Army Must Address Irregular Warfare Needs

By Gavrilis, James A. | National Defense, March 2006 | Go to article overview

Army Must Address Irregular Warfare Needs


Gavrilis, James A., National Defense


The Army's largest-ever modernization program, the Future Combat Systems, is expected to deliver a kit bag of new capabilities for the tactical force. Although it's easy to see how FCS technologies will provide a clear advantage in the conventional fight, it is less clear how this program will improve capabilities in unconventional warfare.

The most unconventional warriors in the U.S. military, the special operations forces, are likely to welcome the improved conventional capabilities of FCS, but the program also must ensure that it addresses the difficult requirements of irregular warfare.

For example, how will the FCS help our conventional forces succeed in operations that require them to shift from combat to humanitarian aid to civil affairs duties?

Conventional systems have essentially focused on finding and destroying enemy formations hiding in physical terrain. FCS for the most part enhances these capabilities. Its components are conventional platforms that are designed to see, shoot, move, and communicate farther and faster with increased protection.

But in the context of the global war on terrorism, and Iraq and Afghanistan, we have to look beyond the tactical engagement.

The operations in which U.S. forces currently are engaged are not limited to the application and escalation of force. They require achieving objectives in very different political-military environments and circumstances. If conventional forces cannot create the desired effects in post-conflict or low intensity conflict environments, then they can become irrelevant in a matter of weeks.

Irregular warfare must form a large part of the context of future systems. Conventional capabilities do not always translate into victory in unconventional conflicts.

Missing are the psychological aspects of warfare. In irregular warfare, the population is the center of gravity and people are the contest's terrain. As a result, the political and psychological aspects of warfare become more central to the outcome of conflicts than the physical.

Irregular warfare requires a great deal of focus on the human factors of warfare--on mobilizing populations and finding human targets that are hiding in human terrain. The greatest strengths of special operations forces lie in their ability to identify the irregular enemy, in their inclusion of the indigenous populations and forces in their operations, and in their ability to achieve political and strategic objectives through a much broader set of options than kinetic ones.

Special operations forces flow from combat to policing to civil affairs and back to combat as needed. They move from conventional to paramilitary operations to humanitarian assistance to training local forces. This flexibility allows them to quickly transition to post-conflict requirements and turn military victories into political ones. Special operators also shift smoothly from platform to foot to different platforms.

One of the reasons for this flexibility is that in the special operations community we value humans more than hardware. …

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