Leadership: Fear of the Future

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January 30, 2006: The U.S. Army is running into problems with "new ideas versus old habits." It's an old problem. Case in point is the new combat brigade organization. Instead of three (armor or infantry) combat battalions, the new brigades have two combat ablations and a reconnaissance battalion (which is basically infantry with more vehicles and some UAVs.) Traditionalists in the army don't want to give up the three combat battalion brigade concept. This has been around for about 90 years. Before that, there were four battalions per brigade. Before that, it varied a lot. One thing is certain, there are historical trends at work here, as well as fear of new ideas. The historical trend has been one of putting fewer and fewer troops into the combat zone, and substituting technology for those missing troops. This trend has been particularly visible in the last century. It was 90 years ago that aircraft replaced a lot of the reconnaissance previously done by horsemen, or troops on foot. Sixty years ago, aircraft, and more effective artillery, began replacing troops on the ground. By the time of the Vietnam war, it was customary to send small patrols, deep into enemy territory, and then have those troops use their radios to call in air strikes and artillery fire on whatever targets they found. These patrols would then be moved out of danger via helicopter. The U.S. Army Special Forces specialized in these patrols, and still does. In the last ten years, communications for the troops have improved immensely, and new "smart weapons" (like JDAM) have become more common. Troops are using robots (like micro-UAVs) and better sensors. If you use the new technology, which the troops in Iraq and Afghanistan are doing, you don't need as many troops. This is what the new brigade organization is based on. But change often generates fear of the unknown, and resistance. Not the first time that has happened at the Pentagon, and won't be the last.

 


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