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Soft Skills for 21st Century Land Dominance

January 7, 2009

Lately, the conventional vs. unconventional warfare debate has had a resurgence not observed since the lessons of the Vietnam War were batted around by renowned military writers such as Colonel Harry Summers (On Strategy: A Critical Analysis of the Vietnam War) and Major Andrew Krepinevich (The Army and Vietnam). The current debate centers on the question of whether the U.S. Army should train and fight as a conventional force or as a counterinsurgent force in preparation for future contingencies. How different or important are these forms of warfare? And are they essential to ensuring that the Army remains the preeminent land dominance force? Do they require different skills altogether? One source for answers to these questions is the Army’s landmark manual on counterinsurgency (COIN), Field Manual 3-24. Excerpts from that document provide valuable insights:

A counterinsurgency campaign . . . requires Soldiers and Marines to employ a mix of familiar combat skills more often associated with nonmilitary agencies. . . . Soldiers and Marines are expected to be nation builders as well as warriors. They must be prepared to help reestablish institutions and local security forces and assist in rebuilding infrastructure and basic services.

[H]istory shows that some tactics that are usually successful against conventional foes may fail against insurgents. . . . Western militaries too often neglect the study of insurgency. They falsely believe that armies trained to win large conventional wars are automatically prepared to win small, unconventional ones. . . . In fact, some capabilities required for conventional success—for example, the ability to execute operational maneuver and Landpower Essay An Institute of Land Warfare Publication 2 employ massive firepower—may be of limited utility or even counterproductive in COIN operations. . . . Nonetheless, conventional forces beginning COIN operations often try to use these capabilities to defeat insurgents; they almost always fail. . . . The military forces that successfully defeat insurgencies are usually those able to overcome their institutional inclination to wage conventional war against insurgents.

How do units train Soldiers and leaders for a mix of familiar combat skills more often associated with nonmilitary agencies? How do they prepare Soldiers for rebuilding infrastructure and basic services? In other words, how does counterinsurgency translate to specific Soldier skills?