U.S. Should Think Twice Before Rushing to a COIN only force

Discussion in 'Current Affairs, News and Analysis' started by Yokel, Jun 3, 2009.

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  1. From War Is Boring:

    U.S. Should Think Twice Before Rushing to an All-Counter-Insurgency Force

    Some U.S. military leaders are arguing that an over-emphasis on counter-insurgency is dangerous. U.S. “We’ve come to see counterinsurgency as the solution to every problem and we’re losing the ability to wage any other kind of war,” Army Colonel Gian Gentile said last year.

    I’m not entirely convinced, but Colonel Gentile does raise an interesting issue. Even in this era of failed states and non-state actors, it’s not unthinkable that we and our allies could be pitted against conventional forces, albeit crude ones.

    Think back a few years to the Balkans, where heavily armed Serb military and paramilitary groups launched campaigns of ethnic cleansing and murder in Bosnia and Kosovo. These were not rag-tag guerrilla forces trying to blend in with the local population — they were well-trained and equipped forces, with artillery and armor. It wasn’t until NATO hit these groups with missiles that they began to stand down.

    For a more recent example, recall Afghanistan in 2001. At the time, the Taliban were the dominant political and military power in the country. During the invasion, U.S. air power helped the Northern Alliance and U.S. ground troops break Taliban lines.

    I’m not trying to be anti-COIN here. Far from it. It was our failure to shift tactics in the aftermath of the invasion of Afghanistan (and later Iraq) that allowed the insurgencies to take root. COIN is the name of the game right now: soft power, training indigenous forces, civil development and winning hearts and minds. But we shouldn’t forget that COIN is not the only kind of potential battle out there. Today the military is mostly worried about building stuff, but it could very well be called upon to break things later. We need to be flexible.

    Consider: In Darfur, the Sudanese government has used tanks and helicopters to de-populate villages, and is smuggling arms to rebel groups in neighboring countries. In Myanmar, we’ve seen the Junta use conventional troops to ruthlessly hunt down political opponents and seize aid. In Zimbabwe, an unpopular, corrupt government clings to power through brutality and military might. In North Korea, we see an oppressive regime becoming a nuclear power.

    Increasingly, the world’s “bad actors” mix conventional troops with insurgent tactics, in a form of “hybrid war.” (Marine General James Mattis has emphasized this point.) Tackling these challenges might mean an equally hybrid response, with fighter jets and destroyers lobbing high explosives, and COIN ground troops following up, post-combat.

    It’s important that we recognize the wide range of threats we face today, and have the right tools and the strategies to deal with each.
  2. A no brainer: there is no realistic prospect of a COIN only force. The Generals are simply upset that a blitzkrieg ending in a kinetic dash of heavy armor is no longer the core of modern warfare. They now have an army of which about a third does COIN very well. The rest is still busting to get messily kinetic with heavy armor, air and tube artillery at the least provocation.

    It is likely that military operations other than war (MOOTW) and COIN will be the main sorts of nail Uncle Sam will be trying to hammer with his military in the next couple of decades. Awful lot of anthropology weaponized as they call constabulary work these days. No fun in the sand pit at all.

    However this does not mean there won't be traditional bi-directional tech-fests at the start of these conflicts. Pakistan is the next likely one. It's also worth considering what Vlad did to Misha with an old skool armored thrust.

    Then there's a chance of a straightforward conventional war with a fairly beefy military, i.e. China or Russia if a real bozo gets in charge (pretty likely in Russia or the US) on either side.

    Also if US continues hemorrhage prestige and power as it did under Bush junior the probability shoots up. Historically strategic over stretch and an empty war chest tends to get an empire felled by a swift kidney punch from a rising power.

    In any case military force properly used is just a coercive tool of diplomacy. It's perceived overwhelming might and technical primacy that deters an opponent from risking war. It can force submission to a hegemonic power like the US without a shot being fired. Technically obsolescent cold war kit like US carrier groups are grand from this point of view. This illusion is best maintained by only rarely actually fighting weak opponents and then conclusively destroying all resistance. A protracted COIN war is a poor and often ultimately humiliating choice for a demonstration of force.

    And finally, there is bugger all money in COIN. It still involves lots boots on the ground. It's harder to squeeze a buck out of soldiers as compared to exotic weapon systems.

    The Pentagon exists to imagine future wars and buy the military it needs. The flights of fancy involved here are primarily conjuring threats that will justify big ticket boondoggles for defense contractors and spread the pork round congressional districts. Hence the continued emphasis on Russia/China resulting in SDI, Crusader, Osprey the F35 etc.

    The business of prosecuting America's wars abroad let alone its defense are a distant second to keeping that trough brimming. The shell game Gates played with the ballooning defense budget is proof of this. Essentially it is a rolling trillion dollar bailout to the US defense industry, an awful lot of jobs from the senate, congress and on down to Joe six pack depend on it. It's as American as moms apple pie, muscle cars and secretly gay tele-evangelists.
  3. COIN only is what many on here seem to want.
  4. Yokel, for the UK the arguments are rather different. The US is a global superpower andas such will, perforce, be involved in various conflicts worldwide of different natures. For the UK, involvement in such wars is essentially a matter of choice - the wars would happen anyway with or without UK involvement.

    UK army wants to concentrate on COIN because:

    1. COIN is something it was at least very good at;

    2. It justifies spending on the army rather than RN/RAF;

    3. The sort of highly kinetic warfare the US generals in your article prefer is VASTLY expensive in terms of equipment, logistics, training, etc. It's questionable whether the UK can actually afford a full-on, deployable, kinetic war fighting capability which can operate independent of the US.
  5. What question?

    UK gave up that capability in '56. Since then, it has only been able to cobble together an independent small-scale force of sorts that are able to take on 3rd (or lower) rate opponents.
  6. This piece puts forward the hypothosis that the last day we could do big stuff was 6th June 1944:
  7. US capability overmatch in respect of any potential rival in terms of kinetic warfare is so vast at the moment that, simply expanding on exising advantages is a waste of money. It will be a good 20 years before the PLA can even come close to matching US forces globally (which is not to say any force operating within 500 miles of China won't have a very torrid time of it at present); Russia is struggling to maintain its own near-abroad.
  8. I can't believe that we cannot convert into a war economy if it is needed. It might be a slow started but once momentum is started givern the technology to hand we can surpass earlier wars.