting the exhaust away from the ground...and flying higher, AC2 permitting.

Ken White:

1) Thought I showed the white flag.;)

2) Never thought many AATF commanders were intentionally seeking hot LZs or that air assault implied hot LZ? For every incident you know of involving SEALS, etc., how many more were successful that you never heard about? A link below mentions 120 air assaults by one Army CAB. You never hear much about air assaults by that "other" regiment.

3) Not sure it was easy in Viet Nam or is now to assure a cold LZ. Attempted avoidance and actual conditions no doubt vary/varied. Having suitable aircraft and door gunners, JSEAD if no nearby civilians, security and CAS aircraft, pre-LZ ground pathfinders and overhead recon etc. seems to alleviate the possibility since I can't recall a recent incident where a lift aircraft was shot down in/around its LZ. Brown-out has been a killer and training, timing, technology, and appropriate aircraft spaced in the right LZ may fix that.

4) Guess I didn't really consider Marjah to be a guaranteed cold LZ. Last sentence of this army.mil articles states that the 82nd CAB supported 120 air assaults up to the point this article was written:

http://www.army.mil/-news/2010/02/17/34560-army-aviation-plays-key-mosht...

5) Airborne units cannot guarantee only cold DZs, especially during forcible entry. If air defenses are in the vicinity and undetected/unsuppressed, aren't larger losses likely for the larger, higher flying aircraft?

6) This is a weekend. I only post on my own time with my own views because I care about what Army guys on their 4th and 5th year-long unaccompanied combat tour are going through. I sought current employment following 9/11 and largely let my business of many years go downhill and eventually close in the process. I work for considerably less and have no job security relative to a DAC...yet care just as much.

7) My current job does not involve armor at all, and in fact goes undiscussed although it's not secret. At one time, I wrote aviation doctrine and then worked FCS as a contractor, so guess I've also stayed up to date.

8) Your North Korea tank comment implied to me that Abrams would have great difficulty going north of the DMZ, although hard to kill if they did. Suppose a conclusion is that our tanks would be employed largely south of the DMZ, and other aerial assets and ROK tanks would be killing tanks northward. It's still little to justify a current equal mix of armor and infantry companies in a combined arms battalion.

Cole:

Not sure how to respond about the Air Assaults. We still seem to be doing them pretty effectively witnessing the 82nd CAB UH-60/CH-47F insertion of Marines into Marjah. 101st just took over northeast Afghanistan so guess we will see. They had one of the larger air assaults in history in OIF during the march to Baghdad.

We learned to avoid hot LZs...

Guess you are referring to the 2005 RPG downing of the H-47 with SEALS coming to the rescue of other SEALS in Korengal valley. We lost lots of troops in that valley who were not in aircraft, just as we lost many more troops in Viet Nam separate from air assaults. You don't stop driving because you have an accident. You learn from that accident.

That's one, there have been others with SEALs disproportionately involved. Those losses, Afghanistan and Viet Nam, were not accidents, they were a result of tactically stupid actions and misuse of a technology.

Yes, there are bound to be losses in any forcible entry -- those can be minimized by astute planning and competent execution. Ability to do those things come from education and training, technology cannot do it.

Hot LZs were never a good idea and I mentioned the Howze Board because that FACT was proven in the blank wars of the air mobility test in 1963-64; it was immediately forgotten and excessive -- not just casualties, excessive casualties in Viet Nam resulted. In Marjah as in Iraq during DS/DS, hot LZs were avoided -- that's why I said we were getting smarter.

Guess offering new ideas and "a" solution could be construed as being a know-it-all. Perhaps we share that in common ;).

No we do not. I'm not proffering a solution based on my civilian employment. I do provide hints and facts based on experience. Some seem to miss many of the hints...

While it helps to hear lessons from Korea and Viet Nam (which is why I asked) the Army has changed and will change more.

Really? Who knew? All that time from my green suit retirement until my far more recent final retirement as a DAC sort of kept me abreast. A lot of serving friends and a son who's off on his fourth deployment soon help me not to get too stale even in my dotage...

Old solutions and status quo thinking must be continuously assessed and may need adjustment rather than relying exclusively on the tried and true or historical precedent that no longer applies...Guess I agree with the two Majors that we aren't in trouble yet given the threats faced.

Agree on both counts. Though I would suggest your two examples of failures are telling. Both were the result of hubris -- the US can do this -- compounded by poor planning and execution. That's a result of poor education and training. Neither was saved by technology available as opposed to authorized or desired.

Sorry if you misunderstood that I was talking about why there were not more U.S. tanks in South Korea, not allied or threat tanks. But sounds like 4000 T-62-and-similar-or-older vintage North Korean tanks and lots of turrets in known locations are not a significant threat since I'm not sure any could penetrate an M1A1 or Korean smaller copy...

I didn't misunderstand, you did. My initial point was that the number of M1s deployed in Korea given the need would likely not be overwhelming. In the add on, I cited the numbers, pointed out that quantity has a quality all its own and that North Korea deliberately opted for 'lesser' tanks to suit local conditions; conditions for which the M1 is significantly unsuited -- which I also pointed out and you seem to elide.

Recall also that one need not penetrate for a mobility kill and immobilized tanks are easy targets for hunter killer teams -- that's why I mentioned and even underlined the North Korean anti-Armor force. Inattention kills.

Carl/Ken-

Thanks for the info on 1CAV and airmobile. I've never read about it from that perspective only as tactical successes. Guess it shows that there are always many sides to every story.

"The role of any commander would be to put him at greater risk or, culturally, to invoke shame in anyone who allows him to explode his munitions."

Concur. Also agree on IEDs as minefields. Let it be known that Carl Prine came up with the funniest acronym for TBI that I've heard- Too Bad Infantryman.

Cole-

You're suggested task org is very similar to an immediate response package run by the XVIII Corps to deploy anywhere within 24 hours. I would add some more fuelers and mechanics to your mix to get it good. I'd also add in ATV's, rubber boats, and motorcycles for the scouts depending on the terrain.

As far as tech goes, not many of us are anti-tech; it is just that many commanders get lazy with technology. When used properly, tech can help and be value added. Otherwise, they hurt our efforts. Here's two anecdotes.

1. The reality behind the tv screen. In 2006, I was having a hard time conveying to command the limitations of UAVs. While we were conducting covert recon in palm groves to better learn our AO, we'd notice the enemies react to UAV drill. When UAV's approached (yes, you can hear them miles away), guerillas would hide and wait for them to pass before continuing guerillaing. So, back in the FOB, the area appeared clear even though it was not. I had a BN and BCT S2 discounting my intelligence reports. Finally, after much consternation, I sent out video cameras into our patrols so that we could record the reaction and convey it to our bosses. It helped show what was really going on versus what was perceived.

2. Layers of approval authority. First issue that I dealt with was procuring my own Rover. This action allowed me to see what everyone else could see (pilots, UAVs, and C2)and not have to rely solely on someone else's interpretation. Second, after we developed the trust of our higher command, we were able to delegate and minimize the bureaucracy of who is talking to whom. Instead of working through four layers of C2, my E5 FSO's talked directly to the Army Aviators and my PL's talked directly to the CAS pilots. The JTAC (remotely) and I monitored and held final approval authority for any fires, and my Squadron Commander monitored my actions particularly when I got too aggressive, but this change allowed us to effectively use our technology.

Mike

Ken White:

White flag. You got me on the Leyte landing craft. Thanks for the correction. It starts to modify my thinking on the EFV.

Not sure how to respond about the Air Assaults. We still seem to be doing them pretty effectively witnessing the 82nd CAB UH-60/CH-47F insertion of Marines into Marjah. 101st just took over northeast Afghanistan so guess we will see. They had one of the larger air assaults in history in OIF during the march to Baghdad.

Guess you are referring to the 2005 RPG downing of the H-47 with SEALS coming to the rescue of other SEALS in Korengal valley. We lost lots of troops in that valley who were not in aircraft, just as we lost many more troops in Viet Nam separate from air assaults. You don't stop driving because you have an accident. You learn from that accident.

Am interested in the tactical bad habits you spoke of if you can elaborate. Aren't there bad points or risk in any forcible entry...lots of dispersed paratroopers missing the drop zone for instance in Bashur and wading through mud? Lots of amphibious landing craft hitting mines and taking fire on the way in?

Guess offering new ideas and "a" solution could be construed as being a know-it-all. Perhaps we share that in common ;). Prefer to think of it as adding new perspectives to emerging problems few appear to be discussing. While it helps to hear lessons from Korea and Viet Nam (which is why I asked) the Army has changed and will change more.

I was writing/briefing Aviation and UAS concepts and participating in Shadow requirement document activities during the late 80s and early 90s. Also led a contractor study suggesting armed UAS with gliding Hellfire or BAT (ViperStrike) submunitions in 1993. Guess my forecast judgment isn't totally flawed ;). Also suggested an FCS-like force in "Armor" magazine in 1991 right after Desert Storm, begun during Desert Shield. So perhaps I was on track for a while, and now appear to be wrong again as we start reverting to the old Armored System Modernization Plan sized-vehicles once more.

Old solutions and status quo thinking must be continuously assessed and may need adjustment rather than relying exclusively on the tried and true or historical precedent that no longer applies. COL Gentile is doing it from his perspective. Others have a different view. Talking about it in forums like this gets other more realistic ideas flowing where it counts...or not, which is when we get Task Force Smith or Desert 1 or some of the air assaults you and SEALs experienced. Guess I agree with the two Majors that we aren't in trouble yet given the threats faced.

Sorry if you misunderstood that I was talking about why there were not more U.S. tanks in South Korea, not allied or threat tanks. But sounds like 4000 T-62-and-similar-or-older vintage North Korean tanks and lots of turrets in known locations are not a significant threat since I'm not sure any could penetrate an M1A1 or Korean smaller copy. Good info, though, thanks. Did not know the ROK M1 copy was shrunk.

Cole:

"Direct fire + movement = maneuver. Attack and scout aviation does both, as do UH/CH during air assaults, as do armed UAS controlled from the ground or cockpits of manned aircraft."

Umm. Uh, Cole -- one of the things we learned in Viet Nam was that 'air assaults' are not a good idea. That got reemphasized early on in Afghanistan (If I was a SEAL, you wouldn't get me near a Chinook...). Carl Prine has it right below on the errors and lessons of whirlybirds in Viet Nam. As one who participated in the Early Howze Board tests at Ft. Stewart and in North and South Carolina, who was in a unit that made more Air assaults then the First Cav in 1966 and while OpCon to the 101st in 68, I'll just repeat what I said earlier, "the birds were significantly misused and suffered significant casualties and horrendous losses partly due to that misuse." They also built bad tactical habits, some of which are still with us.

...Aviation and UAS go over all of the above at considerably higher speed.

Crew rest, OR, Wx and density altitude permitting...

...a decision to make everyone an 11B, versus mech, airborne, etc. Perhaps it was meant to lighten the burden for Army light infantrymen going to Afghanistan.

Inattention got you; I also pointed out that was done before 9/11 and was to lighten the burden of the Infantry School and PersCom / HRC.

That's also why Armor and FA Soldiers, not to mention Navy and USAF personnel get diverted to non-traditional jobs in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Uh, no not really. Those things happen because we do not have adequate troop strength for the jobs we undertook. That is not a "Hooray for flexibility" effort, it's a "we screwed up" coverup. That said, I'll give a hooray for the folks from all services who had to do it to cover their leadership's failures.

...Normandy and the Phillipines...two Army amphibious landing that did not involve self-propelled landing craft-turned-vehicles.

Wrong again. The Leyte landings saw the largest use of LVTs in WW II, eleven Bns worth of 'em -- mostly Army. There were no US LVTs at Normandy but the Brits had some we provided and they later used them in the Scheldt Estuary. The US and the British did use them in several river crossing operations in Europe after they arrived in theater for the US -- Macarthur had dibs on Army AmTracs early on to return to the Philippines...

Do I detect that the former Marine in you appears forgiving of EFV and probably MV-22 technology, while simultaneously critical of Army aviation and other tech.

No, you do not detect that a former four year Marine and 23 year Soldier who was later a moderately senior DAC and is a big Army Aviation supporter is telling you that he believes you significantly skew things to make your points and you tend to misquote or 'misunderstand' others. Nor do you apparently detect that he is / I am highly ANTI-parochial and very leery of anyone who has the solution to the problems of mankind...

As I said to you earlier, I'm not anti-tech, far from it-- I'll take all I can get and ask for more. I just know from harsh experience that it is not nirvana. Techno goodies are tools, that's all they are and our training must be adjusted to cope with an enemy's almost certain efforts to shut down as much of our acknowledged and beneficial technological edge as he possibly can.

Later you said:

Why are there relatively few tanks in Korea, as Ken points out?

That's not what Ken pointed out -- it also is far from true; Korea is absolutely crawling with tanks, just not many US tanks. The over 4K ('quantity has a quality all its own...') North Korean tanks are optimized for local conditions and the very heavy M1A2 will not be able to go a lot of places due to purposely narrowed passes and low MLC bridges. Korea poses a problem of some magnitude. Compared to other recent and potential enemies, they are also brave, competent and tenacious fighters who know their terrain intimately and will not be easily beaten.

Oh and that 4K doesn't count the 2K or so turrets bunkered into the ground here and there...

The South has almost 3K tanks, most fairly new and better fit for Korean conditions than the larger M1 which they imitate in a smaller package.

Carl Prine:

Good points all. BTW, Harry W. O. Kinnard was one of the good guys, really. Unfortunately, he came of age fighting in NW Europe and those guys, even the good ones, were way, way too far into Mass and Firepower. For the COIN efforts of the 50s and 60s, the guys who fought in the Pacific always did far better than the European veterans -- mostly because they believed in Speed and Flexibility rather than Firepower and preferred Surprise to Mass.

I'm quite well acquainted with all sorts of explosives, having spent a year recovering from the effects of same in Anbar.

But I also am verily convinced that the EFP, no matter how diabolically constructed, is a defensive weapon, much akin to a mine, and that while highly destructive to the individual carrier typically doesn't destroy a massed battalion moving a tad faster than the person planting EFPs.

The EFP problem, moreover, isn't an engineering effort but rather one that relies on intelligence and persistence.

Every EFP that detonates is an example of a guerrilla who is not at his lethal self-limit, but rather has the luxuries of time, money and manpower to afford to use a defensive weapon that puts him at least risk.

The role of any commander would be to put him at greater risk or, culturally, to invoke shame in anyone who allows him to explode his munitions.

No tank shall solve that, just as surely as no Apache, even if the Taliban's militiamen verily fear them.

A million infantrymen and another million airmobile FOBbits bepopulating the Hindu Kush would prove no more likely to pacify Afghanistan than a million guys in tanks or a million PRTers giving back rubs and wads of cash to every villager they meet.

Building another thousand miles of road or manufacturing fleets of C-17s also won't address the problems because they don't get to the causative forces that are creating the insurgencies in the first place.

Cole makes sense to those within the bureaucracy who need for Cole to make sense. The posits an enduring utility for airmobile, and he mentions a few anecdotes about OEF to suggest why.

Just as the bureaucracy needs MAJ Jimmy Smith to echo the enduring uses of armor, albeit in a new notion of wars amongst the people.

What sounds innovative, or trendy, or topical often really just is the quick and easy way to validate assumptions about a future likely to never arrive and continue parochial interests.

The harder thing to do is to listen to the past and, upon hearing one's words paraphrased by men now long dead, realize that one is falling into a pattern.

There are reasons why we've failed to seize the initiative in Marjah and Kandahar and Nuristan, and none include mobility or logistics or the mix of ground versus armored or air.

A few years from now the Starry and the DePuy of this generation will sit down with today's constipated and scowling Gentile, Dilegge and Metz and they'll hash out what they did wrong and why.

I doubt armor will even be mentioned. Neither will the birds or the boots on the ground.

Carl- "This is something else we often don't discuss: An armored element that screws up at COIN resets and tries again, towing away the MBT or replacing the track of the Brad while sullen villagers stare at them."

Carl, are you familiar with the Explosively Formed Projectile (EFP), or a dual headed RPG (apologize for not using the correct RPG nomenclature), and the damage that they can inflict on a heavy armored vehicle? Pretty amazing stuff, especially when it can be procured and employed with relative ease and ubiquity.

A wise old Battalion Commander told me once, "All the stupid insurgents are dead." Their supporting regions are not.

"Intelligence drives Maneuver." - Another simple adage that I try to live by that I think strikes to the heart of this particular disagreement.

Carl,

Dude, Afghanistan and Iraq are the size of Texas. You don't walk around Texas. You don't drive around Texas at 10 mph looking for IEDs. You wouldn't supply Texas towns without interuption for very long with gas and groceries at 20 mph in smallish trucks. The same applied in Viet Nam jungles and mountains. In both cases, "Texas" had/has few roads, too, and they weren't/aren't safe.

The motivation for bad guys in Viet Nam and the reason we failed had nothing to do with failed "airmobile" concepts. We tried to kill our way out of Viet Nam and it didn't work. We can't kill our way out of Afghanistan, especially with more Pashtuns next door than in Afghanistan. Helicopters are/were a tool that made a bad situation a lot better, kept folks fed, provided overwatching fires, and kept troops from walking too far. It's hard to fight or do COIN at many villages with sore legs and feet.

Finally, Carl, why didn't armor or ground cavalry win Viet Nam and why isn't it winning Afghanistan? Have any idea how hard it would be to support an HBCT in Afghanistan? Why didn't armor work for the Soviets there? Why are there relatively few tanks in Korea, as Ken points out?

I would never try to say that helicopters should transport or be a complete substitute for tanks. But they can kill tanks and support infantry. The sky won't fall if some Army units have fewer tanks. However, USAF C-5s/C-17s CAN move some of the tanks/GCVs we do need to be an instant deterrent if we let them and don't make it harder by piling on excess armor. Just think of them as flying HETs that can cross oceans.

Mike, thanks for the hands-on perspective that you bring to the discussion. You are able to convey what I have been trying to say. Didn't know you took down the BN of BTRs in the motorpool though. Now I know where "Generation Kill" got their ideas! Lol. And great point about movement vs. maneuver.

Ken, great point. I think the emphasis on "Hold" could be linked to why we are having this discussion in the first place which debating on how much we are willing to have particular branches digress from their primary roles. Your point brings back images of GEN(R) Shinseki testifying to Congress.
As for OBTE, I have had the opportunity to receive a number of weeks of training from AWG. Their pragmatic pedagogical techniques to training continue to amaze me. I have felt like I have had blinders on my whole life. And the silly thing is that it is not rocket science. It simply begins with asking the right questions. I don't want to diverge from the initial debate so I will stop.
I do appreciate your input regarding troop levels especially when GPFs become the main effort vs. a Special Operations oriented mission (i.e. AFG circa 2002).

That said, I have some catching up to do. Especially with my comrade, Carl. But many of my opined points can be found seconding Cole regarding the evolution of warfare and its impact on the future of massed WWII-like armored engagements. I firmly believe there is something to be said about the correlation with MAD and heavy armored formations. First, I need to confirm if WWII can be considered a peer engagement. Carl, any thoughts?

I would be interested if anyone has any empirical data comparing peer armored engagements before the bombing of Nagasaki and Tokyo (the use of MAD weapons) and after...just to see if one could draw a correlation between the two. I would only draw evidence from US campaigns though. Hmm, maybe a CGSC research question...

More to follow, but need to catch up on the discussion points. Love it!

- the other "smith"

Sorry, that was me.

"The Taliban consistantly express great fear of Apaches, and we see the decapitation successes of UAS in Pakistan and elsewhere."

Meet

"First Divison's record of battlefield success was evident by Viet Cong avoidance of the unit wherever possible."

Shelby L. Stanton

It doesn't matter now. It didn't matter then.

And it's painful to say that.

It also might be mentioned that the ground component of the US Army has increased, I believe, about 8 percent during OEF, including in the ranks of the infantry.

It has not helped to "win" the war in Afghanistan, nor has it even seized initiative back from insurgents that make the Viet Cong look like the Third Army.

One wonders about the causative forces of rebellion and why air mobility, armor, infantry and everything else in our arsenal haven't addressed them.

Hmmmm.

Apparently, Cole, you don't know the literature about the employment of air cavalry in Vietnam. Perhaps because of your heady assumptions about the benefits of "technology" (ill defined because even a M-4 is "technology," albeit chemically and crudely kinetic), I'm not too sure about your ready assumptions about the end of the need for large mechanized formations to achieve our strategic goals.

Clausewitz once posited the seizing of a capital as something that might be a tad important for an offensive force, but perhaps such thinking is too old fashioned today.

Herewith I propose a primer on understanding the implementation of air cav in Vietnam. I'm not an expert on such matters, but fancy myself with a rudimentary understanding of the issues.

We'll begin with GEN Jim Gavin's "Cavalry, and I don't mean horses" from 1954. An old airborne hand, Gavin like others of his generation believed that the reason the lines in the Korean war grew so static was because of a lack of mobility and transport typically provided by cavalry. His solution was vertical insertion, which had premiered as a tactic during the conflict.

After Bell H-13 Sioux experiments at Ft Rucker, in 1956 USA began providing helicopters to the airborne divisions' recon elements. Throughout the early 1960s, the Army built upon the recon experiments to propose a theory of airmobile operations, a process helped by a 1960 Army Aircraft Requirements Board analysis of the merits of the concept.

In 1962 SecDef McNamara instructed the Army and its training command under LTG Hamilton Howze the convene a panel that would explore the needs of creating a tactical airmobile branch. The fruits of their voluminous report would be the 11th Air Assault Division (TEST) and then its redesignation as 1st Cav (Airmobile).

Its commander, MG Harry Kinnard, had come to believe that the key reason the French lost the counter-revolutionary war was because of a lack of mobility, especially in Vietnam's notoriously hilly jungle terrain. He saw airmobile as a technological solution to the problem of popular insurgency, and the Howze board actually had conducted wargames in the Appalachian mountains to suggest how swimmingly a similar counter-guerrilla effort would play out in Laos.

As far as Kinnard was concerned, the "sky cavalry" had "freed forever from the tyranny of terrain" the US fighting man.

Much like the Stryker and other ballyhooed platforms of these wars, the Pentagon wanted verily to prove just how relevant the helicopter and its tyranny-freeing mobility would be to modern warfare.

Their move to the front was spurred by a 1965 report about the efficacy of US birds ferrying of ARVN units to the fight. The USAF, however, warned the Army that they were attempting to produce a generalized airmobile force that was applying standard tactics and structure to defeat an unconventional foe.

The Army didn't listen and so ceded the strategic initiative to the Viet Cong (VCI) without realizing it.

Kinnard, like other airmobile advocates, failed to understand how the technology might be applied against what was preventing ARVN victory in the first place: VCI infrastructure (political) and their astute intelligence operations.

The Pleiku battles in 1965 failed to seize that initiative back from the VCI, especially the crucial problem of garnering intelligence. The "sky cavalry" could see much, but understand little.

Establishing LZ X-Ray at the foot of an enemy HQ reinforced this obvious problem, even if the 7th Cav fought their way out of certain doom at Ia Drang.

Kinnard and Westmoreland considered the Ia Drang valley fight to be a "victory." Those who fought it weren't so sure. The North Vietnamese considered it close to a win, seeing as they still decided when to battle and when to retreat and continued to control the wishes of the population in rebellion.

Airmobile as a cure-all for the American war effort nevertheless was sold by the Pentagon to credulous reporters. None of them ever stopped to consider that the Vietminh didn't have choppers or bombers and they managed to kick out the French, who did.

The Division-sized airmobile elements were never considered too unwieldy for local COIN. No one reconsidered whether the assumption that the guerrilla could be arrested solely by trumping his mobility. Since terrain no longer mattered, it was considered largely irrelevant that the enemy still possessed it when the choppers left.

The 1st Cav got a PUC, credit for several "victories" and that set the stage for all the assumptions that would guide airmobile utility throughout the escalation -- firepower, combined with unparalleled mobility, would beat back the communist menace.

But airmobile was a technology in search of a problem. Firepower and mobility were not determinative in the war. They did not destroy insurgent infrastructure or make the political cadres any less effective. They failed to interdict the increasing infiltration of NVA into the south, nor did they help ARVN become self-sufficient or the Saigon government more attractive to the rural villages.

I could tick off the airmobile operations for the rest of the war, and show you the Army assessments of "victory," but for every Masher and White Wing and Lam Son 719, every "spoiling attack" and COMUSMACV body count forwarded to SecDef and tactical validation of FM 57-35, the enemy continued to adapt and overcome all of our technological advances through intelligence and will.

Ken is right. Because the new technology and the innovations in tactics failed to solve or even mitigate the causative forces that created in the rebellion in the first place, they were wasted. While they showed some utility in displacing the "bully boys" at the battalion level trying to batter down Saigon's door, they never addressed the "termites" gnawing at the foundations of South Vietnam or the people's attitudes toward the foreign occupation.

Any platform, any formation, any operational art must address the problem it is sent to solve. Airmobile has found a place in the military, but none of today's utility mattered in Vietnam. Airmobile is a small but relatively important part of how we conduct ground operations in complex maneuvers and fires, but it never became what its supporters thought it would be.

Massed armor orchestrated alongside combined arms isn't of much utility against some foes nor all terrain nor all enemies. But I suggest that it's still better than some of our other options, especially in HIC, most especially against near-peer foes, even if they choose not to adopt similar structures or tactics themselves.

Ken White said:

"Your always impassioned defense of technology while totally ignoring its shortcomings is invariably awesome. Good job."
------------------------------
Of course there are shortcomings: EMP, cyber, maintenance/training complexity, sustainment challenges, COST...

But the alternative of excessive KISS by sticking with the bow-and-arrow while your opponent has a gun, is unacceptable. On the other hand if you are the sole party that can afford and has the know-how to build a gun...so much the better.

Hope the "Patton" movie guys will forgive me when I state "it's better to have the other poor bastid die for his country bringing a knife to a gunfight."
-----------------------------
Ken continues:
"Warfare was modified by Hoptiflopters -- it was not transformed by any stretch. In Viet Nam, in particular, the birds were significantly misused and suffered significant casualties and horrendous losses partly due to that misuse. In Afghanistan and Iraq, we've gotten a bit smarter and have better birds but the aerial trucks have not transformed warfare nor have the weather, speed and range limited aerial gun, missile and rocket platforms transformed fire support."
--------------------------------
Clearly the already high casualty count would have been far higher were it not for helicopters in Viet Nam. Lessons learned there resulted in more robust, effective, and survivable Blackhawks and Apaches, and expansion of Chinook capabilities.

The IED death toll would be far higher were it not for MEDEVAC and air movement helicopters in both current conflicts. The Taliban consistantly express great fear of Apaches, and we see the decapitation successes of UAS in Pakistan and elsewhere.

Direct fire + movement = maneuver. Attack and scout aviation does both, as do UH/CH during air assaults, as do armed UAS controlled from the ground or cockpits of manned aircraft.

Wait for X2 counter-rotating blade tech to expand speed/range to tilt rotor levels without sacrificing high/hot lift. Weather? Tanks and IFVs get stuck in mud, swamps, and soft sand dunes, and don't go over mountains, lakes, or through thick forests too well. Aviation and UAS go over all of the above at considerably higher speed.

The aerial QRF supporting Wanat arrived from 50 miles away at the same time as the ground QRF leaving from 5 miles distance despite being told to launch rather late. Combined arms complement one another. Parochialism solves little.

"silly tech-substitute for troops bit..."

Yet it is indisputable that it takes more aircraft and crews if dropping dumb bombs to accomplish the same bomb damage as fewer assets with precision munitions.

It's clear that sixty years of peace in Europe resulted from the ultimate technology, nuclear weapons. There is no reason to suspect that will change in Asia. Where it will change is in conflicts like current ones where irrational parties get a hold of WMD. Armor cannot solve or deter that problem.

But this is not an argument about substituting technology for personnel as much as it is about diverting personnel from one less essential area (Armor)_to another that is more important for the foreseeable future (Infantry and COIN-support).

Somewhat off topic but related...you mentioned earlier a decision to make everyone an 11B, versus mech, airborne, etc. Perhaps it was meant to lighten the burden for Army light infantrymen going to Afghanistan. That's also why Armor and FA Soldiers, not to mention Navy and USAF personnel get diverted to non-traditional jobs in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Unmanned aircraft systems are anything but unmanned as the USAF correctly points out. But humans need to use the bathroom. Plus, the dull-dirty-dangerous is often more supportable using unmanned systems...or better yet a mix of both manned and unmanned teamed together.

Ground forces could similarly benefit from such teams. Clearly it is safer to use unmanned system shifts 24/7 than to stick a two-man OP in no-mans land by themselves indefinitely. Maybe send manned teams out to an OP on a optionally-manned 4-wheeler during the day, and let it convert into an unmanned asset at night.

Good comments about the Korean War Inchon landing craft, thanks. General MacArthur's plan went well under the Admiral's leadership who was at Normandy and the Phillipines...two Army amphibious landing that did not involve self-propelled landing craft-turned-vehicles.

Do I detect that the former Marine in you appears forgiving of EFV and probably MV-22 technology, while simultaneously critical of Army aviation and other tech...

Cole:

Your always impassioned defense of technology while totally ignoring its shortcomings is invariably awesome. Good job.

You guys can go on thinking warfare was not transformed by helicopters in Vietnam...or currently in Iraq/Afghanistan. History will show differently as did the most recent QDR.

Warfare was modified by Hoptiflopters -- it was not transformed by any stretch. In Viet Nam, in particular, the birds were significantly misused and suffered significant casualties and horrendous losses partly due to that misuse. In Afghanistan and Iraq, we've gotten a bit smarter and have better birds but the aerial trucks have not transformed warfare nor have the weather, speed and range limited aerial gun, missile and rocket platforms transformed fire support.

Thanks for the information, and nobody is seriously talking about the death of any branch.

No one here, now -- but it has happened before and will again. So has and will the even more silly tech-substitute for troops bit...

Although I'm sure Cavalry troopers never thought tanks would replace horses, or battleship sailors would no longer dominate.

Actually, the Cavalry folks, officer and enlisted, were at the forefront of Army modernization and mechanizationfforts between the world wars -- and a lot of Battleship guys became Aviators. A common thread is that the people actually doing the job realized the limitations of their platforms...

Were you at Inchon and how many tanks were aboard each LST...note to EFV, they did not get to shore under their own power.

None on LSTs except IIRC Dog Company a couple of days later. To my knowledge, the entire Bn (-) in the assault waves went to the beach in LCTs (now LCUs), three per craft, from the LSDs.

The EFVs predecessor, the LVTs, did go ashore under their own power and did so while at least Baker Company's tanks were helplessly stuck on LCTs in the mud flats offshore (a direct result of an education and training shortfall, negating available technology...).

As a minor point, North Korea does not have an Armor force that can fight and succeed against a mobilized and fully committed US Armor force. However, they do have an Armor and anti-Armor force that can give the amount of US armor likely to be available and committed to an operation on the Peninsula a really, really, hard time if they do not in fact defeat it...

Carl Prine said:

"Perhaps what most concerns me is the notion that 1991 is so far in the foggy past as to be antiquated. If so, then Old Man Prine might throw another log on the fire and remind the whippersnappers what 2d Squadron, 2d ACR did during the ground war."

"Screening for VII Corps and bearing down on the Iraqi Republican Guard, the squadron came upon dug-in Soviet tanks (typically vintage but still lethal) in brigade strength near Iraq's armor training grounds."
------------------------------------
Which is why CPT McMaster is now BG McMaster...while armor and other units behind him were committing fratricide in the sandstorm. They did not have Blue Force Tracker (tech) or a COP (tech) or Apache Modernized TADS (tech) back then contributing to the confusion with a Hellfire (tech) and other friendly tank rounds. But CPT McMaster definitely had better optics (tech) to win with superior armor (tech) and training (facilitated by tech).

BTW, then CPT McMaster's E Troop had more non-tanks than tanks...as did Ghost Troop that bore the brunt of the accidental retreating enemy "attack" near their position...which also had more Cav Bradley's than tanks and lost only one.
------------------------------
Carl continues:
"Assure me of this future and I'll be the first to advocate for the wholesale scrapping of the US armor assets because they're probably too expensive, too heavy and too fuel inefficient for these wars amongst the people."
------------------------------
I can assure you that the Soviet Union no longer exists. No Russian troops exist in East Germany or Czechoslovakia or Poland...which do not exist as part of an Eastern Bloc...and the Russian Army has nowhere near as many quality tanks or aircraft to support them.

Plus there is that MAD thing.

I can assure you that Chinese tanks do not compare to our own which is irrelevant since they could never get many to Taiwan or Japan, the sole places reasonable men might currently envision tank-on-tank warfare with the Chinese.

Plus there is that MAD thing.

I can assure you we buy a lot of stuff from China and they own a lot of our bonds...both of which would no doubt suffer if they started a war with us.

I can assure you that Iran, North Korea, and Venezuela, (insert other country) won't catch up with our armor spending less than $10 billion a year.

I can further assure you that there are few potential Middle East ADVERSARY fighters comparable to Hezbollah and the Taliban/Al Qaeda. Given past Lebanon experiences, I doubt we are returning, especially not in tanks when the Israelis are more than up to that task.

No need to scrap valuable tanks. Heck, send some to SBCTs. But a HBCT combined arms battalion that I postulated, even with one company of 14 tanks (not all need air deploy), would still use far less fuel than the current 28-tank one. It also would require about the same number of personnel with some diverted from the HHC.

You guys can go on thinking warfare was not transformed by helicopters in Vietnam...or currently in Iraq/Afghanistan. History will show differently as did the most recent QDR.

Ken White:

Thanks for the information, and nobody is seriously talking about the death of any branch. Although I'm sure Cavalry troopers never thought tanks would replace horses, or battleship sailors would no longer dominate. Were you at Inchon and how many tanks were aboard each LST...note to EFV, they did not get to shore under their own power.

Ken, that wasn't me. It was Cole.

Who is probably named "Smith," the addition of which will further confuse this discussion.

Carl:

"Really want to hear what Ken White did in Korea with his M-26 Pershings! Suspect it was infantry support rather than tank-on-tank. Wonder what he thinks about getting past lots of large concrete blocks dropped onto roads at todays chokepoints?"

Actually, you'd be incorrect. It was mostly tank on tank with a little infantry support until after Seoul, then it flipped until the trench war started in May '51 when it became totally infantry support.

That sequence is likely to be repeated in any forced entry operation. I disagree with some of your other points as well but you and I have already had that discussion.

One point however, is too important to bypass -- I seriously advocate we'd have been far better off in Viet Nam with fewer helicopters. Quite seriously. They encouraged poor training, poor tactics and general laziness as well as micro-management and I say that with a dozen CAs into hot LZs and more into cold ones plus a slew of hours just boring holes in the air and having eaten a lot of chow delivered by air freight. ;)

Technology is no substitute for good training and it can all too often blind otherwise good Commanders to dangers in that regard.

As an aside, the benefit of being old is that I have been present for the demise of _(insert branch/mission)_ [and /or the announced need for fewer personnel as the technology will be a force multiplier] between three and ten times over the past 70 plus years...

Whenever I hear someone assure me about the lack of present or future threats, I tend to shrug. We shall see. Threats often surface as a response to a great power deciding that the threats aren't there.

The Thunder Runs weren't against a peer or even near peer enemy. Anyone who wishes to entertain the notion that the foes were just that might do so, but I'm not sure it is persuasive. Indeed, one might suggest that the reason the Thunder Runs were enterprised was because commanders realized that there wasn't much of an enemy left to oppose them in a meaningfully coordinated way, which gets back to my observations about finding more abandoned tanks (with empty boots lined up in front of the tracks, the crews taking to sandals and escape) than committed enemies willing to duke it out with advancing US armor.

Light infantry could be up to the task of waging HIC with near-peer enemies provided heavy armor, medium-heavy formations or other more robust formations. But I don't wish to see the casualty rolls that arrive from that melee, and I most certainly don't wish to have to bury any of my former compatriots tasked with doing a mission they shouldn't have to try because of the hubris of historical meteorologists who see never again a chance for storms.

Moreover, I've heard no one seriously conjecture that 73 Easting could've been decided with Brads and Hummers and infantrymen flinging Dragons and TOWs at the Iraqis. While these systems and units might have played their roles in success, success didn't devolve to them for a good reason.

I would suggest that in Vietnam, air mobility was sold as a technological panacea, a "game changer" that would overcome a lack of resources and a deficit in cogent strategic competence. It did NOT solve these problems.

The "lessons" learned from initial experiments in vertical insertion in Korea and the technological innovations that offered some promise with Air Cav in the 1950s and early 1960s proved inadequate in Vietnam.

There is a rich literature about this phenomenon, so there is no reason to provide a bibliography here.

Perhaps what most concerns me is the notion that 1991 is so far in the foggy past as to be antiquated. If so, then Old Man Prine might throw another log on the fire and remind the whippersnappers what 2d Squadron, 2d ACR did during the ground war.

Screening for VII Corps and bearing down on the Iraqi Republican Guard, the squadron came upon dug-in Soviet tanks (typically vintage but still lethal) in brigade strength near Iraq's armor training grounds.

The AAR confected by GEN Larry Welch (USAF)and GEN Carl Vuono (CSA) to limn lessons from the engagement found that those who had fought that decisive battle had no previous combat experience. Yet they beat a near-peer, numerically superior force with a great deal of combat experience and which was fighting on its own terms with the terrain selected.

This is what one of those victorious American commanders said: "Sir, this was not our first battle. This was our tenth battle! We fought three wars at the National Training Center, Fort Irwin, California; we fought four wars at the Combat Maneuver Training Center, Hohenfels, Germany; and a lot of other simulations like SIMNET, the Unit Conduct of Fire Trainer, and the Battle Command Training Program. Yes sir, we had been 'shot at' before. Many times. This war was just like our training."

If you train to only fight small battles, you will only win small battles. If you train only to beat irregulars, irregulars will be the only ones you beat.

If you truly believe that the wars of the future, near or far away, shall only involve COIN enemies culled from the "people," or "hybrid" foes who can be matched by our infantry, and never anything more robust, then fine.

Assure me of this future and I'll be the first to advocate for the wholesale scrapping of the US armor assets because they're probably too expensive, too heavy and too fuel inefficient for these wars amongst the people.

But if we project perhaps different scenarios, then it's morally abhorrent to pitch into the maelstrom of HIC light infantry or medium-configured forces against heavy, dug-in assets that escape the eyes of the USAF and our helicopters.

Platoons thrusting Javelins at a faster, heavier enemy or scrambling over hillocks to ferret out T-72s for the JSF (whenever it's actually manufactured) is a recipe for unconscionable carnage.

I won't seriously entertain it.

Sometimes I wonder if our wars against irregular or non-peer forces haven't given us a rosy assumption about the risks of HIC, the same tragic flaw that came to infect the French staff on the eve of WWI, promoting as they did the notions of attack, elan and advance.

This is something else we often don't discuss: An armored element that screws up at COIN resets and tries again, towing away the MBT or replacing the track of the Brad while sullen villagers stare at them.

An armored element that screws up at HIC often is left burning on the field of slaughter, the crews hunted by snipers or chased down by the victors to die singly and at his mercy.

I'd rather the enemy die on my terms, and not the other way around.

Carl,

You are forgetting:

* Task organization can create armor-heavy units as required...but there are seriously few threats where they would be required. Niel is correct that there is no Kursk v2 in site (spelling intended) because no foe will have 8,000 quality tanks. Nor could they mass them without massive attrition via airpower and MLRS/ATACMS.

* You forget that Bradleys and M113s accompanied tanks on Thunder Runs and suffered few losses. Lightly armored Marine LAVs/AAVs were not decimated en route to Baghdad and Kuwait, nor were Army mech vehicles at 73 Easting, etc.

* Armor was only a timely deterrent in Europe because armored and mech divisions were permanently stationed there with other equipment in POMCUS. In Iraq both times, we had ample time to sea deploy due to a weaker threat.

* We can't preposition everywhere and there is value in air-deploying from prepositioned locations...provided we aren't too heavy. Do you really think, even if we ignored MAD and MAEconomicD, that the Chinese and Russians would let us sail up to their shoreline (or Taiwan) and offload or conduct amphibious assault...or that we would even want to?

* Mech-heavy/armor-light combined arms battalions are fully up to task against other foes like Iran, North Korea, or Syria/Lebanon. If Hezbollah "infantry" can kill armor, why doubt that our infantry could with 30mm and Javelins? Have you forgotten about Apaches, Reaper/MQ-1, and F-35s or our own Volcano mines?

* Really want to hear what Ken White did in Korea with his M-26 Pershings! Suspect it was infantry support rather than tank-on-tank. Wonder what he thinks about getting past lots of large concrete blocks dropped onto roads at todays chokepoints?

* Do you seriously advocate we would have been better off in Vietnam without helicopters? Do you think it coincidental that US helicopter and fixed wing losses have been far lower in Iraq and Afghanistan relative to Soviet losses...or is it that pesky technology thing again. Think IR countermeasures, and built-in redundant, run-dry, and protected components, for instance. Then consider our better night vision and lots of great training using flight school simulation.

Combined arms battalions enhance training because armor and infantry habitually work together. If stability ops and "special troops" forces were organic in combined arms battalions, the M-ATV/MRAPs would be shared with the infantry/armor, and the habitual training would pay big.

Perhaps I'm a bit fussy about this, Niel, because I came out of the light infantry. In the early 1990s, within our ranks in the USMC and USA, there was a great deal of kvetching about the future of light infantry.

Not robust enough to stand toe-to-toe against Soviet-like militaries, without the ability to rapidly plunge into the heart of enemy territory, lacking fast mobility and firepower, there were theorists (especially during RMA) who were ready to consign light infantry to the niche areas of jungle, mountain, raiding or counter-insurgency warfare.

Well, so much for niche, eh?

The other MAJ Smith, MAJ Smith.

And I'm not sure that one would need to refight Kursk to find some utility for massed armor above the BCT level.

Carl,

"The problem, however, is that I don't care about a brigade. MAJ Smith has suggested that we won't see any Clash of the Titans battles in the future, that the sweeping blitzkrieg campaigns the US perfected before 1991 for a different enemy aren't necessary. "

I never said that. I am smart enough never to say never, especially when the timeline is infinite.

I have suggested there will not be any SOON, because at the current time simply no other army we are likely to fight has more than a handful of modern MBTs to throw against us. I discount that we will go head to head conventionally with a nuclear power capable of MAD (China/Russia) for the same reasons we didn't do it in the Cold War - it's far too risky.

So that leaves a small set of foes, none of which are capable of Kursk v2. Not exactly rocket science to figure out. That doesn't mean Armor is irrelevant - it just means we may, as you say, need to reconsider our assumptions and how we train.

Niel

Gack. Typos: DePUY.

"I will bet 3 months of my major's paycheck that Mark Battjes, Jimmy Smith, Niel Smith, and I can train a heavy combined arms brigade
to be ready to face any threat."

Mike, I don't doubt that this is true. I have only the highest respect for all of you. If I wanted to rebuild the core competencies of a brigade, I would want a trio of outstanding majors with combat experience and a recollection of earlier days to make it so.

The problem, however, is that I don't care about a brigade. MAJ Smith has suggested that we won't see any Clash of the Titans battles in the future, that the sweeping blitzkrieg campaigns the US perfected before 1991 for a different enemy aren't necessary.

I'm not convinced that this is so, perhaps because I realize how fickle history might be in this regard.

Another leitmotif running through these anecdotes is the notion that we have retained some competence at the small unit level, that officers and senior NCOs continue to ensure that their crews are well-trained and can perform efficiently in their roles up to the company (and perhaps above) level.

This, to me, is a dangerous conceit. Earlier, I mentioned DuPuy. DuPuy, rightly, recognized that infantry in these modern industrial wars was fundamentally different from other branches. There's the unique, psychological and existential need for the squad to function as a thinking one, for platforms that transport them to psychologically convey a feeling a safety, that in the face of highly lethal steel and fire the only means for a squad of moving, thinking, shooting, talking soldier or Marines to function is through constant immersion in reconfiguring the infantryman's mind to function as part of a team.

Unlike other branches, the grunt isn't a crewman for a system of weapons, even if he carries a machine gun.

His primary competence isn't directed toward that weapon or any armament but rather toward the other members of a team. This is why it makes sense for the infantry squad to become the primary building block for the entire infantry, because strength comes from the bottom up.

This is quite different with armor. While no one doubts that utility can be found in slicing and dicing armor into different sorts of formations, some quite small, in reality armor derives its most puissant state by scabbing together and linking with combined arms.

Swarming together like steel yellow jackets, moving in concert, attacking -- that is the true threat of armor, and its movements and fires are unlike those in the infantry, most especially the light infantry from which I emerged.

This moreover is not as cavalry has functioned on the chariot or the horse for much of its existence or even as air mobile assets have worked.

It's a uniquely lethal combination that developed in the 20th century and was brought to perfection -- well, as close as one can get to it -- by the US Army. And it's closest to perfection when it is massed, mobile and scaffolded with the supporting arms.

The assumption is that it won't be used again. Well, it sure won't if we scrap it or revamp it to the point of irrelevancy, or if we refuse to invest in the training necessary to ensure that our majors at the brigade level today might lead far larger formations in the future.

While it's true that we must "win" the wars we're in (and please call me in the decade when we do so), we also shouldn't assume that these wars are necessarily those of the future or that the deterrence factor of demonstrated mass armor competency is something we want to remove from the toolkit of civilian overseers confecting foreign policy.

We can't say whether we can still do some of this work or not until we resurrect some of the large scale training and schooling for those operations. What often is overlooked amidst the studies of the "hollow" force after Vietnam and the imposition of active defense is how long it took to rebuild these capabilities and then perfect them in AirLand.

If we believe that the ability to kick in doors with armor, to conduct coordinated combined arms blitzkriegs against potential peer or near-peer enemies of the US, remain important to this democracy, then we must quit using anecdotes culled from Baghdad and Korengal and begin to think strategically.

Part of that thinking should include some effort to revive the use of armor in its late 20th century role.

If we don't want to do that, then get rid of the main battle tank. It otherwise uses too much fuel, costs too much to man and supply, and is quite difficult to transport. Piece meal, it works fine against some irregulars but overall is poorly fitted for counter-insurgency and in the cost-benefit analysis really isn't needed.

We shall arrive at a light infantry ground component, with hefty air assets to deliver precision fires and some medium platforms like the Stryker or smaller to add some push, without the log-train needed for artillery and armor.

And God have mercy on them if they have to punch beyond a USMC beachhead into hostile territory when the enemies have a tad bit more in their mitts than AK-47s, homemade IEDs and a few RPGs.

"Consider the primary of the three basic COIN Strategies: Clear-Hold-Build. This naturally requires the same basic core competencies of Shoot-Move-Communicate addressed earlier."

I won't consider it because I'm part of a group that has strongly questioned the efficacy of this formula. It never addressed most of the counter-Maoist solutions we sought during the era of Classic COIN and it most certainly hasn't worked today.

Our piece-meal armor operations play no role in this, just as Air Cav and other mobility experiments didn't work in Vietnam.

Rather than find armor's place in an aged, likely debunked notion of how to fight 21st century guerrilla wars, perhaps you need to decide if the formula was right in the first place.

That's above your pay grade. But it ain't above mine!

MikeF said:

"Additionally, add six more months and a little leeway on certification, and I will double down on the bet promising to have that brigade capable of the tankers and mech infantry jumping and seizing an airfield with the tanks and brads following after the area is secure."
----------------------------------
Wanted to answer your earlier query about airborne and unmanned and this is the perfect lead-in.

As you say, you CAN fix training given adequate time in the ARFORGEN process...something missing with current rapid turnarounds.

You CAN'T fix getting shot down because your C-17 airborne force is hit by a S-300 100 miles away or a ZSU that was hiding until you were overhead. You CAN'T alleviate the tryanny of distance and time at 20 knots over 7,000 miles of sea and rail time.

You wouldn't need six months (every ARFORGEN cycle for each different unit?) to train all armor/mech guys to be airborne forces, or three months to deploy heavy forces. Just create organizations, equipment and plans that exploit what you have...and that cover stability ops as well.

Don't wait until the war commences and try to accomplish forcible entry. Exploit indicators to move immediately prior to the conflict commencing. Fly low and airland in terrain defilade or choose allied airfields that maintain standoff.

Envision a HBCT combined arms battalion with one tank company, 2 infantry companies, and a special troops company of M-ATV or JLTV. Early warning indicators spell out a need to move to Taiwan. Airborne forces move in hours, but instead of airdrop, they airland to stay low behind mountains running down central Taiwan to avoid the S-300s.

But alongside the non-jumping airborne/ranger/light infantry forces aboard airlift aircraft are nine M1A2, 26 Bradleys, 25 M-ATV, a pair of HEMTT tankers, a HIMARS, and C2 vehicle aboard 29 C-17s. The heavy/light mix has trained together during the ARFORGEN process and has practiced load outs, and actions on the ground at an airfield.

In the beds of the M-ATV/JLTV are optionally-manned modified 4-wheelers, platoon Class I UAS, squad Ravens, mortars, Stingers, intell, and commms equipment. You also have personnel with COIN, MP, Engineer, and Information Ops skills, and a JTAC and Joint Fires Observer. Add several remote video terminals and a DCGS-A shelter to monitor what Joint unmanned and manned aircraft and space systems are seeing.

Of course, if we choose to pursue 50 ton GCVs our task force adds an additional 14 C-17s since only one will fit aboard each C-17 and we will need two more HEMTT tankers since they will burn twice the fuel...

Given that around 60 C-17s deployed the 173rd ABCT and a few Abrams/M113 to Bashur, such a strategy is fully feasible...provided we don't screw up with 50-70 ton GCVs chasing flawed 2006 Lebanon lessons.

I'll add one more thought.

Carl Prine is correct in the stating the lack of tank on tank engagements that we faced during the initial attack. I think my only tank on tank was a platoon plus of T-55's the first night of the war. We engaged them at 2km's, and they could only see about 1km out. It was far from a fair fight. In another instance, I single handedly took down a battalion of BTR's in downtown Baghdad. They just happened to be abandoned and parked motor pool style in an Army base off of the Abu G highway :).

However, what Carl misses is the fact of the training we did the year prior for the perceived threat. We spent almost a year in Kuwait training in the desert for a huge tank on tank fight. Moreover, we honestly thought that we'd hit a chemical attack in the Karbala Gap. That year of unimpeded training made us ready for any engagement.

So, IMO, it's all about training and leadership. As I reread through the comments from COL(R) Cerami, B Brady, and all the 3 ID boys, I think of perseverence, adaptability, and resolve.

It is disingenious to argue that prior to 2003, we had a magical army trained to fight in any war. We didn't. NTC training focused on BDE and BN level commands learning how to do their jobs and many of the home station training areas are too small to adequately maneuver for tank company and platoons. We were more focused on not hurting endangered woodpeckers and turtles and conducting equal opportunity and consideration for others classes rather than warfighting.

Today, we have an Armor force that has grown up in war. We are finally starting to learn and institutionalize small wars to add to our kitbag of warfare. Good leaders will ensure that we maintain our HIC capabilities.

My only pet peeve is to get platoons to stop driving around on patrols. We don't drive; we maneuver. Maneuver, whether dismounted or mounted, requires bounding, overwatch, security, and communication.

Mike

First of all, thanks to everyone for the discussion. Our intent in writing this article was to generate debate, and so far the discussion has been fantastic. Also, thanks to my partner for carrying the load so far.

Jimmy has done an excellent job defending our work and furthering discussion, so I will just start by outlining them main points from my perspective.

1. COL Gentile is absolutely valuable. As the most prominent dissenting voice against COIN, he must not become frustrated. We (the Army) needs him to continue his well thought out defense of his position.

2. The authors do not agree with COL Gentile, particularly with his assertion that Armor has moved so far from its corps competencies that it is unprepared to respond to future threats from larger conventional enemies.

3. Contrary to that claim, Armor has become more relevant and better prepared to meet future threats as a result of realistic training and operational experiences at lower levels of leadership due to OIF/OEF. These leaders will be more mentally able to understand changing threats and adjust training and tactics accordingly than in the past. (I will address the USAF comparison in another post.)

4. Continued integration of Infantry and Armor branches is not bad. It is a recognition of common skills and experiences. It also takes advantage of unique skill sets of both branches. The closer integration makes both branches better.

Thanks again to everyone who has contributed. I look forward to getting deeper into the discussion. Carl, I will specifically address your Posen comment in a later post. It is a good point that needs a response on my part.

Allow me to start with Ken's wise words,

"I also agree with him that so-called COIN is not the graduate level of warfare. It in no way can be compared to major conventional operations. It's middle school -- lot of petty jealousies, behind the back deals and childishness overseen by policymakers who are clueless about what's really going on."

follow on with Todd Justice,

"We have Tankers that aren't really tankers, artillerymen that aren't really artillerymen, etc, etc. In other words WE ARE UNPREPARED."

My first postings were after drinking some whiskey in a post-Memorial Day Remembrance with and of some of my boys. I went directly with Jimmy and the ways that we were used to joking.

Now, I'm gonna finally say what I should have said initially...

Give us six months time and space and hand picked NCCo's,

I will bet 3 months of my major's paycheck that Mark Battjes, Jimmy Smith, Niel Smith, and I can train a heavy combined arms brigade
to be ready to face any threat.

Additionally, add six more months and a little leeway on certification, and I will double down on the bet promising to have that brigade capable of the tankers and mech infantry jumping and seizing an airfield with the tanks and brads following after the area is secure.

If you say we're broke, then please take up my bet.

v/r

Mike

Lot of talking past each other on this thread :D ...

I think most posting agree that an amalgam of force types is necessary, that neither all heavy / MCO or all light / COIN is desirable and that we have the ability with only slight degradation to cross level between branches and missions. Further, that we are gathering beneficial combat experience and that we are undergoing some systemic changes most of which appear beneficial.

I strongly agree that OBTE, brought to the Army by the Asymetric Warfare Group, is an order of magnitude improvement over the existing training process.

Jimmy Smith did say one thing that I believe deserves comment:

"...I would only suggest that COIN does require a greater level of preparedness...Consider the primary of the three basic COIN Strategies: Clear-Hold-Build. This naturally requires the same basic core competencies of Shoot-Move-Communicate addressed earlier..."

Clearing does require Shoot-Move-Communicate skills, however, just as "Task, Condition and Standard" fails as a training strategy because the conditions can vary so widely from action to action and place to place, shooting, moving and communicating in a COIN setting differs markedly from the same skills employed in major conventional operations. To say some low level skill transfer up is correct, to say that will be adeqaute is erroneous -- not that anyone said that...

Far more importantly, the central tenet, Hold, requires adequate troop strength for successful accomplishment. Such strength was not present in Iraq, is not and will not be in Afghansitan and is unlikely to be available for future such missions in any nation much larger than the NTC.

All the COIN devotees need to think past the nice theory to to harsh practicalities of entering campaigns where there is really no win or lose and what is an 'acceptable' outcome is defined down as time passes. There are better ways to do that than deploy the GPF in insufficient numbers to a job that requires some specific training for proper accomplishment.

We need to be multi spectrum, no question and we can do that; we did it before and successfully -- but the number of troops available will always be problematic in a democratic nation short of an existential war.

Rather than address the MCO / COIN argument, what's required is an assessment of what's likely to be available for likely future scenarios and if we run across one or some where the strengths are liable to be inadequate for the probable tasks, we probably need to go to Plan B. We need to have alternatives to GPF commitment to open ended campaigns which many prospective opponents will endeavor to lure us into.

The best education and training in the world -- and we are not there yet -- will not make up for insufficient strength. The best equipment in the world -- we aren't there, either -- will provide signifcant force multipliers but it will not provide enough humans for some missions. In short, we need an honest capability assessment to bounce against likely scenarios and then to adjust our operational plans from there. That's being done, it just won't dribble down to open source...

Thanks for the insight! Ideally, a subliminal thesis to the initial article has been achieved: Continued discussion and debate in an educational forum.

Carl- thanks very much for your candid input. I always enjoy a good debate. However, both your and my points continue to evolve around one disagreeable theme: you seem to believe that we need the enormous armored columns of yore, and I don't.

As for the FA branch, I guess we are polling a different group of FA folks. The guys I have spoke to regarding this topic recognize the differences, but seem to understand the need to support the overall mission in order to succeed presently while recognizing their role in HIC. By the way, they are not the only branch doing this.
Carl, I understand your fear that we will could lose our core competencies by "drinking tea." I don't think that is all we are doing. I would be shocked to hear of any units preparing their Soldiers for a mission in today's environment that focuses on "drinking tea" during rehearsals, and PCIs. Are we training and educating our Soldiers for Division and Corps level campaigns synchronized across miles of various terrain? No. Are Soldiers in training and preparing for potential conflicts that might occur on patrol? Yes. I think the core competencies at the company level (even Battalion) and below are in good hands. This leads me to my next point regarding the characterization of what "graduate level war" is. COIN or not? I would only suggest that COIN does require a greater level of preparedness. Why? Because it naturally crosses the spectrum. Case in point: Consider the primary of the three basic COIN Strategies: Clear-Hold-Build. This naturally requires the same basic core competencies of Shoot-Move-Communicate addressed earlier. In today's environment, we are required to do so much more than train just to Clear. We "cleared" in 2003. Unfortunately, the enemy today does not intend to sign anything like that of the WWII examples you address (stressing the fear of enormous enemy armored columns) of the past.
Carl, I see your point, and it is a valid one. Your are correct. Enormous armored and mechanized infantry forces standing at the ready to deter the rest of the world served as a terrific deterrent. I am sorry but I can't agree with your thesis that this is the formula for the future. I can't seem to get past the fact that there is a need to successfully accomplish the mission we are in, the fact that a globalized and relatively uni-polar world has transformed the way we prepare for conflict.
As you highlighted earlier, a democratic society has to support it military, it also has to pay for it too. And if you are unwilling to recognize the armor branches capability to adapt with the security environment, that same democratic society will gladly send us to the pasture. Why pay for something that is extremely expensive and unwilling to adapt to its surrounding environment? Any capitalist can understand this premise. I will caveat this by saying that armor is extremely important today as it was yesterday, but there is so much more the branch can do and should not put all its eggs in the 120mm basket. I would go as far as to suggest that the light cavalry squadron is one of the best task organizations to employ in Afghanistan. We have the ability to look beyond what we used to be recognized for our greatness in historical conflicts and add to it or even shift our emphasis to other important elements of the branch. These elements are relevant in present and future conflicts as well (light/heavy Cav, Stryker). Conflict is changing and this is an opportunity for the branch to change with it while still maintaining its heavy core competency.
Carl, even if there was another great armored campaign, armored forces are not the only thing on the battlefield. The whole idea of combined arms is linking all elements together. Can we still do this? Yes. I understand that you disagree with me and we have lost our capability to bring all elements together in a synchronized fashion for this major conventional campaign (although I would still like for you to tell me where this will come from). I would also posit that one of the reasons why you encountered empty enemy tanks during the initial invasion was due to the effective employment of combined arms. I would dare that that US forces did a pretty good job at successfully employing combined arms after nearly eight years of real-world non-conventional operations that preceded the invasion (including 3ID - the main thrust of this conventional case study). I know...your counter-point is because the Iraqi Army was not a peer force. Then Carl, if the initial invasion into Iraq is not a good enough example to defend the need to re-engergize the need to get away from dealing with these trivial conflicts of today, then what is? Where is the Chimera? From Jimmy's cupola, it's the one that flies a plane into US buildings ultimately resulting in greater US casualties than DEC 7, 1941.
Carl, unfortunately, we do not get to pick and choose our adversaries. I just pray that this democratic society can see through the current conflicts so that we are not faced with reacting to another one of these "trivial" insurgent forces. I believe the Armor/Cav community has plenty to contribute in today's conflict, even if it does not involve a 120mm gun tube. It's still important, but not the primary tool right now. I still maintain that the leadership in the Armor/Cav community understands this and is prepared for it.
I would submit that Strategic Interests probably drive what we need to prepare for. What conventional armored force is out there that requires to prepare more for than we already are? I would highlight that there is a correlation with the CAV and Stryker communities as there was with the armored forces in 2002/03. And I definitely don't want to take anything away from armored formations that were successfully employed in Iraq from 2004-present day.
As highlighted by others in this thread, the armored force is not dead. It is merely evolving to defeat current and future threats.

COL Cerami/Niel, I could not agree with you more. Coincidentally, it has been a common point of discussion amongst peers. We have primarily couched the discussion in terms of training vs. education. I would suggest that COL Casey Haskins attempts to introduce OBTE has been one of the best solutions I have seen to addressing this problem. The results have and beyond expected in commissioning sources and initial entry training over the past four years. Unfortunately, it seems your recommendations are the exception vice the norm and require a cultural vs. policy change. I think the good news is the recent push for officers to pursue additional education in the civilian sector would have long term benefit to this dilemma. I certainly hope this puts a small dent in changing the institutional and educational norms.

Todd- I see your point. Although, I don't know if I completely agree. Regardless of C or DMETL, core competencies are trained. Granted there are exceptions. For example, the heavy Brigade from 4ID that will deploy with out there equipment to Afghanistan. Will their competencies diminish? Yes, but I don't think to a degree that they will be incapable of retraining those competencies upon return. I still think that the intangibles that unit will gain from combat experience are invaluable when compared with the idea that they are left out of the conflict in lieu of training core competencies instead. i.e. training for that big armored army that could attack us at any minute, or the Krasnovians of course. Is it a trade off? Sure, but one that I would be willing to accept. If it is a matter of adjusting training management plan to ensure units are successfully prepared, then that might be another story. I will stop here.

Thanks again to all!

I'm emphatically not a Starry fan but he got a few things at least partly right on occasion -- and that was one:

We ended up using the formations we had not because they were the best mix for the operational problems in Vietnam; we used what we had because that was the structure DoD inherited during the 1967 build-up and that guided implementation deeper into the war."

What he got wrong in that is that the handwriting was on the wall long before 1967 and the US Government -- not just the Army -- failed to adapt. That going to war with the Army you've got applies to most all our wars -- as I have often said and not in jest, it's the American way. That has worked out for us, mostly, in the past. Not sure it will in the future.

Todd Justice has it right -- unpreparedness is the issue. That is a constant in any democratic society for a host of reasons and that is unlikely to change in the future for all those same reasons. Justice also says:

"Lets make sure we have leaders who can handle the stress and quick thinking required to fight against a powerful, unforgiving enemy. That way anything less will be a piece of cake. An old axiom that has served me well: Expect the worse and you will never be disappointed."

Exactly. Are we there yet?

"Why? It can most easily be boiled down to unpreparedness."

Gian and I disagree on this. While unpreparedness played her corrosive role, in reality even the world's best trained and well-led armor force couldn't have solved operationally Israel's strategic problems.

The time lines were wrong, the strategic message wrong, the foreign policy goals unrealistic. The fact that armor AND OTHER UNITS that had spent precious years on constabulary duty and not practicing maneuver warfare played a relatively small role to those blunders.

One might suggest, however, that as ill-served as armor and overwhelming air power were to the war in southern Lebanon, they probably ended up as a reminder that deters HezbAllah actions today. Not exactly what the Israelis wanted to achieve, but good enough for Knesset work.

But this gets us back to what we want armor to solve. If we now assume that armor is little more than any other maneuvering force, perhaps to be used mostly as a COIN occupation force, then let us scrap it because there are light infantry formations that can do it better and cheaper.

This is the dilemma the wonderful Donn Starry posed in his 1976 monograph: We ended up using the formations we had not because they were the best mix for the operational problems in Vietnam; we used what we had because that was the structure DoD inherited during the 1967 build-up and that guided implementation deeper into the war.

The structure for armor we confect from our "lessons learned" during OIF and OEF might not make sense against other foes or other places. Our practice of cutting large maneuver elements into piecemeal formations for COIN work, or of substituting platforms such as the Stryker and the Hummer for MBTs makes sense in the irregular, less kinetically challenging (for the armor commander) realm of Baghdad or Mosul, but wouldn't work at all for other chores.

If you will pardon me, please for a moment read Starry's wisdom from another era, substituting if you want "Marjah" or "Mosul" for "Vietnam."

"As we look to the future it is essential not only that we know the lessons of Vietnam, but that we understand them as well. Understanding them, in their correct context, and relating that to the future will take more time and space than we have had available for this monograph. But it must be done. We can no more turn our backs on our experiences in Vietnam than we can take those experiences, relate them directly to our next battlefield, and so in the end get ready to fight better the war we have just left behind. The wisdom to learn from experience, without merely getting better prepared to relive that experience, is not easily won. But win it we must. We owe it to ourselves and our country. More however, we owe it to the brave men who went, helped us learn the lessons, and paid the price of learning. They left us a large legacy larger perhaps than we deserve. "

Interesting discussion, but like most in a forum such as this it kinda wanders back and forth across the issue and periodically drifts rather far from it.

In my earlier posts I was trying to make a succinct point and I want to reiterate it now.

In order to FIGHT you need people/crews/teams that can hit what they shoot at. MBTs, M4s, howitzers, whatever. It doesn't really matter if they are in a COIN fight, peace keeping, high intensity or simply serving as a deterrent.

Just as importantly you have to have junior leaders who can employ that combat power in an integrated, combined arms manner. Thats what makes you successful on any battlefield and thats what keeps your casualties down. Whether the anecdotes of TF Smith or Israel (2006) meet our current situation doesn't matter. What matters is that they both failed to accomplish their mission/goals. Why? It can most easily be boiled down to unpreparedness.

This very same issue was being dealt with in the 80's and 90's. The answer? Lets make sure we have competent squads/teams/crews that can fight in the harshest conditions. Lets make sure we have leaders who can handle the stress and quick thinking required to fight against a powerful, unforgiving enemy. That way anything less will be a piece of cake. An old axiom that has served me well: Expect the worse and you will never be disappointed.

For example, a JRTC rotation in 1998. I was a scout PL. My brigade executed a forced entry airfield seizure, expanded the airhead, conducted a COIN fight for a week to help stabilize the Cortinian govt. Krasnovia gets a case of the butt and invades. We switch to HIC and execute an anti armor defense, followed by a HIC MOUT attack. Two week exercise in which our Brigade was tested on every aspect of Full Spectrum Warfare. How do you prepare for such a diverse mission set? Train your squads and crews and leaders in their core competency with the understanding they will have to be adaptable. I think that is what COL Gentile was getting at and I think that is where we are remiss.

That's the first problem (low core competency today in our armor and artillery crews, etc.). I think the second problem is we have really only carried the modularity concept half way. We are hamstrung by our regimental affiliations and historical branch competencies. A more effective system might run like this: 2003, a HIC oriented force invades and secures Iraq. 2004 a need is seen for extensive long range COIN operations. A few MECH brigades are designated to remain as such with a focus on HIC and continue to be manned and trained as such. We retain the capability, they continue to serve as a deterrent, and they serve as a rest and refit for Soldiers coming off deployments. Meanwhile, the other brigades (across the Army) are converted to Bradley/Stryker/Light pure formations. "Vehicle Crewmen" transition from M1 to M2/3, Stryker, or HMMWV crew duties, therefore maintaining their core gunnery skills. Infantrymen in these formations are increased. Artillerymen are downgraded to mortarmen if they arent serving howitzers. A need for infantrymen goes up so incentives are offered for MOS changes and for recruitment. In a few short years you have one division in the Army configured as a MECH HIC organization and 6-7 COIN divisions. Russia invades Poland? Heavy division is deployed. Process begins for COIN divisions to bring their heavy armor out of mothballs and begin recerting on Gunnery. A process that shouldnt take too terribly long since those same gunners/TCs have been crewing 25mm and RWS systems. Same transition begins with Artillery crews. All those extra infantrymen? Fill light brigades or become track drivers, loaders, etc.

The benefits? You have ready trained PEOPLE who can adapt to any environment or situation. Rather than a bunch of Heavy Brigades that haven't conducted tank gunnery with real proficiency in years.

Now I am sure that is full of all kinds of holes but its what I came up with in the last 15 minutes and I am sure I am not the first to propose something similar. But it creatively gets to what I believe is the issue at hand. We have Tankers that aren't really tankers, artillerymen that aren't really artillerymen, etc, etc. In other words WE ARE UNPREPARED.

How we fix that problem as quickly as possible is the issue. How many tankers we have vs infantrymen is a decision for echelons above reality to wrestle with and one that would take years to implement. And that is the only time any speculating about threats, trends, etc should be happening. All Corps Commanders on down to Squad Leaders should be worried about is whether their gunners can hit what they shoot at and whether their junior leaders know how to FIGHT.

COL Cerami,

Great points, your last 2 paras really hit it. I have become tired of the COIN v. HIC argument as if it's an either/or choice.

We educate for the whole spectrum. What we train for day to day is the mission we will be conducting.

I guarantee that the moment BCTs aren't tagged for return to OIF/OEF (hint: it's already started) we'll start re-focusing on HIC skills again. I believe this fall will see the return of maneuver combat to NTC for at least some rotations.

Anyone who's been in ARFORGEN knows we barely had time to prepare properly for OIF/OEF. The demands on the army precluded TRAINING for anything else. That will change in the next few years.

We EDUCATE in lieu of this hands on training for the full spectrum. Our education system needs help. I have maintained, in print here and elsewhere, that our military education system is failing to adequately prepare officers and NCO's to THINK through the full spectrum of conflict.

We spend lots of time training in our classrooms rather than thinking. The Army continues to throw band-aids on PME to address shortcomings, as if an extra 7h of whatever subject will fix the army's ills. What really needs to happen is a top to bottom re-conceptualization of what we want leaders to know. With range and field time I can re-train TT VIII, CALFEX, gunnery, jumping TOCs, etc. using manuals and SOPs. I can't train a person to think. Unfortunately, my recent experience at CGSC (ILE) didn't inspire much confidence that we are doing that, despite the bumper stickers.

As KW astutely observed above, he never saw a tank platoon fail from poor gunnery or maintenance, but often did from poor tactical leadership.

And on a niggling point, I wasn't referring to the AEF under Blackjack Pershing but, I thought obviously, to the French army under a command staff culled almost exclusively from the ranks of the colonial forces.

While it's quite true that all sorts of things divorce one era from another, I'm not sure that all heady assumptions can't be divorced from one error and another.

While it's imperfect to compare the IDF in 2006 to the USA in 2010, it's perhaps equally inapt to consider the Iraqi army of 2003 as a peer force and, most certainly, the JAM irregulars as same.

I know that when I tended to encounter Iraqi armor in 2003, the MBTs were abandoned. I suspect that more Iraqi tanks were encountered like this than staring down a boresight.

This gets us to the problem of how far right we might imagine FA slides when a typical battery converts from guarding detainees in Goatpooistan to standing by for fire missions in Talibanistan.

It's not as if the Taliban are firing back or there is much moving and shooting on the go as they breach enemy lines.

Some of this occurs, most certainly, but not enough to compare OEF fire missions to that which might transpire against a peer or near-peer or hybrid foe in a combined arms answer to a HIC problem.

Which brings me again to the central problem with the essay. It posits as a case study armor success in transitioning from low-intensity (or no-intensity) operations in Bosnia and Baghdad to what we actually keep armor around to do.

But there isn't much to go on since 2003 in this case study. I'm sorry, but I don't consider the much-depleted Iraqi armored forces under Hussein to be equivalent to a near-peer threat. I also am flummoxed that anyone would consider the Shiite irregulars in Sadr City in 2007 to be anything close to near-peer enemies in the face of armor.

They're not.

If the rejoinder is then that there are no more threats to American armor and the combined arms that scaffold their operations, then I say, "Good!"

This, also, is where the USAF comparison is inapt. It makes the assumption that the USAF just ain't all the relevant because the jets are slugging it out in an unmarked alley in a nameless town in a forgotten province of some nation we feel we need to occupy, or the terrorists win.

It actually might be considered a good sign when no one challenges your control of one of the vital commons. Without getting all Barry Posen on you, I might suggest that the fighter and bomber umbrella and strike capabilities keep the spectrum far to the left. Losing control of the commons of the air, sea, sky and space would make the job of the armor commander infinitely more difficult.

When you see those men in their flying machines you might wish to extend a happy hand of thanks as they jet back to their shower, O-Club scotch and nine holes of golf.

"FA- great point. A branch that can serve as the epitome of adaptability over the last eight and across the spectrum of conflict, to include shifting from left to right, back and forth, up and down, etc, etc. Don't hear to much complaining from them. Maybe I am just not listening though."

You should listen to them. What I find is odd is that the loudest complaints I hear are from the O-4s, and yet you don't seem to detect them.