Small Wars Journal

Less Money + Fewer People = Creative Adaptation

Sat, 08/15/2015 - 11:47am

Less Money + Fewer People = Creative Adaptation

Morgan Smiley

A recent National Defense University article posted on Small Wars Journal titled “Rapid Regeneration of Irregular Warfare Capacity” identifies some pitfalls with the elimination of irregular warfare (IW) capability during our ongoing downsizing and some ideas for retaining or quickly regenerating some of those skills, including a type of “leadership cadre formation” that could be used as the basis for rapidly expanding IW organizations.  I offer the following idea as a course of action that might address this issue or at least serve as a point of departure for further development:

Reorganize select brigade combat teams (BCT) as cadre units (let’s call them “mission support brigades”) to conduct training support, foreign advisory, and domestic assistance missions, or what is termed Defense Support for Civil Authorities (DSCA).  These mission support brigades (MSB) would be modeled on training support brigades currently responsible for training and assisting reserve component units in maintaining proficiency and deploying for contingency missions.  Should a large and/ or extended war break out, these MSB cadre units, manned with experienced senior leaders, could integrate new troops into existing leadership structures that train and eventually deploy as conventional units.

A standard Army BCT has roughly 4000 to 5000 personnel depending on type.  Reorganizing a few BCTs into MSBs using training support brigades (TSB) as the template would bring each brigade down to roughly 250 to 300 personnel (closer to 500 if using a model discussed previously on SWJ), mostly mid to senior level leaders, both NCOs and officers, organized into teams of subject matter experts that advise, assist, train, and augment.  I cannot find information related to the actual cost of running a BCT of 5000 but I suspect a brigade of 300 to 600 personnel is far cheaper.

Their primary roles would be:

1.  Training Support – Each MSB would serve as a full-time active duty training support unit for high-priority National Guard and Army Reserve units (enhanced BCTs and the like) that require a more rapid mobilization schedule while the “legacy” TSBs would focus their efforts on reserve component (RC) units that require more pre-mobilization time.  This would allow the members of these brigades, the Observer-Controller/ Trainers or OC/Ts, to develop and maintain proficiency in their ability to advise and assist (influencing without commanding) while at the same time maintaining proficiency in current doctrine as that is the basis for executing the “teach/ coach/mentor” mission of the OC/T.  These are also key attributes of effective advisors to foreign security forces.

2.  Security Force Assistance (SFA) – When necessary, these MSBs would be called upon to provide what are currently termed Security Force Assistance Advisory Teams, or SFAATs (formerly known as MTTs), which would be built around existing OC/T teams augmented with appropriate levels of senior leaders and force multipliers (civil affairs, MPs, etc).  This would relieve the conventional, combat-focused elements from stripping their organic units of key leaders and personnel to execute missions not associated with their unit mission essential task list (METL) and allow those key personnel to actually serve the full duration in those key positions.  These teams could be utilized as combat advisor teams or security cooperation teams augmenting the efforts of the Security Assistance Training Management Organization (SATMO, an element of Army Materiel Command) out of FT Bragg.  These MSBs could also be regionally aligned which would enable the OC/T-advisors to focus their pre-deployment training and education efforts when not deployed or fully engaged in training assistance.  The senior leaders in particular, who would augment the deploying teams, would use the “down-time” at home station to attend necessary educational and training programs, from DoD language and cultural programs to university graduate programs, in preparation for their eventual employment in the SFA role (short-term exchange programs with foreign agencies ,especially with those who have capabilities we don’t but may need to know about, may be worth considering as well).  This would also align with Army TRADOC goals of producing leaders with broader cross-cultural understanding as well as some language capabilities.

3.  Defense Support for Civil Authorities (DSCA) – In line with the 2012 Strategic Guidance and, as part of their pre-deployment SFA training, ensuring the development of a strong understanding of what civilian authorities do and how they manage emergencies, the MSBs, like current TSBs, can develop relationships with local civil authorities in preparation to provide assistance during disasters and/ or civil emergencies.  The brigades could go further and find ways to routinely rotate uniformed personnel through civilian emergency management and/ or law enforcement agencies, perhaps through a limited exchange program, enabling future SFA advisors to immerse themselves in a non-military organization which may enable a better understanding of foreign civilian organizations when advising & assisting foreign ministries and non-military agencies.  One of the complaints heard from many advisors in Iraq and Afghanistan was their lack of understanding and familiarity with how civilian organizations and ministries were supposed to operate.  This might help to mitigate such problems in the future.

4.  Cadre Unit - As for the cadre unit role, previous attempts at this were proposed in the 1990s during the “peace dividend” period following the collapse of the USSR.  Unlike the 1990s proposal for cadre units, which were to be minimally manned by a mix of active and ARNG personnel whose sole missions were to train RC units during peacetime and expand to full combat units during wartime, my proposal would be manned entirely by active duty personnel and would enable the MSB to train and assist RC units in addition to serving in other roles identified as key areas of importance to the Army, specifically as advisors to foreign forces and assistors to domestic agencies.  Each role serves to support the other as part of the overall vision many have for the Army for the remainder of this decade, and likely beyond.

One might criticize this concept by pointing out that the Army currently has training support brigades that are focused on training high-priority ARNG units and tasked with DSCA missions.  But the concept being proposed here supports cost & personnel reductions while reorganizing & re-tasking BCTs, focusing them on assisting only high-priority ARNG units enabling them to maintain their higher state of readiness (as a result of now multiple combat deployments) and in many ways placing them on-par with high-priority active duty units; serve as the primary source of general purpose force (GPF) advisory elements for the regionally aligned security assistance missions vs. creating adhoc teams by pulling personnel from key positions in BCTs; and finally, ensuring a more active DSCA role through rotations in emergency management and/ or law enforcement organizations for hands-on training/ experience.  Current TSBs don’t do this.

As the NDU article points out, IW/ “hybrid warfare” will likely be a part of any future conflict we find ourselves involved in.  The MSB concept described above allows those assigned to it to develop and maintain proficiency in areas needed for IW, from combat operations to “whole-of-government” reconstruction efforts.  The MSB concept can address the 2014 QDR’s pledge to “preserve the expertise gained during the past ten years of counterinsurgency and stability operations……and protect the ability to regenerate capabilities that might be needed to meet future demands” and may help us quickly adapt early in any conflict scenario vs. stumbling through the first few months or years before figuring out what we ought to do.  Fewer dollars and fewer people mean more creative use of remaining resources.

About the Author(s)

Morgan Smiley is a DoD civil servant and a retired U.S. Army officer.



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I recently ran across the following:…

I was pleasantly surprised to discover that the Army is moving ahead with this. It seems that others have been thinking about the same issues. While this plan doesn't include a domestic training support or DSCA role, it does address other areas discussed in my original article.

Very much in agreement with you. I see a force structure where the culture might be something like "SF minus". Total focus on training and building capacity with none of the additional mission sets that often get put with SOF. From my time overseas I saw many conventional units who were woefully unprepared to effectively train a foreign force, and SF teams that were spread too thin to be able to do it on the scale needed. More and more we are going to be doing the "advise and assist" and "build partner capacity missions" and we should have a unit designation to do so.


Sun, 08/16/2015 - 1:57pm

The article you cite "considers the challenge of maintaining readiness for large-scale irregular warfare (IW) contingencies when the national mood has so decisively turned against such operations."

To be able to maintain IW capabilities, first IW capabilities would have to be fully integrated. This small point is being made since the evidence suggests that IW capabilities have never been fully integrated and that specific agencies and or departments decided not to integrate and or totally ignore anything that smacked of IW.

The paper below and the other related papers, were originally published on the Joint Center for International Security Force Assistance website within the Community of Interest.

Please see the following paper and then you decide:…

Take care.

Joe C.