Wednesday, September 28, 2011

What If They Gave A War And No Enemies Showed Up?

Vary much apropos of the discussion we were having here about "whither the defense budget?", Robert Farley zeros in on the U.S. Army, asking "So with no Soviet Union, no clear role in war against China and a skeptical public, what is the Army to do?"He doesn't have any more answers than we had, but just interesting that another observer noting that for all the money we're spending and propose to spend on our military capabilities, there just doesn't seem to be any way to really focus that spending.

Right now it seems like there's just no there there...


  1. Chief,
    This is the 1st time i've seen a troop hump a telephone pole- upside down.
    That's why the repeal of DADT can't work. A gi will fuck a snake if somebody will hold it down.

  2. jim: One of the things I've always respected about GIs is their ability to improvise.

  3. I suppose we could always start something at home . . .

  4. In the article cited I am at a loss to understand why Farley surmises a pure sea-air war with no Army involvement. Sure we would never, I would hope, put ground forces ashore in China, but ... Korea and Taiwan? Possibly even the Philippines and Japan?? Singapore??? Oil rich Brunei?

    Not that I am suggesting we get involved. No war at all would be best. I just do not see how such a thing could be contained in just those two venues.

  5. To me, perhaps the central question about keeping "conventional" formations on the books is the time it would take to craft a "conventional" capability in response to an "emerging threat". Have we fallen into the trap of "preparing for tomorrow's mission based on yesterday and today"? The Reserve Components are a good example. We shifted them from being a "strategic reserve" to an "operational force" without ever really saying so. Yet, how long does a Guard Brigade have to "train up" stateside to be fit for deployment? How long would it take for a division to be mission effective? 15,000 soldiers who are MOS qualified are not a "division" until they are proficient in the collective tasks appropriate for a division.

    If we have "cadre units", how do we recruit for them? Where do the junior leaders come from? Following the individual training time lag, how long is the collective training time lag?

    SO, IMHO, question number one is what is the minimum "conventional" capability we would want available immediately? What would we want to be able to field 6 to 9 months down stream (Reserves). The next level would require both civilian and industrial mobilization, and would be 18 months or more down the road.

    The fire dept in the town where I grew up responded to no more than one fire per month. Was it a waste of money that they were manned and equipped to respond to two fires simultaneously 24/7?

  6. mike: I can think of several scenarios of that sort; a Chinese move against Taiwan, or the Spratleys, or the PI. Indonesia closes the Sunda Strait, or a blockade of the Red Sea, or the Gulf of Hormuz.

    Al: I think the RC moves were made, as much as anything else, BECAUSE there was no realistic mission for the RC in our present little wars. So it was either go through the present ridiculous business, whereby a bunch of RC troops puts in something like a full year between train-up and redeployment/stand-down to get a year of overseas service. At least with the WW2 Guard divisions they stayed overseas for the duration...

    And the RA is looking at the same problem soon. Once we stop pretending that AQ has its own navy, air force and a panzer division or three there's no credible threat out there that requires half of the existing RA force...or not - nobody knows. But the ACTUAL threat level (as opposed to the fantasy-Muslim threat level) is very low for conventional land war and looks to be for some time.

    I think DA is very afraid that someone, somewhere, will recognize that...

  7. Chief, Excuse my crudeness but...
    ISTM that this troop is screwing a knot hole WHICH IS AN EXCELLENT METAPHOR FOR THE pwot.

  8. Chief: But the ACTUAL threat level (as opposed to the fantasy-Muslim threat level) is very low for conventional land war and looks to be for some time.

    OK, no argument, but let me restate the three questions that need to be asked and answered:

    1, What is the minimum "conventional" capability we would want available immediately, regardless of current threats?

    2. What would we want to be able to field 6 to 9 months down stream (Reserves).

    3. What is the the next level, which would require both civilian and industrial mobilization, and would be 18 months or more down the road.

    If all we want to do is be ready for today's threat, we don't need much of a DOD at all. That's why I used the fire department analogy. It's real hard to buy fire engines and train firefighters once the blaze has started. There is nothing wrong with a modest amount of "excess capability" to be able to react quickly to sudden unforeseen needs. However, having a few "Field Armies" of conventional forces, even in the RC, might very well be a stretch.

  9. Might I add that the Army also has a huge Reserve Component, the majority of which is the National Guard and their state mission, no less political clout. The Active Army will have to compete with the Guard for structure even more so in the future, whether it makes sense or not, and the odds are very high that if there is "excess structure" the Guard will have the bulk of it.

    As I said to the wife, we studied this at NWC, and I am so glad I am too old to have to be responsible for defining the future force. Much easier to pontificate about it.

  10. FDChief -

    A Chinese move against the Spratleys, if we chose to contest it, would perhaps be confined to sea/air battles. The same would go for attempts by any power to close sea choke-points. Or perhaps not, those could lead to wider conflicts. Hopefully not. And let's hope that no battles are fought whether sea, air, or land.

    As for the PI, I believe we still have a mutual defense agreement. As for Taiwan, our mutual defense treaty with them was deep-sixed 30 years ago. But if the PRC attempted a hostile takeover of Taiwan, then what do you suppose would happen in the Halls of Congress?

  11. Al: Give me a little time to mull that one over.

    One thing I will agree on is that the ARNG is a problem and will continue to be for the very reasons you list. The NGB isn't a military HQ; it's a lobbying firm and a monster jobs program for the states. They will fight like rabid pit bulls to prevent any sort of reduction in Guard force structure, regardless of what kind of military sense it makes...

    mike: Not sure the PRC would actually try an invasion. But I can see them using their air and sea forces to posture against the Nats and I can also see us using ours to counter theirs and to show solidarity with the Taiwanese.

  12. jim,

    the young soldier is getting "Koala-fied."

  13. Well, you're going to see a classic conflict between the political "plan for the best "hope for the best," and the military "plan for the worst" and "hope for the worst."

    Given the gravity of the financial crisis facing this nation (and hey, military guys, get your heads out of your asses: it's real, real bad), political leaders are going to seize on anything that even looks like good news to start cutting the hell out of defense bodies. Note I say "bodies." Procurement will be the last to fall. So, in Milspeak, OMA will go south, while OPA will stay constant. At least for a while. This means major cutbacks in Army personnel. As a salve, huge slices of personnel allocations will move to the reserves and the NG, and the nation will be able to assure itself it's still got the "best military ever." We all know what will happen to readiness, force quality, etc., but that's a story for another day. What will convince politicians that they're doing the right thing will be the bottom line. And they will churn out "studies" reinforcing their Happy Face geopolitical view of the world.

    Meanwhile, the generals will utter dire warnings about the "threat," hoping to frighten some people and get the attention of some political heavyweights. They will keep at it, and keep at it, but they will lose because everybody who matters knows they are totally full of shit. What they know of threats, they read in right-wing journals, which would have us believe that we need to double our forces to guard against the coming invasion from Mexico.

    It's all going to go to shit, folks, but fortunately, neither the Russians nor the PRC are going to do anything to interrupt our national desire to take ourselves over the cliff. They're smart enough to just be cool when the only nation out there that might inconvenience them is busily committing national suicide. The North Koreans? Well, yeah, they're insane enough to push it, but the South Koreans can deal with 'em. We could send one carrier task force and take that nation out. Nukes? Well, they're only little ones. And how can we even call the NKs insane any more? With a straight face?

    Gimme a break on the threat, fellas. WE are the threat.

  14. Publius & FDChief -

    I am not saying that China is currently a military threat or that anyone else is. My only beef is with Mr Farley's article where he thinks future wars will only be sea and air wars. Wishful thinking I say. If we are stupid enough to get into a sea and air shooting fracas, then it could very easily evolve into a ground war. We may want to contain it and keep it from expanding, but then we do not control what this imaginary future adversary would do, regardless of who he is. We do not control what his allies would do either. And with the idiots in Washington on both sides of the aisle anything could happen.

    I cannot buy into Mr Farley's premise. Yes, there are some scenarios where it works, but there are many more where it does not.

  15. In early 90s, at NWC, I did a paper on the then emerging budget driven versus capabilities driven case for force structure. Must admit, I never thought of things being as dire as they are today, nor the disruptive force of the GWB years and COIN-o-Mania. However, I did address the radical difference in "readiness" thinking necessary for force structure from a reaction and mobilization standpoint, expanding on the three points I gave above.

    I also addressed the powerful political leverage the Guard would enjoy in the internal Army food fight, which blew my USN/USMC classmates away, as most were unaware of it, for very understandable reasons. The USN/USMC folks, where the Navy Dept calls the RC shots, had never thought of a situation where Service Department needs could be subordinated to an AC/RC scuffle.

    While my addressing of the Guard was totally non-judgmental, the prof did say that my paper would definitely irritate "at least 50 governors".

    BTW, I did forget to include "unconventional" force structure in Point 1 above
    , and I hope all realize it was an innocent oversight, that was neither intentional nor Freudian. The current argument is definitely going to be about "conventional" formations much more than COIN capable.

  16. Al,

    Those are all great points. We do need some minimal level of military capability and I suspect there will be a lot of disagreement over what that level should be. And, as Publius notes, things are going to get worse, not better, and fiscal reality will drive our decision-making.

  17. Andy-

    I would be more inclined to call it "fiscal constraints". Ascribing "reality" to the players involved is a major stretch.