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Calming the Cold Worriers Pt 2

May 4, 2010


As the Pentagon entered the new century, it was clear to many national security experts that the Defense Department and basically spent the nineties buying one type of military while operating another…In essence, the misalignment of strategy and operations had become painfully obvious to most observers by 2000, as each service was cannibalizing platforms like aircraft for spare parts, and military families were stressing out form the high rates of overseas deployments by their loved ones… 

You cannot keep buying these expensive, high-tech platforms for some distant future war and expect the military to have enough resources left over to deal with all of today’s operations… 

By building one sort of military for some imagined future while operating another sort of military in the here and now, the Pentagon stressed itself out far more than the Clinton Administration, Congress, or “global chaos” ever could. 

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

This week we are discussing Hybrid Warfare, as an alternative to the old fashioned industrial style or conventional warfare favored by some, who fear we have neglected preparing for wars involving heavy tanks, fighter jets, and giant warships. The “Cold Worriers”, as they are dubbed by Dr. Barnett, feel we must buy decreasing numbers of very expensive and hard to build Cold War-style weapons for some obscure future conflict. This idea from conventional warfare advocates, who consider wars against small and agile insurgent armies as aberrations, not likely to occur anytime soon, goes against the advancement of warfare that you can fight new types of warfare with old tactics. I can point specifically to what happens to nations who fear change, as we look back into the Napoleonic Era. 

In the days preceding motorized transport, Napoleon Bonaparte of France brought the foot infantry to the peak of perfection. Future generals, notably the North and South during the American Civil War successively copied the Little Corporal’s style of warfare some 50-60 years later. The tactics of Union and Southern generals were often compared to the French conquerer, notably George McClellan and Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson, yet these also had the benefit of rail transport for their particular battles. 

Light infantry during these times were born after the heavy linear tactics proved too inflexible. In the mid-1700s Austria deployed wild Croat light infantry called Pandurs to contend with the Turks, and later their primary adversary, Prussia under Frederick the Great responded with the Jagers. The famed soldier/emperor was forced to respond in kind, who also added light cavalry to his irregular battalions, followed soon by the French. More famously did Britain raise light companies about this time, after much hard experience in the Americas. 

Austrian pandur skirmisher from 1760.

The permanence of the new infantry was not to be in the traditional armies, however, as more conservative thought resurged itself, the heritage of Marlborough and Gustavus Adolphus being too strong. after their major wars were concluded, Prussia, Austria, and the English soon returned to the linear tactics involving huge lines of infantry packed together solidly on the battlefield, slugging it out toe-to-toe. Only in France did the new tactics take hold and evolve into swarms of skirmishers. The very chaotic nature of the French Revolution would feed this change. 

Rising to power in the late century, Napoleon Bonaparte saw the potential of making something from the chaos. Rejecting the stringent and sluggish linear tactics of the era, that should have died out after the American Revolution, he led his columns the length and breadth of Europe and even to Africa, outmaneuvering the combined armies of the Great Powers, England, Russia, Austria, and Prussia, among others. That it finally took the combined might of these nations to tame the dictator, plus some adapting of similar tactics for their own armies, after numerous humiliating battlefield defeats, is a testament to the change that had enveloped warfare. 

In so doing, Napoleon invented a form of hybrid warfare, adding a mixture of skirmishers to the heavier line, called an ordre mixte, to the new column. This new unit allowed him to perform swarming tactics, also known as “horde tactics” against a heavy linear army, even if the latter was better trained, more numerous, or better armed. It was devastatingly effective and could be adaptive to the particular terrain on which the French Army was fighting, from the Swiss Alps, to the African Deserts, the Austrian Valleys, and the Russian steppes. As noted with the Civil War, the tactics remained viable for much of the century, until it was replaced with something new. 


All of the above should be seen as a warning to the traditionally minded general who seeks to keep well-tried and familiar practices intact in an era of clear change in warfare. All of the signs are there that change is upon us, of small nations who hold the world superpowers hostage. Though these powers eventually prevail, the cost for the victor is far in excess of that to the perceived loser, and too often a Pyhrric one, making the great power more cautious to challenge the loser than previously. You see examples of this with the ongoing piracy off Somalia, this nation being one of the world’s most impoverished, yet the slaying of US peacekeeping troops there in the 1990s loom heavy in the minds of military planners and politicians. Also, we see militarily insignificant nations such as North Korea and Iran, blatantly defy the international community, who grudgingly tolerate the continued nuclear threats, plus these rogue state supporters of other terrorist and insurgent groups, and criminal activity the world over. 

It is obvious the supercarriers, the fighter wings, and armored divisions can no longer keep us adequately secure to influence those nations who threaten us most often. Third World countries know we dare not use overwhelming force, or at least aren’t so naive as Saddam Hussein to push us too far. The deterrent style forces which served us well into the peer conflicts of the last century are increasingly so much extra baggage, needed less and less in the new century. Our funding priorities should reflect this dynamic change in warfare. Perhaps we can manage a while longer fighting the new Hybrid Armies with our Cold War linear tactics, but the costs of such an undertaking alone should be a deterrent, forcing us to learn the new warfare before the next Napoleon comes along. 



A Concise History of Warfare by Bernard Montgomery 

Encyclopedia Of Military History by Trevor and R.E. Dupuy

8 Comments leave one →
  1. Andrae permalink
    May 10, 2010 3:29 am

    Sorry Mike, but you aren’t making sense. Napoleon used linear tactics as much as everyone else – the mixed-order formation you refer to is a close-order mix of column and line. Skirmishers were used extensively by all sides to wear and weaken the enemy close-order formations; but always supported by close-order infantry.

    Fatal to your argument is that the counter to 18th and 19th century skirmishers was the MBT of the era, medium cavalry. The reason skirmishers were always supported by close-order infantry is that they needed somewhere to hide when the ‘tanks’ turned up.

    It is similar today. You can do without tanks provided you are willing to let the enemy overrun your position and spend the next 5-10 years harassing him from hiding until he gives up in disgust. Somehow I’m not convinced that any country that has a choice will chose this.

    Btw, Napoleon’s genius wasn’t so much his tactics as his operational and strategic innovations. The shift from the 18th century regimental system of brigades and army-level logistics, to one of divisions with integrated support elements and corps with integrated logistics allowed him to delegate far more initiative to his operational commanders and gave him far superior strategic flexibility.

    The two lessons I learn from Napoleon is the power that is obtained when you find new ways of allowing initiative down the command-chain, without losing cohesion; and the importance of situating your logistics tail at the appropriate level for your operation.

  2. Mike Burleson permalink*
    May 6, 2010 4:24 pm

    “in terms of musket balls flying down range, the British could always pour in more fire than the French.”

    Isn’t it interesting how the same could be said of the Royal Navy cannoneers of the time. Land power and seapower closely connected, though usually the sea service is a little slower catching up. Its the same today!

  3. Jed permalink
    May 6, 2010 10:43 am

    Mike said: “So it was skirmishers versus skirmishers”

    Yes, but not for long. Really if you think about it, it was the “all arms battle” well before the term was invented. Light and heavy cavalry, horse drawn light guns, skirmishers with rifles and infantry of the line with muskets.

    As our beloved Mr Cornwell likes to point out, discipline and training were often what made the difference. Yes the French column’s could show discipline and soak up horrible amounts of fire, but unlike all who buckled before them, the British lines would stand fast in front of the ‘shock and awe’ of artillery supported French infantry columns and this is where the training kicked in. The British Army alone at this time practiced frequently with live ammo, which meant in terms of musket balls flying down range, the British could always pour in more fire than the French.

    In this way the Duke of Wellington’s army was similar to the Roman Legions or the Phoenician Phalanx, it was infantry centric, lacking in the numbers of artillery or cavalry the French could field in nearly every battle, but the infantry would win those engagements.

    While the regiments of the line took the ‘conventional’ fight to Napoleon, the Spanish of course took the ‘asymmetric’ approach, through the Guerrillero, the fighters of the “little war”. Raiding, attacking supply convoys, denying lines of communication. So add this to the British Army, (including its Portuguese battalions) and you might conclude that perhaps the “Allies” of the Peninsular war were the ones indulging in ‘hybrid’ warfare :-)

  4. Hudson permalink
    May 4, 2010 2:27 pm

    Thanks, Mike. I also carry a pocket handkerchief, which came in handy when the dust-ash cloud from the collapse of the South Tower on 9/11 reached my nose. I get out of town sometimes.

  5. Mike Burleson permalink*
    May 4, 2010 2:07 pm

    Jed wrote “His skirmishers were generally outshot by British Light Companies, also deployed as the skirmish line’

    Certainly, as I mentioned, they defeated Napoleon by adapting his own tactics. I think it was Jon Moore which began the rebirth of the British Army about this time, and the light companies have been neglected (disbanded altogether?) after the American Revolution. I am only repeating what Monty and the Dupuy’s were writing concerning this part of British history.

    So it was skirmishers versus skirmishers. Today, would you send the tanks versus the infantry? Israel tried that to their regret in Lebanon. The solution is then to send infantry with the tanks to protect them, which is standard tank/infantry team from the world wars.

    My argument, I think we are at the point where the foot soldier is strong enough to do without the tanks altogether. Why should we bust our budget and strain our logistics centering tactical thought around them? Along with airpower, sometimes without it, but with missile power at least, the infantry seems to have the advantage over our shrinking, expensive armor assets.

    Of course you need some type of light armor transport, I am all for that. Here is Napoleon’s light cavalry!

    Oh, and I love Sharpe, books and movies! Met Mr Cornwell once at a book talk in Charleston! He was extremely nice and interesting speaker. Go hear him if you get the chance.

    Joe K wrote “use specifics”

    Whew! Another post…

    Hudson-take care of yourselves up there. Sometimes I’m glad to be back in the small town, but I miss the city!

  6. Hudson permalink
    May 4, 2010 10:47 am

    I hate to bring this up–it’s so annoying–but, to paraphrase the Bible:

    What does it profit a nation to send armies abroad it it cannot protect its people at home?

    I am referring, most recently, to the failed Times Square bomb attack on Saturday night. The Crossroads of the World, perpetually in the crosshairs of the Muslim world, could easily have been Bhagdad if a more competent bomber had been behind the wheel of that Nissan vehicle.

    It was only yesterday that we were reading about the Queens man who was planning a Madrid-style backpack attack on the subway system–he had purchased nine backpacks for his accomplices.

    We have had good police work so far, and have been lucky. But they keep trying. Darn those people! Meanwhile, I have a surgical mask at my desk at work and food in case I get trapped in my downtown office by a chemical or biological attack. I store bottled water and crackers in my apartment in Brooklyn, idione pills, mask, a ready list of items to grab on my way out the door if I need to flee the city, documents and such, and my hard drive is backed up to a distant source.

    What would Napolean do, I wonder?

  7. Joe K. permalink
    May 4, 2010 9:28 am

    I’d like to know what exactly YOUR interpretation of “hybrid” warfare would mean for our military today – as in, if our military were embracing hybrid warfare how would it operate or be organized (and please, use specifics)?

  8. Jed permalink
    May 4, 2010 9:14 am

    OK, I admit that maybe I have read too many Bernard Cornwells ‘Sharpe’ novels:

    But your characterization of Napoleon seems a little skewed to me. His skirmishers were generally outshot by British Light Companies, also deployed as the skirmish line, because the British had actually learned a valuable lesson from fighting the fledgling nation of America, it used rifles. The other thing Napoleon is known for is his belief in the ‘big guns’ as he was an artilleryman himself. Finally where it comes to hybrid warfare, the one thing he could not master was the seas – particularly the littorals of Europe, where the RN kicked his arse all over the place, and where seaborne logistics allowed the Duke of Wellington to finally drive the French out of the Iberian Peninsular:

    So, yes his skirmisher / heavy column mix was devastating against some adversaries, but not all. In the end his Marshall’s of France, and indeed himself, were not flexible enough, nor quick enough to change – and that to my mind should be the hallmark of any nation that wants to indulge in something defined as “hybrid” warfare – flexibility !

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