A look at our military threats – and at our greatest foe

Summary: Doug Macgregor (Colonel, US Army, retired) gives a terrifying description of America’s geopolitical situation, looking at our greatest threat. You will find that reading it is three minutes well spent, helping you to see our world more clearly.

Strategy as chess

The US military has the closest thing on Earth to all the money in the world. As it has in the past, it routes this incredible cash flow into construction (often building dysfunctional products, like the F-35) — while operational readiness crashes. The Air Forces’ planes too often don’t provide enough oxygen to the pilot (e.g., here, here, and here). Then there is the rash of Navy vessels colliding with commercial ships. One incident illustrates the overall problem.

Fitzgerald Collision Hearing Brings Ship’s Radar Problems into Focus.”
by Dianna Cahn at Stars and Stripes.

“Defense attorneys {said that} the officers were strong performers whose equipment didn’t work properly. The radar and the Automatic Identification System they were working with were in a “degraded” state, so many of the ships around the Fitzgerald did not appear. The officers were unaware of the other ship’s approach. The problems were systemic, the defense argued, with operational tasking so intense that the ship had no time to train or do repairs and with sailors who were exhausted from working 20-hour days.”

While DoD sluices uncounted billions directly into the pockets of defense contractors, the operational readiness of our military decays and America’s strategic position deteriorates. For an excellent, if scary, briefing of the result, see this presentation by Doug Macgregor (Colonel US Army, retired) – posted with his generous permission. He looks at the key regions and the risks in each – the new battlefield created by technology – examples of how militaries have successfully and unsuccessfully adapted to change – and what the US must do to adapt to this new world.

 

He opens with the key slide. How many of these historic problems today? Failure to Learn is a weakness that no amount of economic or military power can offset. Macgregor’s conclusions point to more specific challenges, also existing in our minds. America has vast wealth and almost unimaginable power. Using it effectively requires that we see, organize, and act at a higher level than we have in the past decade. We can do so, if we try.

Historical weakness of US military strategy

 

Douglas Macgregor

About Douglas Macgregor

Douglas Macgregor retired as a Colonel in 2004 after a distinguished career with notable successes as a squadron operations officer in the Battle of 73 Easting during the Gulf War and as a planner and leader of other operations. He was a strong advocate for reform of the US Army, which froze his career. Events in Iraq and Afghanistan have proven the need for fundamental change. See his Wikipedia entry for details.

He is vice president of Burke-Macgregor, a consulting firm based in Reston, Virginia; he occasionally appears as a guest commentator on television and radio. He has a Ph.D. in international relation from the University of Virginia.

He has written four cutting edge books about military affairs: Breaking the Phalanx: A New Design for Landpower in the 21st Century (1997), Transformation Under Fire: Revolutionizing How America Fights (2003), Warrior’s Rage: The Great Tank Battle of 73 Easting (2009), and Margin of Victory: Five Battles that Changed the Face of Modern War (2016).

See these posts about his work…

  1. Important reading for every American who wishes to understand our foreign wars.
  2. Important new articles about reforming our military, a key to balancing the Federal budget.
  3. What does the future hold for the US Army – and America?
  4. Doug Macgregor explains how our military reached its current state, so only desperate reform can save us.

For More Information

If you liked this post, like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter. See all posts about our long war, and especially these…

  1. Why does the US field the best soldiers but lose so often?
  2. Why the US military keeps losing wars.
  3. Officers can reform our military and make America stronger!
Margin of Victory
Available at Amazon.

See Macgregor’s latest book

Margin of Victory: Five Battles that Changed the Face of Modern War.

See my post about it. Also see the publisher’s description…

“In Margin of Victory Douglas Macgregor tells the riveting stories of five military battles of the twentieth century, each one a turning point in history. Beginning with the British Expeditionary force holding the line at the Battle of Mons in 1914 and concluding with the Battle of Easting in 1991 during Desert Storm, Margin of Victory teases out a connection between these battles and teaches its readers an important lesson about how future battles can be won.

“Emphasizing military strategy, force design, and modernization, Macgregor links each of these seemingly isolated battles thematically. At the core of his analysis, the author reminds the reader that to be successful, military action must always be congruent with national culture, geography, and scientific-industrial capacity. He theorizes that strategy and geopolitics are ultimately more influential than ideology. Macgregor stresses that if nation-states want to be successful, they must accept the need for and the inevitability of change.

The five warfighting dramas in this book, rendered in vivid detail by lively prose, offer many lessons on the tactical, operational, and strategic levels of war.”

26 thoughts on “A look at our military threats – and at our greatest foe

  1. FM —

    While it is focused only on the Air Force, you might find this recent article on the general officer promotion pipeline interesting: “A Call for Senior Officer Reform in the Air Force: An Insider’s Perspective” by an anonymous USAF officer at War on the Rocks.

    I thought of it because of your comment about how Macgregor’s career was “frozen” in retaliation for his reform advocacy. The WotR article paints a pretty damning portrait of how Air Force career pathways work; if the same holds for the other services, getting “stuck” at colonel for no good reason is a common phenomenon.

    Even though the military remains (the only) highly respected, like every component of our government it’s depressing to dig into its level of competence too deeply.

    1. sflicht,

      It’s a nicely written article! It is article ten million on this subject. His solution is, as usual with these articles, delusional. It is American thinking! The author sees his role as to describe the problem. Others, either USAF leaders (or in other versions, a Winged Jesus civilian leader) will fix it.

      For a more useful analysis, see Officers can reform our military and make America stronger! It also links to ten articles about our military leadership that give more incisive analysis of our military’s leadership problem.

  2. After reading books and articles by Professor Man Van Creveld, William Lind, Col. David Hackworth, Col John Boyd, and others regarding the US military and the policies, it is hard to find a realistic solution to reform them.

    You can’t purge the leadership and enlisted, literally or otherwise, because of Congress not desiring reform for political reasons.

    Reform within is strangled because of the leadership enjoying living high on the hog without caring about the US enough to sacrifice their perks for the good of everyone in the military.

    You do not want to wish defeat on your own army because then you would be wishing for people that are innocent serving their country to die, excluding religious arguments. Also, the US is surrounded by bodies of water so it makes it hard for an invasion force to come knocking on our door.

    The continued influx of women and transgender people enlisting does not help since it lowers quality and training standards to accommodate them.

    I am not going woe is me or stating that the problems can not be fixed yet I can not think of a realistic and plausible solution or even a short-term goal that could be achieved.

    It is a bit… frustrating.

    1. Der Maiden,

      “You can’t purge the leadership and enlisted, literally or otherwise, because of Congress not desiring reform for political reasons.”

      I do not believe that is correct. The few reforms that have taken place have come from Congress, such as Goldwater-Nichols. But Congress is unlikely to commit the political capital for a contentious long-term project like deep military reform.

      “it is hard to find a realistic solution to reform them.”

      Sad but true. But when enough officers want reform, they will find a way to make it happen. The State Department shows the more likely scenario: slow decay, with the government adopting work-arounds for the dysfunctional organization.

  3. Larry,

    Thank you for that correction regarding Goldwater-Nichols. I tend to overlook it because here we are now.

    “Sad but true. But when enough officers want reform, they will find a way to make it happen. The State Department shows the more likely scenario: slow decay, with the government adopting work-arounds for the dysfunctional organization.”

    That would be interesting, especially with how the federal government would deal with the National Guard.

    If I was president, I would form a military reform council consisting of Professor Van Creveld, William Lind, Chet Richards, Chuck Spinney and yourself to update the studies, kick ass, take names to kick the asses that you couldn’t kick right away, maul defense contractors, and so much more.

    Turn the Pentagon into a jobs program where generals and other military personnel can churn paperwork while wearing colorful uniform without them leaving their office. Same with the paperwork as well.

    1. Der Maiden,

      “If I was president”

      There are good reasons that you would not do that. Since 9/11 presidents are fighting wars. They need the support of the senior generals, who have the ability to undermine the president’s support in Washington and with the public.

      Also, the military is the most respected institution in America by far. Fighting them would require a massive commitment of political capital. Since visible rewards would take years to appear, the benefits would go to a future administration — while you would pay the costs. Which might be high, as the military’s effectiveness might decrease during the internal strife of the reform years.

      Worse, you probably did not make military reform a major plank in your campaign (it w/b divisive and perhaps unpopular). So committing resources to it would decrease your ability to deliver on your promises – and ability to respond to immediate and urgent issues.

  4. Larry,

    Easy. I’ll marry a politician, get my name out there to the proles, ignore the cheating and infidelities of my husband, getting my name out there advancing neoliberalism and how America is the greatest country on earth, secure a power base, run for Congress with several rotten boroughs under the sway of my political allies, get elected, pass a few meaningless bills while serving with distinction, and then running for President.

    (Butchering this https://youtu.be/jfbrzH92GbA?t=16m26s )

    Of course I know there are a lot of good reasons but sometimes it is nice to daydream a little bit because the overwhelming reality can be crushingly depressing.

    1. Der Maiden,

      Remember, Hillary lost.

      “sometimes it is nice to daydream a little bit because the overwhelming reality can be crushingly depressing.”

      That’s why I enjoy reading inspirational fiction. It provides experimental models of how to win – and is enjoyable to win. Which is why I find modern comic so depressing. They no longer do so, as many posts here describe. Still, we have older fiction that can be re-read and re-watched.

    1. Ed,

      Thanks for the pointer to Murray’s book!

      Here is a pdf of his 308 page paper of the same title, published in 2009 for the Institute of Defense Analysis. Here is a favorable review in the Marine Corps Gazette.

      While interesting, I’ve grown skeptical about the utility of these works. The roots of innovation – and, more broadly, military performance — lie, imo, in the people. How they are recruited, trained, motivated, and promoted. As Boyd said — People, then, ideas, then things. As the adage says, people are policy.

      These books are about ideas and things. Donald Vandergriff and others like him are focusing on the more important issues about people. That’s where the sources of reform will be found, eventually.

      Hence my posts about this, three of which are in the For More Info section.

    2. FM —

      I haven’t read that 308 page paper yet, but I was interested to note that it was prepared for “Yoda’s” Office of Net Assessment. I became fascinated by Andrew Marshall and his department at DoD after reading some FOIA’d documents (search on that page for “Litigation Release”) produced by/for the ONA. They seem to have been quite prescient!

      Later I discovered that the “net assessment” approach fell into political disfavor at the Pentagon, although the ONA seems to still exist under a new director after Marshall retired. I wish there were more declassified Net Assessments available to read, so if you know of others I’d be curious to hear of them.

    3. I agree and understand but with a caveat. No matter the people aspects needing change, the technical piece will remain and indeed continue to move ever onward. As Wilf Owen noted in the debate on Don’s MC FB page on the F-35, the Israelis have determined /accepted that there can’t ever be a cheap fighter anymore, nor can it be other than multi-role. That for me is absolutely point on and independent of the “people” issue. But that said, people can make it better or worse but not change the nature of the problem set driven by threat technology as it evolves.

      F-35 is a perfect indicator. Most commentors can’t separate out and in some cases are unwilling to separate the missions and technology from their limited/historical view of how air war once was or from the programmatic mis-steps over time. Much written by the media, etc is just muddled up and shows continued lack of understanding of in particular CAS and air superiority.

      People and technology overlap but folks are badly mistaken if they think if we had all these good leaders and mission command, the tech would just be cheap and immediately available. IMHO ;)

    4. Ed,

      I agree, and think you have misunderstood what I said. It’s not that people can win wars without good ideas (eg, tactics, strategy) or good equipment. That’s a nutty idea, and I doubt anyone with any familarity with these issues says so.

      Rather, without reforms that give us good people we are not going to get good ideas and good equipment. That’s the point of Boyd’s “People first, then ideas, then things!”

      You mention the F-35, which is a great example. It’s a sluice for money to the defense contractors. Nobody knows when it will be fully operational, or if the eventually final cost (capital, operations, and retro-fitting) will be a rational exchange for its capabilities.

      Ditto for the Navy, which appears to be having early indications of an operational crisis due to underfunding while they funnel insane sums into vessels of questionable utility and mind-blowing cost (eg. the Littoral combat ship).

  5. Larry,

    Remember, Hillary lost twice!

    “inspirational fiction.”

    Like the Screwtape Letters and Chicken Soup Good for the Soul? I read those book but I never heard of that genre before. My tastes run the gauntlet from history, Yes Minister, sci-fi from Dune to Hammer’s Slammers, some Orthodox and Catholic tracts, and Judge Dredd.

    I think I am more of a gal that reads fiction and history to get inspired, especially with Clio & Me. I read that several months ago and I was struck how that book not only tied in to Professor Van Creveld’s other books but also different authors and how life is these days.

    But inspirational fiction sounds foreign to me, even when looking it up on the wiki. I read fiction to have a good laugh or to cringe over satire. If I want to inspire myself, I read about a book of history to remind me that I only have so much time in my life so I should make the most of it.

    My opinion regarding inspirational fiction, of course.

    1. Der Maiden,

      Everybody finds inspiration in their own way. Even in myth and literature, the experience of inspiration is wholly subjective. That being said, here’s my view about this.

      I’d rather be flogged than read what Wikipedia describes as “inspirational fiction.” A few, such as Screwtape Letters, I find interesting. But by “inspirational” I don’t mean the mindless “feel good while sitting on my butt” imparted by those books. By inspiration” I mean “inspiring people to act.

      The Gold and Silver age comics did that well, esp the latter. These are people who could have taken the safe and prosperous path, but instead took the hard and dangerous path of serving humanity.

      Fictional organizations inspired people to believe that we can work together to make a better world — UNCLE (in the TV show) provide law and order, Heinlein’s Space Patrol kept the peace, EE Smith’s Triplanetary fought evil aliens, and Star Trek’s Federation brought civilization to the stars. Here are some posts about this.

      1. The problem with America lies in our choice of heroes.
      2. Are our film heroes leading us to the future, or signaling despair?
      3. We like superheroes because we’re weak. Let’s use other myths to become strong.
  6. I had to laugh at the “degraded” radars. The only defect was that the radar operators had the brightness turned down too much. I’ve stood bridge watch so I know firsthand.

    1. Joel,

      “The only defect was that the radar operators had the brightness turned down too much.”

      What is the basis for that statement?

  7. He’s talking about how you can turn up the brightness and contrast on your radar plan position indicator (PPI) – the visible representation of your radar returns. Turning down the brightness too much makes it hard to see anything. Turning down the contrast makes it hard to distinguish clutter from signal. Actually, I don’t even remember if there was a contrast knob. So, if you turn down the brightness too much, you won’t see the targets. He’s mocking the fact that the OOD or conning officer had done this then filled out a report that they were using a degraded radar or using a working radar under degrade conditions.

    1. PRCD,

      “He’s mocking the fact that the OOD or conning officer had done this then filled out a report that they were using a degraded radar or using a working radar under degrade conditions.”

      You are describing what’s known as “making stuff up.” Aka ignorant slander, unless you or Joel have actual evidence.

  8. Larry,
    You’re right. I figured he had some inside information or had read a report that MacGregor mis-interpreted. My apologies.

    One of the investigating admirals said the reason they didn’t see so many nearby ships is because the surface search radar was “set to the wrong pulse” and was therefore producing a ton more clutter on the scope. I don’t know if this is something a shipboard technician can fix or what. The admiral said that no one tried to fix it. Aside from the OOD, everyone appears to be finger-pointing. Interestingly, the OOD and TAO on watch were both women. The conning officer was a young man. The XO was a woman. I wonder about the genders of the watch standers on the other ships that have collided recently. Of course, commercial vessels manage to get from A to B safely with far fewer watch standers.

    I liked Bill Lind’s suggestion which is to just keep the ships in port. https://www.traditionalright.com/the-view-from-olympus-on-the-nature-of-fleets/

    Furthermore, women should not be allowed to vote (Can someone translate this into latin for me?)

    1. PRCD,

      That there are too many collisions by US Navy ships recently. IMO that rules out individual errors. There is some systemic cause(s). Training, staffing levels, equipment adequacy or maintenance, etc.

      Senior military officials, like the US govt officials in general, automatically lie to protect themselves and their institutions. See quite a few examples here. So I recommend waiting for hard evidence rather than the usual self-serving statements.

    1. PRCD,

      Nothing in the spam filter or the Trash bin. Did you post a comment? I’ve seen comments go into both due to system gremlins – but none that disappeared!

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