From: the Department of No Freaking Kidding

Two War Strategy Questioned

An NYT story on the capability of today’s military to meet the “Two War” requirement of the mid-1990s:

The unusual mission in Iraq, which could last for years, has not just taken the slot for one of the two wars; it has upended the central concept of the two-war model…

After years of saying American forces were sufficient for a two-war strategy, “we’ve come to the realization that we’re not,” said another Defense Department official involved in the deliberations, who was granted anonymity because he could not otherwise discuss the talks, which are classified. “It’s coming to grips with reality.”

I think it’s safe to say that a major regional war with, say, North Korea right now would be a serious inconvenience for the US military.

I buy the “Two War” plan, but not the implementation. We don’t have enough combat troops (though the realignment is at least improving that a bit) and we don’t have enough logistical capability to support two major campaigns simultaneously.

Now, don’t get me wrong. If war were to break out in Korea or Africa or somewhere, we’d fight well and we’d find a way to keep the machine running. But not without great difficulty and loss.

War is always a great teacher when it comes to peace-time plans. Let’s hope the students are paying attention. You never know when there’s going to be a pop quiz.


  1. A second war right now would be a bitch. A complete mobilization of the National Guard and Reserves would be necessary. And some of the less than stellar National Guard combat units with obsolete equipment would be required to fight on the front lines. Right now we have a great Army with no bench strength. The bottom line is that the cuts during the 1990’s were way too deep. The Army lost EIGHT DIVISIONS and the Marine Corps lost their 9th Regiment. How nice would it be right now to relieve some of our units on their 2nd deployment in Iraq by replacing them with the 5th or 6th or 7th or 8th or 9th Infantry Division? You get the idea. If we had to fight another sizeable conflict, we would really be sucking wind. The 9th Marine Regiment was de-activated to make room for their Light Armored Recon battalions. They were part of the 3rd Marine Division, which is based in Japan and probably the 1st reinforcements on the scene of a Korean conflict – or anything to do with China. Other parts of the Army have also been hollowed out. The 82nd Airborne, for instance, lost their organic armored battalion to politics over the Stryker vs. M-8 politics and finances. Let’s not even talk about the Navy. The bottom line is that George W. needs to step up and start rebuilding. I’ve heard enough Transformation B.S. to last a lifetime. The budget needs to be seriously increased and a new recruiting drive, lead by the President himself is needed. Bigger Army = fewer and shorter deployments as well as increased security. How about we cancel the pork-laden energy and transportation bills and buy ourselves back a couple of divisions?

  2. Bram, We should first consider what the mission would be in a second Korean War. My best guess is for friendly ground forces to delay NPRK advance aggressively. I don’t see any combination of forces, even with as capable a force as the ROK, to be able to sustain deep penetration into the North. While the USAF and USN aviation can take air dominance, there will come a point where punishment form the air is not enough. Particularly considering that minimizing of civilian targets will be a priority- no leveling of entire cities, area bombing, etc. The folks in the ground war will not have enough people for a robust counterattack. It won’t be Task Force SMith again either, but once Seoul is lost and regained, friendly ground forces might be fought out. There’s nothing preventing Pyongyang from threatening other states, either. Why not a little nuclear blackmail with Japan: If the US uses Japanese soil for attacks on NK, including harbor facilities, Tokyo goes away. But I digress…if the mission is to be denial of such-such area south of the DMZ to the North, then there is probably enough force to do that. But there’s no way we will be able to conquer the North with the forces we have now. No way.

  3. If it was deemed necessary, we could invade North Korea. It would not be fun, but it could be done. The first priority would be targeting anything that resembled a nuclear site. The next is to cut off the North Korean army from its bases of supply. What most people don’t figure in, is that the North Korean army is basically a fixed force. It has a huge amount of artillery, but is relatively immobile. Immobility = death or B52 bait. After the first couple of weeks, the North Korean army would be immobile and out of supply. Our position in Korea is basically unaffected by Iraq. In most any senario, the North would be defeated before the US Army could figure out what to do, and arrive in numbers that matter.

  4. The real threat is China. If we were to invade North Korea, there is a good chance that China would intervene – then all bets are off. They have not caught up to our technology yet, but they are getting close and they are far more disciplined than the pathetic Iraqi Army we have fought the last two times around. A more disturbing scenario is if China decides to invade Taiwan. They may cut a deal with North Korea to invade South Korea simultaneously. Trying to defend South Korea and Taiwan would be a huge stretch for our seriously depleted forces.

  5. Transformation, I believe, is a good thing. It allows us to get far more combat ability out of the same number of troops. That’s all great. But you run into problems when faced with problems in different places. Any given soldier in Iraq might be the equal of twenty or a hundred enemy soldiers thanks to his equipment, training and yes, transformation. But he can’t shoot at the Chinese from Fallujah. We did draw down to much. That Marines escaped largely unscathed. And after the cold war it was reasonable to expect that we’d draw down a bit. But the Navy, Air Force and Army got cut close to half. If we still had even fourteen divisions in the AC, we’d be in good shape. Deployments in Iraq would be les onerous, and we’d still have a reserve of competent, battle-expererienced veterans to deal with the Koreans, Chinese, Iranians, Syrians, Saudis, or Norwegians. I think we should be ramping up the size of the Army at least. We could let the AF and the Navy slide, because at least right now their combat power is a match for any possible enemy. I think getting recruits for a few more divisions would not be all that difficult, because with more troops, people will know that that would mean less deployments for each individual soldier.

  6. As for our next big conflict, I’d lay odds on China. We might have smaller ‘little wars’ in the middle east. But the two obvious conflicts are Korea and China. As much of a nutbag as Kim is, I don’t think he’s actually going to invade the south. The RoKs have a large, well-equipped and American trained army, plus our support. Kim knows that throwing his fifties-era (Russian fifties, at that) army at that will be a total loser for him. More likely that he plays nuclear threat games but doesn’t do anything. Unless of course, China invades Taiwan. The Chinese are more like 1930’s Germany than 1980’s Russia. They have an expanding economy and an authoritarian regime. They are nuts. But, they have a rapidly modernizing army, and they are explicitly looking for ways to defeat us. My personal nightmare scenario goes something like this: China, after almost no sword rattling, invades Taiwan and catched us off guard. Most of our troops are deployed in the middle east. We scramble to support the Taiwanese, but the Chicoms already have a foothold on the island. And then Kim invades S Korea, and threatens to nuke everyone he can reach if the Americans support the South. And then the Japanese spend a couple hours in the lab, and become a nuclear power. And then, crazy shit starts to happen. Fun for the whole family.

  7. Buckethead, We should write a techno-thriller novel with your scenario as the plot. We could publish it under the pseudonym ‘Tom Clancy.’

  8. bh: ‘norwegians’ me: ? anyway I see war with China as unlikely. They are not known for a speedy military, especially with unfamiliar naval conflict; they would need to move really fast to first secure access to crude oil…from the U.S., before they could sustain any involvment in Taiwan and support NK while keeping the rebellious provinces (Tibet etc.) in check; and the army would need to done quickly so as to be able help with the seasonal flooding which takes place every year and threatens everything. Plus there would be many people out of work as trade is shut down; unhappy out of work workers equals rebellion.

  9. Sam, just through that in for fun. Lousy herring eating Norwegians. The thing about war is, there doesn’t have to be rationality on both sides. All you need is irrationality on one side. The received wisdom everywhere in Europe even as late as Spring of 1914 was that war was impossible given the economic interdependence of the European powers. A rational Hitler would not have declared war on three different nations – each one of which had more economic power than Germany did. I fear that the Chinese leadership, in the manner of totalitarian leaders throughout history, is not in touch with reality. If they believe that through fast action, sneaky diplomacy, clever asymetric strategies and boldness that they can retake Taiwan, they just might do that. Regardless of the fact that we know that (hopefully) the US *will* intervene, and that our uniquely lethal military machine will triumph. The most likely scenario leading up to this would be an overcommitted US military, a weak US president, and a provocative Taiwanese leader. Throw in domestic discontent in China, and you have a recipe for disaster. The Chinese government could easily see the benefits of manipulating the strong patriotism of the Chinese public by foriegn adventures. If they believed that they could take Taiwan quickly – if the PLA leadership told them it was possible – they would plan on presenting the US with a fait accompli. I don’t think that under any conceivable circumstances that the mainland Chinese could achieve a quick victory, but once the ball starts rolling, you have the potential for general war in east asia. Side note – the clever diplomacy thing is easy to envision. How hard would it be for the Chicoms to peel off Germany and France? Or Russia? Our only sure allies in this fight would be the Aussies and the Brits. It would take real work to keep Japan a positive participant – their instinct would be to go neutral, I think. If the North Koreans cut loose as well, then we’d have the South Koreans, but they would be unable to provide any assistance outside the Korean peninsula. Side note two: Bram, I think Clancy screwed the pooch on Bear and Dragon. The ‘Northern Resource Area’ was a mildly clever conceit. The animosity between Russia and China largely disappeared after the collapse of the Soviet Union. His love for the Russkies blinded him, although his portrayal of the battle between US and Chinese troops was well done.

  10. buckethead, ‘Bear and Dragon’ also sucked because of its relentless reference to sucking. I recall about every other chapter with some dude getting blown from the woman who was a spy. I remember thinking, ‘Sheesh Clancy, get a girlfriend fer Chrissakes.’ I believe that China could achieve quick victory over Taiwan. ‘Quick’ means, conquered before the US could intervene in a meaningful way; ‘victory’ means, well, conquered. The PRC espionage and commando force capacity must be tremendous on Taiwan, and there are several Taiwanese formations of quesitonable loyalty. I think it would be fairly easy for the PRC to decapitate Taiwan and render it ineffective enough to call it a win. The rest of the world will support the Chinese, if for no other reason than because it would be against the US.

  11. Cut through the code words, and I think what this means is that you are going to see a change in policy as a justification for big cuts in naval combatants (one war — with China, not two one in the Atlantic-Mediterranean, and one in the Pacific), big cuts in air force fighter planes, and the addition of a large number of peace keeping divisions in the Army (only they will be broken up into Brigades).

  12. China and Russia are at good terms, mainly because Russia is unable to defend itself. The Russian army has basically disintergrated. Meanwhile China is invading Russia, the kinder gentler way. Mass migration of Chinese natationals into siberia. Allready the Chinese outnumber Russians in Siberia and the ratio continues to climb. I could foresee in about 10-15 years parts of Russia suceeding to join to China. Currently China invading Tiawan is the million man swim. If the US can brooker having Tiawan get 7 of the sweedish fuel cell subs, I believe that militarily, China cannot win. Moreover, given Japan’s recient shift to being more pro military, a Chinese land grab would result in Japan going nuclear.

  13. Here is something no one is considering. During WWII and Korea, soldiers fought in theater for the duration. 5 years was common. Now soldiers rotate a year in and a year to 18 months out of the sandbox. If nescesary, we could go back to the old 3-5 year rotations and cover 2 theaters. Remember, right now you have 1CD, 4ID, most of 10th mountain and 101st back in the states. Add to that all of the AF and half of the Corps (plus 2nd ACR, and 11th ACR) and the second front can be easily covered.

  14. Rey: Yeah, but those militaries weren’t all volunteer militaries. We could, of course, do it if we had too. But it would be the end of our supreme force forever.

  15. A war between the U.S. and China over Taiwan would not be limited to the area around Taiwan. The Chinese plans for invading Taiwan is to use cyber attacks and terrorism to disrupt U.S. communications and infrastructure. Remember that a Red Army owned port management company manages the ports at either end of the Panama Canal. A U.S. China war would not be a conventional war in any sense that we understand.