Lessons for Today from the Umayyid Invasion of Gaul

US Army Captain Thomas Doherty, an armor officer, has a piece on contemporary lessons from a historic campaign. The big takeaway:
As military officers we were taught the fundamentals of the offense and defense. However, as an instructor, it has surprised me that my students do not understand that the fundamentals of offense are applicable during defense and, of course, vice versa. This article gives a historical example of the symbiotic relationship between the offense and defense. In this example, the rulers of Gaul were on the strategic and operational defensive. Given this, they used tactical-level offenses to achieve victory.
I originally went to that site to read another piece, by a CPT Metz, that suggests that the Army is no longer the world's leader in combat operations at the company level. We've fallen behind, he suggests, due to a lack of "collective training and tactical proficiency at home station" as a preparation for larger training exercises.
Infantry companies and platoons struggle mightily with fundamental tactical movement, basic fire and maneuver principles, direct-fire control measures and troop-leading procedures. In fact, almost every American unit that comes to JMRC struggles with fundamentals. One example was when all three platoons from an infantry company conducted six platoon attacks as part of STX lanes. All six were executed as frontal assaults across open areas, even though in every case there was a clear concealed route for the assault element to take that would have allowed a 90-degree flank of the enemy. There was no bounding on the objective and little use of tactical formations because they had never trained as a platoon before coming to JMRC.
It's probably a tough criticism to take: the US Army is as battle-hardened as it's ever been, given the long war. As far as I know, there's never been a company or even a platoon-level fight that the Army has lost in all the battles in Iraq and Afghanistan. These fundamentals have dropped out of the infantry's mind because they haven't mattered. They have to feel like they know how to beat an enemy better than these fancy "multinational partners" who very rarely get out into the field against a real foe.

Nevertheless, they're the fundamentals for a reason, and there's no guarantee that you'll always be fighting enemies that aren't near-peers. That's especially true if you aren't the best in the world anymore.


J Melcher said...

What, young officers of the video game generation all grew up playing Guitar Hero and Cooking Mama?

Are there no video (or board, or card) games at all that teach basics of this sort?

Grim said...

There probably are, but that only matters if you take time to play them.

That's the issue, at least in the captain's opinion. He cites another study that says that overtasking in the Army has reached such levels that there isn't time to complete all the various assignments. Since all nevertheless have to be completed, many of the assignments are done in a slap-dash manner.

"Overtasking is nothing new. A 2002 U.S. Army War College study tallied all training directed at company commanders. There were 297 days of mandatory requirements for 256 available training days.... I've heard many senior leaders from lieutenant colonel to brigadier general acknowledge that there are too many tasks. They usually say that leaders need to learn where they can 'assume risk' and figure out what they can afford not to do."

So, you know, it's on these junior officers to assume the risk of deciding which tasks not to train their people on. How do you do that? Well, you decide which ones are going to cause you to get eaten alive if your people should fail them and then it should turn out that you didn't do the training to standard. How likely is it that you'll be fighting a near-peer adversary in the next six months, versus that one of your soldiers will run afoul of a sexual harassment complaint or a drunk driving incident?

So the infantry skills tend to get pushed off, while the mickey mouse SHARP/EEO/Don'-Drink-and-Drive/Just Say No to Drugs stuff takes over.

raven said...

Is it possible basic infantry tactics have been diluted because of the ever present availability of air power?
Reading some history, one thing that stood out with stark clarity about the Brits first and second Afghan wars was how much closer the match was. Any of the famous disasters (for the Brits) would have been averted or turned into victories with a few A-10's.
Has 20 years of being a technological top dog, by several orders of magnitude, made us lazy?

raven said...

" How likely is it that you'll be fighting a near-peer adversary in the next six months, versus that one of your soldiers will run afoul of a sexual harassment complaint or a drunk driving incident?"

Or, how likely is it one will be cashiered for a PC complaint vs a battlefield catastrophe?

Grim said...

I think air power is part of it, but again -- everybody who's been in the Army infantry/armor for any length of time has been to war. They think they know how to do it better than the POGs at the training schools, and (just for the record) they haven't lost a platoon-level fight in 16 years of constant warfare.

But the skills we'd need to fight China or Russia -- should we be called upon to do so -- will be different skills. Those are what the schools exist to teach.

Eric Blair said...

Meh. There is probably something to what the trainer says, (Hell, I saw exactly what he was talking about close to 30 years ago), but OTOH, NOBODY else has done what the US has done on the scale of what the US has done for the last, hell, since WWII.

I really don't count the Russians or Chinese as adversaries the way lots of people seem to think they are--both are playing weak hands (especially the Russians) but as I was saying to a friend recently, the US Army trained lots troops to a mediocre level, but everybody else was just that so much worse, that it didn't matter.