Should the US merge its ground combat forces?


Of course not. But Jeong Lee, writing at the USNI Blog argues that they should be.

Speaking at the Association of the United States Army on the 12th, Admiral James Winnefeld, the Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told the audience that in future ground wars the tempo will be “shorter, faster-paced and much harder” because America’s adversaries will work to create a “fog of war.” Thus, the Admiral suggested that the Army “place more emphasis on the growth industry…of protecting American citizens abroad”  in order to adapt to the fluid geostrategic environment.

Indeed, since the sequestration went into effect in March, many defense experts have been debating what the future may hold for the Army, the Marine Corps and the Special Operations Command (SOCOM). Whatever their respective views may be on the utility of landpower in future wars, all seem to agree on one thing: that in the sequestration era, the ground components must fight leaner and smarter. (Hyperlinks in original-XBrad)

Many defense experts may be debating what the future holds, but damn few think merging the Army, Marines and the SOF community is the way to go.

The argument that ground components must fight leaner and smarter certainly hails back to the Rumseldian Revolution in Military Affairs and the Transformationalists. How’d that work out for us?

Not to knock the Marines in any way, but the fact that they have been serving as a second army in our wars in Iraq and Afghanistan strikes me as silly. Sure, some units being blooded is probably a good thing, but the main mission of the Marines should be to serve as  a rapid reaction and forced entry force, not a reserve of manpower for a leaner, smarter Army.

And since Mr. Lee brings up consolidation of duplicative forces, why not give the Air Force all the Navy’s aircraft?*

And here’s the thing about leaner landpower. It’s a strategic risk.  While I’d argue that the average Army Brigade Combat Team is more than a match for a comparable enemy force, the ideal is to have overwhelming combat power, both to quickly achieve objectives, and minimize losses to our force. The more closely matched in combat power, the more likely heavy losses will occur. Further, don’t fall into the amateur’s trap of thinking strictly in terms of a single component. The US great strength in warfare has long been its ability to fight combined arms and services. We can find dozens, hundreds of examples where we did so poorly, but the fact is, we’re head and shoulders above anyone else at it.  The CoComs, the Unified Combatant Commanders, were designed specifically to be in such a position that their parochial attachments to the service the grew up in is mitigated by understanding the need to effectively synergize the efforts of all the service components under their command.  It’s imperfect, but again, it’s better than anyone else’s system.

What are you thoughts on why this is a bad idea. Conversely, what (realistically) can we do to streamline the duplication of effort? What changes can and should we make?

*no, not really. I’d rather see the Navy take over the air mission, but I’m trying to make a point here…

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10 Comments

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10 responses to “Should the US merge its ground combat forces?

  1. I wouldn’t have a problem with making the Marines an elite infantry corps within the Army, although the chance of that happening is nil, regardless if it’s the best thing to do or not. I think we are better off, from both a planning POV adn an actual operational POV, we are better off leaving the Marines as part of the Navy. The USMC is not as special as they think they are, or that their PR machine makes them out as, but they are important in the mix as well as in their traditional role as shock troops.

    I think it’s a good idea to blood the USMC if the opportunity presents simply for the sake of battle efficiency later on.

    The Air Force as it is currently set up is not in our best interests. If you Peel off TacAir, give it to the Army and leave them with the strategic arm, they would be much happier, and the Army would be much better off. Simply put, the USAF represents a lot of duplication for logistical purposes, and teh strategic role will not require quite so much simply because of the way it operates. TacAir is different in that regard, but it would subsist within the Army’s logistics without having that duplication.

    • I wouldn’t have a problem with making the Marines an elite infantry corps within the Army,

      That loud “POP!” I just heard to the east was URR’s head exploding. :)

      While the Marines always proclaim “Every Marine a Rifleman” let’s not lose sight of the fact that while they are infantry-centric, they’re also the biggest embracers of combined arms around. To merely keep the infantry regiments of the Marines would be to lose virtually all the effectiveness of the Marines, with a wealth of doctrine and corporate knowledge, and hardware, in a rather arcane area.

    • The Marines are precisely what they think they are. Which is why they succeed.

  2. Diogenes of NJ

    The level to which the USNI will sink to compete with Salamander’s blog! I know, Sal will deny it up and down, but Tommy ain’t no bloody fool. You bet that Tommy sees.

  3. ultimaratioregis

    I do find Jeong Lee’s work there to be rather sub-par. It is often not terribly well-reasoned, and based on assumptions that are somewhat bizarre, to say the least. If he does it for shock value to stir debate, I can see it, to a point. But if he really believes some of the rather odd assertions he makes, he hasn’t seen the football since kickoff.

    • I hate bashing a fellow blog, especially considering some of the drivel I’ve personally tossed onto the wall here, but yeah, it seems a good bit below most of the other stuff posted there. I very often disagree with what they post, but it’s usually good food for thought.

  4. Hey, fuck that. You don’t have to have served to participate in the debate. The question is, when most nations make do within means, why should the United States spend lavishly on power projection capabilities it doesn’t need and will serve to antagonize the rest of the globe.

    • ultimaratioregis

      Your assumptions are that the US spends lavishly, but our expenditure on defense is less than 4.5% of GDP, historically on the low side for us and historically VERY low for major powers in the industrial age. You also assume that power projection capability will somehow not be needed, especially in the face of a militarily rising China. Power projection has been a part of warfare since antiquity, and is not going away any time soon.

      As for “performing overlapping missions”, you really should learn the difference between the USN and USCG, the Marine Corps and the Army, and the Air Force with its focus on strategic air power and the USMC and USN (and Army aviation) and their focus on tactical air power.

      No, you don’t have to have served. But if you make bombastic proclamations based on badly flawed assumptions and inaccurate assessments, I will call you on it. Do your homework.

  5. Because most nations don’t have four to five services performing overlapping missions.

  6. There is a big difference in Naval Aviation and AIr Force Aviation. Just go to http://www.neptunuslex.com and start from the begining. The Army has boats, for harbor supply and in-theater transports, but very limited self-protection and absolutely no power projection.

    The Army has come a long way in Expeditionary warfare, but the Marine Corps culture and ethos is still superior for that mission. And in a large conventional war, with front lines and a defined enemy, the Army is much better than the Marine Corps.

    Just because there are riflemen in the Marines and Army does not mean the training, culture or missions are identical. Orverlapping on the fringes is not something identical.

    Seems like shallow analysis, Mr. Lee. For a correction to your lack of history, see the consequences of a joint RAF on RAF and RN FAA performance in WWII.