The Army Looks to the Future
The Chief of Staff of the Army released the results of a study which was designed to determine how the Army can best achieve “success in battle” in the future. I was able to obtain a copy of this report and want to share it here. The Chief convened a group of the best military brains available because he understands that “wars are still fought on little bits of bloody earth, and they are ended when the enemy’s will to resist is broken, and armed men stand victorious on his home soil.”
On his watch, the Army, a critical element of victory in war, was being forced to downsize. While sea and air forces were being spared from some of this fat-trimming, the Army was being asked to decrease more men and live with fewer funds to train them. He felt passionate that the “misty hope that air power…could save us in time of trouble” had been dis-proven time and again in war. He knew that mass destruction from sea and air power seldom broke an enemy’s will to resist. Also he understood that the void of security left behind by mass destruction would need to be filled by soldiers on the ground that can help our allies re-impose order and security or the nation would spiral into chaos.
The Chief did not want to be forced into the next ground war without an ably led, fully trained, and appropriately armed ground force ready to deploy on a moment’s notice. He also felt that political considerations were driving the downsizing instead of security considerations. He, like most everyone else sees that the world is getting more dangerous and not less, and that in future conflict there will not be a 12 month build-up time available to slowly increase the size of the Army. Men need to be ready to go to war immediately or casualties will be high.
The Chief wisely selected his study group to include seasoned senior leaders with years of experience in and out of combat whose judgement he trusted. Even more wisely he chose a number of younger officers that he knew to be brilliant and imaginative. Finally he absolved them from all other duties to undertake this study. The Chief warned the group that they must resist the natural tendencies to avoid change and to “base all judgement on [their] own past experience.”
In very broad terms and roughly para-phrased this is what the study group found:
Forces must be a streamlined, hard-hitting elements armed with a variety of greatly improved weapons.
The basic building block should be multi-branch battle-groups: infantry, engineer, artillery, etc.
Units should be semi-independent, self-contained, and able to operate over a large battle-space with little support and direction for long time periods.
Units should be transportable by air assets.
Weapons must be light, compact, and fit well with all-terrain, yet fast vehicles.
Units must be able to move swiftly in the offense and defense to exploit enemy weaknesses and be capable of hit-and-run operations and operating behind the enemy lines with airborne forces and other units operating like the cavalry of old. All forces must yield superior firepower.
Supply lines and large supply bases must be replaced by air support and flexible transport and communication systems.
On the people manning these units, the report offered this advice:
Army organizations must be led by the highest caliber of officer. Ideal officers should always take the initiative and be capable of daring feats due to high self-confidence and a creative imagination. Their physical and moral courage must be unquestionable and they need a physical stamina that is equal to their mental flexibility. Leadership is the most important element in the Army and we have been blessed to continue to find excellent combat capable leaders because of our great education system.
Leaders will be useless without great American soldiers to take and hold ground. While Americans have become softer and enjoy an un-rigorous lifestyle we must continue to create physically and mentally strong youths to sustain our Army. While most Americans find it hard to relate to the difficulty of military training and combat we must continue to find ways to attract the best and brightest.
Finally we must continue to fund training. Our people must be physically and mentally hardened and practiced in critical skills through realistic and demanding training. Not just classroom training but actual exercises with hands-on training harnessing fires while maneuvering and simulating combat stresses. The more we sweat in training, the less our men will bleed in combat.
One of the most striking parts of this report on the future of the nation’s ground forces is the date. This is a summary of an early draft report as relayed by General Matt Ridgway. He asked for this study during his two year reign as the Chief from August 1953 to June 1955. General Ridgway was a contemporary of his then Commander in Chief, President Dwight Eisenhower and felt he was being forced to cut the Army for purely political reasons, not based on the military opinion of the Army and their commitments overseas or the number of threats facing America in the near future.
Ridgway was preceded by General Lawton Collins, one of the few generals to command in both the Pacific and European theaters in World War Two. Collins was also the Army Chief of Staff during the entire Korean War and would serve later in Vietnam with Ambassadorial rank. Ridgway was followed by General Maxwell Taylor his colleague in the airborne forces that fought in WWII. Taylor would later serve as the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and also find himself in Vietnam wearing the rank of Ambassador. Taylor took up the mantle that Ridgway had carried by also warning against the over-reliance on mass destruction by air and sea while overlooking the value of the ground soldier in a rapidly changing world that demanded an Armed Force that could “react across the entire spectrum of possible challenge.” He knew as well that an atomic weapon was not a solution in a limited war.
General Ridgway was a firm defender (as was Chief of Staff of the Army Eisenhower) of a military officer’s right to speak honestly and forcefully to explain the military requirements needed to carry out the national security strategy. He vehemently stood against the concept of preventive war, feeling that “nothing could more tragically demonstrate our complete and utter moral bankruptcy that for us deliberately to initiate a “preventative war” for “once we took that fatal step our civilization would be doomed.”
He backed up his rhetoric when people inside and outside the government started calling on the President to intervene during the 1954 battle by the French forces at Dien Bien Phu, French Indo-China (future Vietnam). General Ridgway took steps that the rest of the government was failing to do — analyze the situation on the ground. He was hearing the old refrain of “intervening smartly” and “winning cheaply” by the use of air and sea power. He also knew that if Navy and Air elements were committed in Indo-China, the Army would necessarily follow. He dispatched a team of Army experts, from engineers, medical, and logistics officers to experienced combat maneuver leaders, to provide an estimate of the situation in Asia. They found it devoid of facilities, poor in infrastructure, lacking adequate air and water ports, and its landmass perfectly adapted to a guerrilla force. He sent the reconnaissance report to the Secretary of Defense and the President with the message that a massive land force would be needed to achieve total victory and it would sustain heavy casualties on par with Korea. The intervention was averted (for a while) because someone was strategically looking at the problem and honestly relaying the costs and implications found through thoughtful analysis to his superiors.
There are some leaders in an out of uniform that lack the strategic insights that General Ridgway related to the Secretaries of the Army and Defense when he assumed the position of the Chief of Staff of the Army. Reading General Ridgway’s and Taylor’s books can go a long way towards understanding war and the demands upon an armed force in battle. In a future discussion, I want to tackle the problem of how to ensure all the leaders assisting the President of the United Sates, as well as the President, utilize strategic thinking and understand strategy and how to develop and execute policy. We must never forget that there is only one reason that an Army exists — to achieve “victory in war.”
Jason Howk is a retired Army Foreign Area Officer. He holds a Master’s Degree in Middle Eastern Studies, was a term-member of the Council on Foreign Relations, and is a Malone Fellow in Arab and Islamic Studies. He has worked extensively in Joint, Interagency, Intergovernmental, Multi-National, and NGO operations and has been involved in international foreign policy and strategy development.