April 6, 2007:
The U.S. Army and Marines are trying
to figure out how their Iraq and Afghanistan experience will influence post-war
training. They know from past experience, that each war changes in the way a
force trains for the next one. World War II left American troops expert at
mechanized warfare, amphibious operations, jungle fighting and urban warfare.
Lots of that expertise was discarded in the belief that the next war would be
nuclear. Korea brought back trench warfare, and by the time Vietnam rolled
around in 1965, the nukes were less feared, and everyone was trying to figure
out mechanized warfare again. The 1991 Gulf War showed that all the Cold War
training worked. American mechanized troops blitzed right through the Iraqis.
There were a few small battles were outnumbered American forces handily
defeated their determined Iraqi opponents. The 2001 Afghanistan operation was a
masterpiece of irregular warfare, and the 2003 invasion of Iraq showed that Americans
were still the blitz kings.
But since then, it's been urban warfare and chasing
terrorists. Lost in all the headline hysteria and partisan bickering is the
fact that American troops have been very effective, but that's partly because
they have turned all their energies to mastering a new form of warfare, one
that minimizes friendly casualties (including those of nearby civilians) and
checkmates the enemy. How do you follow an act like that?
For starters, there's a lot of catch up for tank
and artillery crews. Many of these guys have spent a lot of time acting as
infantry. GPS guided rockets and shells have meant a lot less employment for
the artillerymen who have had work. Those tanks crews that did get to use their
vehicles, have become expert at supporting
infantry, but have to catch up on a lot
of their training in the art of killing other tanks. The marines have passed up
on a lot of amphibious and jungle training.
Another big question is, what will the next war
most likely be? Korea is still a possibility, although the North Korean forces
are falling apart. Korea would involve some mechanized operations, but mainly a
lot of infantry fighting. Very little thought, or inclination, has gone into
fighting on mainland China. Iran is another problem child, although all those
Iranian tanks are no match for American armor and airpower. Invading Iran is
talked about much more in the media than in the Pentagon.
One scenario that keeps coming up is something very
similar to what has been going on in Iraq and Afghanistan. In other words, more
peacekeeping type operations. Still, the generals would feel better if their
troops could refresh their conventional warfare skills. Not that it would take
long. The last few years have produced some startling advances in computer
aided training. A lot of this has come out of the military adopting video game
technology in a big way. It works to get greenhorns expert at convoy protection
and urban security. It should work to bring back expertise at amphibious and