Nine steps to a more effective force

The article Heavy & Agile by Maj. Daniel L. Davis in Armed Forces Journal makes a number of great points about the direction our military, particularly our land forces, are going and where they really should be headed. He points out that there is a lot that networked technology can do to aid the warfighter.

But given the current state of technology, the probability of future development in nations across the globe, and a historical perspective on the performance of new and emerging technologies in the past, does this theory stand up to rigorous examination? I argue that it does not. Aside from a near-faith-based, unsubstantiated belief in the efficacy of technology to do anything and everything imaginable, one of the primary factors upon which this assessment is based is its failure to give proper consideration to the capabilities of the future enemy force.

He is concerned that relying on text messaging and satellite communications to replace heavy armor protection is asking for trouble, not only because technology has a habit of failing at critical junctures and because nothing can really take the place of heavy weapons and strong armor, but also because our enemies not only will have their own technological capabilities, they will be working hard to neutralize ours.

The world has not stood passively by since Desert Storm. It has studied American performance in extraordinary detail and spent billions of dollars and years of research focused on the desire to defeat the most prominent capabilities we have now and those we are projected to have in the future. We, therefore, must be sober and aware of what capabilities the world is producing, expend considerable mental power trying to devise counteractions and, perhaps above all, shed the hubris endemic throughout our force that would have us believe we cannot possibly be challenged on a conventional battlefield. The facts argue persuasively against such belief.

It is critical that with eyes wide open, we educate ourselves as to global military developments, analyze those capabilities in light of our platforms and systems, ascertain our areas of potential vulnerability — and then constantly seek ways to mitigate those vulnerabilities, acknowledge that our opponent will score some victories, and with that understanding, seek solutions that will allow us to win anyway. If we always prepare ourselves to face the best capabilities a potential enemy might throw at us, we will have a chance to win every time.

Here are the nine steps outlined in the article:

1. Improve the armored protection of our armored fighting platforms.

2. Increase the ability of reconnaissance forces to fight for information in a degraded mode.

3. Implement a counter-UAV and space-defense program.

4. Return air defense to the tactical formation in recognition of improving threat capabilities.

5. Expand our air transport fleet to enable rapid strategic and operational movement and maneuver.

6. Improve the ability of land forces to engage in operations worldwide via fast sealift and sea basing.

7. Field significant numbers of advanced fighter aircraft to ensure air superiority.

8. Strengthen missile defense.

9. Place an increased emphasis on training the force in light of emerging capabilities with a focus on the realities of ground combat.

The techno gadgets are great. GPS, for example, has changed the way we fight. But that doesn’t mean that we should discard maps and eyeball navigation skills.

Comments

  1. Good post… I have some comments.

    1. Improve the armored protection of our armored fighting platforms.

    Well, everyone likes armour, but there’s always the trade-off with mobility. US forces are already pretty heavily armoured – Abrams, Stryker, MRAP, etc. It’s possible to go too far. I think it make sense to look at always improving armour protection, but that doesn’t mean constantly adding more armour. If more armour was always better, everybody would just ride around in Abrams (and still not be 100% safe…)

    2. Increase the ability of reconnaissance forces to fight for information in a degraded mode.

    I’m not 100% sure what this is saying, but it reminds me of the comment ‘no plan ever survives contact with the enemy’.

    3. Implement a counter-UAV and space-defense program.

    I’m sure counter-UAV will be required one day. I think it’s more important to improve the UAV force for recon/strike first, though. The more eyes there are in the sky, the better.

    4. Return air defense to the tactical formation in recognition of improving threat capabilities.

    Again, not quite sure what he’s trying to say, but I agree that AD should retain as many tactical capabilities as possible…

    5. Expand our air transport fleet to enable rapid strategic and operational movement and maneuver.

    This is a no-brainer, the problem being money. C-5s and C-17s don’t come cheap, but they’re very necessary.

    6. Improve the ability of land forces to engage in operations worldwide via fast sealift and sea basing.

    I think fast airlift is important too. One reason it’s so disappointing that the Stryker doesn’t fit into a Herc. Until armoured vehicles are developed which can fit, I guess sea lift is it.

    7. Field significant numbers of advanced fighter aircraft to ensure air superiority.

    Another duh. Keep buying F-22s.

    8. Strengthen missile defense.

    Duh.

    9. Place an increased emphasis on training the force in light of emerging capabilities with a focus on the realities of ground combat.

    This sure would be nice, but it seems like the pentagon has some real inertia. You know, I can’t help but think that the real challenges for the U.S. military are more symptoms of institutional inertia rather than lack of any gadgets or vehicles. It’s vital to recognize what type of a fight you are in and adapt your tactics and strategy as fast as possible. That would be my number one point.

  2. One thing I’d like to see the Army consider is a light personal transportation vehicle that would convert from conventional rolling on wheels mode to wing-in-ground effect mode. It would be light and fast, but travel over either conventional roads, water, or very smooth terrain in ground effect flight mode. Since most mines are contact activated, a vehicle like this flying at a foot off the ground would not activate them. Also, because it would be fast, 100+ mph fast, and potentially very silent it would be hard to hit with a radio controlled bomb. Unfortunately, due to the ‘institutional inertia’ that Nicholas noted, a vehicle like this will never get any consideration.

  3. My idea is a result of thinking about the Mercedes crash at LeMans a few years back. It made me realize that the difference between a vehicle sticking tightly to the ground and flying is really only a couple of degrees of angle of attack. Now granted, you would have to obey certain aspects of aircraft design in your vehicle. It would have to be aerodynamically stable, for one thing. Notice that the Mercedes is not stable, which is why it swapped ends so quickly once airborne. I don’t see why you couldn’t make something that was roughly analogous to a snowspeeder from Star Wars that would give the Army a lighting attack capability that they really don’t have now. Granted they have helicopters, but these fly relatively high, are noisy, and can attract a lot of attention. Plus they take some time to get troops into and out of, and they tend to be quite expensive. That’s not to mention the fact they’re 40 year old techology, and your typical wheeled vehicle is closer to 100 year old technology.