Small Wars Journal

Force Structure for Small Wars

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Force Structure for Small Wars

by Andrew C. Pavord, Small Wars Journal

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Since 9/11 the armed forces of the United States have paid a steep price to acquire proficiency in counterinsurgency operations. After going through a painful learning process the Army and Marines published the now acclaimed counterinsurgency manual and implemented a new approach in Iraq that is delivering impressive results. It is now a logical time to consider how to redesign combat units to reflect these lessons and prepare for the small wars of the future.

This article will argue that counterinsurgency brigades should be added to the U.S. Army's force structure. Lacking forces specially trained and equipped for counterinsurgency, the Army has fought the war on terror with conventional units adapted to counterinsurgency operations. For most units, the transition from conventional organization and tactics to the very different and challenging tasks of counterinsurgency was traumatic. The costs of poor organization for counterinsurgency, in terms of battlefield mistakes and the misallocation of resources, were substantial. To provide the optimal force for fighting insurgencies the Army should develop Brigade Combat Teams (BCT) that are specifically organized, equipped, and trained for the complex challenges of counterinsurgency operations.

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This sounds like a somewhat beefed-up constabulary unit. Given the likelihood that we will engage in some sort of stability "wide area security" operation in the future, whether in the Middle East (Syria? Iraq?) or Eastern Europe, or maybe Africa, such an organization is worth considering.

Ken White

Tue, 05/13/2008 - 1:53am

As LTC Pavord says <i>"the transition from conventional organization and tactics to the very different and challenging tasks of counterinsurgency was traumatic. The costs of poor organization for counterinsurgency, in terms of battlefield mistakes and the misallocation of resources, were substantial."</i> His solution is to have an unstated number of Counterinsurgency Brigades in the Active Army and the ArNG to rectify the problem.

I submit his solution is potentially detrimental to his ackowledged excellent intention. There are several issue raised, four of the most significant are; How many such Brigades would there be? Will the number of such Brigades be adequate for future conflicts requiring their commitment? To which languages and cultures should the Brigades be exposed? Will personnel assigned these Brigades be assigned elsewhere in the force?

Pending the answer to those questions, I suggest that the trauma cited by the author, while real, was a US Army institutionally imposed shortfall. He further says; <i>"...This position underestimates difficulty and the cost of converting conventional units to counterinsurgency capabilities..."</i> I disagree, there is little cost in such conversion; the difficulty is a massive training shortfall. The aversion of the US Army to counterinsurgency was shown by the fact that during Viet Nam, much institutional instruction did not shift to COIN but stayed rigidly focused on major war -- the same thing is broadly true today. The difficulty in converting multi purpose forces to COIN is in failure to fully train new entrants, Officer and Enlisted, to do the basic tasks well and to train units to full spectrum capability. The Units can do it -- the failure is in those who do not want to do it -- or do not want to believe it can be done.

He make a valid point with this: <i>"...The complexity of counterinsurgency creates a requirement for specialized skills, organization, and equipment that cannot be met in short deployment timeframes, even in periods where deployments are predictable."</i> We are effectively confronted with two options. The most combat effective would be to stop short tours and go for three to five year tours (a solution that would likely reduce significantly the theoretical and very nominal 10-12 years to suppress an insurgency...). However, that may not be too efficient and would certainly result in a smaller Army so the viable option is to accept the turmoil and travail engendered by one year yours. That hurt us in Korea; it hurt us in Viet Nam, it's hurting us today but it is unlikely to be changed. Units can cope; they prove that daily.

Further; <i>"...Generalist units forced to prepare for every contingency will struggle to master an overbroad task list. Generalist units will also face significant transition costs as they change mission focus on short notice."</i> Possibly true -- but a task list is a really dumb way to train anyone -- or any unit. I know we've been doing it for almost 30 years and the fact that we have difficulty shifting gear between modes of warfare is proof certain that it is not a good way to train. A switch to Outcome Based Training will eliminate a lot of that adverse impact.

I'd also ask a question. Do we face a global Insurgency or do we face a period of global instability that will likely build not an emerging consensus on COIN but a strong probability of Hybrid Wars, a mix of conventional, insurgency and IO operations wherein the theories of Galula and Trinquier are likely to have little relevance. I submit this quote provided by the Author from Colin Gray is appropos: <blockquote>""Modern war, French-style could work tactically and operationally in Algeria, but never strategically. The reason was that the French military effort, no matter how tactically excellent and intellectually sophisticated was always politically hollow. The French had, and could promise, no political idea with a potent appeal to the Moslem populace.""</blockquote> I suspect we will have the same problem for most poplations, Muslim or not, for the foreseeable future.

It is stated; <i>"The most dangerous byproduct of generalist units is attitude. The generalist mentality assumes that there is no challenge that a smart dedicated officer backed by committed noncommissioned officers and Soldiers cannot overcome. This is a comforting thought but it is an illusion. It leads the Army to ignore the complexities of warfare, especially counterinsurgency. The new counterinsurgency manual begins with the quotation "Counterinsurgency is not just thinking mans warfare--it is the graduate level of war."</i> I disagree; that is not an illusion, it is a fact that many senior people do not wish to recognize because it removes control from their hands -- decentralization and delegation to the point of discomfort is all that's required to produce results. I also contend that COIN is no more difficult -- probably not as difficult -- as major conventional war. It does, emphatically require a shifting of gears and some thought -- but it is not the graduate level of war.

It is tedious, it is difficult and can be dangerous but it isn't nearly as hard on people as full bore war, it does not cause nearly as many casualties -- and it is not as hard to do well...