Landpower vs. Warheads-On-Foreheads

December 18, 2013
In her first War on the Rocks article, Kori Schake argues, among other things, that the U.S. Army has done a poor job explaining itself and making its case for preserving its end strength.
Part of the problem is unavoidable: in an era when strategic weapons have global range, the services with the simplest warheads-on-foreheads rationale can tell the most compelling story. The Navy and Air Force need only to explain how their force structure and modernization programs contribute to certain discrete “strategic” missions – strike, missile defense, strategic deterrence, defense of sea lines of communication, strategic mobility – while the Army’s value must be explained through its tactical and operational effectiveness: its function as a war-winning tool.
The Navy doesn’t have to justify the Virginia Payload Module or Ohio Replacement (or the Air Force the Long Range Bomber) in the context of a broader warfighting construct: strike and strategic deterrence are seen as national-level missions. Who’s willing to say we don’t need as much strike capacity as we can get? Strike’s always good in a pinch! But when the Army wants a new Ground Combat Vehicle, people say “who are you going to fight that you need that big armored truck? Does it need to be so expensive? Is all that armor really necessary? Who’s going to put tanks on the battlefield?? What president is ever going to start a war like that?!” This resistance was evident even in the 1970s with the Army’s Big Five; there was a hell of a fight over requirements for (and thus the cost of) the Mechanized Infantry Combat Vehicle, which became the Bradley.
Strike platforms and other “independent” weapon systems will always be attractive to policymakers because they offer the promise of limited-liability action, of military effectiveness without war—without military commitment. This is the challenge the Army faces: either acknowledging that its greatest utility is in war or trying to justify itself primarily as a war-preventing, policy-supporting, other-than-war tool. To my mind, a lot of the rhetorical confusion of the present moment comes from an unwillingness to face that choice.
Christopher Mewett is a military analyst, strategist, and support contractor to the U.S. Department of the Army. The ideas and opinions expressed herein are solely his own, and do not represent those of his employer or any agency of the government.
Image: U.S. Army, U.S. Navy