Thursday, January 24, 2008

Conventional vs. COIN: What should we train on? 
What sorts of things should we be teaching in our Army and Marine Corps officer education systems?

Abu Muqawamba hosts the debate.

I would still lean towards a conventional focus for our command and staff schools and mid-level schooling. The COIN side seems better suited for a professional reading list and complementary civilian education to me.

In the meantime, take a battalion TOC crew that's accustomed to a low-intensity counterinsurgency operation. Let's further stipulate that they've never once had to "jump TOC" under pressure or execute a bug-out drill.

They can have all the COIN talent in the world. But throw them all at once in a high-intensity fight, in the field under limited light conditions, and have them go for a week straight processing a flood of information. Now have them sustain operations with five or six moves. Put the CTCP under similar stress. I promise you, many of the battalions operating now are not operating with a formal CTCP at all. COIN operations simply does not require the CTCP to maintain a separate battle tracking function, nor act as an "alternate TOC" in a pinch if the task force headquarters gets knocked out. The S1 and S4 maybe share an office, but there is rarely, in COIN, a dedicated staff of RTOs pulling shifts under two NCOICs.

If these task force headquarters were suddenly plucked from the COIN battlefield of Iraq today and plopped into Iraq in March and April of 2003, they would probably collapse under the strain for a time.

That's why a continued focus on conventional ops is important. Experienced COIN leaders can adjust. And the staff work is much, much easier in a COIN environment. It's the command function that's much more difficult, because it's much more multidisciplinary.

A conventionally capable staff and C3 operation can adjust to a COIN operation much more easily than a staff and C3 operation accustomed to a COIN operation can adjust to a full-on, combined arms, high-intensity conventional fight.

We need to keep one foot in conventional doctrine in our service schools, even as we defeat Al Qaeda using the COIN strategy.

Splash, out


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Shouldn't the Army be all conventional war, the Marines be all COIN, and the Navy and Air Force focus on logistics? National Guard should focus on military policing and COIN duties as that is their normal mission.
If you wanted to place an emphasis like that that might be appropriate, but not all one way or the other.

And you conception of the Guard is way off. People continue to think of us as somehow separate from the Army (and Air Force). We are a component of the US Army. Their normal mission is our normal mission.

We don't leverage our disaster response skills for warfighting. We leverage our warfighting skills for disaster recovery.
I can turn anybody into a passable infantryman. The COIN stuff looks to me like police work on steroids, and people can pick that up quick enough if they have to. Its often very tactical, and people love tactics.

What's hard is what Jason states, and for the right reasons.

What's the old saying? "Amateurs talk tactics, professionals talk logistics"?
The Army isn't all Combat Arms types, although the combat support and service support MOSes fall into the conventional warfare arena, too. I agree that warfighters should not back-burner their warfighting skillsets to a peace-building skillset. However, I agree that our warfighters should have at least own a wide-ranging familiarity with peace-building that's sufficient to adjust to the 'post-war' rapidly.

What do you think about buttressing conventional-emphasis forces that have a COIN-familiarity with an expanded Civil Affairs branch that, in contrast, owns a peace-building-emphasis with a conventional-familiarity?
I like the idea of significantly expanding our Civil Affairs capability if we can find the troops to do it with.

I'd start by raiding FOBs of every soldier that does nothing but prepare PowerPoint briefings all day.
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