The American way of war has been to advance frontally by air, sea and ground, challenging the enemy to fight a decisive battle. In 2003, the U.S. military rolled swiftly from Kuwait to Baghdad. Yet three years later-the time it took to defeat the combined armies of Hitler, Mussolini and Tojo-enfeebled Iraq is still being undermined by a vicious insurgency. Why? Our enemies have learned to refuse decisive battle and hide in urban populations. As a result, many soldiers and Marines are going back to Iraq for a third tour. In the next war, ground forces will be stretched to the limit. The defense budget, therefore, needs to emphasize weapons and technology that provide “force multipliers” for our troops. It won’t be easy. The budget is prepared by committees representing the services and civilian agencies. The result: Big-ticket items prevail, championed by political power-lobbyists, corporate sponsors and subcontractors in all 50 states. What ground forces need most are not giant weapons systems, but small, relatively inexpensive items. Here is essential hardware that should be part of the Pentagon’s acquisition process.
AIR SUPPORT: The single greatest fix prior to the next war lies in empowering ground forces to employ precision air attack faster over a dispersed battlefield. We’ve got plenty of planes. But every ground unit moving independently should have the equipment and the training to call in air.
PERSONAL ARMOR: Twenty-five pounds of armor, on top of all the other gear a soldier carries, means that in a dismounted firefight the rifleman lugs at least 60 extra pounds. The Pentagon needs to place a higher priority on reducing the weight of body armor.
DETECTION THROUGH CONCRETE: In Fallujah in November 2004, there were hundreds of fights inside concrete houses because the Marines had no means of scanning before entry. Given the enormous increase in engagements in urban areas, this gap in surveillance must be closed.
A NEW HUMMER: The shape of this workhorse renders it vulnerable to ever-improving explosive devices, even when up-armored. A Pentagon task force is designing a successor to handle the critical task of moving troops and supplies at and near the front lines. The cost will be big-but nothing compared to the cost of developing, say, the F-22 Raptor. And a new Hummer will have a far greater impact in saving the lives of American troops.