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Drawing disastrous lessons from our last wars.

Recently, a friend still on active duty shared an urgent concern about our ground forces. This officer is fighting the good fight to increase our tactical capabilities to operate a headquarters (HQ) on the move.

An influential retired general had just told him that we would never have to “jump” a command post (CP) again – one of the nuttiest claims since 19th-century supply officers blustered that repeating rifles would only waste ammunition.

That general’s blindness to war’s insistent variety stems from recent experience: Once we reached Baghdad in 2003, we settled into “permanent” CPs that often didn’t move for years (except to expand). There was no significant ground threat – and no air threat, whatsoever – to our sprawling complexes. As a result, division HQs developed facilities more lavish than the Army’s chief of staff had in the Pentagon a few years earlier.

We got fat. And lazy. And ridiculously overconfident. Now some senior officers want to model tomorrow’s forces for our last wars, despite it being a military maxim not to. They insist, as Europeans did on the eve of World War I, that a big war is inconceivable.

I’ve been through this only-one-kind-of-war nonsense before. In 1994, on active duty, I published an article, “The New Warrior Class,” warning that our most-frequent enemies in the coming decades would be irregulars, terrorists, religious fanatics, pirates, etc. The institutional response was that I needed R&R. Well, guess who we’ve found ourselves frustrated by since then? I then published articles warning that we had to prepare for urban warfare. And an Army general told me that “the U.S. Army would never be stupid enough to fight in a city.” Welcome to Baghdad. And Kandahar.

Now I’m concerned that we’ve gone too far the other way, turning ourselves into a hi-tech version of the British Army pre-World War I, which had mastered the art of bashing Fuzzie-Wuzzies in frontier dustups, but was woefully unprepared for general war. What if we had to deploy to Iran, to say nothing of fighting China (and spare me the “No ground wars in Asia” platitude)? Or to any other country where today’s generals insist we’ll “never be stupid enough to fight”? (News flash: In democracies, generals don’t get to pick their wars.) It doesn’t take more than common sense to recognize that the proliferation of satellite feeds, drones, intercept gear and long-range weapons means that the days of the static HQ are over. In future combat operations, we may not only have to jump CPs, but may have to operate constantly on the move to remain survivable. Not every enemy will be as primitive and patient as the Taliban. Our military always has to hedge its bets.

The first “real war” unpreparedness alarm sounded when we slashed artillery assets – the best killing tool our Army had. This wasn’t just budget cutting, but political correctness, too: We weren’t going to dump high explosives on targets anymore, but would rely on “clean” strikes with precision-guided munitions (courtesy of limited Air Force assets that won’t be available in a serious war). Well, the assumption that we can always operate from vast, static HQs is dumber than lining up our bombers wingtip to wingtip in the Philippines after Pearl Harbor.

Assuming we won’t fight big wars only guarantees we’ll be unprepared when one blindsides us. (And don’t assume a big war will be short, either.) In this century’s hyper-velocity, high-intensity conflicts, mobility will be essential for survivability. From corps down, all HQs will have to be able to function “in the saddle” (we need to break free of our contractors-everywhere, sit-on-our-butts mentality and return to a Cavalry mindset). And we’d better develop post-modern camouflage and counter-recon means, too. Budget cuts are going to make us leaner – we need to make sure they also leave us meaner.

 Watch: Will our Army’s leaders continue to pretend we’ll only fight ragamuffins from now on?

 Crisis Watch Bottom Line: A static command post will be a dead command post.


 Ralph Peters is a longtime member of the “Armchair General” team. A retired Army officer and journalist, he is the author of the recent bestseller “Cain at Gettysburg” as well as the author of “Hell or Richmond” (May, 2013), a new novel of the Civil War battles between The Wilderness and Cold Harbor.

Originally published in the January 2013 issue of Armchair General.