USA — Gates Notes Convergence of Conventional, Irregular War

FORT LEAVENWORTH, Kan. — As the Army moves for­ward, dif­fer­ences between con­ven­tion­al and irreg­u­lar war­fare are becom­ing less impor­tant, Defense Sec­re­tary Robert M. Gates told stu­dents and fac­ul­ty at the Army Com­mand and Gen­er­al Staff Col­lege here today.

“To some extent, much of the debate between low-end and high-end [war­fare] miss­es the point,” Gates said. “The black-and-white dis­tinc­tion between con­ven­tion­al war and irreg­u­lar war is becom­ing less rel­e­vant in the real world.” 

Rough­ly 80 per­cent of the offi­cers Gates addressed served in com­bat in Iraq or Afghanistan, and they are unique­ly qual­i­fied to lead the Army of the future, he said. The sec­re­tary was sur­round­ed by reminders of Army heroes: He spoke at the Eisen­how­er Audi­to­ri­um next to the MacArthur Room in the Lewis and Clark Building. 

The U.S. mil­i­tary has over­whelm­ing con­ven­tion­al mil­i­tary dom­i­nance over any poten­tial adver­sary in the world, but expe­ri­ence has shown that isn’t enough, giv­en the threats Amer­i­ca faces, Gates said. 

“Pos­sess­ing the abil­i­ty to anni­hi­late oth­er mil­i­taries is no guar­an­tee we can achieve our strate­gic goals – a point dri­ven home espe­cial­ly in Iraq,” he said. “The future will be even more com­plex, where con­flict most like­ly will range across a broad spec­trum of oper­a­tions and lethal­i­ty — where even near-peer com­peti­tors will use irreg­u­lar or asym­met­ric tac­tics, and non­state actors may have weapons of mass destruc­tion or sophis­ti­cat­ed missiles.” 

The Army is work­ing to insti­tu­tion­al­ize the lessons learned from coun­terin­sur­gency oper­a­tions, Gates said, but the stu­dents and fac­ul­ty at the staff col­lege also must be at the fore­front of think­ing ahead to future con­flicts that will tra­verse that broad spec­trum of operations. 

“You must devel­op the analy­sis, doc­trine, strat­e­gy and tac­tics need­ed for suc­cess in 21st cen­tu­ry con­flicts that are like­ly to be very dif­fer­ent from 20th cen­tu­ry con­flicts – and dif­fer­ent from con­flicts we are in now,” he said. “You must con­tin­ue to be the vision­ar­ies, the pathfind­ers, the intel­lec­tu­al cut­ting edge of the Army.” 

The Army must mod­ern­ize equip­ment for future con­flicts and iden­ti­fy tech­nolo­gies that will con­tin­ue U.S. mil­i­tary dom­i­nance, the sec­re­tary said. “Advances in pre­ci­sion, sen­sor infor­ma­tion and satel­lite tech­nolo­gies have led to extra­or­di­nary gains that will con­tin­ue to give the U.S. mil­i­tary an edge over its adver­saries,” he told the stu­dents and fac­ul­ty. “But no one should ever neglect the psy­cho­log­i­cal, cul­tur­al, polit­i­cal, and human dimen­sions of war or suc­cumb to the tech­no-opti­mism that has mud­dled strate­gic think­ing in the past.” This is espe­cial­ly true for the Army and Marine Corps, which will lead – and bear the brunt of – irreg­u­lar and hybrid cam­paigns in the future, he said. 

Gates quot­ed Army Gen. Joseph “Vine­gar Joe” Still­well, the U.S. com­man­der in the Chi­na, Bur­ma, India the­ater in World War II, who said, “No mat­ter how a war starts, it ends in mud. … It has to be slugged out. There are no trick solu­tions or cheap shortcuts.” 

The sec­re­tary praised the Army and the staff col­lege for adapt­ing to the cur­rent wars. “Lead­ers here have learned and explored the lat­est tech­nolo­gies,” he said, “and are cur­rent­ly using the Web, social media and oth­er tools to rapid­ly turn bat­tle­field lessons learned into usable tac­tics, tech­niques and pro­ce­dures.” The staff col­lege and the Cen­ter for Army Lessons Learned worked to devel­op the coun­terin­sur­gency doc­trine under then-Lt. Gen. David H. Petraeus. “It was used to great suc­cess dur­ing the surge in Iraq, and is help­ing guide our strat­e­gy in Afghanistan,” Gates said. 

The Cen­ter for Army Lessons Learned is shoul­der­ing the her­culean task of cod­i­fy­ing and col­lat­ing an enor­mous amount of infor­ma­tion flow­ing in from the bat­tle­field and around the world. This infor­ma­tion then is dis­tilled into prod­ucts pro­vid­ing guid­ance on top­ics rang­ing from oper­a­tions to counter road­side bombs to trib­al cus­toms. These prod­ucts help to main­tain U.S. com­bat lead­ers’ deci­sion-mak­ing supe­ri­or­i­ty over an adap­tive and implaca­ble ene­my, the sec­re­tary said. 

“Car­ry­ing that spir­it of inno­va­tion for­ward, Army senior lead­ers have sought real-time feed­back – online and off – on a range of issues includ­ing the spec­trum of cur­rent oper­a­tions, the Army’s force gen­er­a­tion sys­tem and stress on the force,” Gates said. 

The sec­re­tary stressed the respon­si­bil­i­ty the young offi­cers have for the phys­i­cal and men­tal health of the force. 

“With regard to reduc­ing the strain on sol­diers and their fam­i­lies, we have made some head­way but are not where we need to be,” he said. “At the height of the Iraq war, the Army was oper­at­ing at rough­ly a 1‑to‑1 dwell time ratio [of time deployed to time at home sta­tion] for cer­tain spe­cial­ties, while oth­ers were deploy­ing rarely, if at all. It was unsustainable. 

“As you know, the Army has now set a goal of two years at home for one year deployed for the active duty, and four to one for the Guard and Reserve,” he con­tin­ued. “Part of the solu­tion is increas­ing the pool of sol­diers avail­able to deploy.” 

Gates not­ed he autho­rized more sol­diers and Marines, and he lat­er autho­rized a tem­po­rary increase of more than 20,000 sol­diers for the high-demand period. 

“With this increase and our ongo­ing draw­down in Iraq, we have made strides towards the goal of 1‑to‑2, but we aren’t there yet,” he said. “In real­i­ty, the cur­rent strain will con­tin­ue at least well into next year as the draw­down in Iraq is par­tial­ly off­set by the troop increase in Afghanistan, where a grad­ual tran­si­tion to Afghan secu­ri­ty respon­si­bil­i­ty will begin next summer.” 

The increase in end-strength is only half of the pic­ture, Gates said, as the Army is rebal­anc­ing bil­lets and units with­in and between the active and reserve components. 

“We are dis­band­ing or reduc­ing Cold War-era com­pa­nies – for exam­ple, air defense in the Nation­al Guard – and stand­ing up high-demand, low-den­si­ty units like spe­cial oper­a­tions, mil­i­tary police and oth­ers,” he said. “All told, the Army has under­gone its largest orga­ni­za­tion­al trans­for­ma­tion since World War II, and has done so with 100,000-plus sol­diers con­tin­u­ous­ly deployed since the begin­ning of the Iraq war.” 

Fight­ing the cur­rent wars is his high­est pri­or­i­ty, the sec­re­tary said, but close behind is the con­tin­u­ing care of those wound­ed and injured. 

“This means ensur­ing they receive world-class med­ical, men­tal, and tran­si­tion­al sup­port,” he said. “I remain con­cerned about sol­diers’ out­pa­tient care, which has again received some less-than-flat­ter­ing reviews in recent weeks.” 

Army lead­er­ship – espe­cial­ly Chief of Staff Gen. George W. Casey Jr. and Vice Chief of Staff Gen. Peter W. Chiarel­li – are cham­pi­oning the Army’s efforts to care for those suf­fer­ing from post-trau­mat­ic stress and trau­mat­ic brain injury, as well as com­pre­hen­sive sui­cide-pre­ven­tion efforts and doing every­thing pos­si­ble to address and reduce the dis­turb­ing increase in sui­cide rates. 

But efforts from senior lead­ers are not enough, Gates said. 

“As mil­i­tary lead­ers, you must care for your sub­or­di­nates and make sure they have the infor­ma­tion, resources, and skills they need to be suc­cess­ful sol­diers and mem­bers of soci­ety,” he said. “Strong unit-lev­el lead­er­ship is need­ed not just to pre­vent sol­diers from end­ing their lives, but to open the door for them to seek help.” He urged the young offi­cers to make this a vis­i­ble and vocal pri­or­i­ty in their organizations. 

“We all have our part to play to end the stig­ma of seek­ing help for men­tal-health issues,” he said. “If some­one is strug­gling with what they have seen in com­bat or adjust­ing to a home envi­ron­ment, it is your duty to give them the sup­port they need.” 

Gates encour­aged the stu­dents “to keep the entre­pre­neur­ial and some­times con­trar­i­an spir­it that you have devel­oped dur­ing your com­bat tours.” 

“You have had unique learn­ing expe­ri­ences – from pro­vid­ing secu­ri­ty for elec­tions that deter­mine the fate of nations to get­ting feud­ing groups to work togeth­er instead of killing each oth­er,” he said. “You have learned how to restore infra­struc­ture and ser­vices to places that des­per­ate­ly need them, and how to under­stand the strate­gic impact those improve­ments can have. 

“You have been in dead­ly fire­fights, and you have seen your sol­diers wound­ed and die,” he con­tin­ued. “Now, you must incor­po­rate all these expe­ri­ences and lessons into your train­ing cycle to insti­tu­tion­al­ize what you have learned – capa­bil­i­ties that will be crit­i­cal to suc­cess in Afghanistan and oth­er poten­tial conflicts.” 

U.S. Depart­ment of Defense
Office of the Assis­tant Sec­re­tary of Defense (Pub­lic Affairs) 

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