by 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looking at irregular warfare as being one kind of conflict and conventional warfare as a discreet kind of warfare is an outdated concept,” Gates said of his plans, this month.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)