The War Nerd has a good column (as always) about how the Navy’s commitment to big budgets and unlikely conventional wars leaves our forces vulnerable to low-tech attackers in speed boats. This is familiar territory; it’s how the Spanish Armada was routed, and it was the means by which the USS Cole was successfully attacked. It’s the same thinking that led our Army to develop Crusader artillery pieces for billions, while it neglected the light infantry and civil affairs units necessary for occupying Iraq.
See, the Navy brass always plans for a neat, clean hi-tech war. Their real investment isn’t the Phalanx or Aegis but the operations rooms deep in the hulls where flabby desk jockeys just like me sit at little screens. Those screens are supposed to show a few dots, nice fair-fighting Soviet surface ships and subs. That’s how the Navy wants to play the game. Seeing their beautiful screens clogged up by a bunch of goddamn cheap speedboats full of Revolutionary Guards, not to mention hundreds of “boxes” that might turn out to be mines, ruins everything.
You might wonder, if you were real, real naive, why the Navy hasn’t tried to learn from what van Ripen did to them six years ago in the same waters. Well, the truth is that no big, well-funded armed service learns or changes until it absolutely has to, which usually means when it starts to lose a war. And of all services, navies are by far the most stubborn, old-fashioned, snobby, retarded of all. I don’t mean the submarine force, which is pretty much God. I mean the brass in their ridiculous floating targets, aka carriers, frigates, tankers and other dive-sites-in-the-making.
Rumsfeld intoned that “you go to war with the Army you have.” But the time for redevelopment of the military based on likely threats is now. There’s nothing wrong with aircraft carriers, but the future wars will likely remain low tech, unconventional, messy, and require large numbers of troops duking it out, since we don’t have the stomach to leverage our air power to massacre civilians in order to get the enemy to comply. Consider the conflicts since Vietnam: Grenada, Somalia, Panama, and now Iraq. These wars do not require high tech, so much as wily troops grounded in operationally training geared to low intensity conflict.
From Iraq to Iran and China too, everyone has learned there’s no good reason to take on U.S. forces head on. Rather, our enemies aim to achieve parity by sucking us into morally and tactically confused environments, where combatants wear civilian clothes and try to provoke massacres. This technique has remained the best way to defeat technologically sophisticated first world powers since WWII. It worked in Algeria, in Vietnam, in Kenya, in Indonesia, and in South Africa. The jury is out in Iraq, but the only reason things are turning out is because the “good guys” consist of disaffected factions of former terrorists, former sheiks and their henchman fighting irregulars in the same irregular way to which they are accustomed.
World War II isn’t going to happen again. Everyone knows they’ll lose that game against the United States, which spends more than Russia and China combined on defense. Since no one wants to lose to us, our potential enemies worldwide are learning from the playbook of the Viet Cong and the Iraqi resistance. The out-of-touch would-be defense contractor managers at the Pentagon, however, are only learning how to mouth the right phrases of transformation, even as they develop F-22 fighters and plan for digital battlefields. Real improvement will only come from the development of the human skills of the war-fighter: language skills, tactical intelligence gathering, cultural awareness, civil affairs skills, and small unit independence. Of course, these kinds of skills don’t lead to six figure jobs at Raytheon and Lockheed Martin.