The View From Olympus: An Expeditionary Army?

As war becomes dominated by the Fourth Generation, state armed services face an increasingly difficult struggle to remain relevant. It is a struggle most of them will lose. The Europeans have largely reduced their state armed services to shadow organizations, to save money. They have no reason to do otherwise. The U.S. armed forces continue to be vast money pits simply because in Washington, everyone gets their cut. When the corrupt Washington Establishment falls, which could come as early as this November, all four services will have difficulty rationalizing their existence.

Having seen at least a glimpse of the handwriting on the wall, the U.S. Army is attempting to reshape itself for expeditionary warfare, traditionally the Marines’ turf. If either service thinks it can justify itself by planning expeditions against other states, it is living in the past. The relevant question is how they might recast themselves for expeditions against 4GW opponents. How could the Army answer that question?

Against 4GW enemies that hold territory such as ISIS, what we need is in effect an Afrika Korps: a relatively small force that can get somewhere quickly, provide stiffening and a maneuver warfare capability for local allies, and then quickly get out again. In no case should it plan to remain for more than three months. The Pentagon should be required to write one hundred times on the blackboard, “No one benefits from a long war.”

The general approach should be Kesselschlacht. We go in, quickly encircle the opponent, then support our local allies as they besiege the Kessel. 4GW opponents will respond by blending in with the civilian population, attempting to escape the Kessel by claiming to be refugees. The only counter to this is to separate out all military-age males and incarcerate them. When we leave, the local forces we have supported can deal with them. They may not be much good for maneuver warfare, but most do know how to carry out massacres. When that happens, we will of course be shocked. C’est la guerre.

The Army until recently had a type of formation that would work well in the Afrika Korps role: the Armored Cavalry Regiment (ACR). If it wants to go that expeditionary route, the Army should recreate ACRs. One problem is that the ACR’s tanks, the M-1, would be too heavy and have overly high fuel consumption for operational maneuver. The latest version of the M-1 weighs 77.5 tons, which severely limits the bridges it can cross. Operational maneuver and Kesselschlacht require speed over operational distances, speed that is undermined by constant need to emplace bridges and refuel tank battalions.

An ideal solution would be a lighter tank, around 40 tons, which the Russians have and we could buy. But neither the Army nor Congress would be wise enough to do that. So if the ACRs are to fulfill the expeditionary role, they will have to get rid of their tanks.

Fortunately, the Army’s version of the light armored vehicle, the Stryker, includes a “tank” version, armed with a 105mm main gun (the Marines do not have a heavy gun variant). It is wheeled rather than tracked, which is preferable for operational maneuver, most of which is on roads. Fuel consumption is also much less than for tracked vehicles, and no transporters are needed. The LAV program (I was one of three people who started it, when I was Senate staff) was originally intended to create (Marine) Operational Maneuver Groups on the Soviet pattern for use in third-world conflicts, so using them in that role would be a return to their origin.

Competition between the Army and the Marine Corps for the expeditionary role in 4GW conflicts, when we are stupid enough to get into them, would be a good thing. Any time you can make bureaucracies compete, you have a chance for progress.

The downside, looking at the Army, is that while an ACR (minus the M-1s) might be well suited to the role, the Army’s poisonous internal culture makes almost any progress impossible. Instead of developing a real new capability, the Army will go its usual route of smoke and mirrors, relying on new buzzwords, slogans and PR to portray change while no real change happens. Today’s Army does not understand operational art, fights linear battles of attrition rather than seeking encirclements, and promotes officers who avoid responsibility rather than seeking decisive results. It has far more in common with Mussolini’s army in North Africa than with the DAK. Until that changes, the Army will fail at future 4GW as it has in Iraq and Afghanistan. favicon