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The Rebirth of Ground Power

March 16, 2010

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.

9 Comments leave one →
  1. Alex Mk.2 permalink
    March 18, 2010 7:06 am

    Sorry, I can’t post anything constructive, I see the picture and I want to give them all a whack and show them how to shape a beret properly… Just need to get some hate off my chest.

    – Alex.

  2. March 17, 2010 10:37 pm

    The cuckoo in the nest is the RAF. Parallels between land and sea campaigns are abstract.

    Remind me again who was it who said the army is a weapon best fired by the navy……..

  3. James Daly permalink
    March 17, 2010 11:53 am

    I think Mike’s statement about Land/Sea/Air is a pertinent one. My feeling is that the lines between the three are so blurred nowadays thanks to technology that its almost impossible to draw distinct lines between them. I think the days when we had an Army, a Navy and an Air Force who all did their own little thing are behind us. Years ago we might have balked at Royal Marines serving in a land-locked country, but its called flexibility.

    The problem with UK Defence policy is that its so tangled up with inter-service rivalry and serving and retired officers trying to out-do each other, that the chances of any common sense emerging are quite slim.

  4. Jed permalink
    March 17, 2010 9:35 am

    Mike, it would be unkind to be rude to you on your own blog, so instead I blame Lord Guthrie for this being the biggest bit of drivel you have ever published.

    As others have noted, a sane immigration policy might help most countries of the western world. If you want Sharia law, then emigrate to a country which has it, not to one which as a national christian ‘state church’ (and unline the US no laws separating state from religion !)

    Heads of Governments need to make a decision about ‘nation building’ as a defence against terrorists: either you want to do it and more importantly can afford to do it (in terms of both treasure and blood) or you can’t. As simple as that. Seeing as the UK politicians seem to think we can’t afford it, then they need another strategy. Perhaps some funding diverted to the intelligence services ? Personally I am sooo left wing I could be described as communist, even though I have donned 3 of Her Britannic Majesties uniforms over the years (2 military, 1 civilian) but the ‘trendy lefty do gooders’ have a lot to answer for in the UK. Look to Australia and Canada as good examples of quite sane immigration policies – and these are truly huge nations with space and resources, not tiny cramped little islands.

    And the safety of those tiny, cramped little islands is can not be guaranteed by sending your over stretched under funded army to a get involved in ‘nation building’ with people who have been fighting each other over tribal and regional differences for 100’s of years – this is NOT a workable anti-terrorist strategy and does not nothing to protect the UK or the USA.

    Go to the RUSI site and read some of the papers there, written by people who actually seem to have some insight into the possible future of UK security, Guthrie is no great strategist, please please please retain your own credibility for your own ideas and stop slavishly quoting the idiot.

    Believe us Mike he is no hero challenging the status quo, he is just indulging in single service politics to get more money for an army that has been underfunded since Brown got into the Treasury, and that has been sent to fight an un-winnable fight :-(

  5. MatR permalink
    March 16, 2010 11:13 pm

    Aieee!!! If an antideluvian like Lord ‘So, what’s an internet, then?’ Guthrie is being acclaimed as a prophet, this can only be counted as one of the signs of the Apocalypse. And I thought things were bad when Woolworths went out of business…

    We don’t need paramilitary policing in the UK. We need sane immigration laws. Not hard for an island to achieve, you’d think.

    In the past five years the UK has suffered the same kind of immigration surge that California experienced over two decades – devastating our economy in an incredibly compressed time frame. It’s a real problem, but if the government – of any stripe – can’t overcome the UK’s current deluded, progressivist immigration ideology enough to turn away assorted third world fundamentalists (with their quaint, lovable ideas about freedom of speech, women’s rights and religious tolerance – the scamps!) they probably won’t take the more drastic step of turning to the military to garrison our increasingly third world city centres.

    Apologies for my backwards British spelling ;o)

  6. March 16, 2010 7:02 pm

    In the coming century the battlefield will be the sea. It is the global common. This is where the earth’s remaining resources are. Threats from Third World terrorism are only a problem because politicians happily open our borders to all and sundry. Current conflicts will loose their prominence. Do you think the West will care about the Palestinians once the Saudi oil has run out? Don’t you think it would be better to defeat the Chinese et al at sea instead of letting them build up global power bases? Guthrie is a soldier. Their thinking normally extends to the next hill to be captured. The only arm with strategic reach, strategic endurance and the for the need for strategic thinking is the navy. Guthrie interpretation of history is to be questioned too……….

  7. March 16, 2010 5:14 pm

    Hello,

    Mike Burleson said:

    “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.”

    Lord Guthrie also set out his view of warfare in this article in 2001:

    http://www.kcl.ac.uk/lhcma/info/lec01.shtml

    Lord Guthrie said in 2010:

    “The threats of the present, and the future, point to the need for more troops, not less.”

    Lord Guthrie said in 2001:

    “Nobody is invulnerable and the sad fact is people do die on operations. Indeed, since 1945 there has been a British Serviceman killed on operations in every year bar one. But technology does bring the ability to apply lethal force with fewer men, and can protect combat forces to a greater degree than in the past.”

    Lord Guthrie said in 2010:

    “We used to hear a saying that in a general war you need as few soft-skinned people as possible on the battlefield.”

    I wonder who on Earth could have said that?

    Lord Guthrie said in 2001:

    “The fewer ‘soft skinned men’ one has to put in harms way on the battlefield the better.”

    Lord Guthrie said in 2010:

    “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.”

    Lord Guthrie said in 2001:

    “I do think the way the Forces used to fight for funding internally was counter productive and thankfully is a thing of the past.”

    Most British officers are issued with boots,General Guthrie was obviously issued with flip-flops by mistake.

    Mike Burleson said:

    “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?”

    Hugh Trenchard very nearly lost the Second World War (and certainly lost the British Empire) by doggedly pursuing a bomber doctrine based on interservice rivalry rather than the efficient application of air power.
    Millions died as a direct consequence (and I don’t mean the people the bombs landed on).
    Are you suggesting that was a good thing?

    Mike Burleson said:

    “Globalization has broken down the barriers that once defended us, notably the air and the seawhere a few stealthy suicide bombers and terrorists can easily bypass older defenses and hold an entire nation hostage.”

    The sea has been “globalised” since the dawn of time,when have a handful of terrorists ever held a nation hostage?

    Mike Burleson said:

    “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.”

    In the United Kingdom,performing “cop on the beat” tactics is the job of the cop on the beat,not the army.

    Mike Burleson said:

    “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.”

    How does our landpower presence get there,by sea or air?

    Mike Burleson said:

    “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.”

    The American army is about to spend thousands of millions of dollars on a new fleet of multirole armoured vehicles,is that what you mean by setting your priorities straight?

    Mike Burleson said:

    “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.”

    This I do agree with,because of their conventional superiority,nobody dares to take on the United States Navy in a conventional fight.

    Mike Burleson said:

    “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.”

    You think Navies should concentrate more on fighting land wars then?

    Mike Burleson said:

    “Speaking of land wars, the Navy does seem to have an aversion for combating nautical threats of late, for instance:

    Large deck aircraft carriers are justified principally because of their efficiency in deploying airpower against land powers, from Korea, Vietnam, to Iraq and Afghanistan. The strategy against the Soviet submarines was to catch them in harbor before they could deploy to sea!
    The helicopter is often cited as the principle deterrent to small boats and submarines.
    The presumed effectiveness of fixed sonar sites like SOSUS, and air dropped sonar buoys for detecting submarines is given for why the Navy doesn’t need a large ASW escort fleet as in previous decades.
    The Navy designed its latest class of submarines, the Virginia’s to sail close to shore to spy on continental enemies.
    We are told that the War on Piracy can only be won on land.
    The Navy has it’s own private air force and army.
    So if the USN is only concerning itself with land and air threats these days, who will fight our future naval wars?”

    Taken from this post:

    https://newwars.wordpress.com/2009/11/03/the-navy-adverse-to-nautical-threats/

    Are you wearing Lord Guthrie’s flip-flops?

    tangosix.

  8. WTH permalink
    March 16, 2010 4:04 pm

    Mike, saying “Globalization has broken down the barriers that once defended us, notably the air and the sea” is absurd. In the strategic sense the ocean hasn’t closed or dried up so you still have to float or fly over it. We choose to not shut trade down.

    Air travel is really just a luxury anyhow. Would the world stop spinning if there was no more commercial air travel?

    The 90-odd percent of world trade that goes by sea is not a number to be trifled with and we do struggle mightily with security there, but that is a because we refuse to accept some added costs.

    Your argument that the Army is the answer to these problems in America is not grounded in reality, Posse Comitatus gets in the way there.

    Am I not following your argument as intended?

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