Can the US Army Still Fight as a Heavyweight? | VICE News

On August 5 and 6, a whole mess of senior Pentagon leadership and military brass will convene in California’s Mojave Desert to witness something both spectacular and confusing. In the middle of the night, under a bright desert moon, US soldiers bristling with high-tech weaponry and other assorted killamajigs will gently parachute from the sky, then capture and secure an objective. Sort of.

It will be the grand finale of Operation Dragon Spear, an exercise from which the bigwigs are supposed to draw useful conclusions about how the US military will fight in years to come. The army, like the rest of the military, is still working through the implications of President Barack Obama’s shift from the George W. Bush-era focus on fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan. This involves planning for threats other than insurgents and suicide bombers, which means thinking about the kind of big, proper armies capable of fielding lots of heavy weapons like tanks, ground attack aircraft, artillery, and helicopters. That, in turn, will drive changes in US equipment and training.

via Can the US Army Still Fight as a Heavyweight? | VICE News.

One of the biggest budgetary challenges the Army faces today is that it lacks the money to fund unit training above the platoon level. It takes money to pay for the fuel and spare parts and ammunition to take a company, battalion, or BCT someplace and let them run around and do their thing.  Major training rotations at NTC, Hohenfels and other training centers are still happening, but the normal round of crawl, walk, run training that takes place before these capstone exercises has been badly truncated.

And as Vice mentions, there’s a big difference between training and experience gained fighting in Afghanistan, and the combined arms skills needed to defeat a near peer power. The vast majority of people in the Army today have little or no experience in that combined arms high intensity maneuver.  One suspects this exercise is going to have some serious setbacks for the good guys.

On the other hand, we do have solid doctrine and equipment tailored for this role, and if the basic small unit skills are reasonably well trained, the ability to relearn the large collective tasks will remain, and the learning curve, while steep, will not be impossible.

6 thoughts on “Can the US Army Still Fight as a Heavyweight? | VICE News”

  1. Glad to see that Hohenfels made the cut. We do our fair share of maneuver. This month is a Czech brigade with Czech, U.S. and UK battalions. Later this month, a U.S. airborne brigade with US, Italian and German airborne BNs and a UK aviation BN.
    Comments about training readiness for the army are, unfortunately, spot on.

  2. One of my former Bn Commander’s once told me that the two tasks, Maneuver Warfare vs. COIN, require completely different, non-complimentary, and possibly conflicting skill sets. This is the problem that we face in adjusting to the new reality: the force structure and skillsets required for the low-intensity conflicts in Iraq, Afghanistan, and like situations is a light force structure that wouldn’t work in the higher-intensity conflicts we will face in the future.

    1. Largely true. I would add that we now say that we have “core competencies” of combined arms maneuever AND wide area security. So we should theoretically be training on both sets of skills, and exercises at the Combat Training Centers allow us to do elements of both skills. What a unit chooses to focus on is an entirely different matter, and most of them, at least at JMRC in Germany, are focusing solely on maneuver, and struggling / failing at wide area security (i.e. stability ops). Meanhile, we are now growing a generation of younger leaders and soldiers with no COIN/Stability skills being led by senior leaders with no maneuver skills. Lastly, force structure per se is not as important. You can always take the guys off of the Brads and tanks and put them in trucks/MRAPs but you get a whole lot less of them when a heavy battalion deploys than you get when a light IN BN deploys.

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