04 July 2005

Fallacy of Pentagon Plans

The Pentagon may be changing big-picture strategy according to the New York Times.

The current military strategy is known by a numerical label, 1-4-2-1, with the first number representing the defense of American territory. That is followed by numbers representing the ability to deter hostilities in four critical areas of the world, and to swiftly defeat two adversaries in near-simultaneous major combat operations The final number stands for a requirement that the military retain the capability, at the same time, to decisively defeat one of those two adversaries, which would include capturing a capital and toppling a government.

It's what's known as the two-war strategy because it centers on only fighting two regional wars at one time. Note that we hold the enemy in one war, while winning the other. The plan doesn't have us advancing on both enemy capitals at the same time.

If you read this Pentagon publication, you'll see that the two-war doctrine is seen there as being too aggressive in posture. They want to drop the deterrence in non-war theaters of the two war plan, and reduce the offensive capacity of the war designated a holding action, in favor of supplementing the non-holding war with additional resources.

One of the many problems with this is that, like most plans on military restructuring, it centers on Hollywood's view of military capability. Special Forces and gadgetry are the answer to every question. Despite the repeated claims of restructing advocates, there is not an infinite supply of special forces soldiers lying around waiting to be tapped. There's nothing 'special' about a special forces soldier unless they've finished special forces training, and if the training requirements are lowered so that more people can graduate, they'll be less 'special'.

Special Forces were created to fill a niche in unconventional warfare. Their training and equipment doesn't suit conventional warfare very well because it's not their reason for being. While we've got special forces units who've trained for and spent time in Korea, they're not the ones who've been sitting on the border. The guys sitting on the border are the ones we need more of, but their duties, while important, are too mundane to attract interest or support.

Another reason the pentagon wants to get rid of conventional forces is money. Soldiers require food and supplies, and that means more soldiers to supply and guard, who require more food and supplies, etc. The pentagon wants to reduce the tooth:tail ratio to get rid of the expensive non-combat tail. This isn't a new problem, it's centuries old. Armies of the Roman Empire had baggage trains to carry their supplies. By the Napoleonic Era, baggage trains could easily dwarf the armies they supported as not only supplies but soldiers families and their supplies, merchants and their goods and supplies, and all manner of assorted hangers-on joined the baggage trains.

In the Second World War, a pared down logistical structure meant about that each soldier on the front in Europe required five more to keep him fed, paid, supplied, and treated if injured. In the Pacific, each soldier required seventeen for the same ends. In the first gulf war, it took us six months to move about twelve divisions (counting assorted brigade and lesser elements as well as the Marines) into Saudi Arabia. In this last war, it took us the same amount of time to move fewer than six divisions into place, and our logistical structure almost broke under the pressure of doing so while also supplying soldiers in Afghanistan. Just the drop in air-sorties by ground-based aircraft should have made this war much easier to support than the last, but our logistical capabilities were cut deeper than our offensive assets. We can outfight any enemy, but in heavy combat, our units will run out of ammo before they run out of targets. we've already had to purchase large amounts of ammunition from other countries because the pentagon shut down a lot of our own ammunition production.

The pentagon isn't deterred by their own inability to deploy and supply troops. Special forces are easy to deploy and supply, and with sufficient carrier battle groups, can hold off a much larger attacking force. Are we going to tie our warfighting ability to how many carrier battle groups we can get into a region? A great many of the military's new technologies require more technicians to repair and maintain than the combat soldiers the systems make obsolete. The tail either gets longer or the equipment breaks down, eliminating any advantage of having it.

(an ignored disadvantage of a combat multiplier is that as we deploy more of them in lieu of regular infantry, we're collecting our eggs into fewer baskets for our enemies to hit. Remote controlled airplanes are really useful until someone pops into a radio shack and builds a wide-spectrum jammer.)

Goe, ranting and raving.


Rachmeg said...

I'm thinking this whole "two-war" strategy is going to go out the door soon anyway, as soon as we start playing the old game of "MAD" with China. Then the world will split back up into the more familiar teams of Ours, Theirs, The bastards that play the middle, and the pions that are once again not important enough to worry about again.

Rach, tired from a 6 hour drive.

Goemagog said...

the original two-war strategy, where we would advance on two fronts (as opposed to holding on one and advancing on the other as is current strategy), actually had us advancing on 4 smaller fronts as well, hence the 'surge' capacity built into the cold war force structure. it was needed to train and equip draftees to build our army up quickly and massively.

it's modelled on ww2, with a pacific front, european front, and additional fronts (such as korean, alaska, africa, and sub-himalayan asia) depending on how the attacks against us were launched.

facing off against china, the fronts would be taiwan, korea, afghanistan, and whomever else china attacked.

way beyond our current capabilities.

Goe, not upbeat about this.