- The Washington Times - Monday, May 5, 2003

The future of U.S. military opeations During a Rand conference on urban warfare in 1999, Army Maj. Gen. Robert Scales derided the emphasis on urban warfare that was then becoming trendy by reiterating the Army’s traditional concept of bypassing cities or laying siege to them.Gen. Scales’ schedule did not allow him to stay for questions and answers, but he left behind a firestorm of controversy among officers with recent urban combat experience, including several Russians in the audience. Say what you like about Bob Scales; he speaks his mind, and he does so in his latest book.In “Yellow Smoke,” Gen. Scales, since retired, continues the trend of no holds barred advice, offering an authoritative insider’s view on how the Army sees itself transforming. The book is both a personal reflection and professional prospective on land combat in the 20th and early 21st centuries.The author’s informed views benefit from several key Army assignments, including the Army After Next project in the ‘90s and service as commandant of the Army War College. The book is an excellent compilation of trends in ground combat from the perspective of fighting units (tactical and operational levels in military speak), making good on the book’s subtitle: “The Future of Land Warfare for America’s Military.”Those who follow defense trends will find themselves in familiar territory since the book offers thoughtful predictions on technology’s impact on future combat. These predictions correlate well with the Army’s view of its highly visible “transformational” program, titled the Future Combat Systems — a high-tech approach to ground combat.They also resonate with observations gleaned from recent ground combat operations. The predictions range from the obvious to the subtle, and each poses a challenge to implementation within the mammoth Department of Defense. The trends Gen. Scales describes reflect internal tensions that technology is creating within today’s Army. He points out the need for smaller combat organizations that can get to the fight, a change that will require time and political capital to put in place. Equipment for these smaller forces needs to be light enough to get quickly to the fight, but developing the right equipment will consume significant Army resources and more political capital.These smaller, lighter forces need to develop new ways to fight. Taken together, the changes require the development of a generation of younger, more innovative soldiers, as new conditions push decision-making down to younger leaders of the smaller units. As a final caution, the author acknowledges that none of these technology changes will exempt the importance of the human will and personal bonds within forces that find themselves on the more dispersed, chaotic and inevitably lonely future battlefield.Gen. Scales’ book provides evidence the U.S. Army has fully Americanized the principles of “maneuver warfare,” an approach with an august history of success. America’s adoption of that successful philosophy of combat, coupled with a focus on technologies, leads the author to prescribe one best ‘American Way of War.’ This notion, conceived perhaps for the purpose of clarity, serves to constrain inquiry about the military’s broader use in national security. Absent is discussion of a more expansive role in international crisis resolution and military operations other than war. There is a larger game afoot and the general does not address it. Viewed in that light, the book is as illuminating for what it does not say as what it says.Today’s military is largely framed by the 1648 Peace of Westphalia, an agreement designed to provide nation states a monopoly on the application of force. A few authors, describing “4th Generation Warfare” where non-state actors play an increasing role in conflict, assert this condition is changing and will subsequently alter the purpose of employing military forces. The Office of Force Transformation recognizes this possible shift and acknowledges a different possible future from that described in the book, in that it views a larger role for the American military than traditional combat operations.This is a good book and well worth reading, but it does not address the spectrum of challenges looming on he military and strategic horizon. Assessment of our successes and shortfalls in both conflict- and post-conflict Iraq can provide the springboard for such an effort.Christopher Yunker is a military analyst for the Marine Corps.

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