U.S., U.K. Struggle with Force Balance for “Hybrid War”


Categorie: Alliances, COIN, David Axe |


The American and British militaries tend to fight wars together, as in Iraq and Afghanistan. That means both organizations struggle with the same problems — and usually propose the same answers. The U.S. and the U.K. are both trying to balance today’s, surprisingly lethal, counter-insurgency fights with the distant prospect of major, state-on-state warfare, all in a context of rising costs and shrinking budgets.

In the U.S., Secretary of Defense Robert Gates is pushing hard to shrink conventional forces, tailored for big wars, in favor of forces optimized for today’s, small wars. But he’s mindful that it’s not an either-or question. We need “big” and “small” forces, Gates said. Increasingly, we’ll even need them, at the same time, for the same, unpredictable conflicts. The balance is the question.

So fewer fighters, fewer aircraft carriers, fewer tanks. More infantry, more robots, more helicopters, more small ships. Plus, organizations that mix these elements, in a flexible way, guided by a doctrine that’s equally flexible. “It derives from my view that the old way of looking at irregular warfare as being one kind of conflict and conventional warfare as a discreet kind of warfare is an outdated concept,” Gates said of his plans, this month. “Conflict in the future will slide up and down a scale, both in scope or scale and in lethality.”

That’s “hybrid war,” combining insurgent tactics and dicey politics, with the occasional burst of major, techy combat.

The Brits are trying to come to terms with it, too. “We have to reform for the new type of conflict” — one where tanks could be “made irrelevant by roadside bombs,” said General David Richards, future head of the British Army. “I am not suggesting for one moment that the U.K. should get rid of all its more traditional military capabilities. Far from it. We need to possess a deterrent-scale, traditional war-fighting capability.”

But there should be more resources for low-end capabilities, Richards said. And that can only come, by saving money on “big” systems.

In the U.S., Congress and the Air Force are fighting Gates, tooth and nail, to keep the big stuff. In the U.K., a similar fight is brewing, with the Ministry of Defense even considering cutting infantry, in order to keep funding large aircraft carriers, new fighters and other major weapons programs.

(Photo: David Axe)


3 Responses to “U.S., U.K. Struggle with Force Balance for “Hybrid War””

  1. Prestwick says:

    For all the talk about adapting our forces for the new kinds of conflict they may encounter in the next 20 years, the bottom line is that the reason why there is suddenly all this talk about drastically cutting back on troops, planes and armour is because the UK Treasury has demanded cuts in expenditure thanks to the UK government’s £700 billion borrowing commitments.

    The Army is wanting to drop force levels *below* 100,000 for the first time since the Crimean War in order to keep funding for Afghanistan which at a time where forces are incredibly overstretched a hugely dangerous gamble.

    For this, three sets of people are responsible for this mess: the Government for cynically taking advantage of the economic crisis to slash defence spending, the heads of the armed services for shamelessly bending over and taking it up the rear for such requests and MPs for completely failing to bring Government to account for this fiasco.

    This is the same as the chronic overspends on defence projects and ordering incorrect planes, vehicles and kit, you can’t *just* blame service chiefs for this just because they asked for it. Thats like saying McDonalds isn’t at fault for obesity because its the fatties who ask for the burgers. Politicians, the media, even us outside of the services looking in deserve to carry the can for this shameful situation.

  2. WarLord says:


    Good article but its “discrete” seperate not discreet

  3. [...] The so-called Battle of Chora was a preview of a new kind of “hybrid” warfare that is driving major changes in the military planning of the U.S. and its allies. (See Thomas P.M. Barnett’s WPR column.) Another example, often overlooked, is Sri Lanka’s bloody, 26-year insurgency, which ended in May when a major government offensive destroyed the Tamil Tigers rebel group, pictured. (See Brian Calvert’s WPR feature article.) After significant military setbacks in earlier phases of the conflict, this spring the Sri Lankan military finally perfected a combination of tactics and organizational structures capable of defeating a heavily armed insurgent enemy, whose own forces at times resembled those of a well-established state. [...]

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