Sunday, November 11, 2012

The Day I Met LCpl Christ

Veterans’ Day occurs on the eleventh day of the eleventh month, a date stemming from the Armistice Day of the First World War.  Unfortunately, “The War to End All Wars” did not live up to its title, so we honor the veterans of many more conflicts: the Second World War, Korea, Vietnam, Desert Storm, Afghanistan, and Iraq; in addition to the many other actions of the Cold War and our new post-Cold War world.  In peacetime and in war, members of the military are the sheepdogs of American society, always on the watch for predators that lurk in the night.  And the burden of this vigilance is high.

One day in the fall of 2006, I met a young Marine lance corporal who shouldered that burden—the burden of the watchstander. The burden of those left behind, wondering why it was their buddy, and not they, who paid the price.  I was traveling the road from Fallujah to Habbiniyah that day. Although we had three observation posts—OPs—on the road, it was still littered with IEDs.  The first one was called OP Redskins, located on an overpass over a railroad track. I had visited the OP before and planned to push through it this day as we were running late.  Engineers further down the road were still sweeping for IEDs, though, and we had to wait until they were complete.  So, we entered the serpentine of concrete jersey barriers and made our way into the OP to wait.  On our way in, I noticed a blackened hole in the road surface, surrounded by pieces of shattered concrete—a reminder of the constant threat.

Once we were inside the OP, I got out to stretch my legs and noticed that most of the Marines were sleeping, obviously having spent the previous night either on post or on patrol. Doing my best not to disturb them—and hoping that no one would start waking them up because “some General is here”—I headed to the guard tower at the west end of the OP.  I could see the silhouette of a Marine standing watch so I decided to go up and say hello.  I approached the ladder, sounded off, “Neller coming up” (it is not good to sneak up on a guy with a loaded weapon) and climbed up into the post.  As I entered I was greeted by a Marine Lance Corporal.  He was about six feet tall and lean, with a scraggly moustache.  His gear was clean and neat and he was clearly wide awake.
Being wide awake as a watchstander is no small thing. First off, being on post, especially if you are doing it right, is an exercise in interminable boredom.  Second, this Marine had probably been up most of the night on patrol, as he had been for nights on end. When you are in combat the first thing you notice in men is their eyes.  The eyes of a combat Marine, regardless of their age, are usually somewhat recessed and dark underneath.  These are the eyes of men who are tired, have seen hardship, danger, and sometimes the carnage of combat.  This Marine had combat eyes.

Friday, November 9, 2012


Dr. Steven Metz, military theorist with the US Army War College Strategic Studies Institute, wrote in this gated article about the psychological dimension of warfare and its relation to the Office of Strategic Landpower, which I wrote about here. The divide between the Army’s focus on psychological effects and the Navy/Air Force technologically focused AirSea Battle concept harkens back to the debate over Effects-Based Operations, a debate so powerfully ended by General Mattis. (link to Mattis’ guidance on EBO) The conclusion of that debate does not bode well for ASB, neither does the massive amount of fiscal investment that will be required to realize ASB given the state of Defense budgets.

The Marine Corps is already familiar with this dimension of conflict. MCDP-1 mentions the mental aspects of war in the very first sentence. It goes on to state that, “Although material factors are more easily quantified, the moral and mental forces exert a greater influence on the nature and outcome of war. This is not to lessen the importance of physical forces, for the physical forces in war can have significant impact on the others.” While most Marines are more familiar with a simplified version of Colonel John Boyd’s OODA loop, the physical, mental, moral formulation comes from his theories as well as many other concepts in MCDP-1.

But it goes back further than that, Ardant du Picq, a French Army officer and theorist, wrote Battle Studies (published in full in 1902). In Battle Studies, du Picq put a heavy emphasis on the psychological aspect of fighting. He wrote that, “In battle, two moral forces, even more than two material forces, are in conflict.” For du Picq, the military force that mastered the interplay of physical and psychological aspects of warfare was the ancient Roman Legions. “The great superiority of Roman tactics lay in their constant endeavor to coordinate physical and moral effect.” Clausewitz as well recognized the importance of the psychological and titled a short chapter moral factors. “Hence most of the matters dealt with in this book are composed in equal parts of physical and of moral causes and effects. One might say that the physical seem little more than the wooden hilt, while the moral factors are the precious  metal, the real weapon, the finely-honed blade.” So, it would seem that theorists are in agreement about the psychological aspects of war and warfare and thus the Army is on track when it comes to focusing on it.

The problem with AirSea Battle is not that it proposes technological solutions to problems. It should do that. Rather, the problem is that its solution ignores the nature of war by focusing solely on the physical means. That being said, it seems that the Army’s Office of Strategic Landpower, with its focus on the psychological dimension of warfare, is a far better fit for the Marine Corps. The combination of the Marine Corps and the Army is a potent one. The two services are the most combat experienced and tested professional military forces on the planet. If the relationship between the two is as good as the Commandant says, the burgeoning partnership in defining modern landpower will hopefully be a fruitful one.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Identity Crisis

For a months now, there has been something of a discussion about the role of the US Army going forward after the end of OEF and the budget cuts that will accompany it. First, strategic theorist Antulio Echevarria wrote this piece. Then, in a widely discussed article on Foreign Policy, Douglas Ollivant defended the Army’s importance to the nation and went so far as to shoehorn in the Marine Corps in a misguided attempt to bolster his argument. Although Ollivant’s point about the Army stands, better analysis can be found here and in the latest Military Review. In this article, Lukas Milveski looks at the utility of landpower in the context of a landpower, airpower, and seapower framework. The Army’s seeming identity crisis is so acute that last week General Odierno, Chief of Staff of the Army,said that there is much “angst” in the Army and announced his intention to establish an Office of Strategic Landpower. Since AirSea Battle involves the airpower and seapower component and proponents claim that the concept will guide future Air Force and Navy operations, we seem to have our bases covered for the coming budget fights.

Except where does that leave the Marine Corps? I’ve already mentioned Ollivant’s use of the Marine Corps as a rhetorical device, but the actual Army seems to agree as the Marine Corps will participate in the Office of Strategic Landpower along with SOCOM. But does that make sense? We are mostly dependent on the Navy after all. The Marine Corps falls under the Dept of the Navy and the Navy’s budget, not to mention the money the Navy provides out of its own slice for things like Marine aviation. Additionally, Navy personnel serve in Marine units and we depend on the Navy for transportation and are logistically tied to the sea even after reaching the beach, at least until Army theater logistics operations are in place. Additionally, the Marine Corps has been very vocal about returning to its naval roots. Those roots probably do not grow in an office focused on landpower. While it is true that an opposed amphibious assault has not occurred in US history since Inchon, it is still an important capability. While the Navy and Marine Corps may be likely budgetary allies, they seem to be at odds. AirSea Battle was developed without Marine Corps input. Since the Army and the Marine Corps have taken the lion’s share of budget cuts so far, and the Army is looking for a counterweight to the USAF/USN alliance, they find themselves on the same side. Enlisting the Marine Corps in defining the future of landpower is a smart move for the Army. The Army’s two greatest foes have been Nazi Germany and the Marine Corps Propaganda Machine.  

But this doesn't answer the theoretical question. Is the Marine Corps landpower, seapower, or even airpower? Obviously we’re a mixture of all three, and those that understand how we operate know the value of that, but have we articulated it? The AirSea Battle office and the Office of Strategic Landpower will be influential in the coming years, and the Marine Corps’ equivalent, the Ellis Group, may have its hands full explaining the value of an amphibious force. The group’s centerpiece concept, single naval battle, is sound but it speaks more to the integration of the Marine Corps and the Navy than to how the Marine Corps itself will operate in the future. The Navy may in fact not be interested in further integration. Both General Conway and General Amos have called for a Marine Corps return to the sea, but has the Navy? Perhaps the Ellis Group should look at how the Marine Corps fits into a landpower, seapower, airpower triad rather than focusing on solely the naval aspects.

In conclusion, both the Air Force and the Navy seem to be reaching for a new vision with AirSea Battle. The Army seems to be going through a bit of an identity crisis as well as the perceived threat from AirSea Battle. The Marine Corps is lucky given that we know well our mission and our basic structure is codified in law. However, we are the smallest service. Allies are good to have but no one will advocate for us like we will. As our three bigger sisters clamor for their slice of the budget, it will be difficult for the Marine Corps to explain its vision. The continuing confusion about just what kind of service it is, as evidenced by Ollivant's claim, means that we have more work to do whether our budget drops or not. 

Thursday, November 1, 2012

A Brief Note on Air-Sea Battle

Editor's Note: Thank you to the Infinity Journal for providing the PDF to the article Friedman mentions below.

Since I have posted here about Air-Sea Battle on more than one occasion, I wanted to highlight an article in the most recent issue of Infinity Journal that does the best job of explaining the concept so far. It's free to read with registration so check out "Air-Sea Battle as a Military Contribution to Strategy." 
As the United States continues to shift its political focus away from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the importance of a rising China and the Asia-Pacific states to international stability continues to garner attention. A portion of this attention includes the military threats that are present and possible capabilities necessary to ensure stability and access to that area of the globe today and into the future.

For the U.S. military a set of concepts that are colloquially merged in the media under the phrase “Air-Sea Battle” are being developed to address these access threats and the possible military response to their use. While many, particularly in the world of political and military analytic punditry, continually conflate the concepts tied to Air-Sea Battle with strategy, they are in reality a military’s contribution to strategy development.

While strategy is the identification of a desired political effect and the means that are to be used to attain it while balancing the inherent risks, Air-Sea Battle is merely a starting point for the negotiation that ultimately leads to a strategy. These sets of concepts are designed to identify the operational access-related challenges created by other actors, the capabilities required to overcome those challenges, and possible operational means for employing those capabilities to achieve military success – regardless of the political effect desired. This paper is intended to assist in separating the issues that swirl around the Air-Sea Battle concepts, while also pointing out deficiencies in our common conceptions of strategy highlighted by these debates…..

It's written by MAJ Nathan K. Finney, a US Army strategist and friend of the author. (He tweets at @BareftStratgist) MAJ Finney makes the important point that ASB would merely be the military portion of a strategy developed to defeat a hypothetical enemy in a hypothetical future conflict. If you're interested in ASB or strategy in general, check it out and the rest of the articles.