Leadership: Why Western Armies Tend to Win


October 28, 2005: One of the biggest advantages that some of the major economic powers have in war is the quality of their officers and soldiers. Why is this? The answer falls into several areas. Many of these countries have economies on very sound footing. Their economic success, there for the world to see, is the real secret to the quality of their forces: Major powers can afford the best possible personnel and to give them the best possible training.

One of the biggest differentials between major powers and a country like Indonesia is pay. To put this differential into perspective, an Indonesian general gets about $400 a month. This is less than a third of what a recruit (grade E-1) in the United States military makes ($1235.10). An American four-star general or admiral will make up to $12,149.10 a month. This does not include the health care benefits or the fact that for enlisted soldiers, the military often pays for college expenses. In Indonesia, the pay is so low that soldiers often set up roadblocks to shake down passing motorists.

The other advantage is that the pay is such that major powers can rely on all-volunteer forces. Conscripts usually come with issues surrounding motivation. The U.S. Marines, for instance, will reject nine out of ten potential recruits. The reasons for turning away these applicants range from drug use, a police record, medical conditions, to failure to have a high school diploma. The fact is, the United States is very picky about who gets to serve in the military. The standards remain high when they are in the military. One of the methods is "up or out" policies - if a person is passed up for promotion twice, they have to leave active service. It leads to a lot of competition. These soldiers are competing against each other, each of them doing their best to get good fitness reports.

The other advantage that major powers have is in their training. Often, the major powers train a lot - and the exercises will be very tough. The United States uses places like the National Training Center at Fort Irwin, California (home of the 11th Armored Cavalry Regiment, or the OPFOR), Nellis Air Force Base (home of Red Flag). The result is that after combat, American troops have compared it to the National Training Center - "only the enemy wasn’t as good". Indonesia (again using it as a comparison) has been unable to do as much training - often because the soldiers are creating roadblocks, while the officers have been involved in business ventures. Russia often has trouble getting adequate training time due a lack of funds, which means its personnel cannot make the most of some equipment that looks good on paper (like the Su-27 Flanker family of aircraft and the Kirov-class nuclear-powered battlecruisers).

In the end, the real difference tends to be that the major powers can afford to spend a lot of money on their military. The old adage "you get what you pay for" is particularly applicable when it comes to military matters. Major economic powers can do so without much effort (Japan is one such example, arguably the second-best naval power in the Pacific Rim on 1 percent of its GDP). Countries like Indonesia and Russia have much trouble getting new equipment, and training people to use it well. In a fight, a major economic power will have the edge. - Harold C. Hutchison (hchutch@ix.netcom.com)


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