Leadership: Back To The Future

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February 11, 2008: The U.S. Army is publishing a new edition of its "how to fight" manual (Field Manual, or FM, 100-5). The 2008 edition puts nation building (as in Iraq and Afghanistan) on an equal level with conventional warfare. That's a major change.

For nearly a century, FM 100-5 was revised every 5-10 years to reflect changes in technology, experience and perceived threats. Until the Cold War ended in 1991, 100-5 reflected an emphasis on traditional war. This was prompted by the need to deal with the mighty Red Army of the Soviet Union. But in the 1990s, the hundreds of Soviet combat divisions disappeared. The 1993 edition put more emphasis on peacekeeping, counter-insurgency and nation building. That has grown steadily over the last few editions. A trend, so to speak, that has reduced the emphasis on conventional warfare to parity with "operations other than war".

FM 100-5 provides guidelines for commanders and planners. The new 100-5 implies a need for more infantry, military police, civil affairs, engineer and intelligence units. This reflects the experience of the last seven years. What the new FM 100-5 does is make it possible to establish many temporary changes as permanent modifications to army organization, tactics, training and equipment.

Throughout most of its history, the U.S. Army did what the new 100-5 describes. Only during major wars did the army gear up for conventional war. Thus the army has an institutional history of dealing with operations other than war. But there is still a cultural divide between the "conventional war" generals, and those who are more into peacekeeping and nation building. Part of this is cultural, as soldiering is traditionally seen, worldwide, as preparing for big battles, and fighting other soldiers. But the U.S. is unique in having a military tradition heavy on what the army is now doing in Iraq. You can see this in the creation of the Special Forces half a century ago, and the presence of so many civil affairs units. With the new 100-5, the army is going back to its roots.

The new 100-5 also gives army reformers an opportunity to continue with their efforts to introduce more technology. It was new tech that made the army so successful in Iraq and Afghanistan. GPS guided bombs, missiles and shells greatly reduced civilian casualties, and made it easier to maintain and build the loyalty of civilians. Computers and data mining software made it possible to sort out the bad guys from the innocents. The battlefield Internet and satellite communications enabled troops to react more quickly than their terrorist opponents. The proliferation of inexpensive and powerful night vision gear took away one of the enemies most powerful assets; the ability to operate under cover of darkness. Computer game technology enabled the army to quickly develop useful simulations for showing troops how to handle new situations. This meant everything from handling local civilians, to avoiding roadside bombs. New protective vests and tactics lowered casualties to less than half the rate suffered in Vietnam.

Most army troops currently spend the bulk of their training time getting ready for peacekeeping and nation building operations. This will no longer be seen as a temporary situation. When U.S. troops are out of Iraq and Afghanistan, some units will again train for conventional war, but the career officers and NCOs won't forget what they learned from their other training, and combat experiences.

The army has already disbanded many of its artillery units. First, this was done because many of these guns were no longer needed to fight a Red Army that no longer existed. But this change also reflected the introduction of GPS guided shells and missiles, that meant less ammunition would be needed in the future, and that meant fewer artillery units to fire the shells and missiles. Iraq also saw many artillerymen retrained for infantry duties. That will probably remain. Tank units proved to be useful in fighting terrorists, but had to use different tactics. And tank crews also had to improve their infantry skills. Military police became more proficient at guarding convoys, handling more dangerous prisoners (terrorists) and dealing with civilians. Military intelligence units became more like police analysts, looking for the few bad guys among a large population of innocents.

The new 100-5 will generate a lot of new ideas, equipment, tactics and training methods. It's not a revolutionary document, but an evolutionary one.

 


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