Again, The Moron Answers

ExUrbanKevin, from the ExUrbanLeague commented below with the question:

I came across this article a few years ago, on the three schools of thought within the Pentagon.

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.

Your thoughts?

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.

10 thoughts on “Again, The Moron Answers”

  1. Great answer. Just one question, not about this post just a question for you. How the hell are we going to get all those Abrams tanks, MRAPs, Humvees, Bradleys, LAVs, and the rest of all our vehicles home one when we begin to leave Iraq? Are we going to like drive them out and just use LCACs like in the beginning of the Iraq war and fairy Abrams tanks one at a time to ships and bring them home?

  2. Xbrad,
    I have a friend that was on the army rifle team with the 10worst (as he says) He made all army rifle team. Do you know anything about them?

  3. It depends. I’m not sure if that is a reward for intramural competition or the Army Marksmanship Unit. Scroll over to Army Olympians and check out the links.

  4. Juan, we didn’t ferry them from ships by LCAC. A lot of them were actually left in Saudi Arabia back in 91. In fact, that’s what my unit did with its vehicles.

    The rest will be driven (or trucked down on flatbeds) to a port in Kuwait where they will simply be driven onboard ships. The Army and the Navy both own ships specially configured to transport military vehicles. They have a giant ramp on the stern so you can drive on or off.

  5. Doctrine? I always wonder which way that arrow goes. Do people in the Army have like opinions because TRADOC says what it says? Or does TRADOC (or whatever Training and Doctrine Command is called today) say what it says because it reflects a consensus of pretty thoughtful and effective NCOs, JO’s, and even a few senior leadership types?
    I have had several civilian bosses in the job world, and several xNCO bosses. There is no comparison. Whatever training the Army, AirForce, and Marines gives to their NCO’s (sorry I don’t have enough jobs or bosses to rate CPO’s) makes them outstanding motivators, educators, and exemplars. And I have read that the US NCO is the envy of every foreign warfighter, whether opponent or ally.
    My point is that I think all(?) three schools of thought represent the legs of a stool. (cold war nostalgia buffs can see the nuclear triad redone here) I see the Armor vs UAV vs SOF as each a leg that must be kept in balance. Too much force protection and you might has well stay at Fort Knox or Fort Hood. Too much tech and you are just a witness. Too much SOF and you get overwhelmed by guys with armored uav’s or something…, okay, there may not be a disadvantage to too much SOF, per se, but does the Army or the US have enough ‘operators’ to make more SOF units without turning them into less capable imitations? [ I get my ‘insight’ from WEB Griffin’s novels from way back. One LT and his M1 vs all the Greek commies you care to see etc., so I am thinking there just aren’t enough of these types of guys to go around. So, correct me when I wrong… I tried to look this up and it says it was published in ’97, but I “know” I read it in the mid eighties..]
    Either way the question is…. doesn’t this on-going search for doctrine, ideally, come down to the senior leadership delegating downward far enough and then listening and observing the actual operations in the field and then melding the best aspects of each into an overall system that allows the force to be built up or detailed out to meet the next challenge whether that is house by house or industrial might vs might or deniable sniping and positive PR for everyone?

  6. Nice answer. I guess unless there is a compelling event or reason the inertia of the army would make changes fairly slow to implement top down so the events on the ground trickling up is going to be the main lead for changes needed.

  7. Joel, back in 1974 General Depuy sent a letter to seven other generals throughout the Army, primarily major commands, and the centers for the combat arms, telling them the tale of a pot of French peasant soup, “where anyone can add to it and anyone can partake” asking them to contribute their ideas and solicit ideas from their subordinates about how to refashion the Army’s warfighting doctrine to face the threat in Europe. It generated massive response from the field. Sometime later TRADOC published the resulting doctrine “Active Defense.” This generated so much input from the field that just a few years later that doctrine was superseded by Airland Battle in 1982. That version was controversial and was superseded by a revised AirLand Battle in 1986. The doctrine was again revised in 1993 but it didn’t have a cool name. The last two capstone doctrinal manuals were published in 2001 and 2003. These discussions usually happen at the three and four star level. The actual writing is done by fairly junior officers, but is reviewed at a high level until a consensus is achieved between TRADOC and the folks who are expected to implement the doctrine. It is of course an ongoing process.

    When we discuss the NCO side of the story, we are looking more at the Training side, rather than the Doctrine side, of TRADOC. Since the days of the Roman Legion, the NCOs job has been to train and lead the private soldier. It is what they are there for. As an NCO it was my job to present to my officer troops who were proficient in those tasks that their job called for. It was my job to lead them as they executed those tasks, either individual or team level.

    What TRADOC has done is to systemitize the training throughout the Army. Every single thing you might have to do has been broken down into a lesson plan. Each task has been defined, the conditions under which the task must be performed are specified and the standards to which the task must be performed are spelled out. And I mean every task, saluting an officer to invading a country.

    The Army doesn’t expect a Private to know it all, nor a grunt to know how to fire a cannon. So the Army has also broken those tasks down by paygrade and MOS. Some tasks are common throughout the Army, such as how to wear a gas mask, and some are specific to a certain MOS such as operating the M-1 tank drivers night vision device. NCOs are expected not only to know these tasks, but to be able to teach them.

    As to which of the three schools of thought will win? As I said, I think the result will be a hybrid model reached by consensus. We have already seen a move to a somewhat lighter force in the Stryker units, but they actually represent a beefing up of the force since most of those were previously light infantry units, with no wheels at all. The move toward the digitized battlefield is ongoing, but that is a tool, not a replacement for troops. And while SOF did great in A-Stan, there is just no way to equip an entire army that way. And like you say, if we did, the other guys would just roll out tanks. Again, it will be a hybrid model reached by consensus.

    The book you are thinking of was WEB Griffin’s Brotherhood of war, Book I, The Lieutenants, published in 1982. Not a terribly accurate read, but he’s a great writer and I read all his many books (there’s like 70 different books in all).

    Your final question is basically, is doctrine top down driven or pushed up from the bottom (call it the Lieutenant Colonel and Colonel level). Both really. The top writes it, but they know that if the middle managers aren’t on board, it is worthless.

    Now, at the tactical level, things are far more flexible. Changes in that can happen pretty damn quick. By the time the first bunch of troops were rotating back from Iraq, their replacements were already being trained on the lessons learned. It ain’t perfect, but it is a hell of a lot better than any other army in the world.

  8. As someone who has flitted through all of this, up to the field grade level, some observations.

    Doctrine is supposed to drive requirements, which in turn are supposed to drive acquisition. This is a peacetime paradigm, and one which results in long developmental lead times, and has insufficient agility for wartime pressures.

    It’s an iterative process, with multiple feedback loops, in a build-test-rebuid-test loops, with doctrine changes impacting design, design capabilities, as a result of sim and wargaming analysis changing doctrine to better take advantage of design changes that offer unanticipated benefits, or represent new technologies/requirements not extant when the first requirements docs were written. But it’s a long process – and one that gives us things like the M1 and M2-3 series vehicles, designed for a war of attrition in Europe being updated to fit into an asymetric doctrine supporting a fight for which they were never envisioned fighting – just as the Stryker, conceived for a different environment, has been changed for the environment it finds itself in, and suffers from limits that weren’t conceived in the original design requirements…

    And that’s because the enemy gets a vote, too. And he changed the way he fought in order to maximize his perceived strengths against our perceived weaknesses.

    And that leads to things like the RFI/REF (Rapid Fielding Initiative/Rapid Equipping Force) standing up to take a look at off the shelf technologies against emerging requirements, or the “Spiraling Out” process where developmental FCS tech (UAS’ and UGV’s being the most obvious) are pulled from the development spirals when it’s clear the can scratch an itch and do so supportably – tech which probably would have taken several more years to get to the field.

    It’s all sausage. In the end, it tastes pretty good, but no one’s happy about it.

    And I’m with Joel and his tripod analogy. No one side of the triangle is going “win” the doctrine war. The first tripod simply is too inefficient, at least in the COE, or Current Operating Environment as it’s dubbed, the second and third are insufficient to win MCOs and large scale unconventional fights. It takes a blend – and more importantly, a leadership cadre that can see the shift – of all these elements to make it work. There is a continuum, along which you find yourself – one from where you can lead with SOF forces and quite possibly SOF alone – such as the Phillipines, to one where you need the hammer and anvil to crack the nut.

    The trick (and the failure of the Rumsfeld Pentagon) was recognizing those shifts in time to adapt to them – as well as being way too enamored of the second leg of Joel’s stool.

    Juan – pretty much what XBrad said – truck ’em back to Kuwait and drive ’em or sling ’em back onto the ships that will bring ’em home.

    Some will be left behind, in brigade sets, so that if we have to go in again, we just fly people over and they fall in on the gear, and some will end up going to the Iraqis – as I see they’ve decided to buy M1s, I believe.

  9. The problem with optimising in engineering things for war is that if the needs change as enemies are want make happen, a system too tightly optimised will fail to perform it’s new role terribly well. Some degree of flexibility is important in military engineering I feel because war’s predictability and reliability of environment is just far too poor.

  10. I found your site on technorati and read a few of your other posts. Keep up the good work. I just added your RSS feed to my Google News Reader. Looking forward to reading more from you down the road!

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