Friday, January 13, 2006

Body Armor and Military Preparedness

Who is to blame for the lack of body armor and protected vehicles?

A recent Pentagon study supposedly concluded more lives could have been saved had body armor been fielded to more troops serving in Operation Iraqi Freedom. Senator Hillary Clinton raised American consciousness on this issue after her appearance on Good Morning America and blamed the Bush Administration for failing to adequately protect American Troops. Bloggers like Michelle Malkin countered SEN Clinton’s stance, citing impressive figures on the amount of Body Armor fielded to date as well as the issues the Department of Defense has in producing body armor rapidly on a mass scale. Adding more fuel to the fire, recent news reports discussed the problems soldiers have with the cumbersome amounts of armor they are required to wear while out on patrol.

Something that has not been examined in this debate is the military’s overall readiness going into OIF and OEF. Did the military prepare itself for the rigors of low intensity conflict prior to finding itself in counterinsurgency fights in Afghanistan, and then later in Iraq? I would argue that it was NOT adequately prepared for these battles, and that it squandered time and resources in the decade preceding 9/11 that could have made it a more effective force.

Most of the reporting on this issue focuses on the lack of body armor in some units, or on the current efforts to rapidly equip deployed units with the best armor available. Is the lack of force protection an oversight that could not have been foreseen prior to the outset of the war? I think not.

Throughout the 1990’s, American ground forces were deployed in large numbers to places like Haiti, Somalia, the Balkans, and Africa. While these garden spots may have lacked the intensity of the current fight in Iraq, they definitely foreshadowed the role Army and Marine Corps units would likely find themselves in for the next several decades.

So what was the Army investing in throughout this time period? Well, the Comanche Helicopter, for starters. The military spent nearly 9 billion dollars developing the Comanche reconnaissance helicopter, despite the fact that advances in unmanned aerial vehicles were rapidly making the Comanche’s role obsolete. The Army did not cancel this helicopter until early 2004, well after it was clear what the Army was being asked to do on the 21st century battlefield.

The army spent another 11 billion dollars on the Crusader self propelled artillery gun before canceling the cold war holdover in 2002. The gun was so big that only two of them could have been transported on our largest military aircraft, and its impressive firing rate meant that new logistics units would likely have been required to effectively keep them armed.

These were the two big ticket items that the Army hedged their bets on in the late 1990’s, despite all of the evidence coming in from the field that ground forces weren’t likely find themselves fighting a Soviet-style motorized rifle division anytime soon.

Former Army chief of staff General Eric Shinseki, who is often cited for his prescience on the amount of forces a post war Iraq would require, did the current Army no favors when he made long term decisions about equipping priorities for the future Army. Instead of focusing on making the Army more effective in the environments it was likely to find itself in, one can argue that the army's investment decisions were made on the basis of the kind of wars that it wanted to fight. Quick, mid intensity conventional wars with limited objectives were good, while long term stability or counterinsurgency fights were frowned upon.

And so the U.S. Army found itself in Iraq and Afghanistan lacking some of the basic equipment required to fight an urban counterinsurgency, despite a decade of experience in similar operations across the globe. The President, Congress, and the Pentagon responded admirably to the shortfalls identified on the battlefield. The Department of Defense promptly started many initiatives and invested money on gear and vehicles to keep soldiers alive and counter the threats seen in Iraq and Afghanistan. Alas, had our General Officers shown more foresight in the decade before. . .

While it is true that hindsight is 20/20, there is tremendous value in examining shortfalls in military preparedness. It is easy to cast blame on a particular administration of political party for problems that arise in military deployments and wars, but in the end it falls upon military leadership to advise civilian leaders about the threats of today and tomorrow, and determine the resources that will be required to defeat them. The Military leadership of the past decade failed to anticipate all that would be required of them at the dawn of the 21st century; let us hope that current and future generals better anticipate the requirements of coming decades, when even more may be at stake.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

It is the job of the U.S. military to prepare to protect our country from real threats. Counterinsurgencies are traditionally political wars fought for political purposes. Shinseki had a pattern of foresight that neither you nor Rumsfeld has ever exhibited. Did you know one of the primary causes for helo crashes in Afghanistan is related to altitude and the difficulty flying these aircraft? Did you know most U.S. choppers that are downed are because of inadequate tail rotor protection? Did you know the most common means of the enemy detecting a helicopter is by hearing it? Or how about the fact that unarmored & poorly armed scout helos are easy targets? The Comanche system addressed every one of these issues. Furthermore, many of its advanced subsystems are finally going to be moved over to other helicopters now that Army planners have been complaining for the last few years. Shinseki knew what he was talking about. Funny, Rumsfeld loved saying "You fight with the military you have, not the military you want", yet he was too stupid to have any interest in planning for future threats against the United States. I suspect you also want to cancel the F-22; a system designed not for the 1990s, but for the next 50 years of conceivable advances by an adversary. Meanwhile, China is buying Su-27MK's, Russia is gaining strength and moving towards dictatorship and the House of Saud is on the verge of being overthrown even while it is procuring Eurofighter Typhoons. The only reason Rumsfeld Canceled Comanche was to keep the public monetary cost of the hawks' Iraq war as low as possible by idiotically reallocating funds, and by funding unmanned vehicles so that wars of the future can be promoted by more oil & reconstruction hawks later on with the minimum of our own casualties that might turn stomachs at home. The Republicans have screwed up and they know if they don't create a military now that makes war into a video game against poorly equipped 2nd and 3rd worlders, they'll lose their bottom line. But such a military will have much less chance against another technological force that does not rely on laggy or "no-onsite-brain" techniques.