January 28, 2008

Big Changes for Big Army

We bitch a lot around here. And when you're on your way to losing two wars, some serious soul-searching is called for. But we'd be remiss if we didn't note those occasions when it really does look like we're on the right track in the COIN world. Today is one of those days.

First, let the Marines from the Infantry Officer Course warm your heart with their experience revamping their COIN curriculum. Charlie had a chance to sit in on a COIN brief with them earlier this fall and was amazed at the detailed and nuanced questions these Boot Lieuts were asking. AM's alter-ego briefed the teaching staff earlier this month and was similarly impressed. It's amazing what a dedicated learning organization can do. Semper Fi, boys.

Next, Congressional Quarterly is reporting that new Army thinking (read: COIN and SASO) may actually result in a change in budget priorities.

For the Army, the new doctrine means a seismic culture shift. It will still have guns and tanks, but it will also need more people skilled in languages, public affairs, economic development, even anthropology. Instead of grudgingly accepting the task of nation building, as it did in the Balkans and in Iraq at first, the new Army for the most part will have to embrace the role....

Though it is too early to tell precisely what the ramifications might be in general defense policy and the budget, most experts think the Army will not get a big budget increase, but will have to reorder its priorities, shifting money from, say, high-tech hardware to personnel.


The Army, for example, would probably invest less in technologies such as sophisticated sensors to gather data about electronic intercepts or heat signatures, and more money on spies. It would probably scale back its plans for a lightweight new class of vehicles and other high-tech gadgetry in the $200 billion Future Combat Systems in the interest of diverting some of that money to personnel accounts and battlefield supplies needed now. There would be additional procurement costs associated with maintaining war stocks of materiel not only for U.S. forces but for the foreign militaries and militias the United States would equip as partners. An Army set for small wars would spend less of its money on tanks and artillery and more on infantry units.

But the best news of the day arrives via Inside the Army:

The Army next month will make a key doctrine shift by changing its emphasis from conventional operations to a "full spectrum" that places post-conflict stability operations on par with offensive and defensive engagement, a shift that is already influencing high-level deliberations about weapon system investments in the service's new six-year spending plan.


The chief of staff, who commanded U.S.-led operations in Iraq from July 2004 to February 2007, said 21st-century conflicts are likely to be complex and require that the military be much more flexible both in its ability to deploy and to intellectually master the new battlefield.

"I see a conflict that's a mix -- a hybrid of irregular warfare, conventional warfare. I see it being fought primarily in a lot of urban areas," he said. "It's going to be fought with more non-state actors and individual groups than it will with state actors." Casey said such an environment will demand flexibility on the part of the military. "We are not very agile as an institution," he acknowledged. "But we are working to transform our Army."

Instead of fighting around a city's population, he said, the Army will be fighting among civilians. As a result, the ability to gather accurate intelligence and to apply lethal effects precisely will be crucial skills for the future Army.


Further, the Army will be more reliant on other government institutions, as well as on indigenous forces, for success in irregular conflicts. "No great power has ever won a counterinsurgency without indigenous forces,"Casey said. "So we have to develop our skills to work with other forces and to influence these other forces."

If CSA Casey means even half of what he says, we're in for some big changes. And changes for the better at that. (Btw, is he suggesting that there's life for Nagl's Advisor Corps?) Charlie will be watching the budget requests carefully. There are major muscle movements afoot. Stay tuned.