The Rebirth of Ground Power
Lord Guthrie in a recent speech before the Centre for Policy Studies has set himself up as one of the new prophets of modern warfare. Just as Mahan and Corbett were to seapower, and Trenchard, Douhet, and Mitchell for airpower, so do words like the following resonate clearly for a new generation:
The threats of the present, and the future, point to the need for more troops, not less. This will mean that cuts have to be found elsewhere in the budget. Land operations are likely to be by far the most important operations we will undertake. Peace-keeping,counter-insurgency and counter-terrorism are all manpower intensive. Manpower is expensive but is what we need now. We used to hear a saying that in a general war you need as few soft-skinned people as possible on the battlefield. But in other types of operations, you do need as many soft-skinned people as possible.We have become accustomed to treat all three armed services roughly the same in terms of allocating our defence budget and appointments, even though, historically, this was not the case. Before 1914, the Royal Navy, as our primary arm of defence, was allocated the lion’s share. In 1940, the RAF took precedence. Today, the nature of the threat requires a similar prioritization for the Army.
On the surface, you might accuse the general of bias toward his particular service. But couldn’t the same have been said of Trenchard or Mahan? Did this prove them less wrong about where sparse defense resources should be focused? Globalization has broken down the barriers that once defended us, notably the air and the sea, where a few stealthy suicide bombers and terrorists can easily bypass older defenses and hold an entire nation hostage. A while back I wrote the following:
For the West to survive in this new era of globalization, where liberal immigration laws has invited a mass invasion into our prosperous and fertile lands from the Third World, neglecting our standing armies is suicidal. When Britain was just an island, and America far from the woes of the world in her continental empire, navies and later airpower was sufficient to guard our democracies and ensure the growth of capitalism.
Unless we find a perfect system of border and airport security, only armies with their ability to perform “cop on the beat” tactics, can remind anyone who crosses our frontiers who they would answer to for considering disorder and mayhem. Likewise our allies must feel secure in the knowledge that our landpower presence will react immediately to stand with them against potential aggressors, not ready to evacuate our embassies with helicopters from aircraft carriers in case of trouble.
Today, it seems the army understands the threats facing the West more than any of the other services. It could be because the grounds troops have been at the forefront of the military actions in the past decade. There is nothing like a war to set your priorities straight. While of course the air and sea forces have been involved also, there has been nothing like the full effort from these hardware centered forces as has been with the Army and Marines.
It could be our air and naval forces have done their job too well. With no peer adversary to fight in decades, there has been much less for them to do, especially with the new insurgent enemy preferring to use low tech 4th Generation tactics against our last century conventional forces structures. For instance, to combat our unquestioned air superiority, the Taliban will use human shields and propaganda to limits its effectiveness. Pirates in speed boats easily take advantage of our handful of frigates in the Gulf to bypass patrols and hold merchantmen for ransom.
The strategy even works for potential peer adversaries. China takes the ballistic missile which has been around since the 1940s, and places modern precision technology on it to deny access for our vaunted carrier strike groups. Likewise are cruise missiles available to such rogue states as Iran or North Korea, allowing them an affordable strike capability to compete with our costly naval airpower. Finally, I posted this prediction ahead of the recent American QDR:
The Air Force and Navy wasted a whole decade where they could be focusing on many smaller threats, rather than fighting the giant conventional battles that are so few and far between, and which drain so much precious funds for ongoing needs like close air support, aerial transport, and policing the seas from pirates and smugglers. Unless they join in helping the land forces with their attempts at taming rogue countries, I can only see even their most minor funding requests diverted to those who have better use for it.