Saturday, August 23, 2008

Plug and Play Not

The tepid response of the Pentagon to the Russian invasion of Georgia should not have come as a surprise to readers of my humble blog for it has been obvious that the Rotational Expeditionary Modular force which was created without regard to changing conditions of battle wouldn’t fit facing bears in Georgia. It should be equally obvious that the Russians took this into consideration. In short, it’s time we ought to review the usefulness of the “plug and play” rotational modular mentality.

The fact that the US failed to act decisively in this particular case has added to a growing sense in the world that the US isn’t up to it anymore. As a corollary, many are going through the decision process of whether to rearm, or realign. Kazakhstan is considering pumping their oil and gas through Russian pipelines instead of the BTC pipeline to the Mediterranean. Some of the other “stans” are less inclined to host US forces in the War on Terror. Even some of our older NATO allies have allowed their military establishments to wither, and are no longer able to posture with power, while the newer East European NATO members are feeling threatened.

Aside from my diatribes against the Light Transformational, the key question professionals should ask is why did we take so long to adapt to counterinsurgency warfare? It usually takes two years to get up to speed and another to start running the table, based on our record since the Mexican War through Vietnam. The learning curve in Vietnam for conventional forces started in late 1965 and by the Tet Offensive in January 1968 had stabilized and by the end of 1969 had driven the enemy main force units out of Vietnam.

The US started to mobilize for WW 2 in the summer of 1940 after the Fall of France with the passage of a National Defense Act calling for a 35 division Army and a two ocean Navy. The draft started and the National Guard mobilized in October 1940. After Pearl Harbor, the Battle of Midway was in June 1942, and the Marines landed on Guadalcanal in August a month later. A year later, we invaded Sicily. From a sleeping start to Sicily in three years!

We had a running start at Iraq, plus experience in counterinsurgency, and it took from March 2003 to late 2007, four years, to adjust, and another year to start running the table. The failure to plan for a post invasion strategy, of governance, and for counterinsurgency was not for the lack of experience or trained units in those areas, but of the adaptation of the Light Transformation of plug and play modules.

Consider how long it took to plug the brigade communications systems to higher levels to give both reach back and reach down information access for those in the field and in the chain of command. Consider how long it took to get a truly responsive fire support system by using UAVs in the traditional role of the FAC in a bird dog.

Relocating combat forces from forward areas where they were mission oriented to stateside bases brought them closer to the flagpole than the battlefield. This becomes an open invitation to micromanagement and competing staff driven requirements that can render an infantry unit inert. It took less than four years for our victorious and mighty forces of WW 2 to become poorly trained, led and equipped on deployment to Korea.

This degeneration was repeated after Korea which was arrested by JFK to prepare for a more vigorous Soviet presence. After Vietnam, the Army adopted mission oriented performance based training that stressed a holistic tactical environment described as Condition, Action, and Standard for Mission Essential Tasks. Training was concurrent, as opposed to the failed concept of the building block approach.

Were it not for the constant stress of battle over the last six years and of the operations in the Balkans, our forces would not be combat ready in any realistic sense. The concept of plug and play modules makes it difficult to deploy forces quickly at levels larger than a brigade and most likely would result in “pick up” teams, the kind the Navy found wanting in the early stages of WW 2.

War is an awful mixture of the profound and the profane, of genius and the idiotic, and it is hard to tell then or later which was which.

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