ExUrbanKevin, from the ExUrbanLeague commented below with the question:
With the success of General Petraeus and the surge in the intervening few years since this was written, it’s pretty obvious the snake-eaters have won, and planning inside the Pentagon will focus on asymmetrical warfare for the foreseeable future.
Well, I’m always willing to give my opinion. I highly recommend you go read the Westhawk article in full, but as a brief synopsis, it argues that there are three schools of thought regarding the doctrine of the Army going forward. The first argues for a large, legacy force that is designed to face a peer competitor and then adapts down to lesser forces, such as we see in Iraq. The second school of thought is the Hi-tech crowd that wants to substitute technology for flesh and blood, as promoted by Rumsfeld, and the third is the “All special ops, all the time” crowd.
Doctrine is nothing more than the intellectual background and shared frame of reference for the way we fight. Every army has a doctrine, even if they don’t think about it. We put a lot of thought into ours, but just because it has been published doesn’t mean there aren’t heretics out there in the field who disagree. It is more of a consensus than a decree.
To a considerable degree, technology drives acquisition, which drives doctrine. But the reverse is true too, in that doctrine drives technology and thence acquisition. So in addition to an argument over what is the best way to meet current and future threats, it becomes an argument over money, which can’t take place in a vacuum, but must content with Congress, which adds a whole ‘nother layer of complexity. It is even worse for the Navy and Air Force, but I’ll let others fight THAT battle.
The school of thought, whom the article calls The Angry Generals, has lost the argument. We may get a larger army, but we are not going to see the old Cold War Army version 2.0 focused on holding the Russian behind the Iron Curtain.
The second group, The Transformationalists, won’t win either. Their dream of an all seeing, all knowing Army turned to ashes when faced with the decidedly low tech insurgencies in Iraq and Afghanistan. Not all the sensors in the world will tell you what is in the human heart. There is no night vision device that will tell you which guy on the street is a bad guy and which is just a guy going about his business.
The third school of thought, the Introspective School, says the Army must give up on its focus on large scale conventional war and shift to a force focused on small scale insurgencies. They argue that until we do, we will not be successful in wars like Iraq or other examples of asymmetric warfare. Our current success in Iraq shows this argument is not wholly compelling and ignores the reality that there are in fact conventional armies that we could face.
So what is the answer? It will be what is has been. No one school offers a compelling argument for a fundamental shift in Army doctrine and procurement. Instead, we are to some extent seeing doctrine driven by events on the ground. Even as GEN Patreaeus changed the employment of forces in Iraq from a “bastion defense” to a more active presence in communities as a core function of the surge, local subordinate commanders were doing the same thing. The most visible of these commanders was COL H.R. McMaster (now Brigadier General select), but he was hardly the only one. Their efforts showed what worked versus what didn’t and in large part were a driving force in changing the operations in Iraq and showing that such a change would make the surge worthwhile. McMaster would seem to be an Introspective School guy, but he commanded an old school Cavalry regiment, straight out of the Cold War. The changes in that regiment were mostly gifts from the Transformationalists in terms of better sensors and command and control systems. These were great aids, but were not a substitute for fundamental soldier skills. McMaster’s regiment also borrowed from the Introspective school in learning how to be more sensitive to the needs of the local population and not to just “run and gun” while still retaining the ability to bring the fight to the enemy.
In the end, our doctrine in Iraq, while by no means perfect, has proven remarkably flexible and adaptive without making a fundamental or revolutionary change to the service.
Given that the Army and the other services must equip and train their forces for the full spectrum of warfare from high intensity conventional war through low intensity insurgencies to peacekeeping and humanitarian missions, don’t expect to see too radical a change in the way the services look. They will evolve instead of undergoing revolution.