America’s military needs reform, but few can say why

by Fabius Maximus 

Summary: Everybody talks about military reform. Few talk about what benefits it will bring to America. If military reform is the answer, perhaps we are asking the wrong question.


“{DoD is} ready for wars past and future, but not present. The current military, an advanced version of the WWII force, is ready should the Imperial Japanese Navy return. It also has phenomenally advanced weaponry in the pipeline to take on a space-age enemy, perhaps from Mars, should one appear. It is only the present for which the US is not prepared.”

— From “A True Son of Tzu” by Fred Reed.

Military reform is in the air. There have been a score of articles published here this year plus countless articles in the major military journals and websites. They are all quite exciting. Few explain why we should bother implementing their proposals, or what benefit we will get from them. Let’s reverse the process. What are the problems for which military reform is the solution?

We need victory in our wars.

Which are the kind of wars waged in foreign lands against insurgents, the major form of war since after the Korean War. With a few exceptions (mostly where the insurgents are not very foreign), foreign armies lose. Just as we lost in Iraq (kicked out of Iraq with no gains). Just as we are losing in Afghanistan. Just as we probably are losing in the wars we intend to join in Africa – Africom is DoD’s future growth. (See this for details about why we lose.)

Will the proposed military reform help us win? Not only do few military reformers claim that their ideas will help us win, few even admit that we are losing. The excuses are many, varied, and often delusional. Problem recognition is the first and usually the most difficult step – and America has not taken it in the Long War.

Perhaps we should ask why we lose before crafting methods to help us win. Perhaps we should ask if copying some of the methods used to defeat us might help us win? Perhaps we are asking ourselves the wrong questions, and so cannot find useful answers.

We need victory in wars with peer nations.

Will these reforms help us defeat the Russians if they stream through the Fulda Gap, across the Rhine River, and into Western Europe? How nice. But the EU has greater military power than Russia by most metrics. NATO’s military power dwarfs Russia’s. How much difference can military reform make?

Perhaps we need help to defeat China in a land war. How nice. But what are the odds of America fighting a land war with China? How high a priority should these preparations be?

Other benefits of military reform!

There are other possible gains from military reform. Perhaps improved recruitment and retention, or improvements to other military functions.

The bottom line.

Most of the proposed reforms to the US military are wonderful. But our troops already carry a heavy load of training. Many officers complain that training in basic military skills – at both the individual and unit levels – is shortchanged in the long list of other training needs. Most military reform proposals require extensive retraining of officers and non-commissioned officers. How much will it help to add more to the list of training objectives?

Most military reforms lack a larger context: what they can accomplish vs. their costs vs. the military’s likely missions in the next generation or so. Perhaps that is why so few are implemented. In the past, amateurs talked about tactics and professionals talked about logistics. Perhaps now they say that amateurs talk about reforms and professionals talk about priorities.

Another perspective.

The Prussians built a better military. They used it with increasing boldness in the Franco-Prussian War, in WWI, and in WWII. If America built a better military, might we become even more aggressive in its use?





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