the future of war
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a u.s. army firing excersize
discussion: what are your reactions to this report on remaking the u.s. army into a fighting force for the 21st century? what will future wars look like and how should we prepare for them?


The real issue is not what kind of army we have, but what we will do with it. All military forces aim to become invincible, but what will happen if we succeed? Will we use our might in the same way we did when last we had unquestioned superiority, from start to finish, against an opposing force--the Indians? Are we different now, immune to the corruptions of greed and lust to dominate that absolute power confers? Are we so sure we will not run rampant over the world, justifying our aggression, of course, in the noblest of terms?

Perils await not the vanquished alone.

sanford desopo
Groton, CT


I think that the Army is spending too much time and money trying to duplicate the capabilities that the USMC already has. Light and Medium forces are useful in the current flurry of 'Brush Fire' wars that we are invloved now, however that is not what the US Army is meant to do. It is meant to win 'real' wars against 1st rate, conventional oppenents. It should stay that way. We have the USMC to take care of this small stuff.

The DoD should take the light elements from the Army Ranger, Airborne/Assault and Special Forces/Delta and fold them into the USMC as Raider, Parachute and Recon battalions. That would focus all of the Medium and Light forces under one commend and budget and save the Army's attention for the real issues- fighting a war against a Russia or China.

This to me would give us a better bang for the buck and less duplication of effort.

All of this from an ex-Army tanker!

Scott Case
Decatur, Alabama


As a Staff Sergeant in the U.S. Army I have a put a great deal of thought into our transformation. As I watched Frontline on the Armed Forces Network I expected to see some of the options that Gen Shinseki is testing. While we saw brief clips of possible vehicles it seems the program kept going back to Ft Lewis to one single wheeled vehicle that the Marines have been using for over ten years. What are we learning from this? The answer to the "Wheeels vs. Tracks" issue is not in the cost, speed, or deployability. The issue is survivability!

The answer to the question was answered in a clip in the first 15 minutes. There was a scene where an M88 recovery vehicle tracked was pulling a HUMWV through the mud in Kosovo. Larger, heavier wheeled vehicles fare even worse. I have extesive operational experience with a Heavy Expanded Mobility Tactical Truck HEMTT. When in the deep mud and it sinks up to the axles there is no choice but to call for recovery assests. If your recovery assets is also wheeled we run the risk of both vehicles getting stuck.

I have yet to see any type of wheel that magically lifts the vehicle out of the mud. The enemy with their "old, outdated, dinosaur tanks" would run circles around us! Ever seen how well a wheeled vehicle turns at 30 mph in the mud? Most of the time it doesn't happen. Many of my fellow soldiers see the same issues as I. That a rapidly deployable force is necessary for future conflict. I see maybe one or two divisions as light, and two to three divisions as heavy. The heavy hitters are necessary for a slug fest!

We talk about history lessons. Exactly my point. Throughout history, we have drawn down after major conflicts and reduced the force. Only to realize our mistakes after too many American lives have been lost. Now we want to send our sons and daughters into combat in a tank that the enemy can disable with a .50 cal machine gun by shooting out the tires. There was a man that said "we are behind updating the army for the 21st century." Compared to who? As an Artilleryman I have real time operational experience, not some computer generated conflict. Survivability should be the real issue not wheels or tracks. If we are to be the world's policeman, we should not lose sight of the real purpose of our armed forces. That is to deter war, and to keep enemy forces from even "thinking about parking here."

Troy Heffner
Bamberg, Germany


If I were the Secretary of Defense, I would ask the Army Chief of Staff: Why are you spending a lot of my money trying to re-invent a less effective version of the marine corp? The troop structure he appears to be looking for exists already. Indeed, since the marines are an integrated combined-arms force, they are better able to field an effective force, including an intergal combat air arm. The only thing they lack is their own long range delivery capability. For that they depend, as does the army, on the navy and air force. Indeed, if you look at marine corp history over the past hundred and thirty years, you will find that the type of mission postulated by the chief of staff is what the marines have done.

Paul Staten


The real question in fighting future wars is how do we make do with less defense resources???

First we should adopt a Joint chief of staffs reccomendation from "Join Vision 20/20". They reccomend a policy of "Full spectrum dominance". This means that the US should be able prevail in any conflict be it unilaterally or multilaterally.

Secondly the defense department should require all major defense contractors to implement highly automated and advanced manufacturing systems. A number of years ago the defense made this a requirement, but then dropped it for some reason. This would allow our country to quickly ramp up or manufacturing if a protracted conflict occured.

Thirdly we need to develop conventional weapons systems that can hit targets from a great distances. If need be we should have the capability to launch them from the US. We could for example restart resarch on the space plane or advanced laser weapon technology. Currently the US has some weapons that are of this nature. For example the US is developed roboitic mines that look like bugs. A submariane will drop hundreds at a time and the robots will crawl on the sea floor and search for a target.

We as a nation have been lucky that we have not faced a large advesary in the past decade. It is naive to believe that all are conflicts will be small. There is always the possiblity that we could get involved in a major conflict with a country like China. If we were to get involved into a conflict with China there is a possiblity that the situation would escalate into a nuclear one. China defense buildup and acquistion like the purchase of a Russian Typhoon class sub certainly are indicators of their intentions.

Randall Shimizu
San Diego, CA


I found your program on the US Army outstanding. It struck me that the General wanted to convert the Army into a giant Marine Corps. I think the Army has ID'd the problems with its current force correctly. However, I don't think that Sensiki's solutions are the correct ones. A rush to embrace new ideas and technologies gave us the failed Battlecruisers of WW1 and the Tank Destroyer doctrine of WW2.

Mark Henry
Coronado, CA


Once again our political and military leaders bask in the warm and cozy afterglow of victory. They seem to have forgotten that although we won the cold war, all of the weapons produced for it are still out there. While the army prepares to do limited battle with the little guys, they ignore the fact that there are still bears in the woods.

To say that we will never again fight the war of great mechanized armies is so near-sighted as to be blind. If we cast off our heavy forces in favor of lightly armored, highly mobile forces, then when those highly mobile forces meet up with the bear in the woods... they better be highly mobile enough to run the other way.

Tom Maczynski
Reed City, MI


I watch every frontline program...because they are both informative and interesting...
as a Quaker/Buddhist is was not easy to watch last Tuesday's program the Future of War.

It would have been so much better to watch a program on Preparing for Peace...but that aside... the show was much too technical and seemed to be written with pentagon people, munition makers and military personnel in mind....rather than intelligent viewers, seeking information...

Hope the next program is back to the usual Frontline standards

jean laino


I found your reporting on the remaking of the U.S. Armed Forces compelling and well produced. While I felt some of your conclusions were somewhat streched, all of them were relevant and thought provoking.

That said, I would however love to see a follow-up, especially with regards to urban combat AND on how modernization affects specialized fighting units such as the Rangers and SEALs. The former, because I'm still concerned about lethal, high-casualty-causing house-to-house sweeps as those depicted in your report. Of the later, to see how newer, nastier weapons might assist such leading edge units until heavier support can be brought up.

Dean Peters
Rockville, MD


As for the future of war...We are never going to have it tuned just right. China has a strong manpower behind it. Russia do produces mass extermination weapons, that even our big toys, will be no match in the case of a strike. And Russia will not going to joke around like they did in Afganistan. Terrorists will find the most unconventional tools to strike, and a guerila war will chip away whatever advantage we may have. A EMP missile can take satelites and electronics off line, living our soldiers on the ground completely "blind". I don't mention nukes anymore.

The point I want to make here however is a litle different. Let's say that we do have it figured just right.
1 Is this powerful American military going to become the most used tool in diplomacy? If that's going to be the case, then we will be the modern bullies of the world.
That's not the way to promote any ideals, and make friends to our country. We would be no different then any other tyrant or dictator.
2 Should that be the case, let's check the history book. We went in ww1 because aunt Elisabeth of England got into a quarel with her nephew Wilhelm of Germany. After ww2 we wind up trading Hitler for Stalin and for 50 years. Not only that we abused our military, but the political miscalculations or our less then educated leaders, caused in both short and long terms more problems then the ones solved. Lately, Iraq and Serbia plu an foreign ambassy comes to mind.
In my opinion is not the modern American military which we should concentrate. We have to do so to fend off enemies. But under what political circumstances we will use it? Are we going to get involved in every conflict? Are we becoming the newest Empire of the world? Do we have enough manpower to fight with the entire world?
Even if we win wars, the down size is loosing friends. The abuse issue is what scares me. Getting our hands in everybody elses business, and thinking that our interests will be best served by fear, will ultimately going to undo all our efforts. Just read the history book, and judge for yourself.
Sioux Falls SD

Florin Milea
Sioux Falls, South Dakota


I am an Army Veteran...I was deployed to Somalia. I was not fully prepared for the kinds of interaction with the local population that I faced on there. Some things I noticed was that certain common actions would set them in a frenzy...One of my squad members had to scratch a personal part of his anatomy...and this caused a lady to start yelling and screaming and then soon the men that were near us started pushing us...we were ordered not to push back...instead we just kept moving...spitting insued.

The question I have is ...HOW ARE WE GOING TO PREPARE THE MEN FOR EVENTS SUCH AS WHAT I DESCRIBED?....I mean even in the Gulf the Showing of ones palm...was a major "NO NO" and was fighting jesture. TODAYS Army needs to have world culture classes.....

James Johnson


As I watched Frontline's the Future of War and found it most interesting that the U.S. Army is finally coming realize that it needs to become a more lethal and rapid force, much like the U.S. Marine Corps. I would suggest to General Shinseki that he examine how the U.S. Marine Corps doctrine deals with low-intensity conflict situations. Also the Marine Corps published back in the 1930s a book called the Small Wars Manual that it still uses today that he should look at.

W.Y. Jue
Los Angeles, CA


Due to the reality that America's military strength is poor at best. We as a nation are opening ourselves to attack by hostile nations in developing parts of the world.

If we can take a look at the roman army following the 4th century we can easily see that in the end of days for the roman empire the roman army once considered indestructable became bogged down by the politics of Rome. Could America and its military be looked down upon by the human generations to come as the next great late Roman Empire? Hopefully not, but extremely likely.

David Blubaugh
Springboro, Ohio


Thank you. Frontline and PBS seems to be one of the few in the general interest media that explore, in a serious way military/naval issues.

What struck me in your program is that the Army is trying to find its way in a post-cold war world that makes its current structure unsuitable for the small nasty wars and operations other than war that will make up the coming years in the 21st Century. This breaks many "rice bowls". A lighter, more deployable force is not easy to develop and the Army has got it wrong before. In the 1980's they tried to create a light Div at Ft Ord and more or less failed.

As a Marine Officer I serve in a "light" organization that is deployable and yet able to fight and win on the ground-not an easy mix. I think the Army will find very hard to find the correct balance.

M Jackson
Olympia, WA


I agree that the military needs to be revised. I am not sure if I agree totally with the general on the LAV's replacing the tracks. I still think the weakness with our bases is that they are each specialized into their own units. Why not make each base a fighting unit capable of deploying as a whole. They would train together, deploy together and would represent a complete force, even though smaller than a complete heavy force. Several bases who deploy make for a larger more complete heavy force that in reality can deter incursions with success, and also attack as a cohesive unit.

While I think LAV's have a place in the Army, total changeover is a failed policy. Make a total force: tanks, LAV's, Apaches, Artillery, Infantry, Air transport etc. Right now we lack air transport capability to move our forces quickly and effectively.

I believe Colonel Hackworth said it in a book quite some time ago about the future of war-small engagements with high political consequences. Are soldiers policemen? NO, they are the fist of foreign policy used supposed to be to force the opposition into compliance.

Back to the subject at hand tho, I challenge the General Chief of staff to an engagement. I can win. Maybe my forces will take a beating-maybe they won't. Learning to fight the old wars is great but to stagnate on that policy is failed policy.

I believe the first comment on this page by the former commander is right on, burning tires and vehicles stop an LAV--time to upgrade our force into a team with more strengths and fewer weaknesses-Tanks, Apaches, Air support, Infantry, Artillery etc ALL IN ONE.

Montana Jack
Foreston, MN


As a Desert Storm veteran who waited for the heavy forces to arrive, I applaud Gen. Shinseki's efforts to make heavy forces more mobile, but they need to be survivable or you may just as well send light forces.

The true spending needs to be on airlift and fast sealift to move the heavy forces into theater to fight and win regardless of the makeup of the opponent. Task Force Hawk could have been in the Kosovo theater much more quickly, but due to interservice rivalry noone asked if the Marines could seruce the area while the Navy built an airfield. or at least the services haven't blessed us with that little detail I have no doubt that the Marines could have secured an area for an advanced base the Seabees built and the Army used.
We have no idea how the political makeup of the world will look in 15 years- Japan sided with the British, French and Americans in the First World War. And politics is what it is all about- per von Clausewitz- war is an extension of politics by other means.

If Shinseki's forces are survivable in high intensity conflict, then by all means we should spend our tax dollars on them. For the critics of the two conflict scenario, we have two coastlines, we had better be prepared for enemies around the world who will take advantage of the existence of "he who is the enemy of our enemy is our friend". Better our hard earned money than the blood of our citizens.

charles fredrickson


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