05 December 2009

Update: COIN Curriculum

I've gotten a few responses to a recent post in which I discussed Maj. Neil Smith's recent SWJ article regarding counterinsurgency instruction in professional military courses.

One thing I've learned is that counterinsurgency (COIN) instruction seems to vary from course to course. Some officer basic courses get very little actual COIN instruction, whereas others get quite a bit of it.

I should note that it seems that my peers in the infantry seem to be getting significantly more COIN instruction than my friends in the aviation community. While I certainly feel that aviators need to understand the counterinsurgency environment, let's face it, we aviators tend to be over-glorified FOBbits.

Rarely will aviators actually have a "chai meeting" with the Iraqi police, or a leader engagement with the Afghan National Army. Interactions with the civilian population only occur when the worst happens--an aircraft shoot-down. Well, either that or getting assigned to a MITT, one or the other.

Indeed, an aviator's "core competencies" are irrelevant to the type of conflicts we are in. No matter if you're in Somalia, Iraq, or the Fulda Gap, pulling up on the collective means that the helicopter goes up and that you have to press the left pedal. (Unless you're one of my fans that flies a Eurocopter, in which case you put in right pedal).

Nevertheless, aviators will never know what types of units they will be assigned to. I personally found myself working as a battalion operations officer in a ground battalion in Honduras, watching Army Aviation from the infantryman's perspective, and was forced to teach myself some rudimentary Spanish and conduct joint airborne operations with the Honduran military. It was grossly unlike anything I had ever experienced, having been an aviation platoon leader and assistant S-3 in the 82nd Airborne Division, and I learned a lot from the experience.

Many aviators have found themselves in similar predicaments as well. With the operational tempo we are experiencing in the 21st Century military, officers will often find themselves thrust into situations they may not have been initially trained for. Even fighter pilots have found themselves riding in HMMWVs through the Iraqi desert!

This is why the "pentathlete" model is so important. We need to school our officers to be prepared for a wide range of potential assignments. That means preparing them to understand the role of the Army in conventional conflict, counterinsurgency, nation-building and disaster relief. To not do so will only set ourselves up for failure.

(The reader will excuse any rambling or incoherences on my part. After all, I'm participating in my favorite Saturday night activity)


Reach 364 said...

We have the same dilemma with PME in the Air Force, only it's worse: the entire service's core competencies are geared for conventional war. There is no infantry branch to balance aviation. Worse, the COIN school is often viewed as the enemy, because it threatens the AF's very identity.

Why should the Air Force learn about COIN? I spent a lot time trying to answer that. I came to a few reasons.

First is what you said: as officers progress, their careers broaden and they find themselves in assignments that require understanding war at the operational and strategic level. If a guy spends his entire career flying F-15 CAP and training to fight a conventional air war with China, and never studies the small wars that constitute the majority of the US military's role, is he equipped to serve in a war planning office or as a Combatant Commander? I say no, definitely not.

Second, it's vital to learn the limitations of our core competencies. AF officers must learn not to oversell airpower. It's a powerful tool that has its place in our toolkit, but it can't do everything. Nonetheless, I've met too many AF officers who think airpower should be the answer to everything. This school thinks we would have won in Vietnam if we could have ratcheted up the bombing without restrictions. Another example is General Dunlap's proposal for fighting insurgencies with airpower. Even if aviation types don't fight small wars directly, they must understand what their role is (and what it isn't) in these wars.

Third, it's possible we can change our core competencies to better fit the needs of small wars. This is happening in the AF with the growth of UAVs and the acquisition of cheap, low-technology aircraft. I think the AF can play an enormous role in supporting small wars, but it takes a lot of imagination to see new ways of doing so... and that imagination must rest on a solid understanding of these wars. We'll never innovate if we're only sitting around waiting to fight massive conventional wars.

Paul said...

I’m curious. Did your time on the ground give you any insights that made you a better pilot?