The Asymmetrical Fantasy: Are Conventional Forces Obsolete?
I don't think there is a more widely believed proposition in the defense establishment and amongst laymen too, than that gearing our military for future asymmetrical warfare, and thus away from conventional armed forces...is the way of the future. I disagree strongly, and not just because I'm a tank guy.
In any discussion about military strategy or history with friends in the military, sooner or later they will say that "Byron, please...there are no frontlines anymore...no more clashes of big armies...but it's asymmetrical warfare...special operations and drones are the way of the future..."
I in no way discount the value of special operations. Bin Laden would not have been brought to his rivers of wine and virgins with an Armored division. But the idea that we need to dramatically reduce conventional capabilities in favor of them? Not convinced at all.
The conclusion drawn by many since the beginning of the War on Terror is that conventional forces are passe, confined to the dustbin of history and the 20th century. Special Operations are the wave of the future, as evidenced by their overthrowing the Taliban with such a minimal footprint. That's well and dandy if the US expects to fight tin-pot theocracies with Soviet-era technology for the rest of the century. But if the US military were to adapt itself specifically for counter-insurgency missions in the wake of 2001, would it have so easily routed Saddam's armored Republican Guard divisions in 2003? And how well would a post-conventional Army fare taking on a much bigger and better-prepared Iranian Revolutionary Guard in a head-to-head fight? China continues to expand its own naval presence in the Pacific even as America plans to reduce its fleet size to the smallest in a century.
I have heard murmurs of statistics in the news and military journals that the Armor branch of the Army envisions a future in which it has a 30/70 ratio of Heavy/Light forces, where as in 2003, the ratio was 70/30 in favor of Heavy Armor. (Abrams tanks) This is worrisome, and even though it would not likely mean a defeat in a major war, it would put the US military had a dangerous disadvantage.
I clearly have a bias and a plated-mail horse in the race, since the Armor branch is now my home. But I try to see things as objectively as I can. Our Navy and Air Forces are being neglected. We place way too much faith in extremely vulnerable assets like drones, and myopically expect wars of the future to be won by shadowy figures in the night with a light footprint, rather than the awesome and overwhelming air power and weight of steel.
The effects of adjusting the military to be counter-insurgency focused will not be felt in the short-term. It will not be until the next Big War, that we tragically realize yet again, that we made the mistake of trying to fight and win just like we did the last time.