Rummies reforms of the Military. Lighter is better ? Future Role of the US military.

One of the few things I agree with Rumsfeld is the need to reform the US military. I’m curious to see how much of this “lighter is better” mentality is good or too much for SMDB members.

Overall I guess Rumsfeld is seeking more economy than increased efficiency of the military ? More deployability than “on the ground” effectiveness ? Are M1 tanks unecessarily “heavy” for invading third world countries or Bosnia type peacekeeping ?

Is the US military too expensive to keep on the field with massive amounts of fuel usage ? Too over reliant on Air Superiority ? Takes too long to set up a division in order to attack ? Will lighter equipment be more agile in facing various threats and assignments ?

To create a more viable discussion. Suppose another Iraq style invasion isn’t going to happen. Missions will generally be smaller. Now if you think Bush will still be hunting the Axis of Evil do comment on what would be relevant then.

The current military is structured to fight pitched tank, infantry, and air battles against large enemies, backed up by artillery and airpower, with large, relatively slow ground forces. That made sense when your probable enemy was a superpower, and before you had precision weapons.

But what we’ve learned in the last decade and a half is that it’s really, really important to move fast, be able to deploy rapidly, and that precision bombs and missiles, coupled with excellent situational awareness, make a lot of difference. Thus the transformation to a lighter, faster, more agile military.

Look at the wars the U.S. is engaged in now, in Afghanistan and Iraq. I have heard that the Americans in Afghanistan really lusted after Canada’s “Coyote” armored vehicle (and are getting them now - the ‘Stryker’ is the American version of the Coyote". Tanks are still useful when you have to move into very dangerous areas, but they are also increasingly vulnerable to missiles and mines when they are forced to move slowly or stop in confined areas. They are also very expensive, require immense logistical support, and take a long time to move into battle.

A Stryker brigade can be deployed rapidly, has a good amount of firepower (especially when coupled with close air support), and can do things like roam around mountainous areas and through urban areas with ease. It doesn’t need a logistical tail like heavy tanks do. You can airlift far more Strykers into a region than you can heavy tanks, and you can use smaller aircraft that are easier to get in and out of unimproved strips.

The model for the typical engagement the U.S. military goes into in the future isn’t a large-scale tank war on the open desert, but numerous deployments into trouble spots in Africa, Europe, Asia, and the Middle East.

However, it’s still important to remember that China and Russia and France and other big powers are still around, so you still need to maintain the capability to field heavy armor. Just not as much.

HHhmmm … won’t this create 2 armies ? One light vs 3rd world buggers… and one reminiscent of Cold War mentality and heavy tanks ?

That reform is necessary is a given... how much of the reform is money issue and how much is practical though ?  

 Logistical tail of the US army is ridiculously heavy. Sure is something to be taken care of. Especially when the situation might get chaotic and tanks run out of gas too quick.

Well that’s the trick, isn’t it? It’s the old trade-off between firepower vs speed and flexibility. That’s why the current military has a wide variety of units for a variety of missions.

Problem is that even light units occasionally need the power and armor of a full blown tank. Somalia for example.
I imagine that the biggest challenge to reform will come from the Military culture itself. I supect that the glorious gung-ho George Patton riding into battle on a giant tank mentality does not lend itself to the drudgery and tedium of modern urban warfare.

Case in point would be our esteamed CinCs famous “all major combat is over” statement. Almost a kind of “capture the flag” mentality.

The fundamental change that continues to happen is that large armies are not as necessary as they once were because modern weapons allow even a handful of soldiers or insurgents to do a lot of damage. By the same token, the most powerful, sophisticated weapons system can only be in one place at any time so if your mission requires securing a vast, highly complex terain (like a city or jungle), multi-million dollar tanks and fighting vehicles become cost prohibitive.

There are some serious changes coming in military technology that are only hinted at now.

For instance, consider Micro-UAVs. These are tiny aircraft - fixed wing, ornithopers, and helicopters. In an urban setting the military will be able to release clouds of these things, and get amazing situational awareness.

Larger, armed UAVs will blanket battlefields. Couple that with new networks that allow individual soldiers to use these things, and the amplification of firepower of the common soldier will be amazing.

Consider this scenario - a soldier looks through his rifle scope. He sees a target. It’s a man, so he shoots him. Or it’s a tank, so he presses a button on his gun and ‘shoots’ it just like he’s firing his own bullet. Except that what hits the tank is a missile from an overhead UAV. From the soldier’s perspective, it’s like he’s carrying missiles in his gun.

Or, the target goes around a corner. So the soldier flips a button, and the image in his scope changes to an infra-red aerial view from a drone, showing his target on the move. The soldier can now move to interdict him with the bad guy not even knowing about it. Or just target him from there and fire from the drone. Or perhaps the soldier takes out his little UAV launcher and launches one of his disposable UAVs. This thing follows the bad guy around the corner, and keeps its distance, silently following him as he moves to the rear. The bad guy goes into a building, where his commanding offcer is waiting for a report. But instead, a missile comes through the window…

Platoons of soldiers will be data linked. Each soldier has a flip-down eyepiece that overlays the battle scene with icons showing where all the friendlies are. Press another button, and the same scene is overlaid with imagery from overhead showing where the bad guys are.

The amplification of power that an individual soldier has is going to have will have dramatic implications for the types of support weaponry that will be needed in the future. The stuff you see today is only the tip of the iceberg. The next generation of hardware will astound you.

Which is all good and nice… I still feel its like a “Tom Clancy fever” for high tech gadgets. It serves well in a clean and clear mission… but when it becomes dirty urban fighting this stuff becomes expensive toys ? You can only have so much surveillance covering stuff like insurgents.

Clearly US troops also need some training in peacekeeping... especially trigger happy reputation of ground troops and some airmen.

 I'm reading the Black Hawk Down book... and it show pretty well how urban combat can get nasty and having airpower does little to help improve the situation.

It’s almost as if you didn’t get what Sam Stone wrote in the previous post, Rashak. The military must get lighter and faster because that is the only way to take advantage of the new technology that is currently available and that is in the pipeline. There is nothing more valuable on a battlefield that real-time intelligence. But the ability to be able to react quickly to that intelligence is just as important. When one soldier with a laser targeting designator and one airplane with a laser guided bomb can do what it took squadrons of bombers to do just decades ago, that means that fundamental change is needed.

The United States will still have to keep a heavy force on hand to be able to accomplish the missions they require, but the action for the foreseeable future will be fast moving, intelligence based and probably urban in nature.

Warfighting will always be dangerous. Helicopters will continue to be shot down. But the United States is widening it’s lead in the military arena and needs to be able to adapt to change.