Army must keep ready as it shrinks, SecDef says

Army must keep ready as it shrinks, SecDef says

Secretary Panetta locked in the official narrative for the post-Iraq and Afghanistan Army on Wednesday in a speech to attendees at the Association of the United States Army trade show: Yes, end strength must come down, but the Army also must keep the “balance” that its leaders prize, he said.

Not only does the Army need to revive its proficiency at big force-on-force engagements, Panetta added his imprimatur to a challenge that his predecessor and many Army leaders have laid down: The service must figure out how to keep as many of its highly skilled, highly experienced battle veterans as possible. The Army needs them to absorb the good and bad lessons of Iraq and Afghanistan and it needs them to help get set for the next wave of threats.

Said Panetta:

This nation needs an Army that can deter any potential aggressor – an expeditionary Army able to deploy to distant battlefields and, upon arrival, decisively overwhelm any enemy land force.  And if an enemy does challenge us in a conventional land war, we need an Army that can, as General George Patton used to say, “Hold the [enemy] by the nose and kick them in the ass.”

Still, the reality is there aren’t a lot of countries out there building massive tank armies – it is unlikely that we will be re-fighting Desert Storm in the future.  Instead, I see both state and non-state actors arming with high-tech weaponry that is easier both to buy and operate, weapons that frustrate our traditional advantages and freedom of movement.  Coming up with new ideas and operating principles to defeating these kind of enemies is a challenge I pose to this battle hardened generation of American soldiers.  War remains a very human endeavor, fought against thinking and adaptive enemies, and just as our enemies seek out asymmetric advantages, we need to think of smarter ways to counter them.  We need the Army, and particularly its seasoned junior leaders, to display the same creativity and adaptability to defeat these hybrid threats as they’ve shown in dealing with counterinsurgency warfare over the past decade.  We need today’s generation of battle-hardened soldiers, and thoughtful leaders who know the face of modern warfare, to build our future force.

That means we must put more trust in our junior officers and our NCOs.  It is from among our junior leaders, our cadre of experienced lieutenants, captains and NCOs, where the new operational concepts and ideas will come.  Today’s generation of young men and women in uniform are as creative and mentally agile on the battlefield as their contemporaries working in the high-tech idea-labs in Silicon Valley. These are bright, capable soldiers. And we need the best to figure out what the best will be. The excellence of our greatest asset, our soldiers, gives me confidence we can craft an Army organized, trained and equipped to prevail in the future.  They are, as General Dempsey says, our decisive advantage and our hedge against uncertainty.

Panetta did not give details for where he thought Army end strength should end up, or go into detail about his view of the fates of its heavy units. In fact his speech appealed to the Army itself to use the “strategic breathing room” opened up by the Iraq and Afghanistan drawdowns to figure out the details:

I need you to help me figure out what that Army must look like for the future.  How does the future Army contribute to a better and stronger joint force able to dominate any potential enemy?  What do we need to retain in a smaller force today, to allow us to rapidly expand in the future if necessary?  What is the Army’s role in a century that will present a variety of security concerns from Asia to the Middle East and beyond?

Good questions. What do you think?

Join the Conversation

So why do they think we wont fight a war like Desert Storm again? I mean we didnt think we would fight the war we are fighing now. China and Russia would be a regional war not a country op like Iraq and Afghanistan. They are well disipline and huge armies. It kills me how some dont use history as a guide, and we get wrapped in how to use technology.

While the conventional wisdom is most always wrong, it is nice to see a SecDef who is at least trying to stay centered and balanced in his public statements. Two thumbs up for Mr. Panetta.

Hindsight is unfortunately 20/20 in more ways that one. The “last war” is always the one that provides all of the lessons to be learned. DS taught us that a highly mobile, hard hitting, high tech, mechanized ground army, charging in behind a comprehensive air campaign could shred a Warsaw Pact style “wanna be” army. THEN we start going into a COIN scenario like Afghanistan (or Iraq) where all of those heavy armored vehicles were almost more of a handicap than an advantage. The problem is that the 20/20 angle works for the enemy as well, and they DO get a say in terms of what that “next war” will look like.)

If you remember, one of Reagan’s strengths was recognizing his weaknesses and insuring that there were some honest and forthright SMEs handy on those subjects. Panetta is not stupid and he knows that he will have to go to the experts (if there is such a thing in this particular issue) on this one. The question is will he have the intestinal fortitude to hear the inputs from the experts and act on them.

A well trained conventionally focused Army has a greater potential to transition to COIN ops than the opposite approach.

Why is this story in the navy section?

USAF — vehicles were not more of a handicap than an advantage. Our greatest error was going in light (numbers wise) to Iraq.

To be clear, I’m not saying to be myopic. We must maintain our special ops and light formations. Some nitwit will try and take this to an extreme and extremes aren’t flexible.

Agreed fully on Iraq during the initial assault, but in Afghanistan and after the initial run-in to Iraq, Im thinking that those boots and rifles started looking lots more useful in lots more ways than treads and “silver bullets”. Way back when, in joint/combined arms training, I was rather simplistically taught that the tanks protected the infantry from other tanks while the infantry protected the tanks from other infantry! Once you have no tanks on the bad guy side, the tank becomes more of a fuel-guzzling, road crushing, noisy, smelly, attention-getting target instead of a major combat asset (except for the fear factor and its occasional use as an assault gun / door opener / wall breacher and rolling firing parapet!). :-) And in the original post, I did say “almost”!

“Who’s that knocking at my door, who’s that knocking… er…” sung in the key of 120mm! Oh yes, thats Navy but Im an equal opportunity, interservice harasser! LOL!

In terms of hardware, perhaps, since all you have to do is pick up a carbine instead of hopping into your Abrams, but in terms of mindset? I suspect that treadheads and cannoneers dont make good COIN guys any more than good A/G F/A-18 pilots routinely are great A/A F/A-18 pilots. The airplane can be loaded out with a mix of GBUs and AMRAAMs, and can switch from one mode to the other seamlessly, the gray-matter behind the stick just ends up thinking one way or another. Perhaps the exceptional guy can successfully and easily switch gears, but.… Should I take my bow as the designated nitwit? :-)

perhaps thinking outside the box?


During the darkest days of Iraq we had artillerymen and tankers conducting almost all of the security ops straightleg infantry do. They weren’t doing it the first year though they were starting to train on the Infantry skills they would execute a year later.

When we train an Army to execute in a conventional optempo battlefield its much easier to switch gears and go to COIN than taking a bunch of Infantrymen and trying to make them artillerymen and tankers overnight. COIN contingencies do provide the Army time to refocus its heavy forces while the trained Infantry forces hold the line. There’s no time to train up in an OPTEMPO contigency when our lunch is being handed to us. Imagine trying to execute a Desert Storm or early OIF invasion without a well trained combined arms team.

To use an aviation metaphor, its much easier to have a naval aviator trained to land on a carrier and not need it than the other way around.

Uh, OK. The world is full of wannabe Hitlers and Stalins.

correction: no time to train up in a high OPTEMPO contingency

Oh, and there’s a little more to being an Infantryman than picking up a rifle. I think you know that but if not I can explain. Mindsets were addressed during the transition.

After reading your post I’m getting confused at to what your position is. Are you saying the Army should have a COIN focus?

Wow, if we want to keep the “best and brightest” maybe we should quit allowing the “inexperienced and ignorant” to set military policy hhhhmmmm???

Considering that John Nagl and H.R, McMaster, both armor officers, were the most prominent members of Petraeus’s COIN brain trust, by all means.

Excellent. This is the exact point I have been making to anyone that will listen.

:-) You are getting suspicious! Perhaps good, perhaps not! LOL!

My unfortunate position is that the Army, and all of the services, are obliged to be ready for whatever comes. We whacked Saddam’s mechanized army like a red-headed stepchild when he tried to play “conventional war”. By most any conventional measure, he had a very credible field army and it just plain got shreadded in a matter of weeks. But then he was facing off against an Army tooled up for the Fulda Gap and he played right into their hands. All of the potential bad boys were obliged to sit up and take note, and at least the intelligent ones decided that it just was not worth going there again. Now we have been in a COIN operation for 10 years and we can at least debate as to the effectiveness of our operations. So.. . do we tune up to fight COIN in hopes that the next bad guy at the plate learned his lesson, or does that next bad guy recognize the COIN emphasis and go back to the “field army” approach? My position is “confused” because I have no choice! :-)

Every “Airborne” and “Marine” is a rifleman, but they expect everyone else to specialize in their roles?

Treads with silver bullets are very use full in urban combat. Just ask the troops who had to retake Fallujah in 2004. I just find it amazing how people automatically, discount the TANK. If the mechanized units did not go into Fallujah with the grunts, well there would be a lot more dead grunts.


You, sir, are correct on that last… which is why I tried to humorously imply using the Abrams as an assault gun, knocking down walls, and opening doors was a viable purpose, just not the really INTENDED purpose. :-) I even seem to remember an applicable video that made the rounds with a title to the effect of “Dont bring an AK-47 to a Tank fight!”. When you need an assault gun, an Abrams might be a less than perfectly optimum substitute but.… it can open doors when the doors need opening! :-) And I believe that the 120mm round of choice for such things was HE not APDS.

“A well trained conventionally focused Army has a greater potential to transition to COIN ops than the opposite approach.”

This is probably the most common misconception that the officers of an army that cant do COIN have.

The history speaks itself, we regularly win conventional wars with troops trained in little more than a year, but after 10 years of on the job training in Afghanistan we still cant win an insurgency.

The same attitude prevailed in Iraq and Somalia and Vietnam and all the other insurgencies we have lost. And no doubt as we lose the next one we will still be thinking it.

Its obvious the military as a whole will need to keep a trained conventional force and a COIN force which can be augmented or cross trained. I really dont think out country will have the appetite for another war where we need COIN forces for another 20 or 30 years or another generation.

Insurgencies will continue to be lost unless we look back in history to find out how insurgencies were defeated. No insurgency is the same, but one of the key components of beating an insurgency is isolating the insurgents. Something we could do in the Phillipines during the turn of last century. Something we didnt do in Vietnam and we were isolated in Somalia. Afghanistan is most definetley not isolated and there isnt the political will to do so.

No, COIN isn’t rocket science. For the individual soldier and small unit leaders COIN ops are nearly identical. No? How does a COIN presence patrol differ from a security patrol?

Granted the mindset of COIN ops should be different but honestly the things we do in COIN we do in conventional ops. Who wants to anger the locals?

You are right about history speaking for itself but take the wrong conclusions. Insurgencies historically take longer to defeat than conventional ops. I also reject your premise that we lost in Iraq. I’ll let the Nam and Somalia vets sharpshoot you on those campaigns which were lost at the political level, not the military level.

Agree, we must be ready for all that comes. I’m a fan of Lombardi. He emphasized the basics. Let’s start with “this is a football”.

Yes, let’s not confuse rifleman with Infantrymen shall we? IMHO every servicemember should be able to competently employ the rifle and move under direct fire (high/low crawl, rush). There’s a HUGE chasm between being a “rifleman” and being an infantryman. Simply knowing how to turn a wrench doesn’t make one a mechanic.

I don’t expect every servicemember to know the correct way to clear a room, be competent in the use of EVERY weapon in the rifle squad/platoon or execute action right/left and breach a wired/mined obstacle or have the physical and mental toughness to engage in the Infantry fight day in and day out. It gets even more complicated when we start getting into more demanding collective tasks.

Infantry must specialize to become competent in the the myriad of tasks they must execute just as we have to expect a certain level of specialized expertise of the artilleryman, tanker or cook.

And in his terms, the basics normally meant just running the same fairly simple plays that everyone else ran but doing it better at every snap. An end sweep with the old Packers diagrammed just like the end sweep for everyone else, but for some reason the execution looked like a mowing machine coming down the field in Green Bay with the halfback pushing!

IMHO, you, sir, never had to run a “M-16 Re-qualification” range day for bright eyed young airmen back before 9/11, did you! Im sure with the recent events in SWA over the last 10 years, the training is better, but back in the day (87–90), simple personal survival with no new perforations was my prime directive!

(And I thought you were the one that was contending that tankers and cooks could REALLY be turned into competant, COIN-specialist infantrymen at the drop of a hat! ) ROTGLMAO!

The decision has been made and, unfortunately, it’s not the decision most of us would like. We are going to have to live with it though. Hang on — I think it’s going to be a bumpy ride on the way down!!!

When you are confused, you’re really confused. For one thing, the only two armies in the entire Arab world that are worth anything at all are the Jordanian Arab Army and the upper tier of the Egyptian Army. One way to look at Desert Storm and OIF is not to conclude that we were so good, but that the Iraqis were just that bad. And since the Iraqis and the Iranians fought to a standstill for a decade, you can draw you own conclusions as to a hypothetical battle with Iran. None of this applies to other potential adversaries. We’ve already fought the North Koreans and the Chinese, once, at a time when (at least the Chinese) were far less developed. So, all the drivel about asymmetric and hybrid warfare is just that. When you forget the basics — as the Israelis learned the hard way in 1973 and 2006 — you pay the price.

You forgot, or just assumed that EVERYONE remembered, so let me add a “me too!” for emphasis!. When we tangled with the N. Koreans and the Chinese, there was no way one could look at it such that it could be considered it a “cake walk”. I think we can make the case that they are better off in the military balance against us, and our allies, today than they were then.

Wait, were we agreeing or disagreeing? :-)

Why is there always one guy in every comment section who uses all caps? Do they think it magnifies their point? They lose all credibility in my eyes.

We’re down sizing our forces while the Chinese are increasing theirs. Does not make a whole lot of sense. I assume we are also going to down size our world wide commitments? Probably not. We’re simply going to continue to try to do more with less and stress the heck out of our people.

So does your statement.

I like his reference to “strategic breathing room” — it’s so critical to use this time to refocus and reimagine what the needs of the future will be.

USAF — Reread my “During the darkest days…” post above and the one following it S L O W L Y . Never said you turn other MOSs into grunts at the drop of a hat. I was trying to make the case that a conventionally focused Army has the flexibility to switch better than a COIN focused Army. That applies to the mental, skills and equipment requirement.

Never ran ranges for Airmen. Closest I came was ranges for support units where we’d get their troops qualified and then my grunts would shoot the rest of their unused ammo to increase our proficiency. My company usuall ran a range about once a month. Pretty good for a line infantry company.

We can cut out the no bid corrupt contractors and the nonsense. Give us a better Army with more people and equipment and take great care of them and our Veterans. Quit giving big corporations and banks everything.The Troops deserve everything. Not the lousy CEOs and corporate welfare giveaways. Fix up the VAs and hire great people who are Veterans.Quit giving money to the private sector who exploit medicare and medicaid. Take away the IRS and make a flat tax system.

Oh!, you mean the 100 hour war. with Iraqis surrendering by the thousands? that war?

as long as both are up his can

We’ve done great things in Afghanistan, but they’re unsustainable because of the endless supply of money, weapons, and manpower from Pakistan, not because of what the military has or hasn’t done. I’m sure if we were allowed to we’d cross the border we’d make massive dents in the Taliban’s capabilities, but without that ability we’re swimming uphill. Be sure you’re blaming the right people.

once we are streched thin all over the world, and all those who the Army has kicked out are out fishing or doing non-Army stuff, will the Army start calling them back and open the door to more entries? who knows, all I know is we are in for a big scare, countries who want us dead are having a field day watching our politicians make all these wonderful dicisions

TMB — Exactly!

My old artillery unit ended up in Iraq as MPs, usually guarding prisons, but some urban duty. I agree that it took very little time to train them for this option; but there is one factor here; esprit de corps. It went flat when they changed missions.

Because they got all split up, they didn’t get assigned under their old command structure and their attitude suffered. Good leaders always keep the troops fired up; but the leaders weren’t there anymore, and they went from what seemed like a glorified existence, to cleaning toilets.

I felt this wouldn’t have been as bad if the units had been kept together, at least to the platoon level, with their original NCOs and Platoon Leader. Just my observation for whatever it is worth.

I really feel the Chinese have an inferiority complex to a certain point. I think they feel they must expand to protect their new economic interest in the world. The problem is, that their military has never learned to do logistics correctly. They will have no staying power, because they will burn up their supplies in two weeks!

From everything I’ve observed up to their last conflict with Vietnam, this was still happening to them at start of operations and repeating itself through the particular armed action at hand.

I realize being a world economic power should have taught them how to work this out; but I still have a feeling their war colleges still didn’t learn from the past. Past mistakes are losing face — too hard to come to grips.


NOTE: Comments are limited to 2500 characters and spaces.

By commenting on this topic you agree to the terms and conditions of our User Agreement

AdChoices | Like us on , follow us on and join us on Google+
© 2015 Military Advantage
A Monster Company.