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26 February 2011


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William R. Cumming

Absolutely agree! Amazing speech given how the US formulates policy. Perhaps it calibrates nicely with parts of the "Powell" doctrine. Either we view our military as part of our democratic institutions or as mercenaries that we allow our elites and leaderhsip to dabble with without care or concern.


Looks like the apple polishers will have a harder time making O-7 or higher in the future while the down-to-earth guys who try to make the world a better place now have a fair chance.

Bill H.

Do you agree with the aspect of his speech that suggests that in the future we will achieve military objectives with air and naval power and without the use of "boots on the ground."

Charles I

It also comports nicely with the technological future of the battlespace.

CBC television ran a documentary about unmanned weaponry on Wednesday evening. Boffins, trade shows, Generals, lots of drone footage, amateurs doing for $300 what a contractor admits he only did for $2 million. Lawyers and land mine campaigner Nobelist Jody Williams.

It said 20 % of all U.S. military air missions are now unmanned. 20 % unmanned forces across the services mandated for 2015 I believe the general said, and on track.(wee pun, - most of 'em are still little tanks if they don't fly, but they showed one four legged critter a man could not knock over, hundreds of pounds of payload capability way faster than a man, really cool)

Pakistan drone program doesn't count, its CIA not military - although lots of discussion re ethics, accountability there.

IED robots and the like are guided, but bigger, more soldiery type robots are here, being improved, and autonomous function is the goal. Combined with shrinking drones the ability to take out any designated individual on the planet who emanates within the sensory spectrum - pretty well everything but farts - from 7,000 miles away seems weighted to impact ground forces the most.

43 nations were said to be developing/acquiring land air sea drone technology.
Much of it getting remarkably small, bio-mimicing - little birds, articuklated self powered snakes with a camera and a poison dart.

A meat powered robot is reported being researched.

Patrick Lang


I think he meant that most major action will center on naval and air power. pl

William R. Cumming

Bill H! it is not about achieving military objectives. As PL points out major action is the key not achievement of military objectives. Although PL and I probably disagree because I believe that DOD is largely a front for contractors and boots on the ground don't bring into play the big bucks sytems guys and gals from the contract community, more the MANTECHS, MPRI, and Xe types but hey they are trying hard to make the top 10 in annual DoD contractor outlays.
By the way to "democratize" the Bundeswehr US mandated that they contract out as much as possible on the basis that would prohibit power projection when the FRG Army was reconstituted in 1950.
Strange, perhaps not, how many FRG units I served with had battle streamers reflecting action in 1943 and 1944. Of course most were on Eastern Front.

Margaret Steinfels

The best political rather than military lines was: “In my opinion, any future defense secretary who advises the president to again send a big American land army into Asia or into the Middle East or Africa should ‘have his head examined,’ as General MacArthur so delicately put it,” Mr. Gates told an assembly of Army cadets here.
Could be applied to Mr. Gates immediate predecessor now making the rounds playing the man who didn't really do that, or that, or that...


"Men and women in the prime of their professional lives, .... may find themselves in a cube all day re-formatting PowerPoint slides,"

This rather describes the mid-life crisis of working professionals world wide, most of whom passed on all opportunities they may have had to be
"...responsible for the lives of scores or hundreds of troops, or millions of dollars in assistance, or engaging or reconciling warring tribes..."

"How do we institutionalize ... into the Army's regular force structure, and make the related experience and skill set a career-enhancing pursuit? "

How indeed? Isn't current US SF training still highly dependent upon easily testable traits and grueling 'physical fitness' related goals not intangibles like language skills creative thinking? (I believe you had a blog entry about this before?) Gates has had almost 3 years since first mentioning this to make changes, have they been anything more than cosmetic?


Thousands of Rep and Dem politicians, talking heads, self-styled experts, generals, and members of the MSM need to have their heads examined.

Many should be in the dock.

different clue

We should be grateful that Senior and Baker sent Mr. Gates into government to be Junior's "thinking-brain dog".

Fred, I suspect Secretary Gates's goals are far more and deeper than cosmetic but it is very hard to impose goals on a huge country's huge Defense Department in three years. The fact that he delivered this speech to West Point cadets would indicate that he hopes to influence emerging leader-thinkers who will carry out this vision for the next several decades, does it not?

As a civilian, I have wondered about something which I don't really know if it is my place to wonder about or not. And it is this: apparently an officer's career is based upon proven success at one rank which then leads that officer's service to elevate that officer to the next rank in the expectation of harvesting new successes at that new level. If/when that fails to succeed . . . not spectacularly or dangerously fail, but merely fail to succeed with the new rank; I believe that officer's career is considered finished and that officer retires with honor and dignity in due course. What would happen if the officer who did not quite succeed at his/her final rank were not considered a failure but, rather, were sent just one-rank-back-down to the highest level where that officer was producing service-beneficial success?
What if there were a shame-free process for doing it that way? Would that keep more talented people in the officer ranks producing more service-beneficial success than otherwise? What if elevation in rank were somehow conditional and probationary for long enough to really see if success were produced, and if not; what if the officer stayed in his/her highest non-probationary rank without it being considered a career-damaging promotion?
Is it necessary for the concept of the officer's career to be based on rising steadily until age-forced retirement or until further failure to rise is considered grounds for departure? (If that makes no sense then I guess the military readers can say "well, a civilian would ask that, wouldn't he.")

Separately, Navy and Air Force will be extremely expensive and technology intensive. To afford the best that exists for the tasks assigned, we may have to accept a narrower and smaller definition of America's interests; perhaps all the way down to national territorial safety and survival and very little beyond that.

different clue

. . . ( of course I meant "career-damaging DEmotion" in what I wrote above) . . .

Patrick Lang


I count five of your comments on this one page. Ask the other members of your committee of writers which three you would like deleted. Get it? pl

Neil Richardson


"'How do we institutionalize ... into the Army's regular force structure, and make the related experience and skill set a career-enhancing pursuit? '

How indeed? Isn't current US SF training still highly dependent upon easily testable traits and grueling 'physical fitness' related goals not intangibles like language skills creative thinking? (I believe you had a blog entry about this before?) Gates has had almost 3 years since first mentioning this to make changes, have they been anything more than cosmetic?"

I think Gates was referring to Big Army rather than the special operations community. There have been some small changes such as language incentive programs which seem promising IMHO. It's just not that easy as I've noted in earlier posts. The biggest obstacle is that we have an army that has been stressed to a point where we probably need some time to reset. IMHO improving language skills is the biggest challenge facing the institution at least as far as near term needs are concerned. A sizable reduction in end strength might actually do more to improve this situation as the Army might be able to attract and retain higher quality personnel.

As for creative thinking, I'm not that worried about it. If there's one thing I've always noticed about the American soldier is that if some approach doesn't work, he would quickly discard it and look for another way. The task of the officer corps is to make sure that we ask the right questions and provide realistic training. As someone once mentioned, the dialectic of the Army is how do we balance conservative tendencies with the demands of innovation. Since we are in the business of trying to limit our own casualties in operations, certain time-tested practices and concepts persist for good reason (usually at tactical level). However too much risk aversion can impede if not kill innovation during crucial points during rapid technological advances. History tells us that over and over again as older officers dismiss new ideas coming from younger generations. I think if we can retain the right sort of people, the balancing act becomes easier IMHO. In order for that to happen the end strength reduction is necessary.

As I mentioned earlier, the Army has to go back to training for high end contingency operations. IMHO one of the most valuable contributions the post-Vietnam Army made was the creation of dedicated OPFOR. In those days we tried to fight within certain restrictions (namely the Soviet tactical doctrine with some modifications of our own re: forward detachments), but essentially it was force-on-force engagements that severely tested the limits of training units. If we are in a period of Revolution in Military Affairs, this poses a huge challenge for OPFOR. They have to take stock of what the near and medium term trends are and figure out a way to humiliate Army maneuver units as currently constituted, because that's what our counterparts in PLA, RGF and others are doing right now. They cannot be building insurgency mockups at NTC while neglecting force-on-force engagements. Advances in robotics have created significant new challenges at tactical level. Let the OPFOR work out the problems in realistic training.


conscription is the answer. an army that reflects its citizenry, the instillation of virtue & tradition in the young, & a brake on foreign adventurism.


No more heavies... Its gotten way to expensive. Its going to special operations with light heavies and drones for future wars.

Scary thought.... War is getting to advanced and way too easy...

William R. Cumming

Operations other than "War" if now the theme we have the completely wrong DOD apparatus. Will take time to fix.
If we take the figure of armies consisting of around 300K for almost 3,000 years as the max for logistics and control, and seems the modern era still has that limit despite communications improvements, how does PL see the "right" number for the 21st Century for maximan boots on the ground and commentators? If the US had 50 brigades which is does not how would that compare to Rome's maximum number of Legions at any point? Has defense caught up with the armored forces?

Herb Ely

In 1989 I was privileged to be one of a few civilian students at the Army War College. Gates' remarks would have found support in our seminar groups. Anticipating the decline of the red Army we were calling for lighter, more mobile units, an emphasis on civic affairs, and favoring ROTC scholarships for language majors over engineering students.

Neil Richardson


"Has defense caught up with the armored forces?"

For now it appears so. However, this cycle has been ongoing for some time since the development of tank. In 1919 .50 cal would've penetrated side armor of Renault FT at 500m. It would've penetrated frontal armor at 100m (Sure it would've taken some discipline on the part of the MG crew but given how poor infantry coordination was in those days, heavy MGs posed a terrible challenge in a potential engagement for light tanks). British Mk.IVs were not only unreliable but also were terribly vulnerable to German indirect fire. This was one of the reasons why the infantry officers refused to consider tank as a war winning weapon during the interwar period.

Toward the end of WWII, personal antitank weapons such as Panzerfauste again prompted Alan Brooke and Montgomery to claim that tank was finished during the early struggles in Normandy especially in Bocage. Of course for those of us entering Armor back in 1974, the lessons of 1973 were very fresh in our mind as we learned "Sagger dance". (That was probably the most scrutinized foreign conflict in US Army history)

We'll just have to see what happens as active countermeasures against top attack ATGMs might turn out to be useful. As I recall Gen. Abrams exclaimed "Tank is back in business" immediately after witnessing the demonstration of the Chobham armor. Armor is a component in combined arms operations. I am hesitant to declare it dead just yet. The current stock of main battle tanks will have to be replaced but the demand for protected firepower won't diminish no matter how many people predict that perfect battlespace awareness plus precision strike capabilities equals easy victory. Sooner or later some clever people in other armies will figure out a way to "muddy up" our sight picture.

William R. Cumming

Thanks Neil! How about those mechanical popup targets called heliocopters?


The heart-wrenching commentary on the Davis adventure in Pakistan http://www.counterpunch.org/

Neil Richardson


"How about those mechanical popup targets called heliocopters?"

Well attack helicopters aren't the biggest source of concern for tankers today. It's the artillery and UAV delivered smart submunitions that pose the greatest threat which probably makes it highly unlikely that we'll ever see another Prokhorovka or Medina Ridge.

William R. Cumming

Thanks Neil!

William R. Cumming

Leslie Gelb reported as stating the GATES speech justifys immediate Iraq and Afghan withdrawl. If this was not so public a forum might crack an off color joke.


Gates' concluding remarks have really set off Ray McGovern, who was once a supervisor for Gates early in his career.

Gates: "..in my opinion, any future defense secretary who advises the president to again send a big American land army into Asia or into the Middle East or Africa should ‘have his head examined,’ as General [Douglas] MacArthur so delicately put it."

Says McGovern: "I’ll acknowledge that Gates may have come to his newfound skepticism about these ground wars honestly, sincerely distraught by the continued loss of life as the bloody conflicts grind on with no real end in sight."

But then he goes on to describe Gates successful career as that of a "windsock", willing to "cook intelligence" to the prevailing political winds." Quite a fierce attack.

Is there bad blood between these two?

The question that seems to remain from McGovern's demurral is whether Gates' speech should be understood as a thoughtful and meaningful critique of present military structure and policy, with recommendations for the future, or merely a reflection of present political winds.

Either way, doesn't Gates' closing remark suggest that US might be looking now for a faster exit from Afghanistan and a much lower profile for the future WOT? Or is he simply announcing that US won't be intervening in any of the current uprisings in North Africa and the Gulf?



Neil Richardson,

Thanks for your insights.

Will, maybe we should conscript some 50 year olds, they vote more than the 18-30 year olds. The US at least would get them in phyical shape and what better as a wake up call than a draft notice to put a 'brake on foreign adventurism' from people who actually vote.

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