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Subject: Airborne Warfare: the Way Forward for Infantry
dynmicpara    10/3/2007 11:30:20 PM
American infantry is stuck in a WW2 re-enactment rut. Participating in the Iwo Jima or "Band of Brothers" rackets might make one feel self-validated by dying or being maimed but what the American people need and expect is VICTORY. General Gavin in Airborne Warfare has shown us the way forward so we are fighting to win with superior force structure as adults would do to win, those that claim an interest in infantry matters would do well to read his book:
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longrifle       10/4/2007 2:37:06 PM

I liked that article.  There can be no doubt that LTG Gavin was a proven combat leader of great courage and foresight.  You have to admire a division commander who carried an M1 Garand!  But carefully consider his following statement:

"The knowledge of the existence of a well trained Airborne Army, capable of moving anywhere on the globe on short notice, available to an international security body such as the United Nations, is our best guarantee of lasting peace. And the nation or nations that control the AIR control the peace."  LTG James Gavin

I believe that statement assumes a nation state enemy where strategic rapid deployment and maneuver is the answer to all future threats. 

Is it?

I'm going to play the devil's advocate here.  The loyal opposition if you will.

LTG Gavin's vision of airborne warfare and an airborne army might very well have been a better way to "take down" a country had it come to fruition.  But even if it came to fruition now I doubt it would enhance the ability of the U.S. to control the peace when it is engaged in combat with networks, tribes, and non-state enemies.

The U.S. took down Iraq in short order with an armored punch that Generals Patton or von Luck would have been proud to comand.  We've still had a hard time controlling the peace; or finding any peace to control for that matter.  Had we taken down Iraq with LTG Gavin's vision of an airborne army how would that army have established or controlled the peace any better?

Mr. Sparks, you and I aren't that far apart in our enthusiasm for paratroopers.  But I don't see how always getting there "firsist with the mostest" will enable the U.S. to control the peace in the 21st Century.  Not when we're engaging the network instead of the nation state in the aftermath.

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longrifle       10/4/2007 2:53:41 PM
Oh, another thought: the current Army Division structure with it's four smaller brigade combat teams.  It's been cussed and discussed here and elsewhere at length. 

In reading the article I see that LTG Gavin advocated a similar division structure in the late '40s.  He thought triangular organizations were designed to be pointed at the enemy in a two up and one back fashion instead of fighting 360.  I thought that was interesting.

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doggtag       10/4/2007 3:47:50 PM

I liked that article.  There can be no doubt that LTG Gavin was a proven combat leader of great courage and foresight.  You have to admire a division commander who carried an M1 Garand!  But carefully consider his following statement:

...maybe he just liked being assured he was actually damaging people downrange enough to make them feel the hurt?
(or maybe, like me, he enjoyed the nostalgic PING! when the clip ejected after the 8th round was fired.)
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longrifle       10/4/2007 4:02:19 PM
"...maybe he just liked being assured he was actually damaging people downrange enough to make them feel the hurt?
(or maybe, like me, he enjoyed the nostalgic PING! when the clip ejected after the 8th round was fired.)" - dogtag


I think you have it right with the first one.  In On To Berlin, Gavin tells of jumping into Sicily armed with the Carbine.  It failed him.  In one firefight he had to operate the action manually, almost as if it was a bolt action.    He never carried it in combat again. 

Of course, that PING kind of grown on you too.    And probably wasn't near as big a target indicator for the Germans as the Garand haters want to believe it was.
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YelliChink       10/4/2007 4:13:51 PM
Isn't that dream almost exactly the same to Gen. Shiseki's IBCT? But, when the reality kicks in, it became clear that air mobile doesn't provide enough capability to insert and supply a combat brigade in that time frame.

Historical Lessons Learned

  • Speed, stealth, and firepower are no substitute for protection
  • If it looks like a tank (battleship), it will get used like a tank (battleship).
  • Dismounted scouts or infantry are necessary for successful combat / reconnaissance operations.
  • If there is flawed doctrine, the troops will invent their own ways of employing a system.
  • Surrogate vehicles tend to become permanent.
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longrifle       10/4/2007 5:33:42 PM
Hello Mr. Sparks, you there lurking?

I respectfully disagreed (somewhat) with your post.  I'd like to hear a well articulated, respectful rebuttal.  Come on now, I can take it.

How will an airborne army/airborne warfare, as envisioned by LTG Gavin (whom I respect the way a Marine respects Chesty), help us "control the peace" (or even establish a peace) with radical Islamic networks, factions, or tribes?  I don't doubt that LTG Gavin's vision could help us take down a country.  It's just that there's a big step between taking down a country and establishing or controlling a peace with radical Islam.

By the way, I enjoyed the article on your site about mechanizing the combat support/anit-armor companies in parachute battalions.

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Jeff_F_F    Mechanized airborne guerilla cavalry   10/5/2007 3:59:05 PM
Let me throw an idea out there. Airborne cavalry. Not modern cavalry but a mechanized equivalent of the old cavalry. I'm thinking barely armored, swimable, 2-man (driver and commander/gunner) combat vehicles. Weapons would simply be the heavy weapons of the infantry unit mounted on in ring mount with a light armor capoula. Their purpose would be to be dropped behind enemy lines and harrass communications, logistics, command and other rear eschelon units. On the defense they would avoid direct opposition to the enemy advance and perform the same mission. They would not engage concentrated enemy formations and would use networked command and control to minimize contact with the enemy. Individual vehicles contacting powerful enemy units would likely face destruction, but the rest would of the unit would be able to avoid the enemy and call in air and other fire support assets. When a vulnerable enemy target is found nearby vehicles could quickly concentrate on it to destroy it then disperse before the enemy could counterattack.
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YelliChink       10/5/2007 4:59:09 PM
Any kind of airborne units have limited mission endurance compared to traditional armored and infantry divisions. The unit must be relieved, evacuated or resupplied/reinforced when the time is up. Please note that airborne is not a dead or "illogical" idea. It's just that the technology and financial abilities are not quite there yet.
There are three types of airborne insertion: through airstrip, through airdrop and through aircrafts capable of vertial take off/landing. The operations in Grenada and Panama shows that the idea is feasible, but the complexity and expenditure required for a major operation conducted in this way is just too overwhelming unless. No matter lessons from whatever operations, it always shows us that armor is good. Even an outdated T-55 or thicker-than-paper Pandur is better than no armor at all. In Panama, M551s were airdropped and was the only armor available to US troops. In Grenada, several M60s were sent to the beaches and opposing forces ceased resistance when they saw M60s. There was 5 M48s in Khe Sahn. French had none in Dien Bien Fu. That could be the reason why French Army have a handful of light armored vehicle that is capable of airdrop and airtransport by their much smaller fleet of cargo aircrafts, such as C-27J. In addition to AMX-13, they also used wheeled AML-60, ERC-90, which are replaced by still wheeled AMX-10RC, that will be replaced by wheeled version of VBCI. They use these lightly armored vehicles mostly as intervention forces in their former colonies.
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longrifle       10/5/2007 5:37:06 PM

I had a good chuckle with that one.  It was fun for me to read and I can tell it was fun for you to write. 

Hey, wait a minute.....

You know, the Northern Alliance in Afghanistan did just that sort of thing.....only using horses. 

We could.....just kidding, okay? 

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dynmicpara    More DEtails of LTG Gavin's Vision   10/6/2007 8:11:08 AM
That is an easy question to answer.
General Gavin advocated more force types than just Airborne Sky Cavalry in 1947, his first book. Please refer to his 1954 Harper's magazine article, "Cavalry and I don't Mean horses"
And his 1958 book, "War and Peace in the Space Age" (WAPITSA)
What we need to do before jumping into his use of 1950s DoD terminology is to have a sound understanding of war on our own:
Next, we need to sort out the way war actually unfolds on the earth (TBATE). There is the battle against the earth itself and then there is the battle against men (TBAM). TBAM is either nation-state war (NSW) or sub-national conflict (SNC). Both ways of war can be either linear or non-linear. No matter what, on the earth there is open terrain and closed terrain. To maximize forces in open terrain (ordinary force) the main body has to be as heavy as possible, to be as powerful as possible to move through closed terrain, as light as prudent, implying 2D maneuver and 3D maneuver (Cavalry) extraordinary forces.
Once you understand the above, you will see that in WAPITSA, Gavin advocates 3D maneuver Sky Cavalry to respond as a fire brigade to nip "limited wars" in the bud backed by 2D maneuver heavier forces--all moved by enough transport planes which the USAF refuses to own/operate.
Gavin gets it.
To keep the peace in "limited wars" we need QUALITATIVELY SUPERIOR forces dedicated to these tasks NOT EXPECT LARGE WAR MEANS to suffice in smaller quantities which is what Industry-DoD's ego/greed racketeers want.
We have articulated these ideas forward to the present day and incorporate LTC John Paul Vann's ideas as a basis for a Non-Linear Battlefield Stability Corps (NLB-SC) operating from Gavin-style enclaves for long-term, but non-rebel-creating U.S. co-operation with nation-states in trouble. Details:
So to answer your questions, Gavin is only advocating Airborne/Sky Cavalry as an initial response to NSW/SNC problems but wants a dedicated force for SNCs which in 1958 were a sub-set of the term "limited war". I've only glanced at his book, "Crisis Now" from 1968 explaining his SNC enclave thinking but as soon as I'm done putting WAPITSA online, I'll examine it in more detail.  
Clearly, LTG Gavin was America's greatest general and war strategist. Read WAPITSA and see how he not only got America into space, how he staved off Soviet invasion of Europe by his reforms that were just enough to keep them at bay.    
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