COIN is the New Conventional
The information revolution allows our potential 4GW enemies to not only match our capabilities in many areas but actually exceed them in some. It provides those enemies with distinct advantages, from the tactical level to the strategic, in a conflict with the United States or other Western powers. This should not come as a surprise. As long as we insist on using 3GW tactics, we should not believe that 4GW technology gives us an advantage. New technology favors a new generation of war–not simply updating the old generation with new equipment.
From The Sling and the Stone by Colonel Thomas X. Hammes
To project its military power and enforce its political will on other nations, the US insists only $6-$10 billion supercarriers and their equally pricey airwings and escorts, along with sizable Marine amphibious groups will suffice. The USAF will also deploy its giant airwings consisting of stealth bombers fighters and bombers that are individually as pricey as a naval frigate, the purchase of 7 more of which are currently rocking the foundations of the Congress.
Lets now look at what our enemies are doing to force their will on us and their own surrounding neighbors:
- The starving and impoverished North Koreans will lob a few archaic missiles into the Pacific on occasion, alarming our Asian allies and inciting an arms race in the region for high-tech anti-missile shields.
- The Iranians keep the Middle East in turmoil by arming surrogate powers like Hezbollah and Hamas, also insurgent groups in Iraq without having to fire a shot themselves.
- Al Qaeda attacks a passenger train in Madrid, the subsequent deaths forcing a change in government and a complete withdrawal of Spanish troops from Iraq.
- In a masterstroke of military frugality, Al Qaeda terrorist hijack American airliners with box cutters, turning them against us as flying weapons of mass destruction, plunging much of the world into a global War on Terror.
Now America is in a high tech arms race against very low tech enemies, using missile battleships and stealth bombers, with the effort threatening to bankrupt us as we once spent the old Soviet Union out of existence.
In 1950s President Eisenhower’s New Look emphasized nuclear retaliation over the type of conventional warfare just completed in Korea. Today we are using much the same strategy of deterrence against the insurgent, with what were once considered conventional arms like our fighter bombers, aircraft carriers and escorting cruisers and destroyers, plus armored divisions in the place of the Atom Bomb.
Yet, as with Ike’s well meaning but ultimately naive strategy, the deterrence doesn’t deter, and we still have to depend on the lowly “boots on the round” to psysically occupy ground and hunt down those who use insurgent-like tactics to strike at America’s heartland, and at our allies as well. In such counter-insurgent (COIN) environments, our high tech arms are too often wasted as so much overkill, like the $1 billion each B-2 stealth bomber striking mud huts in Afghanistan.
The fallout of our single-minded strategy based on deterring wars rather than preparing to fight 4th Generation Warfare is armored vehicles for the troops in short supply or rushed hurriedly into service without proper testing. Aged fighter jets and helicopters are forced to support the troops on the frontline in war after war, while newer planes are held back for the “just in case scenario“, the Pentagon’s imaginaries wars with a peer superpower, and the Navy builds a very costly fleet whose stated purpose is not to fight. Billions of dollars are then wasted on future threats, a fraction of which are all that is required to properly equip and maintain our COIN forces, which are doing the most fighting in recent decades.