CDR Salamander, SecDef Gates, and the future of the Army.

I’m a huge fan of CDR Salamander, and if I’m not always in the comments, I at least keep a close eye on them. But CDR Salamander puts up a boneheaded post this morning.

Gates is doing what a good SECDEF does – looking three moves ahead on the chess board.

You can, and should, have most of your land strength in the National Guard and Reserves. We do not need, nor can afford, a large standing Army. That way – you have to ponder hard before you commit them. Many can be brought up to speed quickly if needed – others longer, and that is OK.
You can grow an Army relatively quickly, even in today’s world. You cannot bring up an Air Force or a Navy that fast. You can also keep a lot of what we need – Strategic Air & Sea lift – in the Reserves as well. A lot of it.

Go read the whole thing.

As for this snippet…

First, I’ve seen absolutely no evidence that SecDef Gates is playing checkers, let alone chess. If air and sea power are the way to go in the future, why did he end procurement of the F-22 at 187 airframes? If you’re going to make airpower one of the two strong legs of the stool, it would help a lot if you gave them an aircraft capable of winning on the first day of the fight.

Secondly, the notion that you can quickly build an army is silly. While the timeline to build a Navy is obviously long due to the need to cut steel and build ships, the requirements to build an army are less obvious. It takes a very long time to build an army, because you have to build the experience levels of your critical mid-grade officer and NCO corps. That institutional knowledge just cannot be manufactured, contracted out, or taught in school. The only way to gain it is to earn it. And while I’m quick to praise the magnificent efforts of the Guard and Reserve over the last decade, they are no substitute for a robust active duty Army. Currently, the Army Reserve is focused on combat support and combat service support missions that often have some resemblance to civilian skills. But the National Guard is focused on combat arms missions, and there’s a problem with placing emphasis on the Guard. They are a part time force. You either have the choice of increasing the time Guard troops spend in training (and suffering poor retention because no one can keep a full time job and meet their Guard commitments or suffer from Guard units that just cannot keep up to speed with training requirements. When we need them, will we be willing to commit poorly trained troops to battle, with the attendant higher casualties and greater numbers of non-combatants killed? Probably not.

CDR Salamander (and seemingly SecDef Gates) argue that the US should use seapower and airpower to influence nations and regions as in the past. Well, the only problem with that is- it doesn’t work. The Navy can’t even get a bunch of pirates off the coast of Somalia to quit hijacking ships (the Maersk Alabama, which the navy retook after its high-profile seizure, has to carry its own armed security teams even today to avoid being hijacked again). The Navy and the Air Force burned through gazillions of gallons of jet fuel, thousands of hours of airframe life, and billions of dollars of operating funds enforcing the no-fly zone over Iraq, and for what purpose? Saddam still did pretty much whatever he wanted, whenever he wanted, right up until the Army ran Abrams tanks in the streets of Baghdad. With the 5th Fleet assuming an ever larger role in the US Navy, Saddam was still able to generate scads of money through the Oil-for-Food scam. That oil had to be smuggled out somehow, and despite the Navy’s best efforts, a goodly portion of it went by sea.

The usual argument in support of seapower is that the bulk of the world’s trade travels by sea, and as a trading nation, we need to be able to secure the sea lanes. No argument here. The problem is that in this post Cold War environment, the center of gravity of virtually place we have intervened, or may be called to intervene is the population. And the people are ashore. If you want to influence them, you need to go ashore. You could put the entire Navy off the coast of Libya today, and still have zero effect on the outcome of the fighting going on there. But if you put a few combat brigades ashore, you’d be able to determine the outcome (note, that’s not an argument for doing so, merely noting that it is the only way to choose an outcome).

Much has been made of SecDef Gates quote, “But in my opinion, any future defense secretary who advises the president to again send a big American land army into Asia or into the Middle East or Africa should “have his head examined,” as General MacArthur so delicately put it.” SecDef Gates seems to be ruling out any future large interventions in Asia or Africa. Would that it were so easy! If the Secretary(who by the way has himself advocated for large deployments to Asia, twice!) is referring to the potentially large domestic political costs of such a course of action, he’s probably right. But we may very well be faced again in the near future with circumstances that weigh in favor of such a deployment in spite of those costs. The US has a bad track record since WWII of knowing where and when it will intervene. Not having the resources ready and able to conduct operations from Day One is a recipe for potential disaster. To preemptively say “we won’t go there” is to cede the strategic initiative to the other side, whomever they may be.

I can only come to the conclusion that CDR Salamander is jockeying for position in the coming budget battles for scarce defense dollars, and looking to take from the Army to bolster the Navy. I think that’s pretty short sighted of him. In fact, I’m a bit surprised, as I have usually thought his strategic sense was a little sharper than that.

I am, and always have been, a huge proponent of a strong Navy and credible seapower. But the Navy’s critical problems in ship numbers aren’t the Army’s fault. If the Navy’s big three shipbuilding programs, the LCS, DDG-1000, and LPD-17 weren’t such unmitigated disasters, I’d be a lot more willing to see the money come out of the Army’s hide. And when the Navy finally decides that building quality ships that can fight and win is more important than fully manning the Diversity Directorate at every level of staff, maybe I’ll listen to him.

10 thoughts on “CDR Salamander, SecDef Gates, and the future of the Army.”

  1. I would argue that anyone advocating for a “big Navy” while at the same time wagging that the Army could be constituted or hydrated on demand… well they are not up on their history lessons.

  2. “We do not need, nor can afford, a large standing Army. That way – you have to ponder hard before you commit them.” This is the most short-sighted comment in the whole thing. There is absolutely NO LINK between the question of whether deploying land combat power is appropriate, and hamstringing yourself by limiting the availability or quality of that combat power. That debate must occur before joining the fight, at which point it is FAR too late to ready the Guard. Anyone that says “we will have time to get ready” is a fool. Look how many YEARS it took to get a couple extra brigades’ worth of combat power into the army, while frankly the Guard took excessive casualties in places like Ramadi. Those forces, and all current forces, have suffered hugely in combat readiness and are not trained or experienced to fight a major combat operation, and the leaders with that experience are all rapidly reaching retirement age. By the way, I would hate to see a direct comparison of procurement and lifetime operational costs of a Carrier Strike Group and associated air wing and sailors compared with a heavy division, so don’t make budgetary comparisons, particularly when you consider equally manned elements to preclude manpower-cost considerations. Right now, in the contemporary operating environment, the USN and USAF are essentially enablers for a Army and Marine fight. We already tried that high-tech shock-and-awe thing and it only worked so much.

  3. You can pretty much gather where I stand if you read my comments there. I seem to be in the minority there, though. Everyone assumes that I’m a Navy-centric person. Far from it. I read a LOT of history. I read more than a few technical documents too…except if it’s ppt., because I have set standards somehow :). My disagreement was the exact same one in this blog article: it takes time to grow an Army. Simply look at the first 18 months of WW2. Look how long it took us to get an army ready to do something relatively easy like kick Rommel out of Africa (easy because of Rommels LOCs and they were already hammered hard by Monty anyway. We had a LOT of trouble there…but out of Africa, Sicily and Italy came the cadre to take on the Continent.

  4. I too was shocked at reading his post. It takes more than drill time in the NG to be able to execute on demand full spectrum ground operations.

    It is wishful naive thinking at best to think that if we don’t have a standing Army then we won’t have to use them.

    I think Gates is just going around telling everyone to get ready because their world is going to suck. I don’t really think that this administration has a plan for anything other than where the next pick-up B-Ball game is or the next round of golf.

  5. I can only agree partially with you guys. The part I agree with is being able to call an Army into being over night is a silly notion. I was in on a dog and pony show given by the OHARNG AG who gave out this piece of propaganda,

    “Give me 48 hours and I’ll give you an Army.”

    I think he saw my eyes roll back in my head because he paid a lot of attention to me after that, AND after the meeting was over (I was a County Engineer, an elected official, at the time).

    Having said that, I will also say there are some very good units in the ARNG. My old unit, 3/109 Armor was a STRAC unit that would not have hesitated to go into combat with. A number of active units, if fully mobilized, will go with ARNG units as major components.

    It is also true that we can not afford to maintain the number of active divisions we need to maintain. The left has seen to it that we are economically exhausted and will have to rebuild the economy before we do anything like Iraq and AFG, much less Desert Storm. The ARNG an ARES will have to be built up. Those coming off active duty need to be encouraged to go into NG and Reserve units (most of the NCOs in my unit had been on active duty, and about half had been under fire in Vietnam – this was back in the mid 80s so there was still a lot Vietnam and Vietnam era vets around). The experience shows when they are activated.

    Frankly, bringing the draft back would help a lot. Military service is a duty of citizenship. I know that people like AW1Tim detest the idea, but he’s dead wrong as well. Every able bodied boy should be inducted into the state militia and sent off for basic training, then advanced infantry training when he turns 17. I’d give him an out, but he becomes a resident alien if he refuses to serve. No vote, no student financial aid, no nothing that goes with citizenship. If he goes in and gets put out with a less than honorable discharge, he becomes a resident alien as if he had refused to serve. When it’s clear he doesn’t want to serve and becomes a disruption, then out he goes with a BCD and see you back on the block, if we even let you come around real men.

    Freedom does not mean “nothing left to lose.” It is hard work to maintain what you were given so you can pass it on to your kids. All that’s been passed on to the current generation is a sense of entitlement and no sense of responsibility to their posterity. It bears remembering that the “Greatest Generation” produced the “Worst Generation” because they did not do their duty with their kids.

    A lot of what Salamander says, frankly, is boneheaded. His not caring a whit about DADT is simply typical of his version of stupidity. He’s good when it comes to such things as LCS, diversity idiocy and optimum manning junk, but he says a lot of stuff that made me shake my head. Part of the problem is that he has never served outside the wardroom (the lack of enlisted experience really shows here) and really doesn’t understand the kind of work needed to make the service run. He also shows his gross ignorance when he tries extrapolate into areas he knows little about. Repeal of DADT is one such area, along with what it takes to build an Army. If he would talk about what he knows, he’d be OK, but he’s a just bit too arrogant to do that.

    1. “Having said that, I will also say there are some very good units in the ARNG. ”

      Yes… yes and why is that?

      Partly due to some very professional citizen-soldiers. Partly due to a cadre of ex-active duty personnel who decided to go part time. And partly because of training concurrent with AD units, evaluated by AD personnel. That is before the latest unpleasantness (do we still call it GWOT?) changed the training cycles.

      Regardless, history has shown America cannot sustain a capable militia, NG, or Army Reserves without a strong, professional active duty army as a central foundation. One word for you – Bladensburg.

  6. It’s a common foggy bottom fantasy that large armies will “go away”. First is was nukes, then helicopters, then air power. And now most assume that all wars will be OIF/OEF.

    I have some thoughts on the subject and will write them down soon.
    But remember Mr. Secdef: Army’s never go out of style.

    Just ask Task Force Smith or the PLA soldiers who marched across the Yalu river. Or the NVA (yes the A stood for Army, as in a regular one).

    The Foggy Bottom dreamers will dream. Reality will ensue and those of us in uniform will pick up the pieces.

  7. CDR,
    I do love your blog and I appreciate you raising issues that our Navy would all-too-often ignore.
    One thing I had to disagree with you was your take on RADM Nora Tyson’s selection as CSG-2.
    I started to do a reply back then, but didn’t finish. The other day I got an e-mail from an old retired friend to all his buddies in and out of the Service that recycled your argument.
    Your discussion may be over, but I wanted to send my reply to my buddy and his buddies, in case you’re interested in another perspective.
    If I didn’t know Nora Tyson personally, I might jump on this band-wagon.
    I do know the Admiral, though, and I consider her one of the best Naval Officers I have ever worked with.
    For those of you who might not know me, I’m an arrogant Naval Aviator (feel bad for Mal, who had to be my simulator instructor on several occasions) who can find plenty of substantive complaints about plenty of senior folks. As a matter of fact, my wife is surprised that I didn’t get fired long ago, ‘cause I can’t keep my big mouth shut.
    Anyway, Nora may not have the carrier credentials that some others who have spent their careers at sea have, but consider that there were very few opportunities for females when she was an Ensign 30+ years ago.
    I can tell you that given the opportunity to perform, she would be at or near the top of any group at any time.
    During one of my tours overseas, she was a Captain on a staff loaded with Captains and a number of Admirals. She had more balls to stand up for the junior folks and to do the right thing than just about everyone there. She handed me a sensitive project (I had not yet been selected for Captain) and let me do it my way. Even when I started getting stick ‘n rudder from above she gave me better top-cover to continue – against some serious pressure. When I was done she sat in the brief I gave to the 4-Star to back me up in case things didn’t go well. She knew things hadn’t gone well with the 2-star and wasn’t going to let me get torched by the big boss, but she let me have my say and let me know I had backing.
    I would be willing to bet that there are a lot of folks who have (in some folks’ eyes) seemingly better “Strike Group Commander” credentials than RADM Tyson who wouldn’t have given a knucklehead O-5 like me the freedom to run with a project like that, and still be there to back him in front of the boss. As a matter of fact, the 3-star at the time agreed with what I had to say, but wouldn’t tell the boss to his face, and wasn’t there when I did.
    That wasn’t a 1-time deal with Nora, either. That’s the way she always was, on behalf of e beleaguered officer corps, and I’m told she’s a great CSG Commander who has the backing of her folks. (Look up what she did with her LHA right after Katrina hit N’alwins. Another bold move that took more cahones than most salty dogs have.)
    In a very screwed up PC world, this is one the Navy got right.
    Anyway, thanks for reading. You probably know I could get in trouble if the wrong folks read this, but then again, I really don’t give a shit. I didn’t make a funny video, did I?
    Fly Safe,

    Subject: Well here it is, the first female Carrier Group Admiral.
    Subject: Fwd: Fw: Rear Admiral Nora Tyson, Commander, Carrier Strike Group Two
    Are you really surprised?
    In a military in a service that places a premium on diversity, quotas,
    political correctness, rapid ‘upward mobility’ of minorities, and possession
    of a generous measure of mediocrity, success is all but guaranteed.
    Well here it is, the first female Carrier Group Admiral.
    Note her bio at bottom. Zero night carrier landings, no strike
    experience, no combat experience?
    Was assist ops Officer on the Lexington, which was the 60 year old
    training carrier that was in Pensacola for its last 40 years, and its
    longest cruise was to Texas. No cruiser time. No sub time. Never a CAG. Never
    the CO of any aircraft carrier.
    She was the commander of a logistics group.
    Was CO of one ship, the Bataan, an LHD with one op of
    note – it assisted Katrina victims in New Orleans.
    She was the EA for the CNO and had 3 other staff tours.
    Now she is giving speeches as the Commander, Carrier Strike
    Group Two.
    How can the Navy do this???
    She is now in charge of the premiere fighting group of the
    United States Navy with only 3 years experience in something that may
    have been part of a Strike Group, if it deployed outside CONUS which is
    not mentioned so probably did not happen.
    It is hard to understand other than PC gone amuk.

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