Friday, July 30, 2004

An Army of One....and other ways that the U.S. Army is being emasculated

What in the world is happening to the United States army?

The Army brass has implemented a number of changes to that venerable organisation that are supposed to make it more efficient in a modern day or non-linear battlefield. Even more changes are in the pipeline for later. The problem is these changes are cosmetic, they are only one dimensional and work only on paper.

Indeed, the only real tests for the current changes were the war in Iraq, OIF, and according to reports, the results were underwhelming.

Take the much celebrated Stryker Brigade concept for example. You can read about it here . These are extremely expensive and are totally unfit for any other task than paramilitary operations. There was a reason that they were kept out of the assault phase of the war. They are undergunned, lightly armored, carry a minimum of soldiers and are restricted to where they can travel. Moreover, they are singularly unsuited to strategic airlift. Bradleys and M113's can be rigged for airlift, which means they have the deployability which a seaborne Stryker lacks. Speaking of seaborne, the USMC has the LAV which seems to embody all of the attributes that the Stryker was intended to possess, plus it is amphibious, is all-terrain and is much less expensive.

Another example is the re-structuring of the Army's order of battle, their combat organization. Starting in 2005, for instance, the 82nd Airborne Division will be adding a fourth brigade to it's organization, re-activating the old 508th Parachute Infantry Regiment, one battalion of which is already tasked to the newly re-flagged 173rd ABN BDE of Viet Nam fame.

Add another Brigade to the 82nd? Sounds great. That is, if it actually puts more troopers in the ranks. Apparently this is not the case though.

Currently this division, as do most U.S. Army divisions, consists of three combat brigades plus support battalions, slice elements, Headquarters and in some instances, round-out units from the National Guard and Army Reserves. The three brigades in the 82nd each have three infantry battalions. The idea behind the current organization is that any one brigade is strong enough that, when combined with it's slice elements, can act as a Brigade Task Force that can be deployed within 18 hours of notification, anywhere in the world. That is why the 82nd ABN is the flagship unit in America's Rapid Deployment Force. Our Strategic 911 if you will.

Here is the rub. This new fourth brigade is going to consist of battalions taken from two of the original brigades, with the superfluous battalion from the other original brigade being broken down to serve as scout companies for the four new brigades (the three original brigades already have scout/sniper platoons at the battalion level so I don't understand this necessity). A support battalion will then be added to each brigade, eliminating the previously independant command structure of these artillary, medical, mp, etc, etc, units (this opens up an entirely different can of worms). So now the combat assets of the brigade sized element has been reduced by an entire infantry battalion. Now when a brigade is used in a deployment, less rifles are available, even if the division has gained a whole new brigade. I guess you can call it the old army game. More units...less soldiers. It's like some illicit gambling operation on a New York street corner. KEEP YOR EYE ON THE BALL !

There is also talk of the Army abondoning the division altogether and going back to the pre-WWII regimental system. Does anybody remember why we abandoned that system in the first place? Once we get thses individual regiments overseas, they will be lumped together under a centralized command anyway.....we could call them divisions then!

Now there is talk about getting rid of the old organizational nomeclature and replacing them with names that are so lengthy that they are shortened to initials. A standard TO&E will look like a calculus problem. How about that for esprit de corps? "Grandpa....tell us again about when you served with the venerable and elite 123rd UA pi r squared!"

The LANDWARRIOR project sounds all techy and wonderful. Expiditing command and control ergo eliminating the dreaded fog of war. But when shrapnel starts cutting wires and smashing lenses and keyboards, when batteries run low and resupply is not immediately at hand or when cloud cover keeps a plugger from giving grid co-ordinates, are the soldiers of tomorrow going to be able to fall back on the old tried and true skills that have served the doughfoot of yesteryear so well? History has shown that when you have a finite amount of time to train soldiers in their particular skills on any given day, the skills that have been rendered obsolete by technology fall by the way side and the lion's share of the training time goes toward the re-enforcement of skills deemed pertinent to the equipment being used.

Can you imagine the Ranger Creed reading-"I will go on to my Ranger objective though I be the lone survivor, unless my plugger batteries die and I can't find my Ranger objective."?

And what about general Shinseki's brainchild? The black beret? Now every Army soldier who ever pounded a typewriter can feel like the elite warrior that he could have been should he have stepped up to the plate and gone that extra mile, should he have actually volunteered for special training and been accepted into an elite unit.

The plain fact of the matter is that not every soldier is a cut above. It is cetainly true that PROVING you had what it takes was an excellent way of joining the ranks of the elite.

But not anymore...Sign on the dotted line, become a fierce warrior! Here's your hat.

What else can we expect from an Army of one? What happened to unit cohesion? The old team concept? An Army of one quickly becomes a dead army in combat. This motto has to go, it is self defeating.

Now, I love and respect my Army, as everyone should. But I see disturbing trends here. Powers-that-be don't want an army that defeats enemies in detail. They want a touchy-feely SWAT team that takes care of small groups of troublesome vermin. Don't think for a second that China isn't watching and taking notes.

What ever happened to an infantryman and his three best friends: rifle, bayonet, entrenching tool?