There’s a saying that the best weapon against a sniper is another sniper. If, as top military officials from Defense Secretary Robert Gates on down, say future enemies will be of the hybrid type, and Lebanese Hezbollah is repeatedly held up as the hybrid enemy archetype, does that mean the best way to counter Hezbollah is to fight like Hezbollah?
That’s exactly what some leading thinkers in the military establishment believe. A hybrid enemy comes equipped with modern, high-end, precision guided weapons, yet fights guerrilla fashion in distributed networks of small units and cells. Also in the hybrid enemy’s quiver are very lethal, lower tech weapons. As Australian Army chief Lt. Gen. Peter Leahy said recently, the AK-47 and its distinctive banana clip have been replaced as the symbol of the insurgent fighter with the RPG and the sophisticated IED. The hybrid fighter can hit hard, most often selects urban or complex terrain as the battlefield and seeks out close combat.
So how best to counter that enemy in terms of the training and organizing the U.S. military? I put that question recently to Dakota Wood, a senior fellow at the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments. Wood envisions future ground forces fighting in a decentralized, or disaggregated, manner, able to swarm an opponent in “hunter-killer team versus hunter-killer team” fashion. That would require highly trained, well equipped, small teams, operating with good intelligence on the environment and the enemy, he said.
He envisions a continuation of the trend, evident since the beginning of the Iraq war, of general purpose forces becoming more “special operations forces like” in their training, make-up and even equipping. War zone bound units may still be organized in traditional terms at their home stations, but once they arrive in Iraq or Afghanistan they are “task organized” into smaller, mission-specific elements. During the Cold War, the land forces were viewed in terms of division sized blocks. Now, they have dropped down a level to brigade and regiment. Wood believes they must go an echelon further down, to battalion and even company level.
It appears some in Israel’s military establishment agree with Wood’s prescription. Via Andrew Exum, the Jerusalem Post reported on an article that appeared in Ma’arahot, an Israeli military journal, written by an Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) officer, warning that the IDF’s current structure could not prevent a re-armed Hezbollah from infiltrating thousands of fighters deep inside Israeli territory. The author said, in a future war, Hezbollah would send hundreds of small teams of 4-5 fighters armed with anti-tank missiles and sniper rifles into Israel. The author’s recommendation: the IDF establish small, elite, reconnaissance squads to counter Hezbollah swarms.
Also of interest, the article’s author had two dozen IDF officers rate the comparative performance of Hezbollah versus the IDF in the 2006 Lebanon War. The officers ranked Hezbollah higher in motivation, doctrine and strategy, training, gathering intelligence and small unit leadership. Its amazing Hezbollah didn’t do more damage to the IDF than it did; no wonder a leading IDF general called the war a “wake up call.”
As we’ve written here before, Marine Gen. James Mattis, who heads up Joint Forces Command, has been pushing hard on the small unit concept. He’s called for radically reorganizing the Army and Marines into smaller, “high performing” units, along the special forces model. JFCOM is working with Special Operations command to infuse lessons learned from small commando teams in Iraq and Afghanistan into regular units.
Mattis said planners must think through the implications of when troops get out of their vehicle, rather than focusing on the platforms, which is where so much defense thinking resides. The need to provide “dismounted” troops better intelligence, firepower, connectivity, protection, all of the capability sets typically designed into weapons platforms. Mattis is talking about super-empowered infantry, extremely adept at working the human terrain as well as combined arms battles. Training must focus on preparing troops to fight effectively as small infantry teams rather than as crewmen of a vehicle or other weapons system.
The Marines are also examining how far down the echelon chain it’s possible to go for the basic maneuver element. A document released earlier this year, called Evolving the MAGTF for the 21st Century, looks at the rifle company as the basic maneuver unit across a range of different missions. It looks at what would be needed to increase the self sustainability of a company sized element in terms of mobility, how many aerial drones would directly be attached, what does the weapons platoon look like?
CSBA’s Woods, a former Marine, said important leadership implications would arise: now a company is commanded by a young captain; would a self sufficient company need a major in command because of the breadth of control and experience? Also, it can actually be more costly to use smaller units as the basic maneuver element, he said, because with larger units it’s possible to concentrate things like trucks, supply and supporting elements such as engineers and medical teams.