Soldiers Thinking Like Marines

Strategy Page has a post up about the conventional vs. asymmetric warfare debate:

Inside the U.S. Department of Defense, there is a major battle going on over what the future American military should get ready for, and what kinds of wars are most likely to be encountered. This has led to two major factions. One sees the future as needing an armed force that can fight a “conventional” war (trained forces on both sides, equipped with modern weapons). The other factions sees more like Iraq, Afghanistan and Vietnam. They point out that only one of our last four wars (Kuwait in 1991) was “conventional.”

The Marines claim to be more ready to quickly shift back to big war shape, and the Army is looking at ways to be more flexible, too. That’s good. Though we clearly need to continuously improve our peacemaking capability, the risk of over-correction in that direction seems pretty high.

I’m reminded of a suggestion I made not too long ago: Train all of the National Guard for major conventional warfare and keep the active duty military more flexible.

With limited training time, the NG units could focus on the major conflict scenario and theoretically would benefit from not splitting their resources. Part of this thinking is that the NG units would not deploy for brush wars, except maybe in a very limited role. I think this would go a long way toward fixing and stabilizing the Guard for the long term.

Since the active Army is full-time, they train up for whatever seems best at the time. If things change, they’ll be much more ready to revamp things for a new mission. Obviously, the entire active Army wouldn’t go small war, but some divisions would.


  1. “Ready” means equipment as much as training. It’s easy to leave the Stingers and Javelins behind when chasing terrorists in the mountains, but they better be available with lots of reloads when the Russkies or Chinese start rolling.

  2. You’re right, of course, Bram. I guess I was assuming that there would be tanks for the 3ID even if most of them were turned in for lighter vehicles for a while.

    That’s a dangerous assumption to make.

  3. I’m fairly uninformed about details of force structure and available deployment options, so take my question for what its worth. But won’t leaving traditional armor and mechanized warfare for the Guard mean that in case of a frisky dictator, like whoever gets Kim’s winter wonderland after he kicks off, decides to launch a fast conventional attack, that the guys most likely to get there and do the fighting first would be trained for the wrong mission? I truly don’t know, so I ask.

    But I do like the reasoning behind your suggestion. The military can’t go all one way or the other. The reason we have to fight insurgency type warfare is because we are so overwhelmingly good and dominant in the realm of conventional warfare. If we can’t project overwhelming conventional military force wherever we need to, there won’t be guerrilla wars to fight. They will be conventional wars.

  4. Nanderbus: I’m not at all suggesting “leaving traditional armor and mechanized warfare for the Guard.”

    I am suggesting that the Guard be mechanized only and train only for the big fight, while the active Army is more flexible. Some heavies. Some medium. Some light. Just like today.

    Sometimes the heavies would leave some of the tanks home and ride around in Humvees patrolling towns and villages on foot in some dusty place. Sometimes they’d patrol those towns and villages in tanks. Just like today.

    I’m basically saying “let the Guard focus 100% on the big war, leave the rest pretty much the same.” I know that means more rotations for active Army if the Guard doesn’t pull duty in Iraq or wherever. And that would be a problem with the current force size.

    That would then be a segue way into my next suggestion for the Army…

  5. What I saw of the National Guard was that they were going in the opposite direction. My old unit went from armor to infantry because of money.

    Maintaining, fueling, and upgrading tanks and APC’s cost far more than paying infantry to practice patrolling one weekend a month.

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