Small Wars Journal


A Future for Armor in an Era of Persistent Conflict

Wed, 01/09/2013 - 4:07pm

Examination of the expected characteristics of the US Army’s Ground Combat Vehicle (GCV) by the Congressional Budget Office in early November 2012 has sparked a debate not only about what that vehicle should be reasonably expected to look like and perform, but also about what the needs for armor are as in the Army as a whole.  Fears about what problems with the GCV program could entail for the Army’s remaining Heavy Brigade Combat Teams (HBCT) miss an important question: Should we be trying to preserve them at all?

The HBCT is the product of decades of lessons learned about the interaction between armor and the forces they are expected to support.  After years of the doctrine expecting the differing types of vehicles and forces to work in concert, the HBCT introduced Combined Arms Battalions, where tanks and infantry fighting vehicles and their support elements were organized together from the start.  Organized together, it was felt that units would have a better understanding of such combined arms operations, being able to train regularly and be otherwise familiar with each other.  Unfortunately, it has made the organization less flexible overall.

In addition to being utilized in its traditional role, since the end of the Second World War, armor has been deployed to crises to provide important capabilities despite a lack of enemy armor or other threats armor might have been otherwise expected to engage.  In 1958, when the US Army intervened in Lebanon, a small contingent of M48 tanks and M42 anti-aircraft vehicles were deployed with the force, never operating above platoon strength.  During the conflict in Vietnam, M48 and M551 tanks assigned to three tank battalions and numerous armored cavalry units provided dispersed support to units across the country.  They rarely operated as organized and in the face of institutional reticence toward their deployment.  In fact, the organic companies of 1st Battalion, 77th Armor were so rarely under its operational control that the headquarters was used to control multi-company task forces, sometimes without any armor at all.  In the twilight of the Cold War, a limited number of M551 tanks were again utilized during Operation Just Cause in Panama, where, like in Lebanon, they operated at platoon strength.

In spite of these historical examples, after a decade in Afghanistan, the Army has deployed no tanks or infantry fighting vehicles there.  A common retort is, as expected, that such vehicles are not broadly useful in the Afghan terrain or for the type of fighting there.  This, however, stands in stark contrast to the historical record, where small amounts of armor have been deployed to support similar contingencies and have been found to be useful as a specialized capability.  It is as a specialized capability that the armor can best serve the Army.  This is not a new concept either.  For instance, during Operation Just Cause, Lieutenant General Carl W. Stiner, at the time commander of XVIII Airborne Corps and commander of Joint Task Force – South viewed the M551s available to him as a means of providing “surgical firepower,” just like the AH-64A helicopters available to the task force.

So what to do with the HBCT? Eliminating the HBCT would not mean eliminating armor.  Armor, would, however, be more useful if General Stiner’s philosophy was taken to heart.  Armor could be more rapidly tailored to real world contingencies if it was grouped together and treated like a specialized asset, akin to the Army’s Combat Aviation Brigades.  A similar multi-functional organization to provide armor support, a sort of Armor Support Brigade, would allow tanks, infantry fighting vehicles, and armored personnel carriers to be deployed as needed, where needed, with fewer numbers of them needed overall.  While there are concerns about the ability of units to be familiar with working with armor, especially infantry operating from infantry fighting vehicles, it would appear these concerns are misplaced.  Training programs to rapidly familiarize units with airmobile operations and operations using Mine Resistant Ambush Protected vehicles have not been shown to be overly arduous.  In addition, the ability to deploy the entire brigade, and multiple such brigades, if needed to work in concert with other forces to counter a large near-peer conventional force would mean that the Army would not be vulnerable to the traditional threat.

As the face of armed conflict changes and expands, it is important to make sure the ability to deploy proportional military force and capabilities remains.  The Army’s Chief of Staff General Raymond T. Odierno has himself been talking recently about the need to make the Army more scalable and tailorable to the wide variety of missions it is expected to be able to perform as it transitions from the Full Spectrum concept to the Unified Land Operations concept.  Under the new doctrine, the Army is expected to engage in contingencies where a “hybrid threat” might be encountered, involving elements such as traditional armed forces, insurgents, and transnational terrorists and criminal actors.  In order to keep armor relevant within such a doctrine it must indeed by highly tailorable and scalable to meet to the operational requirements.  Replacing HBCTs with a common Infantry Brigade Combat Team and providing an Armor Support Brigade, equipped primarily with the M1 series of tanks and the proposed GCV, capable of carrying the current standard infantry squad, would allow for this while protecting against traditional conventional threats.

Strategic Implications for the Army in the Post-2012 Election Environment

Fri, 05/18/2012 - 6:09am

Editor's Note: Doug Macgregor presented this originally as a powerpoint brief to intermediate-level education students.  It is converted from its original format for ease of online reading, though the slide and bullet structure was maintained.

Slide 1

Strategic Implications for the Army in the Post-2012 Election Environment


•Don’t fight the problem!

•What are the broad strategic trend lines?

•What will America’s Post-Election Defense Establishment look like?

•What should the Army senior leadership do?

•Truthful, open debate is vital.

•Summary of Key Points


Slide 2

  • “Don't fight the problem, decide it.” George C. Marshall, General of the Army America’s military technological edge and advantages in training, discipline and flexibility have been eroded by the U.S. failure to sustain investment in strategic and operational forces. This condition is the direct consequence of our self-defeating obsession with hegemonic nation building, military occupations and resulting counter-insurgency campaigns in the Middle East and Afghanistan. This period is ending. Now, Army Force Design, Modernization and Thinking about warfare must adjust to radically new strategic conditions.
  • The Central Idea: “Cross-domain synergy. The complementary vice merely additive employment of capabilities in different domains such that each enhances the effectiveness and compensates for the vulnerabilities of the others…”  JOINT OPERATIONAL ACCESS CONCEPT (JOAC) VERSION 1.0 17 January 2012


Slide 3

Trend lines: Russia, NE Asia and India

  • Russia: Down from 14 million in the armed forces to less than a million. Russian forces are hard pressed to modernize, let alone secure Russia, which borders 14 nations. Russia’s focus is on restive Muslim at home and in Central Asia, not on the US and the West.
  • China: Stability‐obsessed leaders are focused on maintaining rapid economic growth to create enough jobs for China’s 1.3 billion people and keep a lid on unrest. China’s Military (PLA) is riddled with corruption and professional decay, compromised by ties of patronage, and asphyxiated by the ever‐greater effort required to impose political control.
  • Japan and the ROK: Japanese and Korean Defense Ministers will soon sign a general security of military information agreement and an acquisition and cross‐servicing agreement. The foundation for a military alliance that will turn the tables on China and change the strategic balance in NE Asia.
  • India: China’s acquisition of Coco Island from Myanmar and build up of Gawadar Naval base in Pakistan have induced India to build up its own naval forces. India’s naval base at the mouth of the Malacca Strait, is critical to India’s strategy for blocking Chinese shipping through the Strait of Malacca.


Slide 4

Trend lines: The Islamic World and Latin America

  • Muslim Societies in North Africa, ME and SWA are in meltdown. Islamism is rising because it is rooted in the societies and their supporting cultures. The growing Islamist majorities will struggle for decades to govern themselves.
  • Turkey and Iran are in direct opposition in Syria; attempts to remove Assad from power in Syria are reinforcing Iran’s perception that it needs a nuclear deterrent to hold the Sunni Peninsular Arabs, Israel, Turkey, and potentially U.S. Forces at risk. Securing Iran and its new Shiite Satellite State, Iraq, and competition for regional dominance will pit Turkey and Iran against each other for decades.
  • Criminality, terrorism and human trafficking from Latin America, especially, Mexico, presents an immediate and growing threat to the internal stability and national security of the United States. Mexico is in the midst of a drug war, with rival cartels fighting for control of a $30 billion market for illegal drugs inside the United States.
  • The future key terrain of the world will be oil, minerals, water and the infrastructure that supports these resources. Al Faw in the Persian Gulf pumps out roughly $17,000 a second in crude oil. 42% of Nigeria's oil already goes to the United States… The West with Japanese participation is dividing up the World’s resources on the Yalta model. The Chinese are not invited …


Slide 5

Trend lines: Debt Matters!

  • When interest rates on the U.S. Treasury’s securities rise – and they will – the U.S. Government’s cost of servicing the nation’s ballooning debt will soar confronting Americans with a new fiscal crisis;
  • In Senator Tom Coburn’s words, “the specter of default.”
  • International Financial Outlook is grim.  EUROZONE will implode followed by UK;
  • NE Asia: Chinese economic downturn already underway. Japan and Korea will follow.
  • Near Term: Probability of ‘Great power’ war low, but a Korean‐Style Emergency that demands ready, deployable Army combat forces capable of decisive, Joint offensive operations remains a strong possibility. Until borders are secure, Americans at home are at risk.
  • Long‐term: The prerequisite for any fight with U.S. Forces is to neutralize U.S. space-based assets. This fight involves kinetic and non‐kinetic (cyber) capabilities and will only intensify.


Slide 6

What do the trend leans mean for America's post election defense establishment?

  • Critical Task for incoming Defense Team in January 2013: Optimize today’s forces within the trend lines to guide strategic investment over time.
  • Industrial Age paradigm inefficiencies and duplications reduce operational impact and perpetuate unsustainable “cost exchange ratios” with our adversaries (Vietnam/Iraq/Afghanistan).
  • Optimizing “capability at cost” in new paradigm dramatically increases operational impact of each dollar spent – maintaining/enhancing security at reduced spending levels.


Slide 7

Implications for Army Ground Forces:

  • The U.S. will no longer sustain open‐ended military interventions in failing or failed states with the object of imposing cultural and political change with general purpose ground forces.
  • The Army can learn more about the future character of warfighting operations from the Falkland Islands Campaign than from its experience in Iraq and Afghanistan.
  • Lines of Communications will be the life or death of force projection over vast distances. In the Pacific, Australia is key. (See Key State Strategy outlined in Breaking the Phalanx, Praeger January 1997)
  • The Army must offer a modular continuum of response that is flexible and inherently joint in design and assert a leadership role in Joint operations and concepts.
  • Without a new force design in place, the Army will not get a new strike vehicle or C4ISR package is the start point for change. Standardization of sensors, networks, C2 data, and intelligence is vital.


Slide 8

What should the Army’s senior leaders do?

  • In December 1905, three years after the Boer War ended, Richard Haldane became Secretary of State for War. Obstructed by a nation obsessed with the Royal Navy, and a political culture opposed to conscription, Haldane began preparing the British Army for a future conflict very different from colonial warfare.
  • Haldane set out to determine the form future war was likely to take, then, adopted the organization and weapons to fight it. In other words, software (thinking carefully about things, contemplating likely issues and problems) must come before hardware. What happened?
  • Haldane concentrated on reorganization, modernization and training to maximize capability at cost;
  • In practice, Haldane built a ground force suited to a global Maritime Power, not a regional Continental Power;
  • The result was an elite force of 6 infantry divisions and 1 cavalry division, designed for rapid deployment as a British Expedition Force (BEF), backed by a reserve of 14 Territorial divisions of volunteers;
  • In 1914, the BEF arrived in time to slow, then, cooperate with the French to halt the German advance.


Slide 9

Implications of the Haldane Model for today’s Army:

  • The Haldane approach demands rigorous analysis to link strategy with concept and capabilities; an integrated, joint military command structure with a self‐contained organization for combat. An Army for a global Aerospace‐Maritime Power, not a continental power!
  • New Army Force Design must:
    • Create powerful synergies with the technologies and concepts developed by U.S. Aerospace and Maritime Forces.
    • Punch above its weight, mobilizing fighting power disproportionate to their size;
    • Operate in a non‐linear, nodal and dispersed, mobile warfare environment inside a much more lethal battle space.
    • Possess the capability to close with the enemy, take hits, sustain losses, keep fighting and strike back decisively (employ accurate devastating firepower from tracked armored platforms to ensure survival and victory in close combat).


Slide 10

The Light Reconnaissance Strike Group (LRSG) breaks the WW II/Cold War paradigm!

  • The post‐election Army must be resilient. It must be survivable, effective and act as a Joint enabler across a range of alternative futures.
  • A Light Reconnaissance Strike Group performs critical tasks in the context of Joint operations:
    • Provides a credible land component with the mobility, firepower, protection and organic sustainment to operate autonomously under Joint C2 in dispersed mobile warfare;
    • Signals escalation dominance to the enemy;
    • Bypasses or punches through enemy resistance for operational maneuver to encircle and destroy sub‐national groups or nation‐state forces;
    • Shifts rapidly between close combat and peace enforcement.


Slide 11

Post-Industrial/Information Age Joint, Integrated C2 Warfighting Paradigm

  • Integrated “All Arms” Warfare: Warfighting Operations that integrate functional capabilities – Maneuver, Strike, IISR, Sustainment – across service lines inside an integrated Joint C2 operational framework.
  • “High lethality, low density”: Army Forces that punch above their weight, capable of operational reach in an environment of mobile, dispersed warfare.


Slide 12

In the absence of truthful, open debate nothing changes

  • “The question of whether to invade the Soviet Union is a political decision. My focus is on the military issues important to such an undertaking… It may be the campaign is over in 4‐6 weeks. Perhaps, the whole thing will collapse like a house of cards in the first attack.” Lieutenant General Friedrich Paulus, Chief Planner for Operation Barbarossa, 1940
  • “I've never been more encouraged during my entire, almost four years in this country. I think we're making real progress. Everybody is very optimistic that I know of, who is intimately associated with our effort there.” General William Westmoreland, 16 November 1967
  • “During times of universal deceit, telling the truth becomes a revolutionary act.” George Orwell, 1929
  • No Accountability = No Integrity = No Change


Slide 13

Summary of Key Points:

  • The future of the Army is a constrained future‐‐especially in the budgetary sense. The Haldane model points the way forward.
  • Meanwhile, reorganize Army Forces to expand the nation’s range of strategic options; forces capable of conducting integrated, “all arms” operations in dispersed, mobile warfare against a mix of potential opponents, conventional and unconventional.
  • Like the Navy, Air Force and Marines, the U.S. Army exists to raise, train, and equip modular/mission focused capability packages and C2 elements designed for commitment to the COCOMs and plugged into Joint Force Headquarters which have the authority and the responsibility to fight and win the nation's wars.