Thursday, April 17, 2008

Middle Heavy Weights

The Employment section of your typical local newspaper is peppered with two kinds of placements requiring a large number of applicants to find the best of a large number of candidates for jobs with a wide range of qualifications, and those for jobs that have a narrow range with little in between. Sales and computer jocks are big users of advertising space.

In the military, the same principle applies to strategic personnel planning for combat operations. Armies are always short good infantry, in no small part due to the high casualty rates, but even without high casualties, combat needs boots and rifles on the ground. On the other end of the spectrum are the technicians for which time is required to train and gain experience. Top of the lists of these are doctors and pilots.

The Germans and Japanese ran out of good pilots to man the planes they produced. They keep their best pilots in action which ran up some impressive scores, but the quality of the pilots that followed couldn’t match the pilots the US produced. The US produced so many pilots that some were transferred to fight as infantry.

The Army Reserve was originally formed to build a pool of medical personnel right after WW 1. Army and Navy Reserve pilots called to active duty in WW 2 included Jimmie Doolittle. The same occurred in Korea where recalled pilots flew against the Chinese and North Koreans.

The experiences of WW 1, WW 2, Korea and the current unpleasantness show that the depth of the strategic personnel reserve wasn’t big enough for big wars or long ones. Fillers beyond the initial commitment of Capstone aligned Guard and Reserve units were to be drawn from a draft or from a massive recruitment program to fill from the bottom.

In Vietnam and in operations today, the middle ranks got stretched with the grade of O-3 nearly invisible it’s so thin. In 1970, the time in service for an Army Captain was less than 24 months. It is dropping fast today because of the length of combat and voluntary nature of a voluntary force. In Vietnam the stretch came early as the twentieth anniversary of WW 2 years came and went at the same time the Army expanded for the war.

The same thing happened in Vietnam for the NCO ranks. Sergeants used to being squad and platoon leaders were thrust into First Sergeant jobs, while privates with extra training were fielded with E-5 stripes. Needless to say, there were weaknesses in the cohesion and expertise of small units. It’s a good thing that much of the shortage of expertise was addressed with NCO formal education that grew out of the “Shake and Bake” Instant NCO program.

A strategic personnel program then should focus on in depth backup for skills and grades that take time to produce. That means middle grade officers and NCOs, technicians, pilots, medical personnel and a host of others familiar to the needs of the service. Tables of organization should make room for more in the middle and expert ranks as well as other programs to maintain this experience. The Reserve forces (Federal) should be middle heavy and exercised in leadership positions under operational conditions.

The immediate impact of a program to build, preserve and maintain combat essential skill sets is that the career programs for Reserve forces should not mirror the career patterns traditionally associated with the Active forces. The aggregate skill sets for mobilization, full or partial should match those contingencies requiring rapid and/or sustained fill.

And, we need pools of qualified infantry.

This means a paid and trained IRR. It means drill pay for individuals and a system to provide opportunities to train with units of any component.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Magic v Murphy

Our military is often criticized for always preparing to fight the last war. That criticism might have worked in the Nineteenth Century, but by the end of the Twentieth, the dominant form of preparation has been focused on the kind of war wanted to fight based on extrapolations of what might be the war of the future. A corollary of this has been to prepare to not fight wars that the military didn’t want to fight.

After Vietnam, the US decided not to prepare for Counterinsurgency, turned its back and focused on the defense of West Germany with the expectation that an invasion could occur on short order. During this period, US ground forces trained to fight a Soviet model army at Fr Irwin in the desert. It must be considered that Desert Storm where a Soviet modeled army was fought in the desert is a freak of nature, and it is very rare in US military history that our enemies will fight us in the manner that we like to fight. We are still dealing with fact that this time the Arabs are fighting us on their terms and not ours.

We entered WW1 with tactics originally perfected in the Napoleonic Wars, by attacking in successive waves of infantry in close order, despite the lessons of colonial wars which had already showed the effectiveness of barbed wire, machine gun, and exploding shells. The resulting carnage is legendary. But it wasn’t until late in the War that a new tactical system was developed by German general Oskar Hutier using fire and maneuver at the lowest tactical levels as we know it today. He successfully seized Riga in September 1917, and his tactics were used successfully to defeat the Italians in October at Caporetto. General Hutier was transferred to the Western Front and these tactics were used in March 1918 at Amiens.

By the end of WW1, US Armed forces had developed combined arms tactics and organizations complete with close and strategic air power. Crude as they were, we had tanks, armored personnel carriers, armored recovery vehicles, and logistics of the type later reinvented to fight WW2. Doctrine, however, reverted to what had been developed in mid war, which was dominated by trench warfare, massive bombardments, and mass assaults in waves. My father was criticized for training his 105mm battery for meeting engagements, which meeting engagement he won in Mindanao against a Japanese battery going south on the road he was going north on.

Fortunately for us, the lessons of early WW2 based on the operations in Poland, France, and Russia were not lost on General Marshall and our doctrine was more up to snuff than it might have been had we gone to war before. His organization of the Army was based on two types of battalions, divisional and non divisional, with headquarters over division allocated non divisional battalions as needed. This structure remained viable until Transformation focused on brigades to the exclusion of everything else.

Marshall’s organization was used successfully in every form of mission, enemy, terrain, technology, time and civilian impact from his time through Desert Storm. Like the Roman Legion, it had a structure designed to be task organized at multiple levels.

Despite having an Army designed to fight an imaginary war, the troops in the field have been able to perform pure magic in adapting to the needs of counterinsurgency, and an incisive view of the principles of a shifting kaleidoscope of mission, enemy, terrain, troops available, time, and civilian considerations. As it lacks a name, for the moment, it should be called Magical Warfare as it defies conventional constraints and uses the genius of our troops to adapt.

There is something very magical about the way the forces have adapted. We hear of artillery battalions converted to a population control and stability operations capability, of Navy officers conducting electronic warfare while attached to Army units, of infantry and tank platoons deploying with civil affairs, PSYOP, intelligence and often medical attachments. It’s never been done on that scale and complexity before while some precedents exist in our occupations of Germany, Japan, and the Philippines and in CORDS and the Marines in Vietnam.

Today the concept of “Full Spectrum Warfare” is a reminder that Counterinsurgency won’t be the only kind of war we may have to fight. The rise of India and China as major powers with a capability of providing the “near peer” scale of warfare, is raising it’s unwelcome face to face. Given that counterinsurgency/stability operations aren’t going to go away any time soon, the kaleidoscope of METT-TC will continue to expand.

The challenge is how to prepare for a much wider array of responses effectively given the resources at hand. Our strong point as a nation is the ability to adapt to unforeseen circumstances, that is the substance of the magical level of war being fought now. We have to be able to take a force experienced in counter insurgency and wage another kind of war. This calls for training a force to change though application of task organization and training to multiple and changing conditions of METT-TC, and with shifting METL (mission essential task lists).

Contingency based training provides not only a reduced time to deploy, but the experience in planning for contingencies for it is the planning that counts more than the plan. Commanders at all levels should be accustomed to major changes in contingencies based on realistic assessments of risk as a Mission Essential Task.

Contingencies should be developed by each major Command (Centcom, Northcom, etc) and used to prepare training and future operations with an eye to making sure that the major variants in METT-TC are covered by some command somewhere.

While this may seem wild, so is war. All predictions of future combat will be wrong in some significant way. We should train with that as a central theme in our planning. Murphy’s Law is the first law of war.