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Calming the Cold Worriers Pt 1

May 3, 2010

Russian T-55 tanks in Poland in the 1980s.

Let me describe the two extreme cases here: the Transitioneers, who wanted to manage the here-and-now world of lesser includeds, and the Cold Worriers, who wanted to wait for the Big One down the road…

If the Transitioneer advice had been followed, the Pentagon would have bought high numbers of relatively cheap platforms, or ships and aircraft full of technology we already had and therefore did not have to spend a lot of money developing…

In contrast to that particular vision, the Cold Worriers argued that America needed a force that emphasized high tech above all else as the key to staying prepared for the Big One. Because all that high technology is supremely expensive, you needed to sacrifice numbers of platforms for quality of platforms. You would end up with fewer ships and aircraft, or a smaller force structure, but your military force would rock’n’roll like nobody else’s on the planet…

Why did the Pentagon feel it had to argue for the high-tech strategy even as it put the squeeze on the number of platforms and personnel so desperately needed to manage this messy world? The military knew it was running itself largely on an industrial-era model that said you defeated your opponents by overwhelming them with stuff (ships, aircraft, bombs, tanks, etc.). But the military also realized this type of warfare was disappearing, because great powers, including the United States, simply could not afford that sort of massive military establishment anymore.

Thomas P.M. Barnett writing in The Pentagon’s New Map

Asking the pertinent question “Are Tanks Obsolete?” in the Atlantic Wire, Max Fisher leaves several posts for varied sites, all of which come resounding to the conclusion that we should relearn conventional armor tactics or face the consequences. For instance:

  • Priorities Starbuck, Wings Over Iraq
  • The Israel Lesson Judah Grunstein, World Politics Review
  • Tanks in Small Wars Tom Ricks, Foreign Policy
  • Hybrid War David Johnson, RAND
  • The Death of Armor Gian Gentile, Small Wars Journal
  • We can no longer afford to build a last century military, and the excuses given for shrinking numbers of assets, with ancient weapons forced to continue in service long past their prime, no longer make sense. Most of the giant warships, superfighters, heavy tanks designed for conventional warfare are not relevant for the type of wars we fight, but obviously we need some type of platform for the 3 services.

    Specifically, the Cold Worriers fear we will be caught unprepared for some future obscure conventional conflict, tank versus tank, fighters dueling over the Central Front, carrier versus carrier (?). This idea becomes all the more absurd when you notice historic wars, wherein lightly armed and armored Hybrid Armies have fought superpowers to a standstill, and very often have beat them.

    In Korea, in Vietnam, Yugoslavia, the Iraqi Insurgency, Afghanistan twice, the Chechnyan Conflict, and more recently with the Israelis in Lebanon. Always when such powers contend with Western armies in a stand-up slug fest with heavy weapons, the Euro-style forces win decisively. When they attack us using asymmetric or insurgent tactics, it is much harder for the West to prevail. Why then should we continue to spend increasingly sparse resources and funds on conventional armies, when the Hybrid Warfare is so much more cost effective and, equally if not more effective?

    When conventional armies lose to the unconventional, somehow the former makes the case that they didn’t fight conventional enough. We pointed this out last week when Rand analyst David Johnson declared we should fight more like the Israelis, who lost a 2006 Conflict with a Hybrid Army. The US Army, who has been increasingly effective with their insurgent adversaries, thanks to the war-winning tactics of General Petraeus and his officers, would do well to ignore the Johnson report, since it would be a step backward, to the days when the terrorists of Iraq were winning.

    Tomorrow-How Hybrid Armies Win

    14 Comments leave one →
    1. April 9, 2013 11:43 pm

      It’s remarkable for me to have a web page, which is beneficial in favor of my experience. thanks admin

    2. Jed permalink
      May 4, 2010 1:03 pm

      Hudson – scary shit man ! Your sounding a little like your namesake from Aliens… but only a little as what you wrote is quite though provoking – how much more you got ? Enough for a book ??

    3. May 4, 2010 12:43 pm

      They aren’t on the moon, they digging tunnels beneath our feet…….

    4. MatR permalink
      May 4, 2010 4:59 am

      X, sometimes I wonder…

      My big prediction for 2011? The Chinese take over the moon and rename it ‘Death Star’ ;o)

    5. May 3, 2010 6:57 pm

      Oh dear MatR! Are you Ok?

      Personally I think we are nearing at a turning point. And I am quietly optimistic that we shall come out on top. But I am lucky, I don’t have children so the geopolitical map of the latter half of 21st century is only of academic interest to me. And with each passing year I care less.

    6. Kristian permalink
      May 3, 2010 4:31 pm

      The idea that asymetrical tactics can stop or even delay a well planned and executed conventional offensive is certainly not something that I believe. See Fallujah as an example or Marjah more recently in Afghanistan. The biggest mistake the Israelis made was piece mealing their forces into the fight with out any clear idea of what they wanted to accomplish. Same thing the USMC did in Fallujah round one. Hezebollah basically used a static, in depth defense. This is simply not going to work against US forces if they are given time to prepare the battlefield. As a matter of fact, US forces would LOVE for a force like Hezebollah to try to make a stand up fight. Hopefully this is the mistake Hezebollah takes to heart from 2006. They may get in a few good shots, but they simply will be obliterated in a combined arms assault. The problem with conventional forces is that while they can take contested ground from an asymetrical force, they may not be able to hold it or secure it with out the will of the people that live there. If you have to destroy a village to liberate, you havent really accomplished anything.

    7. MatR permalink
      May 3, 2010 4:06 pm

      As a godless atheist, I’m scared to say I agree with Hudson. There are some scary predictions out there from military strategists, official NATO documents, economists and others. I read a terrifying official report in ’09 created by the US Marines, of all people, that echoed Hudson’s warnings. And when people like James Lovelock say we’re heading for resource wars and genocide, you start to panick.

      Although for me, the decline of the West is less about failing to defend whatever your favourite deity may be, and more about the way we insipidly take facist **** from undemocratic, bigoted, monstrous idiots. 1oo years ago, we’d never have stoof for piracy on the Horn of Africa, or domestic moslem extremists killing our politicians and satirists. We seem to be moving into a world of insidious moral relativism, where Progressivist ideology (invented in the USA, ironically enough) does its best to fragment society (and I say that as someone who considers himself a ‘small l’ liberal or ‘small c’ conservative).

      We gonna die.

    8. Scott B. permalink
      May 3, 2010 3:15 pm

      S. Patel said : “One aspect that strikes me about the wars that we do fight is that they seem to largely be wars of choice – we are seldom forced to fight a small, low-tech conflict with our conventional forces, but we frequently choose to for various reasons.”

      That’s exactly what the NEOCON yesterday and the SYSADMIN today want. BTW, is there really that much of a difference between a NEOCON and a SYSADMIN ?

      Not so much IMO…

    9. Hudson permalink
      May 3, 2010 3:03 pm

      We do not yet know how bad the 21st Century might become. The 20th Century did not learn this until the outbreak of WWI, in 1914, which killed the Edwardian age in England, among other things. What we have learned so far is that terrorist attacks against cities can approach mega-death (9/11), that resurgent Islam can bring conflict to any region in the world (also, 9/11), and that resurgent piracy can present a thorny challenge to the naval powers.

      The least of our worries is piracy, because the full range of responses have not been activated, i.e., summary execution of pirates at sea. Curiously, it might be the Islamasists who bring the scourge of piracy off Somalia to a halt, and in so doing, bring on a more difficult challenge, defeating the Islamic extremists, once and for all.

      This “once and for all” eats at the dwindling religious and spiritual resources of the West. Nominally Christian nations, principally in Europe, have basically lost their faith but nonetheless wish to preserve their culture. However, this is little more than a vague yearning without strong spiritual and cultural underpinning. Hence, modern women in places like Copenhagen discuss how it might not be so bad to wear headscarves and adhere to Sharia law. Conservatives, labeled skin head types, are viewed with hostility by the reigning liberal political parties.

      The West is defending itself, sending armies to Afghanistan to defeat al Qaeda and the Taliban, achieving some success, but is nowhere near victory and fighting against serious political, tribal and logistical obstacles. The West can lose once and for all to the Taliban, but it cannot win once and for all, unless the Afghan people emphatically reject the Taliban, asserting new core values themselves.

      The worst new wars to come might be the Crusades refought with nuclear weapons. Or we might see another even more terrible kind of war, which will be fought with every type of weapon imaginable, including, of course, tanks. These will be what I call Insect Wars—pitiless wars of annihilation. The closest we have come to that recently is the Rwandan Genocide, in which Hutus murdered Tutsis in large numbers only for the fact that they belonged to a different tribe. Some observers pointed out that the machete was wielded more efficiently than the Zyklon B.

      The Nazi exterminations come easily to mind from the past century. These might be a prototype for the Insect Wars, when all light from civilization appears to go dark. Except, there was a Christian West then, which rallied from its core values to destroy Nazi Germany at great cost to itself. The Insect Wars might be fought between opposing populations solely for the purpose of de-populating the opposing tribe and taking over its precious land and resources. Human life in an over-crowded planet becomes cheap, as I think we see glimmers of today with suicide bombers.

      The soldiers who march into these future battles will be steeled not by their civilizations’ poets, religious leaders, prophets, but by video games like Halo and hosts of sci-fi monsters, robots, and demented superheroes who exterminate their foes like warring insect species, once and for all. No mercy, all frustrations drained. Total victory.

      How will we know ourselves if this dark day comes? Who will we be?

    10. MatR permalink
      May 3, 2010 1:39 pm

      We could stretch out our resources much more if we just standardised equipment, instead of re-inventing the wheel in every nation. Tanks would be a lot cheaper if we didn’t have Leclercs, Leopards, Challengers, Arietes, Abrams, Arjuns, Type 90s and K2s, and just built, maintained and trained for one decent tank between us. More money left over for whatever we wanted, including low-end platforms.

      You want a bolt-on extra for your tank? Go for it, just don’t reinvent the whole platform. The only reason we don’t is politics …So, come to think of it, this idea will never happen, then ;o)

    11. May 3, 2010 12:59 pm

      It’s also worth looking at how Hezbollah fought against Israel in Lebanon – in many ways, they won by utilizing very old-school tactics, like slit trenches, a relatively static defense-in-depth, and anti-tank weapons.

      I don’t know if that war serves as a lesson for those of the future, but it should certainly remind us that sometimes tried-and-tested is very much true.

    12. hokie_1997 permalink
      May 3, 2010 9:03 am

      I’d encourage you to read up a little about Task Force Faith (RCT-31) to see what happened in the first conflict of this war. The short story is that we got our butts handed to us in the first round of an “obscure conventional conflict” precisely because we didn’t have tanks and the bad guys did.


      I actually meant TASK FORCE SMITH and not Task Force Faith. Serves me right for composing this email before having my first cup of coffee!

    13. S. Patel permalink
      May 3, 2010 8:46 am

      One aspect that strikes me about the wars that we do fight is that they seem to largely be wars of choice – we are seldom forced to fight a small, low-tech conflict with our conventional forces, but we frequently choose to for various reasons.

      Wars beyond our choosing, by contrast, are generally large wars. It is very difficult for a nation that is not a significant power to force us into direct conflict. If we abandon our high-level capacity, where will we be in a fight against a major adversary?

      The number of nations that posses modern capabilities is notably small (probably fewer than twenty), and only one of them is not at least marginally part of the system of alliance and cooperation we have built. Unfortunately, that one nation – China – is the most powerful nation, after ours, on the planet; it also seeks military capacity sufficient to challenge us.

      Until and unless the signal danger represented by Chinese selfishness and ambition is reduced or subsumed, I think we would be gravely in error to pursue small wars capability at the expense of great power war readiness. We cannot relinquish the engine of our preeminence while their remains another engine not entirely friendly to our desires.

      A second point, regarding commentary on armor and other platforms (such as aircraft carriers) on this site. The primary arguments against these technologies seem to relate to the capabilities of the most advanced nations in the world. But the conclusions of those arguments are often applied here to discussions of small wars, where the main battle tank and – especially – the fleet carrier and heavy surface ship are little threatened by the capabilities of our opponents.

      I think there is an excellent case to be made against the powerful weapons of last century in the face of the new weapons of this one. (I’m not sure whether I agree with the argument, but it has significant merit.) But I don’t see how the expostulation is applicable where the threatening weapons are unavailable to our opponents.

    14. hokie_1997 permalink
      May 3, 2010 8:36 am

      The army of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) rolled across the 38th parallel in 1950 with a conventional army spearheaded by WW2 era T-34s. I’d encourage you to read up a little about Task Force Faith (RCT-31) to see what happened in the first conflict of this war. The short story is that we got our butts handed to us in the first round of an “obscure conventional conflict” precisely because we didn’t have tanks and the bad guys did.

      We never really fought an insurgency in Korea. There were some North Korean and Chinese communist guerrillas, but this is not the same as an insurgency. By and large Korea was a conventional war – the Chinese Communists didn’t have tanks but they did have lots of heavy artillery and gobs of infantry which they threw at us in human wave attacks. US and allied tanks were extremely valuable in providing fire support and compensating for overwhelming numbers of enemy. The Marines would’ve had an awful hard time fighting their way out of the Chosin Reservoir without tanks.

      My take is that just because the bad guys don’t have a tank doesn’t mean there’s no use for them. WW2-era armor doctrine actually defined the tank’s primary role as providing support for the infantry – it was the tank-destroyer which was supposed to engage enemy armor.

      The Viet Cong (VC) insurgents were utterly destroyed in the Tet Offensive of ’68. Following Tet, our main adversary was the North Vietnamese Army (NVA) — a conventional army employing light infantry, medium and heavy artillery, and even armor.

      After the US began to pull out, the NVA got very aggressive in their use of armor. There were in fact quite a few tank battles between the Army of the Republic of Vietnam (ARVN) and the NVA during the Easter Offensive of ‘72. ARVN armor was largely outclassed by that of the NVA. And it was a conventional, tank-led attack by the NVA which eventually overwhelmed the South in ’75.

      My take is that combat, like nature, abhors a vacuum. Once the enemy realizes you can’t or won’t take heavy armor to battle, there’s definitely a niche ready for exploitation. As the old adage says, I’d rather have tanks and not need them then need them and not have them.

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