« Cat-fights | Main | David Brooks and "implacable enemies" »

15 May 2008


Feed You can follow this conversation by subscribing to the comment feed for this post.

patrick theros

Again, we continue to talk as if war is a activity that has only a military component. All wars begin with politics, are meant to achieve political agendas, and end with politics. Gates has occasional moments of wisdom when he advocates more funds for diplomats.

I have read Thucydides and Clausewitz repeatedly. I believe they would agree with the above.

Diplomats Rule!


As Pratchett once said, "Sometimes history doesn't repeat itself. Sometimes it picks up a club and says 'Weren't you listening the first time?'"


$500B budget and all we got is lousy pop terminologies. If we keep going, we are going to end up like Israel, designing tanks to occupy Gaza, yet can't win a battle 20 miles outside the border.

Stupid ideas and gadgetocracy kill. Somewhere inside chinese and russian military group meeting, a bunch of people are laughing right now.



How much, if at all, are the CIA's paramilitary capabilities integrated into current counterinsurgency strategies?

Do they do their own thing in support of their own objectives, or are they considered a member of the counterinsurgency 'team.' Just curious.

frank durkee

William Arkin who blogs at the Washington Post has some comments today in a similar vein. the extend the argument that the Col. is making.

William R. Cumming

PL! I am curious as to how your thinking in this post reconciles with Sir John Keegan's "ON WAR"? He seems to believe that war is fully dependent on the makeup of mankind and therefor unlikely to end or evolve into some other human activity. Perhaps I have misread him.


What would Philip II or Alexander do? Laugh, perhaps??

Was it the elder von Moltke who is supposed to have laughed only twice in his life? Once when told a particular French town was impregnable and again when his mistress married a barber?

We will always need a few good Macedonians or Prussians in a really tight corner. All this 4G+++ talk is sales patter and corporate piffle.

Patrick Lang


War is inherent in the human.


Von Moltke sounds like a hoot.


I have no idea. I am careful to avoid inquiring into such things. Of course, if they want to tell me... pl


With the constantly increasing usurpation of our Constitutional rights I would not be shocked to think that Gates is speaking of orienting "the armed forces and their corporate counterparts" to "steer technology and resources toward battling insurgencies"
foreign and DOMESTIC. While we're not there yet, it is the road we are on.


There's a funny passage in Barbara Tuchman's "The Guns of August" about this:

"Meanwhile the Liberals had been elected . . . Their new Secretary for War was a barrister with a passion for German philosophy, Richard Haldane, who, when asked by the soldiers in Council what kind of army he had in mind, replied, 'A Hegelian army.' 'The conversation then fell off,' he recorded."

Neil Richardson

Dear COL Lang,

From the speech I perceived that Gates was trying to raise questions about the organizational culture than a new overall reorientation and redirection of the Army transformation (and concurrent Unit of Action program). I'll certainly defer to your expertise on doctrinal shifts but how did the Army treat the COIN experts within the officer corps after Vietnam? IIRC the special operations community didn't have too many rising into the flag ranks during the hollow years other than maybe GEN Robert Kingston. Based on what Gates has said in a recent speech to to the Air Force when he pointedly brought up John Boyd (and I don't know if that was a good thing to do as Boyd was a pariah in the service), it seems he's more concerned about the future composition of the officer corps.

IMHO the Army consciously chose not to re-engage in counterinsurgency after Vietnam. It made some sense as the greatest threats were the Warsaw Pact and North Korea. And GEN Abrams saw to it that the nation wouldn't go into another war without the support of the American people when he instituted the framework of the brigade roundout policy (It didn't work out in practice as 1990-91 demonstrated). While I think the so-called Revolution in Military Affairs is a real process (I just wish some scholars wouldn't reinvent the wheel so often in terms of concepts) I strongly believe that people matter more. There's always a price that an early innovator pays while trying to reconcile military doctrine with dramatic advances in military technology. The British Army was by far the most advanced innovator in armor warfare in 1928 when they had played around with Experimental Mechanized Force Trials. However, the Great Depression and the need to keep financing their force requirements in policing the empire killed the program. However, the greatest impediment was the officer culture that prevented the British army from operating in combined arms during WWII. They learned and relearned the lessons over and over again in North Africa (the same lesson that the IDF learned in Sinai in 1973) as they just failed to master tank-infantry coordination. The US Army was no better at Kasserine but as Rommel noted in a letter to his wife, the Americans learned much faster as doctrinally and institutionally we were far more flexible. I really wonder if people like Patton, John S. Wood, Ridgway or even Stilwell had been in the Army in recent decades whether they'd have remained and advanced (After WWI, Patton returned to cavalry in order to save his career, but given his personality I don't think he would've survived the promotion boards today). Fortunately for the nation George Marshall kept an eye on them and protected them when it mattered.

I just think that factional development in the officer corps has a long lasting impact as the Army is a social institution. Some of my AF friends tell me that the shift to greater emphasis in terms of close air support wouldn't have been possible had it not been for a far greater portion of flag officers who had been in the fighter community rising in the ranks after Vietnam. Some of them believed the SAC mafia was responsible for the de-emphasis on air combat maneuver that led to a shameful kill rate in Vietnam as the USAF was emphasizing bomber interception in the 1950s and early 1960s. The Army had its own issues as the airborne mafia had its hand in the Pentomic period. Some have wondered if Westmoreland's artillery background perhaps led to his emphasis on firepower. I suspect some may accuse the armor mafia (Abrams, Starry, Franks, etc) of its own strong bias when AirLand emerged. David Hackworth seemed to suggest it when he questioned the decision to to deploy 11ACR.

I accept Gates' claim when he said that it was a matter of balancing and making choices. I just can't see how likely a conventional conflict might be in the near future. H.R. McMaster is a gradualist in the RMA debate and he just barely made O-9 after being passed over twice. John Nagl is leaving. I'd like to see how long Paul Yingling lasts after blasting the generals (And even before Iraq Douglas Macgregor also didn't make it when he was the leading advocate of reorganization). Once Petraeus and Gates are gone, I wonder who'd protect the mavericks who I believe are still in the minority. I just suspect the Army would rather forget the institutional learning that our people have paid for in blood after we get out of the Iraq mess. There was a recent debate between Gian Gentile and Paul Yingling on the SWJ blog that actually received some attention. I felt Gentile was speaking for the majority in that exchange.

Although my own background is armor, I think some very recent changes such as the newly instituted Mechanized Officers Basic Course (AOBC) are good for the institution as future tankers receive greater emphasis on infantry tactics. It shouldn't have taken the mess in Fallujah to figure out that we still needed an infantry phone link M1A2 tank intercom. The standard MOUT doctrine (which was turned on its head by the 3ID Spartan brigade in 2003) was that armor was of limited use on urban terrain. Well, they were mighty useful in Berlin, Hue and in Iraq. Those in the armor community didn't think we needed to worry about the problem and simply willed it away. We saw the Russians (who should've heeded the lessons of Stalingrad) get bloodied severely in 1994 and concluded that we weren't going to even bother preparing for the use of armor in MOUT. Douglas Macgregor had been arguing that with proper combined arms support armor was still relevant in urban warfare but no one listened to him. I just think that without some emphasis on COIN from the highest level of DOD leadership, the Army will fall back into its own comfort zone. Being a cynic, I suspect the civilian leadership will get us involved in another low-intensity conflict somewhere. IMHO I just think we have to retain the full spectrum of warfighting capabilities.

Steve French

Perhaps the rub is the use of the term "generation" and not (just off the top of my head) "style" or "species"?


It seems to me that there is a certain conflict between having a standing army with funding in the percents-of-GDP range and having a flexible approach to fighting wars.

I always thought that the US would have been better served if, after World War II, we would have simply avoided more wars and trusted our ingenuity and industrial flexibility if we ever had to get into another. However, what ifs don't really get us anything, and of course the reality of the post-war era was incredibly complex.

For now, I find Gates' words a refreshing breath of sanity. Anybody who occupies a high-profile and powerful position on the national stage and who is willing to stand up to the bloated and criminally ineffective major armaments developers is a rare and strong individual.

As the recent NYTimes article on the development of the littoral combat ship shows, this process is a complete mess. And to spend huge amounts of money developing new generations of capital ships, for example, when we still don't have APCs that stand up well to inexpensive .50 cals, RPGs and IEDs is just wrong. Especially when there is no development of rival technologies since the end of the Cold War.

I don't agree with the way the US has conducted foreign policy (to put it mildly), but I do think that on the off chance we achieve a more intellectually sound group of leaders that they should have functioning systems that meet the needs of the day. Why are our ships in the Persian Gulf vulnerable to the SSN-22 Sunburn missile, for another example? Certainly you can't tell me that more than ten or twenty people at any of the major defense contractors are loosing sleep over this, and yet we have F-22's in half of the new action films released in the past few years. Now, I love fighter jets (I grew up in Dayton, OH, for Pete's sake), but there is no real strategic need for these planes. They're just good for AF recruiting. The whole process is driven by how high-dollar and how high-profile a given project is. Meeting the needs of soldiers, sailors and marines or those Admirals and Generals trying to effectively fight a war seems to be a distant third priority at best.

So when Gates stands up to these big-project bozos and directs their attention a little closer at hand, I think it a victory for common sense.

As to the idea that we will ever be flexible in our response to the tactical or strategic requirements of an emerging conflict, I am extremely dubious that it is even possible while we are maintaining global hegemonic ambitions and commensurate budgeting practices--no matter how we think about the problem of types of warfare and unit design.


for some reason, I don't think tank will be too useful in future war.

Drone will kill makes tank too expensive to deploy within a decade. A tank will have to carry ever more complex radar and support, while drone can keep getting smaller, more dangerous and cheaper. It can turn practically invisible if designed only to carry one or two anti tank missiles.

tank will go the way heavy spy satellite, aircraft carriers, heavy bomber and high end fighter jet. Cost and logistic will kill them.


The only example of a successful counterinsurgency in the 20th Century, I'm told, was in British Burma--oops, that's called something else, now, isn't it? Is there some other successful example of a counterinsurgency?

Patrick Lang


It has been said with great conviction since WW2 that the day of ground armies was ended. That was wrong then and it is wrong now. People live on the earth. That simple fact requires control of terrain. Terrain can not be controlled with air weapons and fire power. It must be occupied to be controlled. Tanks and other armored vegicles have been dismissed as outmoded ever since WW2 in spite of their very large role in every major war since then. In OIF the armored force was all important. The counterguerrila war in Iraq? You should ask the infantry if they do not wish to have armored vehicles (tanks) with them in the field.


Stop rolling your eyes and read more. There were many successful cuonterinsurgency campaigns in the 20th century, many of these are little known simply because they ended in a favorable outcome for the occupier/government and for that reason are of little interest to the left.

A few examples: The US campaign in the Phillipines after the Spanish American War, The campaign against the Huks in the Phillipines after WW2, The British suppression of the Mao Mao in Kenya, The suppression of Cendero Luminoso in Peru, the suppression of the Sandinistas in Nicaragua in the '30s, suppression of Haitian Guerrillas in the same period. There are dozens more of examples.

Actually, some of the big insurgencies that you probably think were won by the insurgents were victories for the counterinsurgents that were then followed by occupation government political decisions to leave the place. A notable example would be the French army victory in Algeria. pl

Duncan Kinder

col. I think that, in this thread, you are encouraging us to challenge our assumptions, an exercise which is always good.

( It would be most productive, for example, to set up a grid of successful vs. unsuccessful insurgencies and attempt to identify the factors that contribute to their respective successes or failures. )

However, unless our tank force can be fueled; then all the post-WWII military experience in the world cannot justify them.

And unless we can fund our military; it won't be worth very much.

So there are some ascertainable constraints.
And there do need to be priorities. Both between the military and non-military needs ( I'd like to see some universal healthcare - even at the cost of a few tanks ) and within the military ( repelling an asteroid from outer space seems too far fetched. )

Furthermore, our capabilities are declining. Even if we assume the best of faith on the part of the Chinese, their products have quality control problems. Chinese-made transistors just aren't the sort of thing you want in sensitive equipment.

So you seem to be saying that the US continues to need this massive military. So, I suppose would Belgium. But are we really better off than the Belgians? Or even more secure?


I'm a bit circumspect on the whole "generational" warfare thing. Like many theoretical constructs, it might be useful to explain some things, but not everything.

Regardless, my sense is that one dimension of warfare has significantly changed and that is media/information operations, particularly in regards to insurgency warfare. The US has done a pretty poor job, IMO, in this sphere, particularly at the operational and strategic levels. It doesn't help, of course, when the government is currently run by true believers who are incapable of change or even examining their own mindsets. That probably explains why efforts at reinvigorating public diplomacy, for example, have been such miserable failures

For curious and Neil Richardson, I'll offer this recent piece by Maj. Neil Smith (PDF File - article begins on page 6) on the utility of armored forces in urban and irregular warfare.

Eric Dönges

pbrownlee, Moltke (the elder) was known as "der große Schweiger" (lit. "the great mute") because he rarely said anything, so it is plausible he didn't laugh all that much either.

if I where a soldier, I would definitely not want to be a tanker - a tank is a large, noisy and hot (important in an age of infrared sensors) target and thus hard to conceal, with limited visibility for the crew. And unlike as in WWII, infantry equipped with modern anti-tank weaponry can kill it from far away - much further away than they would be expected to be able to hit anything with their rifles.

So unless someone comes up with a reliable, cheap (i.e. cheaper than the weapons it is designed to counter) way to protect tanks against ATGMs, I would expect the tank to go the way of the heavy cavalry. Artillery and infantry, on the other hand, will probably never go out of style.


Colonel, yes, the French "won" in Algeria, but at what cost? It even led them into the Suez Fiasco of 1956. There was also an abortive mutiny in the Army and a vicious insurgency by the pro-settler terrorists of the OAS which had to be fought by the French forces. When someone tried to kill General Salan with a rocket the officer in charge of intelligence on the FLN indignantly rejected the accusation of incompetence. Salan was targeted by a couple of rogue French Catholics because he was a Freemason in a position of authority. The intelligence officer said, "General, this incident is completely outside our mission!"

Patrick Lang

Eric Donges

Yes, being a soldier is a dangerous business.

What you are not looking at is that the state of defensive technology advances as well and the total vulnerability of tanks is to be judged by their vulnerabilities as part of the whole force and not as potential victims to a particular weapon or sensor system. Then, this worth has to be judged as to what the tanks within the total force contribute to success. You should expect to see tanks(mobile armored firpower) continue to evolve, not disappear. pl

Neil Richardson

To curious:

No one in the armor community is saying that we should leverage our finite resources into legacy hardware like tanks and IFVs. In fact there are more than enough to last the next decade or longer if we allow for proper maintenance and some limited upgrades. However, unless you know something most of us don't, we are not going to fight another state that can 1) develop anti-tank drones, 2) produce them in large scale that makes economic sense (e.g., Japan, the UK, France, Germany), and 3) work out the doctrinal and institutional problems and successfully deploy them. I'd venture to guess that most of our future conflicts in the next few decades would involve countries that have conventional inferiority who will field the same old hardware (old Soviet tanks and APCs) if not the Soviet-style doctrines.

One thing that a lot of the RMA and rapid transformation advocates assume is that we will always enjoy overwhelming information superiority. Perhaps they're right but I'm not that optimistic as I believe fog of war lifts and returns at regular interval as new technology emerges. Baldwin had famously claimed that the bomber will always get through. Well the Chain Home system disputed that claim. Obviously advances in radar technology exacted a terrible price against heavy bombers but it merely started a cycle of developments in ECM/ECCM. How about the Soviet SAMs that presaged the end of manned bombers? The last I checked the USAF had plans to continue using the B-52s until 2030. The NVN air defense system exacted a horrific price as did the Egyptians against the IAF in 1973 but by 1983 the pendulum had swung again. How did the promise of air-to-air missile technology work out in Vietnam? Even now when advances in technology have made BVR the dominant form of air-to-air engagement, the USAF asked for guns on F-22s. Standoff fights assume information superiority until reality strikes and you're in a knife fight inside a phone booth (I'd say that's analogous to urban warfare)

From my perspective I was in AOBC two years after the world saw the IDF lose a third of its tanks. That was the loudest death knell I'd heard as we found out that given proper training and motivation, the Egyptian infantry could exact a terrible price against Israeli tankers who were very experienced and highly skilled (especially in gunnery). Well some clever Brits came up with the Chobham armor and the pendulum swung again and armored shock was again relevant. The first Gulf War confirmed that AirLand was doctrinally sound and 73 Easting proved that training counted as much as hardware especially when close air support wasn't a factor. Revolutionary advances in military technology can drastically alter dominant forms of warfare but that's rare IMHO. After 1973 all tankers around the world learned and re-learned the Sagger dance and refreshed the lessons of combined arms operation (infantry-artillery-engineer support against ATGM teams). What happened to the IDF wasn't just a function of facing a determined enemy equipped with Kornets and Metis-Ms. As Ehud Barak openly stated the IDF was terribly unprepared. Tank gunnery skill is perishable commodity and when your people fire one round over the course of a year, that isn't going to cut it especially when most of them had never seen combat. If you can't react instantaneously to missile launch, you are going to lose a lot of people and there is nothing that suggests to me that the IDF tank crews were proficient as their predecessors had been in prior conflicts


"Tanks and other armored vegicles have been dismissed as outmoded ever since WW2 in spite of their very large role in every major war since then. //Patrick Lang | 16 May 2008 at 08:04 AM"

until now, it is cheaper to make better tanks than to deliver effective counter measure. Firing anti-tank missile is complicated. a fighter plane is much more expensive than a tank. not many countries have functioning airforce, let alone able to fight and deliver anti tank missiles. (land base anti tank will have to answer the tank maneuver itself right? so back to basic tank battle)

I would agree that tank will have role, but its place as the king of ground strategy is about to end. Just like large gun ship role ends after introduction of effective submarine and aircraft carriers. armored vehicles will certainly have place in battlefield, just like surface ship. But tank specifically, starts to not making any sense. Drone technology is growing much faster than armor vehicles technology.


"we are not going to fight another state that can 1) develop anti-tank drones, 2) produce them in large scale that makes economic sense (e.g., Japan, the UK, France, Germany) // Neil Richardson | 16 May 2008 at 06:43 PM"

Under optimum condition, it will take Iran less than 2 years to build composite drone that is able to fly 40-60 lbs payload. (heck they have rudimentary aviation industry. and Obviously they are able to master high tensile, precision carbon composite for their uranium enrichment program.)

It is a question of electronic.

Now. let's take China. They have much more advance chip fab tech. Sooner or later they are going to figure out the economy of doing tank battle against us.

a UAV doesn't need to be high tech. It only need to fly undetected to drop the missle. With that basic task. It is possible to do it under $10~20K. It's only a question of electronic.

I really think, tank role will end much sooner than we want. Less than 15 yrs. Most likely against Iran/Hezbollah UAV.


Here we go. They gonna figure out how to put them together sooner or later right?

It won't be effective against tank or plane at first. But definitely good enough against slow ships, trucks, humvees and tankers.


Eric Dönges

Colonel Lang and Neil Richardson,

I'm not arguing that tanks are going to stop being useful overnight. I'm arguing that in the face of modern anti-tank weaponry that continues to become smaller, cheaper and easier to use, the usefulness of tanks will diminish up to the point where it doesn't make any sense to field them anymore, and they'll be replaced with something else - just like what happened to the phalanx, heavy cavalry, and the battleship, just to name three examples. When this will happen is anyone's guess (though one would hope that Mr. Gates' guess is more informed than mine).

That being said, I agree with both of you that until the uselessness of the tank has been conclusively proven on the battlefield, it would be prudent to keep some around in good working condition just in case.

To get back on topic, the real problem I have with statements like that of Mr. Gates above is that I don't see why the army of a democratic state would ever need to fight an insurgency - domestic insurgency would be a political and/or law enforcement problem, while foreign insurgency would be none of their business.

The comments to this entry are closed.

My Photo

February 2021

Sun Mon Tue Wed Thu Fri Sat
  1 2 3 4 5 6
7 8 9 10 11 12 13
14 15 16 17 18 19 20
21 22 23 24 25 26 27
Blog powered by Typepad