Academic journal article Defense Horizons

Rediscovering the Infantry in a Time of Transformation

Academic journal article Defense Horizons

Rediscovering the Infantry in a Time of Transformation

Article excerpt


In the summer of 2001, the Bush administration expressed impatience with the military services, suggesting that unspecified legacy capabilities had to give way to a "transformation" that would be based upon "stealth, precision weaponry, and information technologies." Operations in Afghanistan, however, have shown the wisdom of today's balanced force structure. In the current campaign, all-source intelligence has been used to vector teams on the ground, which in turn have identified targets for aircraft that have shattered the opposing forces. The result has been devastating air power controlled by Americans on the ground, with a psychological effect rippling far beyond Afghanistan. All governments inclined to harbor anti-American terrorists now understand that the consequences may be their removal from power, not just a few cruise missiles hitting empty buildings.

U.S. ground forces, however, are still vulnerable; they lag far behind the resources devoted to air and high-level command, control, and communications (C3). Now is the time to recognize the multifaceted roles of the rifleman and to recapitalize the infantry. A transformation based upon facts rather than theory would shift resources from C3 niceties for high-level staffs to force protection essentials for the people doing the fighting.

Transformation before September 11

Prior to the terrorist attacks, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld and his staff were trying to persuade the military to undertake transformation to reorganize and equip to fight in a markedly different way. The military was urged to rebuild so that it "relies more heavily on stealth, precision weaponry, and information technologies." (1) These characteristics suggested that resources would flow to air forces and missile defense. The Secretary referred to network-centric warfare, a tongue-twisting name for the proposition that the instantaneous transfer of information among computer nodes yields a decided advantage in the application of force. The more the military outcome depends on stochastic principles and the laws of physics--for instance, the trajectory of a missile--the more strongly network-centric principles apply.

Conversely, the force element least affected by network-centric computer linking is infantry warfare, where outcomes depend upon human grit, unit cohesiveness, and discipline under stress. The infantry probably was not a leading force element--if it was thought of at all--when transformation was advocated last summer. Since then, pictures of American soldiers on horseback in Afghanistan have appeared in the media, and both the President and the Secretary of Defense visited with infantry units at Thanksgiving. It is reasonable to expect that over the next year, transformation theory will be expanded to include the infantry.

Devastating Air Power

In a bilious effort to deprecate a remarkable military achievement, a reporter for The New York Times recently wrote that "the Powell Doctrine insisted on clear objectives and a clear exit strategy ... such a strategy could have been employed by massing forces within a coalition.... But the administration ... exploited enemy weaknesses with ruthless bombardment from the air in which the use of force is unrestrained by borders or allies." (2) In past wars, borders and allies restrained the American use of force. Allowing the North Vietnamese a sanctuary free from bombing was critical to their success in 1975, and concerns about coalition disapproval prevented the removal of Saddam Hussein in 1991. Whether such restraints are beneficial to U.S. policy depends on what one thinks about the policy.

Even ideological critics should be impressed with the soundness and the daring of this campaign. At the outset, the press stories were about the fierce Afghan fighters who drove out the British and the Russians, the harsh terrain, the obdurate fanaticism of the Taliban. …

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