In a speech in early June, U.S. Marines Gen. James Mattis called for an end to the so-called “capabilities-based” approach* to military planning, where the Pentagon strove to have the best possible forces for every imaginable threat, regardless of cost — rather than emphasizing the forces deemed most necessary for the most likely threat. It’s capabilities planning that produced small numbers of super-capable, and super-expensive, weapons like the F-22 fighter, at the expense of more mundane infantry battalions, trainers and logistical forces.Closing down the F-22 program frees up the necessary funds for the extra ground troops all by itself. It's good to see that the Senate did the right thing today.
That’s about to change, if Defense Secretary Bob Gates has his way. On Monday, Gates announced plans to add more than 20,000 active-duty soldiers to the Army’s ranks, for three years. If and when the boost happens, the Army will have around 570,000 active troops, up from just 480,000 before 9/11. (These figures don’t include the approximately 500,000 reservists and Guardsmen.) It’s a temporary increase, for now, but Sen. Roger Wicker (R-Miss.) told Defense News that a larger Army could be permanently codified in the forthcoming Quadrennial Defense Review.
The boost is driven by Gates’ vision of “hybrid” war, where enemy forces shift fluidly between insurgent tactics and tech-heavy, traditional warfare. Hybrid threats are best defeated by “high-performing small units capable of operating independently at increasingly lower echelons,” Mattis said. A larger army will also eventually allow troops to take two years off between combat deployments, instead of the one year off that is the current standard.
*From the speech:
Mattis is determined to bury that notion. “Defense planners will not be allowed to adopt a single preclusive view of war,” he said. ”War cannot be precisely orchestrated. By its nature it is unpredictable. You cannot change the fundamental nature of war.”
The military has swung too far in its embrace of high-technology, Mattis said, using as an example what he called “over-centralized” command and control. That over-centralization can create a “single point” of failure, he warned. “The U.S. military is the single most vulnerable military in the world if we overly rely on technical C2 systems.” In future wars, technical systems will be under attack and will go down, he said, so forces must disaggregate authority and decision-making to much lower levels. “We’re going to have to restore initiative” among small units and individual leaders.
Tasked with crafting a force for the “combatant commander after next,” Mattis is striving to prevent the military from repeating past mistakes such as “grabbing concepts that are defined in three letters, and then wondering why the enemy dances nimbly around you.” He recently decreed that EBO be dropped from the American military lexicon. The rhetorical battle over EBO was largely between those who see troops on the ground as the linchpin of future conflicts, versus airpower enthusiasts, who believe just the right amount of precision weaponry applied at just the right point can produce, well, most any desired effect.
In future wars, ground forces — supported by aviation and naval forces — will be the linchpin, Mattis said. It is on the ground, in complex terrain, mixed in with the civilian population, where today and tomorrow’s enemy will confront U.S. forces. “These wars will be fought among the people… we’re going to have to deal on human levels with human beings and not think that technology or tactics by targetry will solve war.”
This is classic Boyd maneuver warfare doctrine. People, not technology. Localized, dynamically responsive control over strict central planning. Small, mobile, and difficult to hit units. Good stuff.