Tuesday, May 02, 2006

The Future Force

As to the debate about whether we need a bigger Army, distinguish between two very different questions: 1) do we need more ground force personnel for our global posture? 2) do we need more personnel in Iraq? (this question originally posed in BD)

The answer to the first question is almost obviously yes -- although HOW you would do so is wide open to debate. The Army and NG are badly stretched and with the President committed to Iraq, will remain so for the foreseeable future. And if you at all buy into the 4G argument (or a variant thereof), this type of scenario is likely to continue as part of the GWOT. Is adding troops to the Army the answer? Not by itself: it is clear we are vastly overinvested in air and naval resources and underinvested in ground resources. We do need some air modernization -- and the Army and F-35 JSF should be getting much cozier if airpower is to replace indirect fire support in the future. But I'm at a loss why we need 2 other tactical fighters (when's the last time we had a dogfight? who cares if the new Russian fighters are better -- that's now how we gain air dominance these days), investment in 3 different new escort ships (DDX, LCS, Deepwater), and continued modernization of the CVN and submarines (when is the last time we fought a naval battle?) Don't give me the "From the Sea/Seapower 21" litany: we are unparalleled at projecting firepower anywhere in the world with devastating effect and digital precision. That's why the bad guys are hiding in cities (sometimes our cities) or mountains and using terror tactics. THAT is our weakness.

The answer to the second question is more difficult. I'd have a hard time answering it without doing a serious on the ground assessment. On the one hand, there are certainly a host of things we could be doing to help ourselves in Iraq that we aren't doing. On the other hand, George Casey (who I greatly like and admire) inherited a mess and a heavily fatigued Army unskilled in counterinsurgency/ nationbuilding, so trying to do a lot more at this point may be too difficult (any increase in overall troop strength will take years to realize and begin to lessen the strain on the current force.) My hunch is that the time we needed more troops was in the first 6 months after Baghdad fell -- and we needed a plan and better skills too. Today, I think we are entering a period of slow messy handover to the Iraqis, hoping that fatigue and our withdrawal take some steam out of the insurgency and thus keep it from overwhelming the new Iraqi government. In other words, not the right time for more troops in Iraq.

Moving as I like to do into a broader strategic realm, I think we should ask the question as to whether the ground force- air/naval force imbalance is a symptom of the fact that our defense forces are broadly misorganized. Let me explain.

The Pentagon has spent much of the last 30 years trying to get its land force (Army and USMC), aviation (Air Force and Naval Aviation), and naval forces (Navy) to operate jointly. We have come a long way operationally although major seams still exist. Less progress has been made in non-operational areas: acquisition, R&D, doctrine, and strategy.

At the same time, war and technology have shifted the battlefield challenges so significantly that distinctions between land, air, and sea forces are much less important than other environmental and missions distinctions: major combat operations, peacekeeping/nationbuilding, and homeland security.

Indeed, I would submit the antiquated distinction between land, sea, and air forces holds little rationale in the current strategic environment. The strategic stability, conventional weapon dominance, and industrial era technology of the Cold War was not a bad environment for the traditional service distinctions. Similarly, the decade of peace between the Cold War and 9/11 made such divisions less meaningful. But in the current environment, the bureaucratic loyalties within the services are increasingly frustrating DoD's ability to reform rapidly to face new threats. The service rivalries are interfering with reform at strategic, budgetary, and operational levels.

The continuing shortfalls in operational jointness are well documented and understood. More serious and obvious at this point are the strategic and budgetary disconnects. Currently we have an Army facing huge budgetary and manpower strains due to high optempo while it simultaneously tries to reform itself in two directions: 1) to become more netcentric and transformational in the Rumsfeld vision 2) to become more SOF and low-intensity driven to meet the Schoomacher vision (and post-conflict Iraq realities).

Meanwhile the Navy and Air Force continue to struggle for new strategic concepts and myths to justify their existence while pushing air and naval dominance platforms (F/A-22, DD(X), Virginia Class Submarine, etc.) with little budgetary or personnel strain.

What if we were unencumbered by these legacy service divisions and could reorganize our military anew to meet current challenges? I doubt we would organize by air, land, and sea, but rather create three joint forces organized around the very different missions and environments we face. Here is one idea for a new three pronged military:

Major Combat Force (US Army/USAir Force Co-Lead with land, sea, air components)
- Defense against conventional threat such as Korea and Taiwan
- The ability to project conventional military power for offensive action (like OIF Phases I-3)
- Rapid reaction/supporting force in low intensity scenarios

Stability and Counterinsurgency Force (US Marines plus US Army plus SOF)
- Post conflict operations
- Counterinsurgency
- Humanitarian operations
- Consequences management

Access and Defense Force (US Navy, USCG, elements of Air Force and Army)
- Homeland defense (including port security, transportation security,
- Defense of US and friendly air and naval space
- Control of the sea lanes and assured transport of US assets globally

This is a strawman proposal. I am sure there are plenty of potential shortfalls that critics might want to point out. But the bigger analytical question is whether we can do better than the current Army, Navy, Airforce, Marines organization for manning, training, and equipping our defense forces. I submit it is not.