26 December 2006

A Bigger Military?

Skimming my favorite news sites this morning, I found an editorial from the Chicago Tribune which discusses the need for a bigger Army. I couldn’t really find an answer in the piece, though. Some interesting questions are asked, though.

- Given the nature of the fight in Iraq, does it make sense to fund the Air Force and Navy at current levels?
- When would new soldiers and Marines be ready for action? (The article says five years for an extra 33k troops…which to me seems like an awfully long time.)
- What is more important, equipment or people?
- What is the next fight going to look like (since new troops, according to this piece, wouldn’t be ready in time to help in Iraq)?

That last question is the most important, and also the most difficult to answer. Many people felt, after the first Gulf war and the air-dance over Serbia, that air power was the answer to future combat: bomb them from where they can’t touch you until they capitulate. And that’s all fine and good until you have to take and hold ground. Air power isn’t good at holding the line (as airplanes are easily destroyed on the ground). But more to the point, it’s a pretty safe guess that the US military will not be called on to bomb rouge governments into submission and/or divert them from a course of action, while leaving the country intact any time in the near future (ala Serbia or Operations Northern and Southern Watch).

What’s a more likely is that air power will be used to support troops on the ground as they confront an elusive enemy, probably a non-governmental one, in close combat in urban settings. Couple that with hitting targets (read: important enemy leaders) using near real-time information, and the problem becomes one of targeting and timeliness, not mass. Air-to-air combat, while still a very important discipline to master, will be secondary to ground support. If this is the case, what is probably more important than piling up F-22’s is development of munitions and tactics to effect change on the battlefield so that the ground-pounders have the very best chance environment to work in (though it will still be very, very dangerous…but that’s the way of war).

For the guys on the ground, I think it’s a very safe bet that the next war will require more of them than fewer of them. The editorial mentioned above states:

Once we are done in Iraq, Americans may be leery of large-scale unconventional wars like this one, which are unusually manpower-intensive. In that case, a bigger Army may be a needless extravagance. (emphasis added)
It is more realistic to say that recent conflicts, from Serbia onward, have been far less manpower-intensive than other wars and conflicts, historically. Currently, we are fighting an unconventional enemy on multiple fronts, and we have to fight them in many ways, militarily being just one facet. Given the fact that we are fighting against this loosely organized, highly dispersed enemy which wears no uniform and follows no rules, a bigger Army (and Marine Corps) will be a necessity for the foreseeable future, not a “needless extravagance”.

Having more troops also means having more options on how to use them. This is important not only to us, but also with respect to how our enemies think we can or will act. There is no doubt that Iran and Korea (not to mention non-state actors) act as they do because they feel the US military is tied down in Iraq and Afghanistan, and therefore unable to take on another front. Would Iran have this attitude if the US had another 100,000 troops in the rear, ready to take action?

Building a larger military, not through equipment only but through recruiting and retention, is a moral imperative. Defending one’s self is fundamental, and any country which does not take this duty seriously doesn’t deserve to hold sovereignty (and in the long run, won’t). At this point in history, a larger, much larger, ground component of our military is not a “needless extravagance”. Given the nature of the current war and of the enemy we face, it is an undeniable requirement for the defense of our country.

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