The U.S. Army is
publishing a new edition of its "how to fight" manual (Field Manual, or FM,
100-5). The 2008 edition puts nation building (as in Iraq and Afghanistan) on
an equal level with conventional warfare. That's a major change.
For nearly a century, FM 100-5 was
revised every 5-10 years to reflect changes in technology, experience and
perceived threats. Until the Cold War ended in 1991, 100-5 reflected an emphasis
on traditional war. This was prompted by the need to deal with the mighty Red
Army of the Soviet Union. But in the 1990s, the hundreds of Soviet combat
divisions disappeared. The 1993 edition put more emphasis on peacekeeping,
counter-insurgency and nation building. That has grown steadily over the last
few editions. A trend, so to speak, that has reduced the emphasis on
conventional warfare to parity with "operations other than war".
FM 100-5 provides guidelines for
commanders and planners. The new 100-5 implies a need for more infantry,
military police, civil affairs, engineer and intelligence units. This reflects
the experience of the last seven years.
What the new FM 100-5 does is make it possible to establish many
temporary changes as permanent modifications to army organization, tactics,
training and equipment.
Throughout most of its history, the
U.S. Army did what the new 100-5 describes. Only during major wars did the army
gear up for conventional war. Thus the army has an institutional history of
dealing with operations other than war. But there is still a cultural divide
between the "conventional war" generals, and those who are more into
peacekeeping and nation building. Part of this is cultural, as soldiering is
traditionally seen, worldwide, as preparing for big battles, and fighting other
soldiers. But the U.S. is unique in having a military tradition heavy on what
the army is now doing in Iraq. You can see this in the creation of the Special
Forces half a century ago, and the presence of so many civil affairs units.
With the new 100-5, the army is going back to its roots.
The new 100-5 also gives army reformers
an opportunity to continue with their efforts to introduce more technology. It
was new tech that made the army so successful in Iraq and Afghanistan. GPS
guided bombs, missiles and shells greatly reduced civilian casualties, and made
it easier to maintain and build the loyalty of civilians. Computers and data
mining software made it possible to sort out the bad guys from the innocents.
The battlefield Internet and satellite communications enabled troops to react
more quickly than their terrorist opponents. The proliferation of inexpensive
and powerful night vision gear took away one of the enemies most powerful
assets; the ability to operate under cover of darkness. Computer game
technology enabled the army to quickly develop useful simulations for showing
troops how to handle new situations. This meant everything from handling local
civilians, to avoiding roadside bombs. New protective vests and tactics lowered
casualties to less than half the rate suffered in Vietnam.
Most army troops currently spend the
bulk of their training time getting ready for peacekeeping and nation building
operations. This will no longer be seen as a temporary situation. When U.S.
troops are out of Iraq and Afghanistan, some units will again train for
conventional war, but the career officers and NCOs won't forget what they
learned from their other training, and combat experiences.
The army has already disbanded many of
its artillery units. First, this was done because many of these guns were no
longer needed to fight a Red Army that no longer existed. But this change also
reflected the introduction of GPS guided shells and missiles, that meant less
ammunition would be needed in the future, and that meant fewer artillery units
to fire the shells and missiles. Iraq also saw many artillerymen retrained for
infantry duties. That will probably remain. Tank units proved to be useful in
fighting terrorists, but had to use different tactics. And tank crews also had
to improve their infantry skills. Military police became more proficient at
guarding convoys, handling more dangerous prisoners (terrorists) and dealing
with civilians. Military intelligence units became more like police analysts,
looking for the few bad guys among a large population of innocents.
The new 100-5 will generate a lot of
new ideas, equipment, tactics and training methods. It's not a revolutionary
document, but an evolutionary one.