Small Wars Journal

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

Tue, 06/01/2010 - 6:36pm
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.

About the Author(s)


I read the article and I am sure it will provide much for discussion among the officer corps. I have been following this debate since back in the 1990s with the great concern of War College students about the Army's role in the Balkans and peacekeeping operations.

One senior Marine put it in perspective for us during a talk at the War College. He asked (something like): how many of you think the mission of the Army is warfighting? All the hands went up (mine too). Then he said: you are all wrong, read the Constitution. So I did and sure enough we got back into the part where it says protect and defend the Constitution of the US from all enemies....

That struck me as important. Sounds overly simple but in my view of our Constitutional responsibilities, the Army has to do what is necessary to protect and defend--adjust to the situation and yes the international environment to do that. So when peacekeeping was necessary and the mission, we had to do that well and not long for the good old days of the Cold War when battalion and brigade task force operations were the main event.

Today it's COIN, as it should be.
In the meantime, your points about the ability of the Army and its junior officers to rise to the new tasks is very important as your article points out. I would just add that all of this has to be placed in context. We need a Army (and armed services) that understands how to think broadly and deeply about conflict (and war of course) at the strategic, operational and tactical levels. Since the threats are thinking too, we have to figure out ways to stay ahead of them. That takes all the short order adjustments to keep up with change(call it flexible and adaptable leadership if you like).

At the same time we need the ability to keep ahead of new ideas to work more effectively with the civilian decision makers as well. My say is to be sure we don't lose our ability to educate and train our Army to be able to develop the capacity to understand the nature of conflict and take on whatever missions the nation requires in time to meet and defeat all the existing and emerging threats--whatever shows up not what we would like to do. It's a tall order, and requires much thought and discussion--but I fear none of that is likely if we divide ourselves into false choices like being warfighters or peacekeepers, or a conventional versus COIN Army, or even grunts versus tankers.

B Brady (not verified)

Fri, 06/04/2010 - 10:00am

As an armor officer and former commander of one of the last four remaining tank companies in the 28th DIV, PAARNG, I can certainly sympathize with the arguement made by Col Gentile as the 28th has tranformed from a heavy centric organization to one which represents a very hybrid but in my opinion flexible force with an IBCT, HBCT and now SBCT. I have had to constantly remind myself and my soldiers of our role and the role in the combined arms team considering that most of us never deployed on tanks or bradleys.

With that being said, it was a priority for our Brigade during re-set and TY1 in ARFORGEN to maintain some proficiancy on our weapons systems through modified M1/Bradley gunnery. The amazing thing was the positve reaction of most of my tankers to getting back on the tanks after multiple deployments as motorized or light infanty soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan. They transitioned well.

The key was reintroction to the fundamentals through live, vertual and collective training at a pace which allowed the leadership to assess readiness prior to our LFXs. Me, along with many junior officers and NCOs in my battalion attended both the Bradley leaders Course and the Tank Commanders Course to hone our skills to accomplish the training necessary for our units. This paid off for me personnally as I had been a scout platoon leader in the BRT and as a BN scout platoon leader in Iraq and hadn't been on a tank since AOBC. We conducted two consecutive Annual Training events where we fired a modified gunnery on our tanks with great success. Although it was not the high intensity TT VIII or XII it was still challenging and rewarding training and the soldiers remained focused and motivated.

The one challenge was to ensure the soldiers kept the importance of thier tanker skills in perspective. I heard time and again "Sir, why are we doing tank gunnery when we never deploy on tanks?" My answer was that one never knows what the future holds. I also reminded them that manuever was manuever, no matter what vehicle platform they deployed on.

The BDE is now in TY2 of the ARFORGEN and is expected to deploy. The mission will be non-standard for an HBCT and gunnery for the next two years will focus on scout gunnery. I am confident that the soldiers of the BDE will again, step up to the challenge.

Through the progressive traing model that the ARFORGEN affords, units, no matter what FSO METL they train, will be able to deploy for any type of contingency. I understand that most of the discussion here is strategic in nature, but down here at the tactical level, we can adapt rapidly. It just takes flexibility in leadership and training to accomplish the goals of our national military strategy.

I think the progressive training model along with innovative training strategies like the Comined Arms Training Strategy (CATS)can allow any unit to achieve the appropriate readiness and capability to deploy to any contingency. Most of us deployed to Iraq in 05-06 in Al-Anbar province witnessed the effectiveness of the combined arms teams. It was imperative to our success to occassionally have those blessed M1s show up to a gun battle. They usually stopped pretty quickly. Tanks and bradleys are in my opinion very relevant in COIN as they are conventionally.

Jimmy Smith (not verified)

Fri, 06/04/2010 - 9:53am

Cole, thanks for the terrific insight. Any chance that you teach at CGSC? If so, I am signing up for your classes this summer! Really appreciate your inclusion to the debate.

Ken W- Also, thank you for taking the time to respond as well and I appreciate how you defined your stance. I felt compelled to inform you that by no means do I mean to parlay a condescending or pretentious attitude. I appreciate your feedback and will pay closer attention to that in the future.
I concur with your assessment regarding the Academy. As an OCS guy (probably more like college-op since I only had 20 months prior service), I have found my experience at the Academy to be an amazing opportunity to learn about a different commissioning source and also meet others like COL Gentile, who I consider to be a personal friend. I have sought his counsel on many occasions. Lastly, I wanted to thank you for highlighting the use of "my Soldiers." Although, in no means do I imply this phrase in an offensive context. If said, it is simply stated in terms of responsibility as all others would relate in similar positions. If considered offensive by Soldiers, then I will gladly refrain from using in future discussions both verbal and written. Soldiers are the reason why I do this stuff. I guess I have always considered success in our business being a well-trained and prepared group of individuals versus and increased quarterly profit of dollar signs. There is something intangibly noble that I am sure keeps many coming back. Now that I have gotten completely off topic...

That said, I very much appreciate and enjoy your insight regardless of professional differences.

Mike Few (not verified)

Fri, 06/04/2010 - 8:25am

Good comments all. I appreciate the conversation.


"Given that airborne forcible entry is also somewhat the endangered species, the Army's toolbox may diminish"

The biggest complaint that I've heard from senior NCO's about our airborne operations is the tendancy to not take the time to crawl, walk, and then run. Instead, they are rushed through training with lack of rehearsals in order to get to the airborne drop. I had the same issue in my SGST as a troop commander. I did not allot adequate time to skill level 10 and 20 training prior to testing. So, the results sucked. Thankfully, we were able to make it up on the back end. That's probably something we should all keep in mind. One easy fix for this issue is to reinstate/protect Thursdays as Sergeant's Time Training where NCO's do nothing but train. Another fix is concurrent training during field problems.

"While we are fixing armor and cavalry ;), fix outdated concepts of reconnaissance and security to make it more persistent employing teamed unmanned ground and air systems controlled by ground mech and aviation forces."

Could you expand this a bit more? I get apprehensive when I hear recon and unmanned used in the same sentence. I concur that UAV's are great for surveillance, but IMO, recon is a human endeavor. Plus, we're slowly getting the Armor/Infantry scouts to start talking and sharing ideas. That's huge.

Here's some other points for everyone to consider.

1. We're not French. We're American. Many of us are woefully ignorant in history. Sometimes that hurts us; othertimes it allows us to easily reinvent ourselves.

2. Next year, the company commanders from the Thunder Runs will begin to take battalion command, and the company commanders from the bloodletting of 2005 and 2006 are beginning to trickle into the BN S3 and XO jobs. Think about that. It's easy to get worried about things and generalizations until you can put a name or face to a position. I know a bunch of the guys, and I'm not too worried about it. They'll handle their piece of the pie.

3. I, like many of my peers, am a generalist with many specialties. In combat, I've led a tank platoon, commanded a light recon troop, maneuvered in every vehicle/aircraft with the exception of the stryker and little birds, called in indirect and CAS, conducted real world medevacs, partnered with foreign security forces, and sat down with friendly and unfriendly sheiks for tea. Stuff that I never would have phatomed ten years ago. I don't see that as a bad thing. I learned many lessons from each event.

4. It was taught to me a while ago that if you can properly train for HIC, then you can execute any other mission. I think this maxim still holds.


Ken White (not verified)

Fri, 06/04/2010 - 12:19am

Gian's Italian, he emotes. Thus his 'obituary' for Armor is a bit of hyperbole. His basic point is sound -- pop centric COIN is expensive, tedious and long term. it is not a good fit for the USA or for the US Army. 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.

As a young Marine Tanker, I traveled to Korea. Got there on 2 Aug 50, in time to greet the remnants of TF Smith and I agree that is a poor analogy. I will point out however, that the TF had not Armor, when the Army finally got Armor there, it was the M4A3E8 which was easily matched by the T-34 -- while we Marines had M26s...

I think there's a message in there somewhere.

<b>Carl Prine</b> said<blockquote>"...ain't the same as shooting, moving and communicating against a peer force.

So, it's not apparent that you already have. It's apparent that some of what you did was applicable, and some wasn't."</blockquote>Wise words, they bear heeding, not a rather condescending dismissal. He also said:<blockquote>"Term this the luxury of banality, but it's a key factor in how we deter aggression. Should it become a universal perception that American armor isn't what it used to be, that there are asymmetrical means of blunting it, that our formations don't seem particularly impressive as a combined arms capable force, then you end up with what the IDF met in 2006 in southern Lebanon."</blockquote>While I think the IDF corollary is a stretch, the concern about future perceptions is important. We have gone to war too many times because someone though we were too weak or could not, would not respond. Way too many times.<br><br>

<b>Mark Battjes:</b><blockquote>"The results are instructive as well. We qualified everyone on Table VIII reasonably well, but the Table XII platoon qualifications were much more difficult, primarily because none of the NCOs, and certainly not the LTs, had learned how to train to conduct mounted maneuver. They know how to train a squad to enter and clear a building or conduct a dismounted patrol."</blockquote>I've tried to point out for years that Armor overemphasizes both gunnery and maintenance; mostly because those two things nominally give 'objective' scores to rate commanders. I've pointed out to a lot senior tnakers that I've seen no US tanks killed as a result of poor gunnery or maintenance but have seen a bunch killed due to poor tactical employment.

Combat experience is a multiplier, any type counts to an extent -- but do not believe for a second that it can supplant knowing what to do tactically derived from adequate and competent training or type combat experience. The Combat Arms guys at Leavenworth used to say "<i>What we are going to teach you will work on a clear, mild June day in moderately rolling and wooded terrain against a peer opponent provided you have all your equipment and personnel and are fully operational, well trained and have adequate ammunition and fuel. If any of those parameters change, you will have to adapt.</i>" Even wiser words.

<b>Jimmy Smith:</b><blockquote>"...are you familiar with the Army's previous decision to rid the Infantry of different skill identifiers and transition all Infantry to 11B? Thoughts on this transition? Do you think this is dangerous for the infantry? i.e. the idea of a Soldier who has been light infantry for 10 years or so suddenly transitioning to a mechanized infantry unit? I understand this is a different argument, but I would submit that there is an analogous relationship here. That relationship is the fact that a cultural shift took place (in the middle of a major conflict) that involved the branch that was primarily involved in the fighting. This shift involved placing Infantry Soldiers in positions that they were not accustomed too. Thoughts?"</blockquote>You asked that of Carl but I'll also respond as it's a topic near and dear to my heart. In order:

It was an abysmally stupid decision designed to ease the workload at Benning and the Hoffman building.

It did not take place during the war but in fact began in 1999 as a part of "Army Developement, System XXI," a revamp of the personnel system, all ranks. It was officially implemented in 2001 -- that's FY 2001, effective 1 Oct 00.

It did an immense disservice to both the Mechanized Infantry and light infantry communities. The two require quite different mindsets and I've never met a competent and committed member of either community who was happy in the other -- and I've been in both, carried both MOSC in fact (I've also been a 19D and a 11Z/19Z -- those are two very different communities, too...).

The shift did involve placing infantry soldiers in positions they were not accustomed to and the generally adequate performance of most such was a tribute to them and not to our flawed training and even more terribly flawed personnel system. Note I said 'adequate' performance. It was and is -- overall performance was better before that change.

In summary, we prove daily we can make dumb decisions work reasonably decently. This was one of the dumber variety. Just think how much better we could operate if we made fewer dumb decisions...

That said, while I largely disagree with you and generally agree with Gian, I do agree with you that the capability to train for full spectrum operations exists and the kids can absorb it. The more senior folks are the one who will have -- and pose -- difficulties (which I suspect is part of where Carl's coming from). You say:<blockquote>"The only reality that I am concerned with is the present day reality, not the reality you wish we were faced with."</blockquote>The Academy produces good Officers, they're no better than those from other sources until they hit Major, then they start hitting their stride and prove they can be forward thinkers and not unduly concerned with the here and now. Hopefully.

The rest of that paragraph I thought was sort of condescending. However, maybe that's just me so pay it no mind. As an aside, though, many troopies, 11B, 11M, 19D, 19E and others have a strong objection to the use of the term "my soldiers" by any leader or commander. Most who do it would be surprised by the number of their subordinates who find it offensive. I usually point out that A. Lincoln made that 'my' stuff obsolete in 1862 and '63...

Jimmy Smith (not verified)

Thu, 06/03/2010 - 10:28pm

Mike, great memories and even better point. I never knew that you guys had that issue with training in the basic course only to deploy to Kuwait/Iraq shortly thereafter. Wild Bunch boys did one hell of a job. I have always been a proud observer of you and Warren.

Ahh, Carl, more to follow later, but I must say that your fear precludes you. We can argue about anecdotes and case studies forever. Given your opinion of the Army in 1914 and the Army of today, I would ask you to consider some of the basic differences. For example, what kind of Army did we have in WWI? How well was it trained? Hell, what kind of manuals did we use?
Answer: very different than today. Lest you forget, we were borrowing French and British manuals after we deployed from a country that was considered isolationist because we didn't even have our own! I would warn you of waxing poetic about the similarities of the WWI US Army and the Army of today. Not even close. Just look at the basic tactical formations and training used at that time. i.e." Form in a box and go that way! Hope you all have a weapon and know how to use it." You can do better than this comrade!

Comparing the environment of Germany circa WWII to the environment of today? Really? Have you read the news lately?

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.

The only reality that I am concerned with is the present day reality, not the reality you wish we were faced with. By the way, do you hold a vote in Congress? Now I am beginning to understand why they voted for an F-35 engine that the Pentagon doesn't even want. Given the force structure, it baffles me that you are worried that we might not be prepared to face off with any conventional foe in present day or future. And given the kind of leaders that frequent this site and will serve in key billets in the future, I can sleep peacefully at night knowing both the Army and the democracy that supports it will be prepared for this conventional chimera that you are foreboding on the horizon.

As for the intangibles you describe that the French used- call me crazy but that is what I prefer my Soldiers develop, especially when strategic outcomes can be related to squad/platoon level decisions. Micro-managed Soldiers that do only what they are told of and don't think for themselves worked great with respect to the historical anecdotes you highlight previously. The environment is different. Why is that so difficult to process? I am still perplexed at your lack of confidence in our ability to train across the SOC, regardless of branch.


Agree about Task Force Smith.

Both Major Authors:

Agree that the combined arms team is not critically ill and really enjoyed MAJ Smith's most recent post. Our military is far better equipped and combat-experienced today (including National Guard) than at any time in history. If we are to be concerned about the future of Army armor and mechanized forces, perhaps that focus should be in other areas.

Decades-old conflicts should not become the basis for unlikely future war forecasts. Even recent wars have become distorted "lessons." During the 2006 Lebanon war, Israel was never in imminent danger of collapse, combat losses (121) were hardly excessive, and Hezbollah was never a threat to Israel's borders/existence unlike threats of the Yon Kippur or Six-Day War. Israel neither deploys, fights ground battles, nor sustains over any significant distance to be using it as a "hybrid war" example for how to pattern US mechanized forces?

Dire forecasts about combined arms forces appear blind to what the Cold War Army was facing conventionally in Europe. Future threats are minimal compared to yesteryear's Soviets. The sole remaining threat of life-changing consequence involves Russia and China in a nuclear/EMP war... and both are extraordinarily improbable due to MAD, and now mutually assured economic destruction if there was war between us and China. Likewise, the primary threat to Israel today or the U.S. versus China is not threat tanks or hunter-killer teams, but threat long-range rockets/missiles that armor could barely address.

What should concern us is a possibility of moderate to smaller wars with unstable, unpredictable entities. North Korea, Iran, Venezuela, and other non-state fundamentalist extremists are the threat. None of these have major modern armored forces or airpower.

Contingencies such as defense of Taiwan and Ukraine are unlikely as those nations move toward closer relations with adversary neighbors. Arming these nations must be tempered by possible technology compromise should full reunification occur. Our involvement in war between Pakistan and India, or India and China is equally unlikely. Where then do we predict that major tank battles will occur justifying equal fielding of armor and infantry companies in HBCTs? Have we forgotten that lots of other assets can kill enemy armor?

Examine defense budgets to determine which countries might be capable of funding "hybrid" or armored warfare. Contrast that with the lesser cost and risk of threat IEDs and RPGs. How many potential adversaries fund even $10 billion annually versus our normal $550 billion? North Korea and Iran are both below $10 billion, with South Koreas 655,000 active military spending four times as much as the North.

But what about 10-20 years from now, you say. Neither our capabilities, nor our allies will be standing still during that time. We will be fielding thousands of multirole F-35s, UAS/UGV/UUV teamed with manned air/ground/sea systems, better air/missile defenses, more robust space/cyber capabilities, LCS/JHSV, upgraded Stryker, Abrams, GCV, MLRS/HIMARS etc.

No foreseeable adversary can match Abrams TUSK, Block III Apache, F-22/F-35, THAAD/Aegis/SM-3 technology, or carriers/subs... so few bother to try. Would we prefer a highly trained Army going to war in an inferior under-gunned Sherman tank ala WWII? Perhaps technology and greater caution has given us capabilities to fight two wars with 4,000+ casualties over 7-9 years in contrast to 50,000+ over 10 years (or 3 Korea years), or 418,500 over four WWII years? Perhaps there is value in minimizing attacks against enemy civilians and infrastructure to reduce resentment leading to future wars, and to minimize rebuilding costs. Suspect our enemies are more deterred by daunting technological capabilities, rather than exquisite training...but they are hardly incompatible.

Cant the Army be adequately trained using simulators and local training exercises, then fine-tuned through the ARFORGEN training process and CTCs... ready to fight with the worlds best equipment? When our Abrams/Apaches can take out bad guys at 3000-8000 meters, and their tanks must be within 1500 meters and even then wont see as far at night to hit us, who wins regardless if there is an initial relearning curve? If we deploy more rapidly, cant in-theater training and deterrence exist simultaneously?

Similarly, with US/allied stealth advantages, few adversaries can afford or have the know-how to field fighter airpower/air defenses. They cant lock onto our aircraft even if they see them which somewhat defeats the "quantity has a quality all its own" argument. So threats have shifted to rocket/missiles forces as an airpower substitute. Expensive technology is pricing old style ground, sea, and air combat warfare out of the range of most enemies... so threats turn to asymmetric capabilities and guerilla warfare. Sane threats avoid conflict with us entirely, as we should avoid conflict with them. The nutjobs should be our primary concern. Only they present the undeterred possibility of mass casualties through smuggled WMDs.

Unstable threats can be made more stable by safeguarding those areas where the enemy will attempt to damage our technological advantage and by assuring we can credibly respond to any contingency rapidly. Could we get a large armored force to South Korea in a timely fashion and would the mountainous and rice-paddy terrain even support that force? South Koreas better-equipped military is more than up to task with our help.

Who wants to be aboard a Marine amphibious or Army prepositioning ship sailing into the Black Sea or trying to retake an already conquered Taiwan? Would we better off to get a smaller air-deployed Stryker/light mix battalion task force on the ground IN DAYS as a tripwire, with Marine and Army air-deployed heavy/light task forces to follow IN A WEEK, as at least three Army heavy BCTs arrive aboard ships IN A MONTH or less.

Once in theater, adaptable/flexible combat arms leaders-and-led require both training and technology to win battles and initial warfighting campaigns. But expect that following combined arms defensive/offensive phases, a period of stability operations will ensue requiring MRAP/M-ATV and diplomatic/JIIM clear-hold-build capabilities not currently organic to BCTs.

The U.S./allies have unmatched airlift capabilities to deploy small armored combat elements. We should not preclude future airlift scenarios like Bashur in northern Iraq and Diego Garcia-to-Afghanistan by overloading combat vehicles to the point that only one vehicle fits per C-17, none fit aboard an A-400M, and fewer fit in the hold of a JHSV. We shouldnt increase ground refueler risk through excessive trips to resupply behemoths over ambush and IED-riddled MSRs. There are finite JHSV, RO/RO, prepositioning, and fast sealift ships and HBCTs are not the USAF or Navy's sole customer for getting cargo/fuel/ammo to theater.

WWII tank battles were not won with impenetrable U.S. or Russian armor, were barely supported by the Red Ball Express, and required years to get to theater and mount an invasion. German armor did lose in part due to lack of fuel as well as tanks too heavy and maintenance-intensive for winter conditions. Armor wasnt a significant factor in the Pacific, just as it would not be today.

Caution must be exercised not to use selective historical precedence to justify outdated mechanized force armor requirements, status quo HBCT fuel consumption rates (or worse since other vehicles are armored now too), and slow-motion sea deployment when facing anti-access strategies and expensive, scarce oil supplies in realistic future contingencies.

Armored forces must be relevant in contingencies lasting weeks rather than the months it would take them to get to war/shore. If there are subsequent months and years of fighting and stability ops, that armored force should not impose undue burdens given extended and often treacherous supply routes. If armor cant deploy rapidly and be supported once deployed, Presidents will hesitate to employ it.

Given that airborne forcible entry is also somewhat the endangered species, the Army's toolbox may diminish. A greater willingness to acquiesce or embrace the EBO/AirSea Battle route may result leaving the Army largely irrelevant despite its prominence in todays conflicts.

While we are fixing armor and cavalry ;), fix outdated concepts of reconnaissance and security to make it more persistent employing teamed unmanned ground and air systems controlled by ground mech and aviation forces.

Just my personal views.


Thu, 06/03/2010 - 9:10pm

I'm still a little flummoxed.

You seem to want it both ways. You seem to want to conflate JAM into the second coming of the Waffen SS to prove lessons learned across the spectrum in 2007 and yet suggest that there never shall be a peer to the Waffen SS again.

You seem to accept that a very professional, near-peer armored force encountered a great deal of problems with a hybrid foe in southern Lebanon in 2006 -- perhaps partly by being unprepared because of years of constabulary occupation duties -- but say that realizing this problem is sufficent and, oh well, we've still got to fight the wars we're in, taking armor away from its traditional roles and fighting to the strengths of the irregular enemy in the streets of Khalidiyah, Mosul, Kandahar, Ramadi and Baghdad.

I hesitate to pick a potential enemy that might require the abuse of America's competent, lethal and prepared heavy armor force because history has a habit of playing the predictor for a fool.

After the US and Soviet tanks stabbed into the heart of Germany in 1945, I'm not sure that even a soul as wise as Dwight D. Eisenhower would've predicted that U.S. tanks would be needed in Korea against our former ally, now Soviet chums, only a few years later -- another one of those proxy wars fought on the edges of nuclear holocaust.

He also probably didn't imagine that he would need to use diplomacy to stop a French, British and Israeli armored thrust into the Sinai in 1956, having never encountered a free nation of Israel or Egypt.

Verily an invasion of North Korea would be a problem. But I'd rather do it with a halfway competent, trained and experienced armored element than I would a gaggle of tea-sipping strategic corporals who have learned how to politely inquire about a sheikh's goat but not his daughter.

Within my former USMC, there's a great deal of debate transpiring about the utility of projecting force from the sea. When was the last time someone needed to land ashore under fire? they ask. Who shall be the recipient of this Marine landing team?

I don't know, but I suggest the USMC has decided it isn't a core competency that they want to lose, even while fighting these endemic wars amongst the people overseas, perhaps because they realize that they learned how to do this SO THAT THEY COULD FIGHT ENDEMIC WARS OVERSEAS.

In other words, kicking open the door remains just as important -- not less -- than occupying the room. Have we become so used to sitting around on Iraqi and Afghan furniture that all we can do now is politely knock and hope a foe opens up for us?

Military evolution is important. But it's important to note that evolution shouldn't be assumed to be progressive. There are some creatures that become so specialized that they evolve themselves out of existence and some fauna that adapt to so many generalized elements that other beasts take over their niches, and they wither away.

The purpose of armor isn't to subsist bureaucratically as a discipline in and of itself. It's designed to solve certain battlefield problems -- alongside the combined arms -- that certain disciplines can't solve alone.

The trend in the Army seems to be toward generalist forces led by generalist officers(and, frankly, too damned many generalist generals). But there might be something said for retaining branch competencies and perhaps a better scrutiny of whether armor is achieving those special maneuvers and fires standards, not just in the future but today.

The reality is that this data exists. The data are compiled at NTC and other training nodes in our networked military-industrial complex. We likely can determine fairly readily what skills soldiers at various levels are mastering, and which ones they're forgetting, what sort of armored soldiers we're recruiting, and how well they're being prepared for leadership in the branch.

My beef is that no one produces these data. Instead we've decided to rely on anecdote and case studies that might or might not have merit.

My other concerns might include a certain rosy perspective about the survivability and efficacy of Strykers as replacements for other armored assets in HIC/HIW; an inability to seriously analyze the "intangibles" of combat leadership apparently being learned today; and perhaps a heady estimation of how effective FA and other disciplines would be against a peer force today after so many years of clearing IEDs or guarding prisons.

You better than anyone realize that discussing this issue with MAJs in other branches typically produces a range of opinions on the subject, many of which don't assume that vital skills aren't being lost.

Beware of assuming these neo-colonial wars amongst the people shall prepare you for high intensity bloodletting. For much of the late 19th century, the only place a French soldier could hear shots fired in anger were in North Africa and other colonies.

That's why nearly the entire French high command in 1914 were culled from the ranks of colonial officers: Joffre, Gallieni, d'Esperey, Mangin, Gourad, Grandmaison. It was an army that prided itself on rapid innovation, on "going native" to empathize with people and the enemy while adapting to defeat them.

But it was the very different peoples encountered, all the different sorts of terrain and the many self-transformations by the generals guiding the campaigns that led to very few tactical lessons becoming applicable for high-intensity combat against the Germans.

None of this is orginal. It's the stuff of Douglas Porch, the heady writings of Grandmaison, Michel, et al. They would be the first to say that, like you, the qualities learned in overseas combat amongst the people were invaluable and could be transferred to Europe, most especially the concept of elan.

But if we substitute what the French masters wrote about a "conquering" or "offensive" spirit learned in irregular colonial wars then and replaced such words with "pentathlete leadership" or any of the combinations of "initiative, judgment, awareness, decision-making, loyalty, and trust," one actually could be reading the same pages.

And that's terrifying, because the French "conquering" spirit broke itself on the teeth of Verdun just as surely as the generalist lessons harvested from COIN could splatter an armored battalion attempting a breach across parts of North Korea or Iran.

An army might be willing to take that risk. But a democracy that loves its army won't.

Mike Few (not verified)

Thu, 06/03/2010 - 8:58pm

Looks like we got a reunion going on here. I suppose that I shouldn't have started the sophmoric trash talking. We're supposed to be professional and mature now that we're field grades. Too bad we can't just jab over who the real tankers are- 3 ID or 1 CAV.

"We need you on that Commander's Independent Thermal Viewer. We want you on that Commander's Independent Thermal Viewer."

Carl- we're all 3ID. We rolled old school with M1A1's :). In fact, my tank was the 99th one ever made.

Mark B-

I was thinking about your issue at gunnery today. Despite the pain and the difficulties, y'all managed to train your boys. That's leadership. No one said it would be easy, but you did it. Our manuals are pretty specific on how to boresight, train, etc, and we can always hire retired master gunners to provide additional training.

As far as maneuver goes, IMO, maneuver is maneuver. In the basic course, we learned on HMMWVs not tanks b/c of budget constraints. We still learned the fundamentals. Now, leaders are getting to do real combat patrols, and I think that will carry us over.

Jimmy- you're gonna have to look Carl up on FB. He has, in his own words, "the" small wars page there. It's pretty good stuff.

And the Lord looked around all he people and asked, "Whom shall I send?"


Jimmy Smith (not verified)

Thu, 06/03/2010 - 8:32pm

PS- Carl, the first round is on me if we ever meet.

Jimmy Smith (not verified)

Thu, 06/03/2010 - 8:13pm

Carl, I applaude you for the motivational speech. Thanks for supporting my need for a CITV. Ha! That said, as a Marine, I am also curious to your thoughts of your Corps evolutionary transition during WWII? I must say that coming from a Marine, your much needed perspective is perceived ironic. A military service that has found itself evolving and adapting throughout history with an ambassador as yourself unwilling to recognize this? I'm perplexed.
I would also be curious to get the perspective of Soldiers that served in 1/3 ID, 1st CAV, 1st AD, 2/3 ACR from 1995-2002 who spent time strictly preparing for the Krasnovians. During this questionable time period, these units actually prepared and deployed for real world conflict, albeit, Peacekeeping and Enforcement in addition to preparing for General War. Not to be a doctrine nerd, but these simple examples demonstrate the ability to conduct FSO since they were the same units involved in tactical and operational examples of high intensity conflict in Iraq (as heavy forces).
As for deterrence and the Iraqi Republican Guard being less than a peer force-
I think you have answered your own previous dilemma in addition to reiterating Jim M's response: What peer force are you talking about? China? Really? If that is the case, you might want to look into auditing an global economics course. Heading due East into Iran? Really? I implore you to examine the strategic implications of that, (PS- don't forget how Israel will be involved). North Korea? That might be a challenge. Suffice to say, they need to ensure that they can eat first and their equipment is operational enough to leave the motorpool without stalling. Also, I would suggest looking at the Armor tactics (or lack thereof) in Korea from 1950-1953. If you consider "fire and roll," i.e. set a tank on a hilltop and serve as a pill box is fire and maneuver, then I stand corrected and will stand down. Russia? Maybe, the Fulda Gap is still there. They did invade South Ossetia a nearly two years ago. A brilliant exposition of Russian armored tactics by the way. No, not really, as displayed by the vehicles and equipment strewn across major avenues of approach. I would also suggest thinking about the recent announcement of our tactical nuclear arsenal and those implications on a General War with Russia. It is uncanny how the nuclear arsenals during the b-ipolar Cold War led to to the lack of a conventional campaign over the last 60 years. Maybe it's just coincidence though.
Now, I must say, there was the Yom Kippur War which deserves merit with respect to your admiration of GEN DePuy. I would also agree that the Active Defense Doctrine was a watershed for our Army, but for many different reasons that you might consider. Namely, it was a doctrine created by one man. The mere idea of our dialogue continuing right now would have been crushed during this period. It was a doctrine that emphasized technical aspect of war. One page on leadership, the rest? Technical employment of weapons systems. Win the first battle! Fight outnumbered and win! Great points...if you are fighting the Russians at the Fulda Gap. It was a doctrine strictly created on the Yom Kippur War and the lethality of the tank. Of course this is important reasoning to prepare an Army for another Yom Kippur. Unfortunately, that is not the reality we lived in then, nor the reality we live in now. It is a conflict with highly catastrophic results but the most unlikely conflict that we have faced historically, currently face, or will face in the future. If the Iraqi Republican Guard is not a peer competitor in today's environment, please let me know who is.
Given my laymen's perspective of the global environment, I do perceive weak and failing states such as Iraq, Afghanistan, Somalia, Sudan, Yemen, Nigeria, and (still) elements of Eastern Europe as potential places where our military forces could be be deployed (if not already). And these places would include armored forces, but primarily Cavalry Forces; which brings me to another point. As a former Marine, Carl, I know you are well aware of the importance of military evolution. Thus, it appears that conflict just might be evolving to a new stage? I believe it is a threat that employs abnormal, unexpected TTPs in order to thrive in a uni-polar world (presently). That said, it might just be prudent for the Armored branch to maintain a running estimate of these changes to ensure we adapt with it. Could that mean that the armor community might ebb, and the Cavalry community might flow? Maybe the idea of training Soldiers to gain and maintain contact along with shooting, moving and communicating might be beneficial in this community? I must say that I agree with the MG Milano (head of the Armor Branch, Fort Knox, en route to Fort Benning) that we are a Cavalry Branch, with an Armor contingent. Is that so difficult to imagine right now? Does this mean we have lost our core competencies? Absolutely not. Just read the excerpts throughout SWJ from officers across branches and services who recognize and understand how their respective element needs to succeed in the current environment while ensuring that we don't hit the 2006 Hezbollah-IDF repeat button. I had the humble opportunity to listen with officers who came to speak in my class last semester (company, battalion and brigade) about this conflict. They recognize the need to prepare for both Conventional and Irregular Warfare. The key is the the leaders need to recognize every level. Unfortunately, I do not believe we have the option to choose our OPTEMPO right now. Maybe with the draw down in Iraq, we might in the near future. We have all elected to defend the constitution and serve our country in any capacity we can, even if that means dismounting from our tank for a period of time. I think our Soldiers are more than capable in accomplishing this mission. A mission that there country has asked them to do. And I think leaders at every level recognize the need to accomplish the mission instead of relenting about what we would rather do.
I am grateful to the Marines. They have provided beacon of hope that highlights how militaries can evolve and ultimately have even more successful outcomes, even if just cultural. I think the Armor branch, dare I say, the CAV branch, can do the same. Carl my friend, fight the enemy, not the plan.

Last note, if this administration does consider participating in General War any time soon, then, I would predict it will not be an immediate decision. Just as we prepared for our last High Intensity Conflict...or maybe it was just the first phase of C-H-B on a grand scale, we did not execute any offensive operations until conditions were set for success. Why would the next General War scenario be any different?

Thanks again Carl. I truly enjoy the dialogue and can happily say that I agree to disagree with you....even though GEN DePuy would be rolling over in his grave right now with all this banter! All the best my friend.


Thu, 06/03/2010 - 5:23pm

I'm quite familiar with the infantry because it was my MOS. I made an even more drastic transition, which was from the active duty USMC to the Pennsylvania Army National Guard for service in OIF.

But that's another story about my own private TF Smith. Suffice it to say that the USMC has a certain edge.

The reality -- as I've stated publicly elsewhere -- is that I'm not convinced that infantry competencies are too challenged by sliding left toward COIN. The rudiments of moving, shooting and communicating wouldn't look too different at this range of the spectrum than they might in a more HIC (or HIW) environment. I suggest that should the ghost of William Depuy descend on a squad thinking and moving as one in Marjah or Mosul today, he would recognize it, and that "medium" and "light" units have managed to transition well enough because they started from a base of competency that's not too compromised by the latest sitrep.

The sad thing, of course, is that I'm not sure any officer commanding those soldiers would recognized William DePuy.

Regardless, at the lowest levels he would see that the way squads and fireteams and even platoons operate against JAM or the various Taliban militias, approximating in some way a peer armament and, in some instances, training, and surmise that have kept their skills and have seen them tested often.

I suspect that armor is a different creature for the simple reason that TF Sparta and others -- while performing admirably in Iraq and elsewhere -- didn't face a force with tracks or even anything armored-piercing except ersatz mines, bombs and, sometimes, rockets.

JAM wasn't a peer or even a near-peer for armored formations. We can't use them as an example. They weren't in 2004. They still weren't in 2007.

I also seem to recall that the Iraqi armor units fielded in 2003 weren't the same lethal beasts that existed in 1991. I believe that it's quite difficult to consider them as peers.

Verily, the "Thunder Run" succeeded. But could the USMC have done the same with their even less robust armored forces? In a sense, they did "Thunder Run" rolls through the cities they took in 2003, but the Marines aren't suggesting that they faced a peer force.

And consider me callow, but I also seem to recall that most armored units in the USA were not engaged in peacekeeping operations from 1995 to 2002, but rather spent most of their days perfecting their core competencies as armored units, doing the sorts of schools, training and constant immersion in the craft that made them the embodiment of late 20th century blitzkrieg.

Maybe constantly preparing for Fulda Gap showdowns didn't hone their skills at sipping three cups of tea with a bearded fellow in mandress, but it ensured that our democracy had a robust, lethal, highly competent officer and NCO corps capable of not only tearing Saddam a new one in 1990-91 but coming back a dozen years later to do it again to his much depleted force.

While I agree that there are some very important skills that have been learned from combat in Iraq and Afghanistan, including the development of pentathlete leaders, I don't believe that the case studies provided make an apt comparison to what might transpire in HIC (or HIW, take your pick) with a near-peer force or even a hybrid foe that isn't as afraid of US armor and combined arms as he once was.

I don't like to speak for Gian, but he seems to want to cheat toward a focus on HIC because failing at COIN doesn't carry the same lethal risks to a unit as screwing the Clash of the Titans pooch. I'm not unconvinced that this isn't a bad idea.

Previously, however, I chided Gian for failing to use available statistics that we can cull from training cycles at NTC and other fora. We actually can make some effort to compare how well units are performing at core competencies we assume that they might need in the future.

If we don't want to study that, or if we now assume that these skills are unnecessary, then you are right. We no longer need you.

Report to the nearest reserve civil affairs unit so that we might make use of some of your skills.

But I'm not ready to cut those orders, and I trust that my democracy isn't, too. We need you on that Commander's Independent Thermal Viewer. We want you on that Commander's Independent Thermal Viewer.

Jimmy Smith (not verified)

Thu, 06/03/2010 - 4:18pm

Great to see the debate continue, especially from so many fellow Spartans.

Mike F- thanks for the input. At the time of print, we actually thought COL G. and decided to put the debate to rest which ultimately led to our decision to write the article. Glad to see you are up on the net and part of the debate!

Jim M- thanks for illuminating on additional thoughts that were not considered/included in the article. Definitely well worth adding and monitoring as other HBCTs could potentially deploy without their equipment. I also agree that there is a lack of strategic perspective when discussing "peer threats." The strategic projection power of the Navy and Air Force appears to be remiss.

Carl/Todd- I really appreciate the rebuttals. Carl, I seem to be taking a liking to you. I must kindly demur with your analysis. I do think it is well thought out though! May I start with a question- are you familiar with the Army's previous decision to rid the Infantry of different skill identifiers and transition all Infantry to 11B? Thoughts on this transition? Do you think this is dangerous for the infantry? i.e. the idea of a Soldier who has been light infantry for 10 years or so suddenly transitioning to a mechanized infantry unit? I understand this is a different argument, but I would submit that there is an analogous relationship here. That relationship is the fact that a cultural shift took place (in the middle of a major conflict) that involved the branch that was primarily involved in the fighting. This shift involved placing Infantry Soldiers in positions that they were not accustomed too. Thoughts? My point here is that there are cultural shifts all the time. I believe the conflict that we prepared for has changed when we first joined as junior officers How? There are more types of conflict we need to prepare for (see previous rebuttal). I agree with Mark B. regarding how we need to ensure that we are fully prepared for this kind of conflict also. This is something we all can personally influence. Yes, we have less Soldiers prepared the technical and procedural responsibilities of their job. However, the wealth of combat experience, the realism and maturity that is developed through these combat experiences should be considered when faced with training a veteran force with less than ideal technical experience on their platforms. Soldiers' capabilities to operate on multiple different platforms (HMWWV, Stryker, MRAP, MATV, M2, M1, etc) in a combat environment is worth recognizing.
You also mention the incapability of shifting from left to right along the Spectrum of Conflict. May I ask then, what did 2BDE, 3ID (consisting of 1-64, the primary unit employed in both Thunder Runs) do from OCT 2000 to April 2003? Secondly, were they successful at their mission in April 2003?
I agree with you that Armor serves as a terrific deterrent especially during the 1990s. Although if my mind serves me correct, I believe that majority of Armored and Cavalry Soldiers were involved in Peacekeeping/Enforcment operations, i.e. Bosnia, Kosovo, Macedonia (1995-2002) etc, except of course for that 100 hours in FEB 91. Carl, I don't disagree with you regarding the deterrence of the armored force, but I am befuddled by your logic. By no means am I suggesting that we should not consider one aspect or another along the Spectrum of Conflict. The fact that we examine "The 2006 IDF-Hezbollah War, We Were Caught Unprepared" by Matt Matthews in college classrooms highlights the importance that both conventional and irregular conflict needs to be addressed, and provides future decision-makers with the critical evidence to determine the best possible COAs for future training and readiness. However, by limiting the capabilities of our force, or failing to recognize that we must first deal with the current threat, we as Cav and Armor Officers just might define ourselves out of a job.

That said, thanks agains for your input and look forward to future dialogue. Send Me!

Steve (not verified)

Thu, 06/03/2010 - 2:49pm


Not in the same sense that we were after World War II. There are units that are not up to authorized levels, but I would challenge you to find one that faced the same sorts of issues that units immediately after WW2 faced. And that was the climate that created TF Smith. That's why I object on historical grounds to the comparison. There are better out there (some from Vietnam, like the first operations of the 199th LIB).


Thu, 06/03/2010 - 2:29pm

"nor are we maintaining skeletonized units with poor morale and second-rate equipment"

Except where we are.

Mark Battjes (not verified)

Thu, 06/03/2010 - 1:18pm

It is good to see so many former Spartans engaged in such an important debate. I applaud Jimmy, Mike, and Jim for staying engaged and feel the need to add my own comments.

I don't feel that COL Gentile has given up the fight, and I think that one critical point that his article made is being overlooked. Do we have now in the Armor branch, or heavy portion of the Infantry branch, the junior leaders (SGTs, SSGs, SFCs, LTs, and CPTs) who know how to train to conduct heavy combined arms maneuver?

I worry less about whether we will be able to train 18-24 year olds to be able to hit targets with an M1 or M2. I worry far more about whether or not a SSG can develop a plan to train his section to not only shoot gunnery, but also conduct mounted maneuver.

My own experience as a company commander training a company to shoot gunnery for the first time without significant training experience in my formation (1 x SFC MG and only a handful of NCOs who had ever shot gunnery) is instructive. We got through it with brute force and ignorance, but it was a lot more painful than it should have been. The results are instructive as well. We qualified everyone on Table VIII reasonably well, but the Table XII platoon qualifications were much more difficult, primarily because none of the NCOs, and certainly not the LTs, had learned how to train to conduct mounted maneuver. They know how to train a squad to enter and clear a building or conduct a dismounted patrol.

Overall, I agree with the authors' point that the Armor corps will ultimately survive and thrive. However, it will require the active efforts of BN CDRs and S3/XOs with significant training experience to show a lot of young CPTs, LTs, and NCOs who are long on combat experience, but short on training experience, how to go about training a tank platoon or scout platoon. Somehow we have to rebuild the training capabilities of our junior leaders, something that we were very good at before we had to quickly train up for repeat combat tours.

Steve (not verified)

Thu, 06/03/2010 - 11:10am

I'm actually getting very tired of all the impending "TF Smith" comparisons, since they ignore the historical realities that created TF Smith in the first place. We are not fielding a large conscript army that will be downsized in a matter of months following the end of hostilities, nor are we maintaining skeletonized units with poor morale and second-rate equipment. Both of those factors contributed greatly to the climate that created TF Smith.

What I see is something more akin to Vietnam, at least from the "Army as an institution" point of view. Comb old issues of Armor and Infantry magazines and you'll find similar COIN warnings interspersed with the "boots on the ground"-style articles. And it's happening again now. But will we repeat the post-Vietnam mistake of shedding all our new lessons?

Todd Justice (not verified)

Thu, 06/03/2010 - 10:27am

I am in total agreement that we need leaders (senior and junior) who have an understanding of counterinsurgency/peacekeeping/stability operations. Obviously that is the fight we are currently in. I think the issue is that culturally we are moving too far away from our core competency. Unfortunately it has more to do with the current state/circumstances we are in with mission, force structure, deployment cycle etc. Having spent a lot of time in the last few years around GOs as an aide I know they are all aware of these issues and are struggling with thinking up creative ways to tackle them.

BUT. If we have Bradley, tank and howitzer crews that aren't competent at their core skills then we are failing our Army. Do we need to worry about a Fulda Gap type scenario in the next few years? Probably not. But what about ten years from now? When today's LTs and SGTs are the Field Grade Officers and Senior NonComs? Could 3rd ID execute a Thunder Run tomorrow if tasked? Sure. However, even in 2003, with a unit well versed in HIC and proficient across the board it was a close run thing (ref 15th IN's fight). Such a fight today would probably be bloodier, mostly due to junior leaders failing to do a good job of integrating fires and fighting a combined arms fight. As leaders we tend to put a lot of faith in our technology/firepower. That is just an American historical norm. But there are plenty of balancers on the battlefield these days. Just having the strongest tank or the most accurate artillery piece isn't enough. Read up on Israels fight with Hezbollah in 2006 for a perfect example. You have to have competent crews and you need leaders who understand how to properly integrate them. And in todays battlefield environment, it isn't something that you can learn as you are collapsing the perimeter around Pusan.

Bottom line: I understand where we are and how we got here. Sadly I have to admit we have probably done the best we could do given the circumstances/constraints. But culturally I see a disturbing shift toward an acceptance that this is just the way it is. Speaking as a Soldier who served in a time when the Army was much better prepared for full spectrum operations than it is now, I believe a wake up call is in order. Hopefully it will come from within the Army rather than from outside.


Thu, 06/03/2010 - 10:14am

That makes no sense.

One can't claim full-spectrum capabilities and never push toward the right. Shiite irregulars during the so-called "Surge" did not approximate even remotely what a peer enemy would bring to the conventional battlefield.

Part of the reason why America did not have to fight those belligerent peers in the 1990s (beyond, obviously, Desert Storm) was because it was perceived that the U.S. Army had an unbeatable combined arms approach to warfighting, one that was punctuated by the raw power of the heavy armor ground assault.

Term this the luxury of banality, but it's a key factor in how we deter aggression. Should it become a universal perception that American armor isn't what it used to be, that there are asymmetrical means of blunting it, that our formations don't seem particularly impressive as a combined arms capable force, then you end up with what the IDF met in 2006 in southern Lebanon.

To suggest that armor has shown an ability to slide left on the spectrum gives no one a warm nor a fuzzy about drastically gliding to the right and fighting a brutal, kinetic brawl. This is true of other branches, too, such as field artillery, which would be required to play some role as the King of Battle in a conventional setting.

To shrug and bemoan the lack of any peer force or fail to imagine any scenario in which armor might be used with some utility also strikes me as odd. History is replete with examples of nations being quickly pressed to project overwhelming ground power, be that of France in 1914, Israel in 2006 or TF Smith and the 24th infantry in 1950.

One might find certain lessons in these case studies about imperfect assumptions about the nature of the wars, incorrect assessments about how one's own forces will measure up when it matters and how well other duties overseas(constabulary, typically,or irregular operations) prepared the armies for a different kind of battle.

While there's much in this essay that is right and should be said, I'm not convinced that either the cavalry branch or others have demonstrated in OIF and OEF an ability to shift magically back and forth across the spectrum. In fact, I am convinced it's a dangerous assumption that could lead to disaster later.

Hi Jimmy,

Okay, I was wrong. It won't be the last time. BTW, I'm glad to see you writing.

Here's my revised thoughts.

1. I don't think COL Gentile is sulking. I think that he's playing an important role in the on-going debate. Case in point is his recent call for a review of FM 3-24 in his essay debate with Nagl in JFQ.

2. As y'all stated, the Armor Corps is not dead. Some of the best and most thoughtful leaders out of these wars (Nagl, McMasters, Gentile, Niel Smith, you, and so many others) are Armor officers. To not acknowledge that fact is just ludicrious.

3. WHEN we are forced to go back to a high-intensity conflict, this debate will be moot.

Ok, I hope that makes up for my last junior varsity posting.


Jimmy Smith (not verified)

Thu, 06/03/2010 - 12:19am

Thanks to all for the comments. I will try to respond accordingly.

Mike Few- glad to hear from you and great to see you are watching the FX channel. Insightful stuff, eh? As for the response, I will defer to Mr. Burgoyne. Enough said. I do appreciate the patronage though and recommend checking out COL Gentile's article if you can pull away from that terrific show!

Jay, completely understand your comments. Thank you. I believe the comment might have been taken out of context though. I will allow MAJ Harbridge to illuminate (when he gets out of the field). Mea Culpa.

Redactor- good to know that debate will continue! Obviously got a little worried.

Carl- valid point. Definitely worth considering. Thanks. However, not sure if I agree with you. If that was the case then I submit that coalition forces would have successfully dealt with JAM shortly after Sadr established it in AUG 03. Yes, it appears it is much more than shooting, moving and communicating...much, much more that we are asking of Soldiers to consider especially when considering the second and third order effects of dealing with non-state actors. I actually would have preferred to only worry about shooting, moving and communicating when dealing with JAM. That would have made my job much less nebulous. I would also ask you to consider other MFE branches that have successfully shifted back and forth across the spectrum of conflict. Is the Armor branch incapable of this? Yes, we are asking a great deal of our junior leaders. Maybe more that we can grasp because when I was in there shoes (pre 9/11), the focus was primarily enemy and geographic terrain oriented and my peace-keeping experience was simply a bump in the General Warfare road. From a Realist perspective, it almost seems even though peacekeeping/enforcement was the bulk of the Army's mission during the nineties, it was simply a by-product of preparing for General War. That also leads to the idea that in the 90s, heavy forces successfully prepared for conflict across the spectrum even if that conflict was antithetical. (See article for examples).
Now we are asking newly minted leaders to consider so much more regardless of respective deployment location. Maybe I am shortsighted, but I do consider merit in the adage that we should focus on conflict we are presently faced with, not the type we prefer. Thus, I would suggest that the emphasis for heavy and light forces will ebb and flow. As leaders that historically emphasize heavy forces, we can truly be flexible enough to adapt?

Todd- thanks very much for such a detailed response! Was not expecting such consideration. I still owe you, but need to digest it first.

Thanks again to all,

Jim Marckwardt (not verified)

Wed, 06/02/2010 - 11:55pm

I agree that "Doing it against JAM ain't the same as shooting, moving and communicating against a peer force", however the US does not have an immediate "peer threat" that requires all of our undivided attention. If one considers North Korea or Iran a peer threat, in both scenarios we would be on the offensive moving into their territory which would inevitably require COIN implementation. If the threat is China, a cross ocean invasion by either side seems very unlikely in the foreseeable future. The question is how do we balance the force between HIC and COIN, and the Army is balancing the force well considering all of the operational requirements. With the drawdown of forces in Iraq, the "Heavy Force" will have more opportunities to focus on the fundamentals of high intensity conflict, which they should, that is their core competency. However, as the article so clearly articulates, the Army cannot afford all heavy forces to focus only on High Intensity Conflict and thereby loose the intangible combat experience that cannot be replicated even in the best training environments. It will be interesting to see how 1st Brigade, 4th Infantry Division (a heavy BCT) adapts to take on an area of operation that has been managed by a light brigade combat team in Afghanistan. The lessons learned will help our discussion even further.

The article does a great job at demonstrating the importance of continuing the debate. That is the only way we will find the right balance in our force.

Jim Marckwardt


Wed, 06/02/2010 - 7:53pm

'This does not even take into account similar operations that took place by Heavy Brigades during the 2007 Iraq Surge. So you ask, "Could we do it?" It is apparent that we already have.'

Doing it against JAM ain't the same as shooting, moving and communicating against a peer force.

So, it's not apparent that you already have. It's apparent that some of what you did was applicable, and some wasn't.

Todd Justice (not verified)

Wed, 06/02/2010 - 6:33pm

I have to throw my two cents in behind COL Gentile and agree that we (the US Army) are on a very slippery slope to a TF Smith moment in our future.

First some personal background that I hope will lend some credence to my comments. I enlisted in 1988 and participated in Operations Just Cause and Desert Shield/Storm while serving in an infantry battalion of the 82nd. Practically my entire chain of command above 0-5/E-8 were Vietnam veterans. Our units were trained hard and standards were high, focusing on the squads, teams, and crews that serve on the sharp end. This was toward the end of the Cold War era and we still trained against the Red Threat. Every field exercise ended with a BN/BDE level anti-armor defense. Very conventional, very straight forward. In both of my "real world" deployments my battalion transitioned from full bore combat operations (the right side of the spectrum, gentlemen) to peace keeping/occupation duties within a week of being committed to combat (the left side). Transitions that were executed flawlessly with clear guidance on intent and mission. The real kernel of valuable truth about 3IDs "Thunder Run" was that they were able to successfully execute "Major Combat Operations" and successfully transition to counterinsurgency operations weeks if not days later. All with officers and NCOs at Company Grade and above who were trained in the 90's, who cut their teeth on conventional battlefield training exercises.

After college I reentered the service as an infantry LT and was once again reassigned to an infantry battalion of the 82nd. I served there in the mid-late 90's as a rifle/scout PL, Co XO and AS3. The training my battalion conducted looked very much like the training I had experienced in the late 80's although with more awareness of COBs, NGOs, and counterinsurgency type operations after the Army's experiences in Panama and Somalia. Once again units of the Army, trained in conventional tactics at JRTC and NTC as well as home station, were deployed to the Balkans to serve in peace keeping/enforcement roles at which they excelled.

Due to family reasons I left the service in late 1999. However, my brother in law (a fellow PL in my BN) stayed on active duty and ended up a Company Commander in 4ID during OIF I. Through him and other sources I was able to keep my finger on the pulse of the Army. I reentered the Army in 2006 as an Infantry Officer and was promoted to CPT in 2008. After I served for a year in Afghanistan as a PRT S3 (hard to get more counterinsurgency than that) I attended the Maneuver Captains Career Course at Ft Benning.

Most of the curriculum in the MCCC, by design I think, is focused on "General War" (the really DARK red part of the spectrum). I was appalled at my fellow Captains lack of knowledge on how to conduct conventional combined operations. Then I started asking questions. Most of them had entered the Army in 2005/6, two to three years after the 9-11 attacks. Deployment cycles, IED defeat, KLEs, and Cordon and Search they understood. They had no concept of what a Threat Motorized Rifle Platoon might look like, much less how it would fight. And that is the key: FIGHT. That is what our Army's Combat Arms are for, first and foremost. We are all smart people or we wouldn't be at the pay grade we are at. Adaptable and flexible are mainstays on every OER. Unfortunately, a rifle platoon (or tank platoon) can only be so successful at winning hearts and minds. That expectation has to be kept under control and realistic. A rifle company on an independent COP in a doctrinal brigade sized AO just isnt going to have a whole lot of lasting, permanent effect. No matter how much tea the CO drinks. However, an infantry battalion that has to deploy to Georgia to stop aggression from one of its neighbors and establish a defense a'la TF Smith, needs to know how to do so. And for those of you who have never done it, its a helluva lot more complicated than "Put your machine gun here." Not going to happen? If anyone had told me in DEC 1999 that within 24 months the US would be thrust into an 8+ year conflict I would have never gotten out. Who can say where we will be fighting 24 months from now?

In the 80's and 90's our Army prided itself on being a flexible, adaptable force. But underlying that premise was that you needed soldiers and leaders who could do the hard stuff first and foremost. The easier stuff (read lower threat) would simply require a slower trigger finger and a faster mouth. And it worked, over and over again, in Panama, Somalia, the Balkans, and OIF/OEF. Our Combat Arms units have to be combat ready infantry, armor and artillery organizations first and foremost. Everything else is just a puke yellow color on the pretty chart.

Mike Burgoyne

Wed, 06/02/2010 - 3:36pm


The "so what" is that they are giving a contrasting response to COL Gentiles obituary of the Armor Corps. I think they make a good case as to why the situation isnt as grim as was depicted in COL Gentiles article and why there is potential for an even more capable mounted force in the future.

Mike Burgoyne

Mike Few (not verified)

Wed, 06/02/2010 - 12:08am

I'll start it this way. In a way that hurts.

On a professional level, Jimmy Smith is a good buddy of mine. He commanded after the Thunder Runs, and he went to NPS for the NSA department. I consider Jimmy someone that I respect. On a personal level, Jimmy is a good dude, and I will debate otherwise.

On either level, and I hope that he will respect and respond,

"So what?" to his article.

I could have garnered the same insight from watching FX's Justified.

Mike Few

Jay Deeney

Tue, 06/01/2010 - 11:42pm

Your commentary about the importance of embracing differing perspectives is timely and worth reflecting on. Informed debate is critical to success in planning for, and operating in, today's operational environment.

However, as an Airman currently assigned to CGSC, I have to admit that you lost me when you made the unnecessary swipe at the USAF.

Reference this line: "To do otherwise risks making the Armor branch the Armys equivalent of the Air Force. They would be indisputably the best equipped and trained force in the world that was not actively engaged in fighting our current fight."

I feel your comments are not only unnecessary but indicate a surprising lack of awareness of how the Joint force is fighting in both OIF and OEF.

Despite your commentary, I'm sure the thousands of Airmen serving alongside their Army, Navy, and USMC counterparts in Iraq and Afghanistan feel very much like they "are actively engaged in fighting the current fight"

Your argument would be much more effective without parochial attacks on the other services.