Fred Kaplan details the amazing influence Don Rumsfeld is having in reshaping the services, especially the Army. He notes that there are legitimate arguments at stake and sees something less drastic than Rummy’s vision emerging:

If Army divisions were lighter, not only could they maneuver on the battlefield more agilely, they could get there more rapidly. But here’s the dilemma. Let’s say we create a new, nimble Army, light enough to get to a crisis spot within hours or days (instead of weeks or months), free enough of long logistics lines to maneuver swiftly across the terrain. What happens when this force runs into serious opposition? Once you find yourself in a battle, it’s good to have a tank with a big gun and thick armor. Big guns and thick armor weigh a lot. Vehicles that weigh a lot require a lot of fuel. If they’re zooming across the dusty desert or rough terrain, they also need spare parts. All these things are heavy. So, we’re back to the original problem.

Recent technological breakthroughs—most notably GPS-guided “smart bombs,” unmanned aerial drones equipped with video cameras and real-time command-control-communications links—ease this dilemma somewhat. They make it possible to destroy enemy formations, with great precision, from the air. Still, air power can’t do the whole job. Even in Afghanistan, ground troops were needed to move in and kill enemy troops close up. A big tank also has a frightening effect on the soldiers it’s aimed at, especially if they’ve already been shocked by bombardment. In short, it’s nice to float like a butterfly—but you’ve also got to sting like a swarm of bees. Much of the Army’s opposition is parochial, but much is also substantive. Some officers fear transformation will backfire if the U.S. military gets a lot lighter and our enemies get a lot more clever.

Most likely, the bureaucracy will muddle through: improving and expanding the smart bombs, the drones, and the other high-tech aspects of RMA while also reshaping the bulkier aspects of the Army—but without getting rid of the bulk altogether. And in this case, such a stalemate might be preferable to outright victory by either side.

True. Still, having spent more than a decade studying this issue, with a consistent theme of ambitious reform agendas being thwarted, I find this truly remarkable. To accomplish this, a reformer has to defeat the entrenched interests within the service bureaucracy; powerful interest groups outside the services, including defense contractors and veterans’ groups; and congressional opposition. The stars have to align themselves just right to make that possible. The victory in Iraq combined with GOP control of the Congress might have created that alignment.

FILED UNDER: Afghanistan War, Military Affairs, , , , ,
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.