- The Army has gained COIN experience at the cost of combined arms competencies. The fact that your last unit didn't do a Table XII does not support this - especially if your last line-unit assignment was in 2005. Even in COIN, units still maneuver, they call for fires and CAS, worry about logistics, and work in TF teams. This statement may actually be true, but anecdotes do not make it so. Show me the numbers.
- ARSs don't have enough manpower or dismounts. No they don't. You know what else didn't? ACRs, DIV CAVs, BRTs. As a scout platoon leader I was lucky if I ever had one dismount per BFV in the platoon and most often did not. For whatever reasons, the Army had problems getting enough guys trained to be dismounted scouts. It's somewhat understandable since doctrinally you're supposed to trust that SPC to call for fire and that takes time to do if you find the right guys capable of it. But manpower issues are not unique to ARSs - it's been a chronic problem in cavalry organizations. TOEs of ARS also give the force more reconnaissance than it used to have, even if more dispersed, so on the whole this statement is untrue.
- Armor is dead. It's not. The 3d ACR may go the way of the dodo, but the Army still has lots of tanks and lots of tankers who just love what they do. Gunnery skills may vary by unit, but those core skills are still out there. Don't bitch about armor being dead - start writing about how to make core tanking skills universal across the force. (And please don't even try this line with some of my former PSGs and 1SGs - they might disagree in a more vociferous manner than I am here).
Thursday, February 3, 2011
Bust out the ointments, because we're having another rash of Old Tanker Syndrome. Adam Elkus brought this Military Review article to my attention last week, penned by an Army major, lamenting the demise of the 3d Armored Cavalry Regiment (ACR). In it, Major Walters states that the Army has lost its ability to conduct conventional combined arms operations at the hands of a myopic focus on COIN doctrine, that reconnaissance is pretty much dead across the full spectrum of operations, and that transition of the 3d ACR to a Stryker Brigade Combat Team is a terrible decision because there are no longer reconnaissance forces above the brigade level.
Let me start this by admitting that this transition from ACR to an SBCT hurts to every cavalryman. It was the last of the great combined arms cavalry units, each ACR facing transition to something else as well as the total loss of Division Cavalry Squadrons (DIV CAV). It sucks and it hurts. Especially as modular brigades are essentially based on cavalry task organizations so it's not fun to watch the model get canned. After we acknowledge that most of the concern over this move is about pride, let's move on to facts.
First, for those that don't know, ACRs were designed to be the forward eyes and ears of corps formations. Divisions had their own squadrons (I was lucky enough to serve in one of these before they were transitioned to Armored Reconnaissance Squadrons (ARS)) and brigades had their own troops. But modularity changed all of that. DIV CAVs went away, because modularity decentralized operations to the brigade level. Brigades lost their Brigade Reconnaissance Troops, but gained ARSs - putting the preponderance of reconnaissance forces in the hands of brigade commanders. As they were becoming the central fighting force of the Army - related to by not exclusively because of operations in Iraq - it made sense to beef up that colonel's ability to look out forward or to secure his own forces. There was some loss of capability in that DIV CAVs had tanks and APCs (Abrams and Bradleys), as well as mortars and two troops of Kiowa Warriors, whereas ARSs consist of APCs and wheeled vehicles (and mortars), but no organic rotary wing assets. They were given significant UAV support though.
So what is the effect of all of this? Brigades - the primary formation for battle command - have greater reconnaissance of their own, but those recon units had lesser ability to fight for their information, relying more on sensors. I don't see this as necessarily bad. While sensors are not the panacea that many advocates make them out to be, the Bradley Fighting Vehicle (doctrinally the M3 Bradley Cavalry Fighting Vehicle) is a pretty robust platform that does not take hits all that well, but can destroy T-72 MBTs with a couple of its weapons systems. There are two other reasons that removing tanks from reconnaissance forces is a pretty good move from my perspective: logistics and the propensity to fight instead of fighting for information. Tanks have a heavy logistical footprint - something you may not want in the force you are sending kilometers ahead of your main body (this is in a conventional environment). They are great for many things, but the guzzle fuel at ridiculous rates and keeping them in the fight is difficult so far ahead. The second reason I don't have issue with this change is structure is that during the invasion of Iraq, while nominally conducting reconnaissance or security operations, my squadron was often just another maneuver unit. I think the cause of this was that we were able to fight like a small brigade so we were used in that way. A lighter force ensures your ARS does not become decisively engaged and actually performs its primary mission.
All of this is a bit of a diversion from the main topic, but the point is that while there are changes to how we've done cavalry business, those changes may actually be good for the force. To suggest that only 3d ACR can provide decentralized reconnaissance and security at the tactical and operational levels across the spectrum of conflict is ludicrously unfounded. To this point, I ask the question: where was 3d ACR during the invasion of Iraq? To no fault of their own (this is not to be taken as a swipe at this great unit) they were in the ocean trying to get to the fight. The invasion force's principle headquarters was the corps level - the type of organization an ACR is designed to support. So a DIV CAV squadron did what they were intended to do. Granted, DIV CAVs don't exist anymore, but I think we can see that the Army is a highly flexible and capable organization that will figure out how to win battles and wars. It is erroneous to state only one type of unit can perform a certain function - that argument hasn't held up to scrutiny since the end of the Cold War. Especially with regard to a unit designed to support corps commands in an environment that places greater emphasis on decentralized brigade-level operations.
Which brings us to my main point. The Army is changing for a number of reasons and while challenging those changes is healthy, let's all make the right arguments. Major Walker does make some valid points in his article, but those points are lost amid the same tired arguments against organizational change. My advice to the Armor community (of which I am regretfully no longer an active member) to stay relevant is to avoid the following worn out, specious statements unless you can actually show evidence that they are true:
Here's the bottom line: the Armor Corps is going through some changes, good and bad. If you're going to argue against it, make your case. I'm getting tired of old (in mindset, not age) tankers making the statement that COIN killed armor as prima facie. It sounds that it could be the case, but we don't know because there is no evidence available for or against. And it also ignores the realities of the current fight even it were true. Would these armor leaders suggest that tankers should have stayed home from the fight because it erodes their ability to wax North Korean mechanized forces? Because that's how I often read these types of critiques. A COIN focus was necessary for the force because that was the "strategy" proscribed by the command - so adapt and get in the fight. And stop worrying: the current COIN fights will wind down and you'll be doing your table XIIs soon enough. You'll adapt again - that's what cavalrymen do.
I apologize to some of readers who aren't so into the details of this discussion and for the length of this post. I'm sure that I missed some things and that many of you are going to smack me around in the comments. Which is good - let's actually have this discussion and stop with the bumper sticker slogans.