Old Patriot's Pen

Personal pontifications of an old geezer born 200 years too late.

NOTE The views I express on this site are mine and mine alone. Nothing I say should be construed as being "official" or the views of any group, whether I've been a member of that group or not. The advertisings on this page are from Google, and do not constitute an endorsement on my part.

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Location: Colorado Springs, Colorado, United States

I've been everywhere That was the title of a hit country-and-western song from the late 1950's, originally sung by Hank Snow, and made famous by Johnny Cash. I resemble that! My 26-year career in the Air Force took me to more than sixty nations on five continents - sometimes only for a few minutes, other times for as long as four years at a time. In all that travel, I also managed to find the perfect partner, help rear three children, earn more than 200 hours of college credit, write more than 3000 reports, papers, documents, pamphlets, and even a handful of novels, take about 10,000 photographs, and met a huge crowd of interesting people. I use this weblog and my personal website here to document my life, and discuss my views on subjects I find interesting.

Saturday, October 09, 2004

What kind of military does the US need in the 21st Century?

We're learning a lot from Iraq and Afghanistan about what kind of military we needed to fight those two battles. The big problem is, the requirements for each of the two contests were very different - not only different at the start, but also different at various stages of the battle and the subsequent peace. About the only thing consistent between the two battles are the inconsistencies. Nor are these the only trouble spots where the US might find itself engaged in hostilities in the next century. The war in Iraq is sucking up a lot of resources, including heavy involvement from the Reserve and National Guard components. According to one report, the United States has 168 different treaty obligations that could require the deployment of military resources. We currently have combat troops - not just embassy staff, but actual combat resources - in almost 90 different countries.

The United States has relied on citizen-soldiers for most of its history - people incorporated into the military to confront a hostile situation who go home when the battle's over. That changed in the late 1970's, and the United States moved to an all-volunteer professional military. The result is the finest fighting force ever to exist anywhere. The time it takes to train someone to meet the minimum standards of today's military ranges from a few weeks to two years or more, depending on the job and the amount of knowledge and experience necessary to be successful at it. The World War II draft (begun in 1940 and ended in 1975) called for inducting men for two years of service, including training. The law, frequently supplemented and modified, was almost as complex as the tax code, with an equal number of loopholes, evasions, and just plain sloppy application.

Huge set-piece land battles may have become a dinosaur of the past, no longer capable of being waged without such staggering losses that any victory would be phyrric. Does that mean that the resources and equipment used to engage in those types of battle are also obsolete? Aircraft carriers doomed the battleship into obsolescence, but nothing devised since then has had the capacity for pinpoint accurate shore bombardment with suitably heavy weapons. Terrain, weather, logistics, social/political concerns, and the nature of the enemy force - and frequently limit - many of a comander's decisions concerning manpower, weapons, tactics, and goals - decisions having nothing to do with the number of opposing forces or what equipment they possess.

Today's military not only has to be able to counter attacks by known or perceived enemy threats, but also the threat of third-party, non-military groups against American interests anywhere in the world. Counter-scenarios have to be devised that take into consideration anything from open support from the local government to benign disinterest to open hostility.

There's also the question of basing of US troops. Do we keep them all within the territory of the United States, or do we establish basing rights in foreign nations, with the option to move into other nations from there? If we make that choice, what kind of troops, and how many, do we station there? How do we interact with the local government? Do we treat them as military equals, as allies but unequal, or as a necessary evil? How much integration, and how much separation? How do we treat these governments when the mission requires us to move elsewhere?

There's also the possibilites of both new branches of service (Space Service, Border Control) and new missions, some that might not even be conceivable for another 30 years or more. What changes do we make to adjust to those?

These are all tough questions, but the MUST be answered as we move beyond Iraq and Afghanistan, beyond the collapse (and possible resurgence?) of the threat from Eastern Europe, and in light of changing perceptions, both ours and our current and former allies.

I spent 26 years in the US Air Force, most of that working in one of the intelligence specialties. My assignments covered a variety of different levels of participation, from tactical to strategic to national-level planning. I know that these and similar questions are driving tens of thousands of people - in the military, in Congress, and in various Government departments from State to Commerce to Labor to who knows what - slightly insane. I've got some ideas. I know there are thousands of military retirees, former military non-retirees, and just common citzens who actually care about such things, who also have ideas.

So, here's an open forum. Let's discuss the issues - not just the possible, but the improbably and even (as of now) impossible. I'll post my ideas. I'm looking for ideas from others. I'm also open to HONEST criticism of ideas, and of suggestions for modifying or changing the thrust or focus of ideas.

One of the wisest things my father ever told me was, "Never criticize unless you have a suggestion for improvement". Our current military isn't broken. It's badly extended, stretched taut, warped, twisted, wrinkled and tired, but it's still functioning, and functioning superbly. The question isn't how to clean up a mess, but how to make something that's already excellent and make it better, and at the same time add capabilities that have a very good chance of being needed in the all to near future.

One thing that seems obvious is that our military is too small to handle all the requirements it's currently being tasked to do. It's also obvious that anything but continuing our all-volunteer force would weaken, rather than strengthen, the military. Let the Pentagon planners determine how much, and let Congress do its duty by funding the expansion. If it takes more than a year or two, that's all well and good. Better to build slowly and maintain existing quality than to build fast and end up with some weak points.

Secondly, we need to increase considerably the size of the Reserve and National Guard component. The increase should be based on a three-tier requirement: top-line units that can be thrust into combat situations virtually from the onset of hostilities; second-tier units that can be deployed to "quiet areas" to free up first-tier units, and third-tier units that can be used to beef up or replace first- or second-tier units, especially in medical, engineering, logistics, and site maintenance fields. All of these types of units are needed, all can be utilized to enhance capabilities anywhere else, and all can help increase the flexible response provisions that have become the centerpoint of our military's mission.

Thirdly, we need understanding and support from the everyday citizen that's paying for all of this through his or her taxes. That includes education, invitations to visit bases and facilities, possibly "unit adoptions", and whatever else it takes to involve the non-military citizen in the lives and affairs of their defenders. These citizens need to know their money isn't being wasted. Those interested in ecology and the environment need to know the military is also concerned with the same issues, and is doing something beneficial about it. The military cannot exist, cannot do its duty, in a vacuum. Getting as many citizens as possible involved with the military community can only increase the effectiveness of both groups.

Overseas basing has many favorable as well as unfavorable factors. It may be an excellent idea to have a string of overseas base complexes, each within a large geographical area, where we base US military forces on a forward-deployed basis, just in case of hostilities. These forward bases may actually serve as a restraint on those that would otherwise feel free to engage in whatever mayhem strikes their fancy. The cost would be heavy, and troops deployed to such locations may not be available for use elsewhere. Would that require us to have a large military than we would otherwise need? Many, many questions, but the answers seem hard to find.

There's one other thing that can be done - something quite controversial, but that could pay dividends beyond anything else our military does. The military could publish online all its non-sensitive regulations, instructions, training documents, and general information - at the unit level, at the facility level, at the theater level, and at the national level. That should include everything from basic hygiene training during basic to the non-classified course material taught at the leadership schools, military academies, war colleges, and other military training schools. Not only would it help those studying these things in the military, but would give our citizens a good idea of the demands for excellence required of professional soldiers, regardless of their rank or position. Much of it's already out there, but scattered from one end of the world to the other. Build a national-level index to make it easier to search for a specific item. Yes, it will give our enemies and potential enemies a bit of insight into what our military learns, but that may act more as a deterrent than provocation. Would you want to go up against the average E-4 - armed with the best weapons in the world, a mid-level belt in some form of martial arts, two years of college, the best military training ever devised, a strong understanding of small-unit doctrine and tactics, the laws of physics, the writings of Sun Tsu, the science fiction of Robert Heinlein, and the poetry of Emily Dickinson, commanded by an officer with even more extensive training? Think about it...


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