Thursday, December 12, 2002


A couple interesting developments on the Army reorganization front. In one article, the Defense Department is on track to pay for four Stryker brigades. However, the problem of the organization is being noticed—it isn’t a heavy force and never will be. Even as some complain that the units are too heavy and that the Stryker vehicle itself can’t fit on a C-130, the Army has noticed the brigade lacks combat power. As to the Stryker being too heavy, hogwash. Yes, the Stryker vehicle has to have some of its protruding parts removed to get on the plane, and requires some time once offloaded to put together again, but so what? If those units have to fight their way off the plane onto the tarmac when they land, we’ve got more serious problems. As to the lack of combat power issue, well yeah. Take away the Abrams and Bradleys and load up with souped-up LAVs and what do you expect?

The article says the Department of Defense may take the money for brigades five and six and instead use it to add attack helicopters, more recon and targeting assets, and more firepower! Given enough time, DOD will start adding Abrams and Bradleys, I imagine. And why not? While there is a role for a medium weight force to bridge the gap between heavy forces that take weeks to arrive and light forces that can fly in days. But can the Air Force really airlift six of these brigades in faster time than it would take to start shipping heavy brigades? There are only limited scenarios for their use. If we don’t need to rush anti-tank forces to stop an invasion of an ally that catches us unaware and with no heavy forces in the area, why keep units too light to have staying power? But after adding more firepower, the unit will be too heavy to be airlifted rapidly anyway. It is already pretty darn heavy and it will get heavier even as the individual units remain light and vulnerable Strykers. I really have to ask, might it not be better to airlift a battalion task force of Abrams and Bradleys? Would the combat power suffer? Would that option be just as strategically mobile as an entire Stryker Brigade? Certainly, the smaller unit would be more survivable since its individual vehicles would be superbly protected and armed.

A related issue is the move to make the Army National Guard give up some of its heavy brigades to reconfigure four brigades to mobile light brigades—essentially motorized infantry outfits that have Humvees and 2-1/2-ton trucks to move the troops and towed artillery.

This Army National Guard Restructuring Initiative is intended to make the Guard a more relevant reserve force given that conventional foes are fewer these days and given 9/11. These units will be better suited to guard duty in homeland defense and will be able to carry out base defense overseas as well as peace-keeping, occupation, or rear area security missions. But unlike Stryker brigades, they will be far easier to airlift. In addition, they will have the infantry to take over the peacekeeping role that the infantry-heavy Stryker brigades are supposed to fill. Yet the Stryker brigade’s armored vehicles are probably excessively heavy for relatively benign peace operations. But on the other hand, they are too light to survive even RPGs in a combat environment so what real improvement would they provide over armored Humvees in peace ops?

Several years ago in an article, I argued that we should keep the Guard heavy units as is to guard against an unanticipated threat that is larger than an Iraq or North Korea scenario or an anticipated threat that turns out to be tougher than we expect. (I also wanted a warfighting orientation to counter the peacekeeping mentality that seemed rampant) See the synopsis if you like. But given that we are about to get rid of one of our two anticipated regional threats by taking down Iraq, and given the lack of other significant conventional threats (and given that fighting China outside of the Korean peninsula or on Taiwan would require massive mobilization on the scale of World War II if we hoped to have land forces able to enter the mainland and win), I have to admit this makes sense post-9/11. Previously I’d argued that if we need Bosnia-type occupation forces, we should expand the Military Police. Since Rumsfeld is resisting expanding the Army, we aren’t going to get more MPs. Motorized infantry will have to do, yet I worry about such a force in the reserves. Will we maintain 40,000 Army reservist mobilized indefinitely?

So, even with the two restructuring initiatives, we’ll still have heavy units. They will be around for twenty or thirty years even with no replacements for the Abrams and Bradleys. War with Iraq will again show their power. We’ll have mobile light brigades that will provide motorized infantry for peace operations, occupation duties, and homeland security, and we’ll have Stryker brigades that in theory provide a force that can arrive soon after light paratroopers or foot infantry arrive (as a tripwire) to give them some firepower and (hopefully) hold until the heavy stuff arrives. But the Stryker brigades may get heavier, killing that role. I still say a light, infantry-poor but anti-tank rich Stryker brigade makes more sense for this role. (see Defense Issue archives)

These brigades are also supposed to test how a light but lethal unit will operate paving the way for the wonder “tank” (the future combat system”) that will equip the Objective Force. Here’s my take in Military Review on that project if you are interested. I understand the FCS will have depleted-pixie-dust-armor that is light yet as solid as Abrams armor. Pretty cool, huh? Needless to say, I do worry about trying to abandon heavy forces prematurely as the Objective Force foresees. I hope DOD is right on this. I really hope a replacement for the Abrams main battle tank is on a drawing board somewhere in America just in case. We are appropriately building strategically deployable units but I don’t think the age of survivable heavy units is over yet.

Go Army!

[NOTE: This is from the former Defense Issues category from my original blog. Also, all the links from the original post are dead so I didn't try to enable them.]