Army Chief Presses Case for Relevance of Ground Forces

By Jon Harper

Naval and air forces are not sufficient to defeat America’s enemies, the Army’s top officer said during his first major speech since taking the helm last month.

Speaking at the annual convention of the Association of the United States Army, Army Chief of Staff Gen. Mark Milley said it is a “myth” that wars could be won from standoff distances through the use of advanced technology.

“Our precision munitions and cruise missiles are wonderful,” he said Oct. 13. “I love them and they deliver a devastating punch. But this too is very seductive and it posits that wars can be won on the cheap in terms of our own blood.”

“It’s fantasy not fact. Unfortunately, after the ‘shock and awe’ comes the march and fight,” he added, referencing the bombing campaign early in the Iraq War that was followed by nearly a decade of counterinsurgency fighting.

He said the Army plays a decisive role. The enemy’s “will to fight is ultimately broken on the ground,” he said. “Standoff weapons from either the sea or air are… necessary to bring the full synergy of war fighting power to bear, but they are never sufficient in and of themselves to break a determined enemy’s will.”

To illustrate his point, he cited World War II and the ongoing fight against the Islamic State as examples of conflicts where air and naval forces were not able to deliver victory without large numbers of boots on the ground.

Milley also took a shot at the idea that special operations forces and drones -- the counterterrorism tools most favored by the Obama administration – are sufficient, referring to their heavy use as the ‘”tacticization of strategy.”

“Another and perhaps more recent myth is that special forces can do it all and America needs only an elite rapid reaction force to fight the terrorists and we will be good to go,” he said. But “killing selected terrorists through drone strikes or small unit raids … is nothing more than attrition warfare, a dressed up version of body counts” he said, drawing a connection to the failed U.S. military strategy in Vietnam.

Milley’s remarks come at time when the military services are fighting for resources in a constrained budget environment, and the Army is shrinking. They also coincide with U.S. efforts to “pivot” to the Asia-Pacific, a region where many senior officials believe the Navy and Air Force would likely play a leading role in any future war.

The Army chief said the resurgence of an “aggressive” Russia in Europe and the possibility of another war on the Korean Peninsula, where U.S. troops are stationed, highlight the need to maintain strong and ready ground forces.

“There is no doubt in my mind that U.S. interests in Asia are supported by the great capabilities of our Navy and Air Force,” he said, “but our Army also has an important and indeed critical role to play in preserving the peace in that critical region.”

Milley cited World War II, Korea and Vietnam as examples of conflicts in Asia-Pacific where large numbers of ground troops were deployed.

As the Army’s force structure and budgets shrink, the service needs to maintain readiness, Milley said.

“We will ensure that no matter what budget we get, no matter how big we are, that … we will execute realistic, tough, integrated combined arms and joint training,” he promised.

Heightened readiness could be improved through increased National Guard and Reserve training and more unit rotations through combat training centers, he said.


Topics: Defense Department, Land Forces

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