Thursday, December 17, 2009

Part of being a thoughtful commentator is knowing who to listen to

Tom Ricks seems to think it gives him credibility to post basically everything he gets from a .mil email account. Today he features commentary on "the stoopiding of the Army" from a "reserve captain at the Pentagon," whose 1,000-or-so word diatribe is posted essentially without comment. My favorite part is the closing, where he thanks our intrepid correspondent for "bring[ing] these issues to life," but there's really a lot more to talk about than just that.

First off, I'm a little bit stunned that this dude seems to think he's just stumbled across the key questions facing Army training, education, and personnel management. People have been talking about this extensively and intensively in various fora for the last eight years, for sure, and perhaps in slightly more circumscribed circles for a lot longer than that.

Schmedlap hits on some of the key criticisms in his comment at Ricks' blog, but I wanted to elaborate on a few more. So let's start at the start:

If the National Security Strategy outlined the need to win 2 conventional wars and stabilize 2 failed states, we could organize appropriately. We could identify our two nearest competitors for conventional conflict, China and Russia, and organize our conventional forces to deal with them and then we could identify the two closest potential failed states, Pakistan and Somalia, for example, and organize our unconventional, i.e. USSOCOM, properly in order to deal with those simultaneous Stability Operations. However, there needs to be a clear capability addressed for our future. What exactly does our country expect us to do in the future based on the major threats? It is time to recognize that our military is also needed for Stability Operations because failed states have been the major threat since World War II. It doesn't have to be conventional vs. unconventional/irregular. It can be both.

Personally, I believe that we need two separate organizations (conventional and unconventional) to deal with INTERstate wars and INTRAstate wars. Our mission has never included the need to resolve INTRAstate wars, i.e. failed states w/insurgencies. If that was the case and we were using the time-testing formula for peacekeepers /counterinsurgents per capita (50:1), we would need 180K troops to occupy and stabilize Somalia and around 3.6 million troops to occupy and stabilize Pakistan, for example. That would increase our military 10-fold (given the amount of troops we would need to conduct two conventional wars simultaneously and occupy those two countries as well), but would adequately reflect what the country wanted us to do.

See, that is the problem. If the military had the 560,000 SOF troops it would need to occupy Afghanistan (based on 28million pop.) and the 620,000 SOF troops needed to
occupy Iraq (based on 31million pop.), we wouldn't be in the predicament we are in today in either of those countries. An insurgency would never have been able to build, foreign direct investment could have come sooner, and international support would have been flowing into both of these countries.

If the NSS required all that, then the NSS would be a cripplingly, uselessly ambitious document. I sympathize with what this guy is saying, but this ain't the right approach.

To assert that the GPF will be responsible for MCO contingencies and USSOCOM for stability operations is to demonstrate ignorance of pretty much every doctrinal development associated with SO over the last decade. Stability operations are a core U.S. military mission, according to DOD Instruction 3000.05. They are also hugely manpower-intensive. Why in the world would we imagine that the best way to cover these mission areas was with SEALs, Rangers, Special Forces, and so on... when we have a hell of a lot less of them than line infantry, or MPs, or tankers, or artillerymen, or whatever else?

So we're going to split our force into two forces: GPF for MCO, and SOF for SO. But the SO component has to be a lot larger, because we're going to apply a nebulous 1:50 counterinsurgent to civilian ratio. So now we're in the ridiculous position of advocating for about five times as many "special" troops as conventional ones. That doesn't make a whole lot of sense.

And we'd need to increase the size of the military "tenfold," he tells us; shouldn't that call into question the advisability of the mission set we're settling on, seeing as that kind of expansion is COMPLETELY IMPOSSIBLE?
Unfortunately for the Army, the 2nd camp holds the senior positions of power within TRADOC, FORSCOM and the ARSTAF. Hence, we have seen 0 Counter IED initiatives transferred from the OCO to the Base Budget and our HumanTerrain Teams, PRTs and Advise and Assist Brigades are all ad hoc. We have no new Officer Branches of Service. Where are the MOS and Branches that cover COIN, SFA, Stability Operations, C-IED, etc.? They are all being pulled from traditional Branches like Civil Affairs, Infantry and MP and taught these additional skills in 3-hour blocs of instruction, but as a SECONDARY skill set, not a PRIMARY skill set, while their primary skills sets (IN, MP) depreciate.
Now he's really going off the rails. We need new branches for Stability Operations? Why don't we then have separate branches for offensive and defensive operations? Why don't we have MOSes for pistol shooting and rifle shooting, or for foxhole-digging (shamelessly stolen from Schmedlap)?

AABs (more accurately, modular brigades augmented for security force assistance) are not "ad hoc"; they're not completely purpose-built, either, but they are trained and augmented specifically to perform a specific mission set. Despite whatever whinging I've done in the past about this, the Army has actually made a ton of progress on this front.

This is really reflective of a much bigger debate, the one the Schmedlap has been covering pretty extensively (and Madhu has been referring to extensively!) on his own blog: whether we ought to be building a force specifically to do certain things, or whether the focus should be on making sure they know how to do things. There's obviously always going to be a blend here, but purpose-building and task-orienting every individual and unit in the force is a really quick and easy way to guarantee a whole lot of inefficiency, waste, and unpreparedness.
1) What is our mission? Is it to fight two fronts with two nation-states and occupy/stabilize one/two failed states? Is it to win on two fronts and hold on a third. Just what is it that our country wants us to do. What our mission is will drastically change our organization.
Easy: to fight and win our nation's wars. The harder part is figuring out exactly how to train, equip, man, spend, orient, and so on to accomplish that mission. No one is gonna spoon-feed this to us. Imagine the entire range of possible missions, assign probabilities and risk to each of them, apply the available resources and figure out how to get it done. This is why we have planners (ahem).
2) Is our current structure with the Combatant Commands having no control over the training of the force coming to fight their fight correct? Should each Combatant Commander be tasked with training his/her own force to address the problem areas in their AORs?
Yes, it is, and no, they shouldn't. There may be plenty wrong with Goldwater-Nichols, and we might need to rework our national security structures in certain ways to be better prepared for future conflict. Scrapping the COCOMs and establishing what would amount to autonomous regional armies is not one of the things that ought to be on the list.

You want to come up with a way to make sure that we lose a war in South America, in the apparently unlikely circumstance that we should have to fight one? Let SOUTHCOM train its own dedicated units, and make sure there's no overlap with the dudes over in CENTCOM who have actually fought in wars. Decentralize your training and doctrine to ensure that there's no consistency at all in the Army. Break the ARFORGEN construct and make sure you enlist dudes for ten-year contracts, all to be spent OCONUS.

ARFORGEN is a good concept. The services are responsible for providing trained and ready forces to the Combatant Commanders, who are then responsible for effectively employing those forces in operations. What's wrong with this system, I wonder? Did we have trouble in Iraq because the 10th Mountain didn't spend all its time running around in the desert at NTC? I don't think so. Scrapping this construct and making the COCOMs responsible for force provision as well as force employment is a really, really terrible idea.
1) Why are officers not promoted the instant they receive a higher degree of civilian education? Why are they only promoted based on time-in-grade? During the Civil War, many Generals were in their 20s and 30s. Why is an officer not promoted based on merit, knowledge and intelligence?
Because degrees don't mean dick. It's really weird to say "you ought to get promoted as soon as you get an advanced degree!" and then in the same paragraph, contend that promotions should be merit-based. Credentials do not equal merit! How about making promotions performance-based? But then we'd have to come up with an objective and comprehensive means to effectively evaluate performance, and we're not doing so well at that one, either.

But in reality, promotion to O-4 and upwards is merit and performance based (if imperfect). We don't have a whole lot of freedom to screw around with automatic promotion to O-3, either. If you think the Army has captain- and major-retention problems now, start telling people that if they suck at their job they might be stuck as lieutenants for a decade!
2) Why are officers not required to have a specific degree as it pertains to their branch? My friend in the Infantry had a Chemistry degree. Go figure. Wouldn't an International Relations degree be better suited?
Probably because THIS DOESN'T MATTER AT ALL. I wonder if this dude's friend is a bad infantry officer because of his chemistry degree. WTF is reading Thucidydes going to teach a 21-year old infantry lieutenant about fire and movement, which is really what he needs to master to do his job well? It's almost difficult for me to believe that this guy is a serving officer when he writes stuff like this.
3) Why don't officers have continuous distance learning requirements so by the time they reach O-6 they have earned a PhD in something relevant? And the enlisted could have a Master's Degree by the time they are a SGM?
Meh. Do we really need a whole bunch of Dr. Colonels? As Gunslinger likes to say about his old brigade commander (who just made BG not that long ago), he's the man you want to kill people and break things. You want to run that guy out of the service because he didn't write a dissertation?

(I do want to pause for a second here to say that Ricks' comment on this point -- "Frankly, I think the last thing we need is sergeants major with master's degrees... That's officer stuff..." -- is, put simply, idiotic. But you didn't need me to tell you that, did you?)
4) Why are they not increasing the pay to attract the best and the brightest into the military officer and enlisted ranks? If you offered 150K right out of college and 40K enlisted, you would get the best and the brightest, yet we spend ridiculous amounts of money on contractors and technology and new weaponry. The bottom line is that we live or die based on the quality and quantity of our people. Period.
This is gonna go great with our five-million man Army and 3 trillion dollar defense budget!

Ricks says "I think this officer speaks much wisdom, but I do have quibbles with his specifics." Well I have quibbles with anyone who finds a whole lot of wisdom in that email. This is not serious stuff. Institutional reform, like strategy, is about matching objectives with resources. That means priorities, not a fire-hose approach to "what's wrong with the military." Then again, considering how far off most of these suggestions are, and how misguided the underlying analysis, I'm not sure even prioritization would help.


  1. At the risk of hedging too close to your (justified) anger at this sort of crap, I've thought the idea of creating a Gendarme wing of the military would be interesting for a while, but I haven't thought it out too hard, yet.

    Basically, a military force with a police background, and divided into a police-like hierarchy. So there would essentially be a police force doing counterinsurgency work in Afghanistan, just with military arms (bigger guns) and less focus on paper/desk work at the enlisted levels.

    I see it as a balance: most countries with a Gendarme corps also have egregious human rights abuses from them, because Gendarme don't have police restrictions on force. But, I mean, it's not like the military does either, so I think it's a possibility to create a force better suited for counter-insurgency and state-building. I could be wrong, though.

  2. I think Gulliver's point is that while that's an interesting idea to think about, others have thought about it, and debated every in and out of it, before - years ago. It is not some original idea.

  3. AJK,
    That sounds like the National Guard unit that I was in as a 2LT. Over half the unit was local and state police. That is actually very common. I have interacted with a lot of NG units - had some attached to units that I was in while deployed, did a TDY trip to a CTC as an OC augmentee and OC'd two NG companies, served/deployed in one, etc. All of them had a very large proportion of law enforcement personnel. There is something about law enforcement that makes it simpler to serve in the NG (some actually continued to get paid for their LE jobs while deployed!). I RIP/TOA'd with an ARNG Group (forget if 19 or 20) and a lot of the guys were LE, which apparently worked really well since they were training Iraqi Police and SWAT.

  4. But Schmedlap, COINdinistas like Mansoor say that the ArNG should become the antiquated "kinetic" part of the force structure while the RA focuses on the wars of the future that need glorified constables.

    Noticing what you experienced, I've been asking myself that should this fairy tale come true, why not simply turn all the cops, jail guards, social workers and whatnot that serve in the ArNG into -- wait for it! wait for it! -- the 4GW souls that we need for future warmaking.


  5. SNLII,
    That is hilarious. Considering how expensive it is, and how much training land one needs, and how dispersed ARNG units are, and a slew of other factors, I cannot imagine the goat rodeo that would entail to have ARNG train on any tasks, of any kind, above the company level, unless it is part of a mobilization and the weekend drills are extended to MUTA 8 or 10 prior to that mobilization. The one-weekend per month, two-weeks per year model surely will not cut for the vast majority of units and the dispersed CO/PLT level armories surely will not cut it. Half the weekend would be eaten up with travel and admin issues.

  6. Which might explain why we've cut ArNG units bascially into company-sized (and smaller) units that don't own battlespace in OIF and OEF (except for PA's Stryker Bde) and, instead, find themselves performing convoy ops, force protection, etc, etc, etc.

    It's NOT that ArNG soldiers below the company level are bad (the opposite, actually); it's just that they're not really made for complex ops at the battalion level and above, even with the train-ups.

    They've been very fine on MiTT/ETT work, and that's no slight to them in any way. Find your strengths. Exploit them.


  7. On another point, why is this blog obsessed with Ricks and Gentile? At least Gentile is competent. You might not like what he says, but you can detect some consistency of rational thought.

    With Ricks it devolves to making popularity lists, picking fights with various branches of the Army, saying idiotic and provocative things that have zero chance of actually transpiring, and then getting generals and captains to send him emails.

    The other day he couldn't tell the difference between a Gunner (WO) and a GySgt (staff NCO) and he theoretically wrote a book about the USMC.

    Why do you take him seriously? Because other people do?

    I used to do the same thing. No more!


  8. I have to echo SNLII. Ricks is a professional writer, and when he takes the time to research an issue and write well, he does well. He is not a good blogger, in that he doesn't know what topics to pursue and what sources to cite in a freestyle venue that is blogging.

    This Army captain is, I am sure, an ernest, intent individual who wants to do great things. He has an AWFUL lot to learn about how defense strategy is developed and how the Army executes its share, with or without the adequate resources available. Not worth pursuing the subject other than to chide the Army captain and tell him to watch and learn.

  9. SNLII -- I'm probably revealing my pretensions to relevance here, but I think it's important to counter the flawed but popular dialogue. When Ricks puts stuff like this up and sells it as "the view from the Pentagon," someone ought to say "this is a view from the Pentagon, and not a very considered one, and here are the reasons why."

    I'm not sure there's an "obsession" with Ricks, to be honest with you. I check in on his blog about once a month. This post isn't even responding to anything that he's written, but rather the views that he's giving a platform to. You'd think that someone who is so frequently exposed to the views of senior officers would realize that there's exactly nothing novel or incisive about this guy's analysis, but wonders never cease.

  10. Even better, he's been posting dispatches from a USMC NCO that are best described as little more than common sense. He's been posting it in snippets as though it's some epiphany that we just need to be exposed to so badly.

    I once asked a smart guy why I should pay any attention to Tom Ricks. I reluctantly followed his advice. Now, visiting his blog is kind of like watching a train wreck. In addition to not being able to look away, I am often compelled to respond. But like so many other things that are irresistible for irrational reasons, I always feel dirty and remorseful afterward.

  11. Well, I actually know "Cavguy" (is it an open secret who he is? SOrry I don't know these things) and I can't imagine him saying about TRADOC what Ricks said, even if he shares some quibbles.

    Using anonymous sources and whatnot affords Ricks the ability to basically be the school gossip without having accountability for any sort of originality or competence.

    He's the writing on the latrine, I guess, only not nearly as funny or with a bittersweet understanding of what "FTA" actually means (he probably thinks it signifies "Freedom to Afghanistan!").

    For an "expert" on national security he's really pretty shallow. At the risk of suggesting another masochistic manlust at this blog, I might mention that he's been spotlighted four times by Gulliver and Gunslinger for his "cockiness," "blustering" and for generally being a complete asstard.

    This assclownery was particularly insulting: "Frankly, I think the last thing we need is sergeants major with master's degrees... That's officer stuff."

    Because National Guard tuition assistance is the cornerstone of many SPCs' college funding, the typical ArNG rifle platoon's E-4s have MORE education than Ricks and it's fairly standard anymore for senior staff NCOs in all the branches to avail themselves of higher education while in uniform.

    He's an asstard.


  12. "Frankly, I think the last thing we need is sergeants major with master's degrees... That's officer stuff."

    What's funny is that I had a very worked up Army E-7 11B say almost that exact sentence (with a few more expletives). Sha, everyone knows those dumb ol' enlisted guys don't no edumakashun!

  13. Just to be clear - that link above re:Cavguy is several months old; it was not a reference to the recent musings on TRADOC. Given that he's a smart guy, I'm sure he disagrees with Ricks. In fact, a thread opened up in which a bunch of people smarter than me expressed their befuddlement with Ricks.

    And yeah, regarding education, when I was in the ARNG unit mentioned above, there were exactly two Soldiers in my 34-man Rifle Platoon who were less educated than me (in terms of formal educational credentials). One of them was a self-made millionaire (my PSG).

  14. "Cavguy" (is his name out there? I never know these things) recently wrote about TRADOC, but did so in a different way, Schmedlap, perhaps because he's a bright man capable of looking at a complex issue with some complexity.

    And Ricks is an asstard.

    But that's the nature of my allusion, to the recent work by "Cavguy" on the subject.

    My reposting here really is just another excuse to call Ricks an "asstard." It's catharsis, I say!


  15. Of course, upon saying that I risk the possibility of Ecko arriving and suggesting that it's unfair that I don't explore further why I believe Ricks is such an asstard.

    I might take him up on that!