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Odierno: Land power still vital

Oct. 28, 2013 - 03:21PM   |  
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Army Chief of Staff Gen. Ray Odierno has long advocated the importance of land power in the national strategy. Now he is going on the offensive as this element has been minimized, even ignored by recent studies and budget drills.

“Arguments are being made for budget reasons, not national security reasons,” Odierno said. But war is about human nature, the “undeniable nature of terrain” and the fact that an enemy’s will is tied to the ground.

“I don’t worry about budgets. I worry about discussions that land power is obsolete,” Odierno said. “That is a naïve and dangerous thought.”

The future of strategic warfare is a convergence of land power, human domain in complex environments, and the cyber domain that will require a joint approach, he said.

“We can’t solve all problems through technology,” Odierno said. “Technology is a clean way to conduct war, so I can understand why people like this. … But technology alone will not solve the problems. It won’t cause enemy to capitulate.”

Success, Odierno said, requires personal interaction.

Gen. John Paxton, assistant commandant of the Marine Corps, agreed.

“Virtual presence is actual absence,” he said. “You have to have someone there.”

This is increasingly important as 75 percent of the world’s population will live in cities by 2050 — half in littoral areas. And roughly one-third of that population will live in slum conditions, said Kathleen Hicks, director of the International Security Program, Center for Strategic and International Studies.

A growth of Asian militaries can be expected, while the rest of the world falls into military decline, Hicks said. The goal is to make China’s rise stable and positive.

The Arab awakening will continue to shake out and weapons proliferation will pose new risks. Hicks said an increase in coalition building around specific problems will be likely, which makes the survival of existing alliances such as NATO a considerable concern as it will affect how the U.S. uses force in the future.

Speed and multiplicity will be key as asymmetric warfare becomes the norm. Twenty-eight nations now have weapons-grade plutonium. Troops could have to deal with the proliferation of proxies, collapse of governments and humanitarian disasters beyond the scope of anything seen to date.

Expeditionary maneuver is also among priorities as soldiers will increasingly need to get somewhere quickly despite anti-access and area-denial efforts. Hicks said she expects intolerance for land forces for the next 10 years, which adds to the dilemma, but said any number of factors could change that attitude. Regardless, don’t expect intermediate staging bases to be built up over time.

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