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Ret. Gen: Ground units don't get priority deserved

A retired Army general spent an hour at a Brookings Institute discussion on warfare yesterday basically asking: WTF?

Four percent of the force does 80 percent of the dying in the current wars and yet the needs of ground warfare - specifically that of small units - doesn't get priority in the DoD machine, Maj. Gen. Robert Scales, former commandant of the Army War College, lamented.

And it's been nine years.

Scales gave an impassioned talk about how there's too much focus on strategic initiative and not enough on tactical dominance on the battlefield - the "dirty," "horrific" and "bloody" close-combat that no one wants to talk about but is the fight were in.

"The American military hasn't come as far as it should," he said about ground warfare. "It doesn't dominate in the tactical fight."

More of the training and research and development budget should go to small ground units, he said. Not to the next big whiz-bang toy that will take a decade at least to develop.

"There's nothing that demands you have to pay a price in blood," he said, knocking the notion that ground warfare is inherently more dangerous than other kinds. "That's baloney."

(To wit: In WWII, infantry was only the third most dangerous job in the military, he said. The first was submarine crews and the second bomber crews).

Rather than focusing on preserving the lives of those most likely to die, Washington has a mania for "big ticket items" like fighter jets and a "wonderful preoccupation with picking a fight with China," he said.

He called out DARPA, DoD's research arm, and the rest of the defense scientific community for ignoring the needs of infantry platoons and squads. Take the M2 .50 caliber machine gun, he said. "The Army's principle weapon in Afghanistan is 90 years old," he said. "And we haven't had a better idea since." 

One potential miss of his talk: He didn't put Defense Secretary Robert Gates on his list of those "who get it." Scales only gave Gates credit for "empathy." Seems off base given Gates has spent the last few years crusading against big ticket items and emphasizing the Pentagon's number one priority should be supporting the warfighter on the ground in today's wars - not preparing for those hypothetical ones of the future.

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