January 1, 2006  

This theory won’t fly

I take issue with retired Maj. Gen. Scales’ article, “The shape of brigades to come” [October]. Scales claims that Special Forces operations in Afghanistan and Northern Iraq, and the Stryker’s deployment in Operation Iraqi Freedom (OIF) somehow serve to “validate” retired Brig. Gen. Huba Wass de Czega’s aero-mechanized theories. This is an absurd assertion and bad history, at best. While air delivery of small teams of Special Forces and light infantry were the hallmark of both campaigns, in neither instance were large-scale mechanized forces involved. The performance of Stryker brigades in Iraq is certainly laudable; however, the “aero” part of the aero-mechanized maneuver theory was missing. Scales should weigh the evidence before making such outlandish statements as, “The challenge of future warfare on land cannot be met without building modular, FCS [Future Combat Systems]-equipped forces aero-mechanized brigades that will form the aerial blitzkrieg of the future.”

Several Rand Corp. studies have concluded that there are serious issues of survivability against any enemy possessing even a modicum of air defense. Recently, in the Army’s own war game, Unified Quest 05, one FCS-equipped brigade required 300 sorties per day over four days to complete a vertical envelopment with a loss of 10 aircraft (including troops, vehicles, equipment on board). Could we really afford such losses in reality? Does one brigade over four days represent “aerial blitzkrieg”? In the same war game, vertical envelopment in a low-altitude air-defense environment represented “high-risk operations” averaging 15 percent to 25 percent loss of airframes. These cheap, low-tech, easy to hide and non-emitting air defenses and small arms are precisely the types of threats the 11th Attack Helicopter Regiment encountered in their aborted deep attack during OIF.

Another blow to the theory of aero-mechanized warfare is cost. At roughly $180 million each, the C-17 aircraft is too expensive and valuable as a strategic asset to be used in such operations. C-130s are similarly expensive, roughly $80 million to $85 million. Neither of these aircraft meets the requirements for vertical or supershort take-off and landing on austere surfaces as the Army’s Future Force Concept requires. The cost of a new aircraft program requiring a multifaceted research-anddevelopment component is potentially very large. The reality over the next fiscal decade is that the Army cannot afford such a program, nor should the other services be expected to foot the bill.

And even if we could afford such a program, would we really put these expensive systems in harm’s way against cheap systems available even to Third World nations? In light of these revelations, the Army needs to re-examine its Future Force Concept in which FCS-equipped forces will simply “leap over” enemy defenses.

The Army seems to be on track with its current modularity. What will make FCS-equipped and modernized ground forces potent are netted command and control, a reduced logistics footprint and the ability to call on joint fires and intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance. The Army should also examine cost-effective ways of improving our airborne forces, such as Global Positioning System-guided parafoil technology and enhancing protection mobility through robotics, active protection systems, compact transportation and deployable alternatives such as the Armored Security Vehicle.

While the Army cannot afford to pursue the red herring of aero-mechanized warfare on a large scale, it should develop a limited capability to follow up airborne airfield seizure with company- and battalion-sized elements of Stryker and FCS. However, as Stryker’s employment in Iraq indicates, speed over land, and not via air, is and will remain the key to long-range autonomous operational maneuver.

Maj. Robert M. Klein

J7, Joint Operational War Plans Division