Conventional Ops vs. Counterinsurgency

Today, the New York Times published a piece by Army Capt. Tim Hsia on its At War blog (http://atwar.blogs.nytimes.com/2009/11/16/chinas-growing-military-might/).  Capt. Hsia notes that the Army has shifted its training focus from conventional operations to counterinsurgency since the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq began, and he wonders if the military will  reorient itself towards preparing for conventional wars after the current conflicts end.  He specifically mentions China as a potential threat for which the Army and the rest of the Armed Forces might need to prepare.

While it is true that ground troops are now being trained to deal with conditions in Iraq and Afghanistan and “counterinsurgency” is the hot topic among many strategists and analysts, it is misleading to suggest that the military is myopically focused on fighting so-called “small wars.”  The Navy and Air Force are naturally still geared for conventional warfare, and a large contingent of Army officers continue to argue that the US should be preparing for conventional fights similar to Gulf War One (fighting “small wars” has long been a task that the Marines have engaged in, and they will undoubtedly continue to prepare for them after the missions in Iraq and Afghanistan are over).

In terms of defense spending, conventional weapons platforms still take up the vast majority of non-personnel funds.  Capt. Hsia cites Predator drones as an example of counterinsurgency weapons siphoning money from other projects, but the Predator is actually the first generation of unmanned planes that the Air Force and Navy will use for both conventional and special warfare.  In a few decades, most bombers and strike fighters used in traditional battles will probably be pilotless. 

If history is any guide, conventional warfare will have primacy in Army doctrine after the current “small wars” end, and counterinsurgency will be a secondary consideration.  As China’s military power continues grow, the US military will seek to counter it, although it is highly unlikely that the Army would ever engage in ground combat with the People’s Liberation Army in the foreseeable future; the Navy and Air Force would almost certainly be the only participants in a future conflict over Taiwan or another point of contention between the US and China.

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