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.

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