Winning NFL teams excel at defense. Just look at leaders like Detroit, Denver, San Francisco, New England and San Diego. The best defenses don’t just keep the opposing offense from scoring, they create opportunities to score by causing fumbles and intercepting passes.
It’s been a long time since they U.S. Army has played defense in a serious way. All the way back to 1950 and the Pusan Perimeter. The Marines did it at Khe Sanh nearly 20 years later. You could argue that during the Cold War the Army was prepared — critics have long argued over-prepared — for major defensive operations along the inner German border. Even then, the Army sought ways of undertaking an offensive defense most notably with its AirLand Battle doctrine.
The Army today is still offensively oriented. Too much so, I would argue. In part, this reflects its assessment of the security environment and the belief that it will remain CONUS-based and expeditionary in character. As a result, it is focused on such challenges as deploying on hostile shores, maneuver warfare over complex terrain and operations in hostile urban environments.
The Army’s future may be much more about defending the places and peoples we care for than taking places and liberating people. This is as true for a conventional conflict as it is for major stability operations. The current conflict with the Islamic State (IS) has focused on the defense of Kobani and Baghdad and the protection of Yazhidis and Kurds. There may be a counteroffensive, but right now it’s a defensive game.
The Army learned a lot about urban operations in Iraq. It has given much thought to operations in hostile or simply chaotic mega cities. But what about defending cities from an advancing adversary? How does the Army plan to do that?
The Army has focused intensely on countering adversaries’ defenses. It continues to invest scarce resources in ways of countering mines and IEDs. But the Army doesn’t just need to defeat IEDs. It needs to be able to make and plant them too or at least be as adept as the Taliban and IS at creating ways of denying terrain to our adversaries.
There is relatively little room in the Asia-Pacific region for large-scale offensive ground operations, unless one assumes we must retake all the places we shouldn’t have lost in the first place. Defending places and peoples and projecting power from defended bastions should be the Army’s role in the Pacific theater. Think Korean DMZ and the First Island Chain. That is why in his recent speech at AUSA, Secretary of Defense Hagel made such a point of the need for the Army to focus on long-range precision strike and air and missile defenses. Hold those islands and China loses a future conflict.
The Army needs to focus on warfighting scenarios in which it plays defense more than offense. The Army’s mantra should be where our boots are planted no adversary’s shall tread.
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