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MIA in QDR: A Unifying Vision for Land Forces

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MIA in QDR: A Unifying Vision for Land Forces

by Nathan Freier

This paper is being published simultaneously in Small Wars Journal and the PKSOI Bulletin, an on-line publication of the United States Army's Peacekeeping and Stability Operations Institute.

Download the full article: MIA in QDR: A Unifying Vision for Land Forces

The post-9/11 period has witnessed a marked improvement in corporate defense perceptions about the utility of U.S. land forces. Although they have sacrificed a great deal in the field, the Iraq and Afghan wars have been good to the Army, Marine Corps (USMC), and Special Operations Forces (SOF) from a defense policy perspective. With counterinsurgency (COIN), counterterrorism (CT), stability operations (SO), and security force assistance (SFA) currently dominating the defense agenda, even passive observers recognize the near-term value of land power. Today, land forces are central to solving the United States' most pressing near-term national security challenges. Consequently, the land combat function has benefited from steadily rising stock prices within the Department of Defense (DoD).

The current era of land force ascendancy has witnessed significant changes in mission. For example, land force competency in irregular warfighting has risen substantially while service competency for high-intensity traditional conflict has atrophied. The Army, USMC, and, to some extent, SOF, have radically adjusted their operational worldview to account for previously under-valued "irregular" missions like CT, COIN, SO, etc. The army now openly acknowledges in its capstone doctrine that stability and civil support are core army missions, alongside more conventional offensive and defensive operations. For its part, the USMC — while often decrying the loss of some of its expeditionary capability — has become increasingly comfortable operating in force ashore for extended periods. Both the Army and USMC have also accepted new responsibilities in SFA.

SOF, too, has witnessed significant change in focus and operating principles. "Direct action" (DA) SOF forces — long accustomed to operating autonomously — have learned to operate in close proximity to and in close coordination with large conventional ground forces sharing the same battlespace. Army SOF specifically — an organization whose pre-9/11 sine qua non was largely foreign internal defense (FID) and SFA — now, by necessity, is more accustomed to serial employment in DA. And, in recent years, the scale of DA and SFA requirements necessitated that Army SOF cede many of its traditional FID and SFA responsibilities to general purpose ground forces (GPF). This has resulted in a number of "in stride" GPF innovations like the Army's new Advisory and Assistance Brigades (AAB) and the Marine Corps' Security Cooperation Marine Air Ground Task Forces (SCMAGTF).

Whether or not any of this amounts to a bellwether for the future of land operations remains a hotly debated issue across defense-interested communities. Some traditionalists see unacceptably high-risk in these trends; whereas less traditional military thinkers argue that contemporary strategic conditions necessitate a new, more unconventional focus for land forces, leaving many aspects of the next generation traditional warfight to the Air Force and Navy.

Some influential thought leaders see recent irregular wars in Iraq and Afghanistan as concrete demonstrations of the utility of robust (if not less traditionally-oriented) land forces. Still others see the uneven history and raw cost of Iraq and Afghanistan as data points militating against future large-scale U.S. interventions. The author argues that future land interventions are unavoidable. But, the circumstances under which they occur, the operating concepts employed in their execution, and the objectives pursued throughout their course may be substantially different than those that shape current warfights.

Download the full article: MIA in QDR: A Unifying Vision for Land Forces

Nathan Freier joined the Peacekeeping and Stability Operations Institute as a Visiting Research Professor in August 2008. He is also a Senior Fellow in the International Security Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS). He joined CSIS in April of 2008 after a 20-year career as a field artillery officer and strategist in the United States Army.

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Eric Chen

Sat, 07/24/2010 - 5:42pm

The unifying vision in the QDR is that the future is "full spectrum", complex, unpredictable, etc.. Basically, the Army and its leaders - from junior NCOs and LTs on up - have to be ready to do everything.


Thu, 07/22/2010 - 1:01am

I've just downloaded and read through the complete article - thoroughly enjoyed it AND thought it is one of the better presented and thought-through expositions of where we might go in the next 10-15 years. Not only does it set the scene very well for land forces but also provides a valid scenario for air and maritime capability planners to work with as well.