Best Defense

Thomas E. Ricks' daily take on national security.

Tanks for the memories: What sort of training does the Army need to focus on?

By chance, when I reached into my ragged black Land’s End bag for my "subway reading file" during my commute home yesterday afternoon, out popped Military Capabilities for the Hybrid War: Insight from the Israel Defense Forces in Lebanon and Gaza, by David E. Johnson of RAND Corp. I’d printed it out a few days ago ...

DENIS SINYAKOV/AFP/Getty Images
DENIS SINYAKOV/AFP/Getty Images

By chance, when I reached into my ragged black Land’s End bag for my "subway reading file" during my commute home yesterday afternoon, out popped Military Capabilities for the Hybrid War: Insight from the Israel Defense Forces in Lebanon and Gaza, by David E. Johnson of RAND Corp. I’d printed it out a few days ago and forgotten about it.

It is a good short summary piece, and speaks right to some of the questions I had after reading Col. Gentile’s worries about the US Army’s tank force. In Lebanon in 2006, Johnson concludes, the Israeli military "was largely incapable of joint arms fire and maneuver." Tank training especially had been neglected because it had been "deemed largely irrelevant."

He also makes the interesting point that with state sponsorship, it is relatively easy for an armed non-state group to make the transition from irregular capability to a very lethal "hybrid capability." He points to the mujahedeen in Afghanistan in the 1980s when the U.S. government gave them Stingers anti-aircraft missiles, as well as to Iranian-aided Hezbollah in Lebanon.

I mention the Johnson piece as well because I have been critical of RAND’s products in the past, and so think it is only fair to speak up when I see something I like. (That said, I do think that this piece is something the Army wants to hear, and I worry that too often that is the role RAND plays with our military.) 

In other COIN news, I am impressed that David Kilcullen’s forthcoming book on counterinsurgency, out from Oxford in June, is appropriately dedicated to Dave Dillege and Bill Nagle, the founders of the Small Wars Journal. If you are not regularly checking that website, you should be, little grasshoppers.

And as long as we are on the subject of counterinsurgency and coincidence, yesterday I was looking for something in my office, and by chance picked up Russell Weigley’s History of the United States Army. And right there on page 161, in his discussion of the forgotten Seminole War, I saw this:

A historical pattern was beginning to work itself out: occasionally the American Army has had to wage a guerrilla war, but guerrilla war is so incongruous to the natural methods and habits of a stable and well-to-do society that the American Army has tended to regard it as abnormal and to forget about it whenever possible. Each new experience with irregular warfare has required, then, that appropriate techniques be learned all over again.

That comment makes me think that Col. Gentile’s concern may be misplaced, that the tendency of the U.S. Army is to lean too much toward conventional capabilities — a point Andrew Krepinevich also made in The Army and Vietnam. So the more pressing issue may still be whether the military is taking counterinsurgency seriously enough.

By chance, when I reached into my ragged black Land’s End bag for my "subway reading file" during my commute home yesterday afternoon, out popped Military Capabilities for the Hybrid War: Insight from the Israel Defense Forces in Lebanon and Gaza, by David E. Johnson of RAND Corp. I’d printed it out a few days ago and forgotten about it.

It is a good short summary piece, and speaks right to some of the questions I had after reading Col. Gentile’s worries about the US Army’s tank force. In Lebanon in 2006, Johnson concludes, the Israeli military "was largely incapable of joint arms fire and maneuver." Tank training especially had been neglected because it had been "deemed largely irrelevant."

He also makes the interesting point that with state sponsorship, it is relatively easy for an armed non-state group to make the transition from irregular capability to a very lethal "hybrid capability." He points to the mujahedeen in Afghanistan in the 1980s when the U.S. government gave them Stingers anti-aircraft missiles, as well as to Iranian-aided Hezbollah in Lebanon.

I mention the Johnson piece as well because I have been critical of RAND’s products in the past, and so think it is only fair to speak up when I see something I like. (That said, I do think that this piece is something the Army wants to hear, and I worry that too often that is the role RAND plays with our military.) 

In other COIN news, I am impressed that David Kilcullen’s forthcoming book on counterinsurgency, out from Oxford in June, is appropriately dedicated to Dave Dillege and Bill Nagle, the founders of the Small Wars Journal. If you are not regularly checking that website, you should be, little grasshoppers.

And as long as we are on the subject of counterinsurgency and coincidence, yesterday I was looking for something in my office, and by chance picked up Russell Weigley’s History of the United States Army. And right there on page 161, in his discussion of the forgotten Seminole War, I saw this:

A historical pattern was beginning to work itself out: occasionally the American Army has had to wage a guerrilla war, but guerrilla war is so incongruous to the natural methods and habits of a stable and well-to-do society that the American Army has tended to regard it as abnormal and to forget about it whenever possible. Each new experience with irregular warfare has required, then, that appropriate techniques be learned all over again.

That comment makes me think that Col. Gentile’s concern may be misplaced, that the tendency of the U.S. Army is to lean too much toward conventional capabilities — a point Andrew Krepinevich also made in The Army and Vietnam. So the more pressing issue may still be whether the military is taking counterinsurgency seriously enough.

Thomas E. Ricks covered the U.S. military from 1991 to 2008 for the Wall Street Journal and then the Washington Post. He can be reached at ricksblogcomment@gmail.com. Twitter: @tomricks1

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