Monday, March 27, 2023

"The Future of Warfare is Devastation"


That's the opinion of retired Colonel Douglas Macgregor in an hour-long presentation.  The video recording is embedded below, but unfortunately I haven't been able to find a transcript online.  I also don't know when or where his speech was delivered, except that it was in "Carlisle".  Can any reader enlighten us in Comments, please?

I took the time to listen to the whole video, and found it insightful and thought-provoking.  It embodies many realities of modern warfare, some of which I experienced at first hand, others of which have arisen since my time in uniform but have been extensively discussed elsewhere.  I think you'll find it worth your time and attention.

After hearing that, I think I'm going to investigate Col. Macgregor's books as well.



Stephen said...

Carlisle Barracks in Carlisle, PA is home of the Army War College among other things. Likely there.

1chota said...

Do you or any of your readers know anything about the Puma that he was touting?

Old NFO said...

Yep, Army War College Carlisle Barracks.

Hey Booms said...

This guy should run for president.

Peter said...

@1chota: It's a German AFV:

Pascal said...

What's your email. I'll send you a transcript.

PeterW. said...

“Long wars benefit no-one”…

I suspect that was spoken by someone who has never had to experience a defeat by a malevolent enemy.
Who the are we to tell another people what they value and how they assess the tradeoffs between the cost of keeping fighting and the cost of bowing your neck to slavery.

Pascal said...

These youtube self-generated transcripts are not bad. And a speed reader can breeze through it much faster than listening.

it is nice to be in Carlisle both of my parents graduated from Dickinson so it's kind of a trip down memory lane for me
whenever I come here let me spend time here as a child I also want to thank General Major General Martin for
having given me such a wonderful topic challenges to strategic leadership that
topic is so broad that if it were a tunnel you could drive 10 M1A1 tanks through it abreast

PeterW. said...

I’m hearing a mid-level officer, critiquing senior officers for their response to problems that he has never had to face…

I’m hearing him misrepresent the issues on a number of cases.
Commanders did NOT fail to recognise the increase in lethality . The fallacy is in imagining that recognising a problem means that the solution is automatically obvious.. There was no obvious solution in 1914/15/16 and 17….. and it was not until 1918 that the concept of Combined Arms was developed and applied with troops that were sufficiently skilled and experienced to make it work.

America is NOT unable to afford a capable military deterrence. You - and we - lack the political will to properly prioritise our national spending.

Those of us who lived through the Cold War - and I’m looking at you, Peter - know that maximum destruction is not inevitable. We had decades of MAD but not a single hostile use of nuclear weapons. At the same time, we were told that half the world was going to starve, or die of some plague. So when somebody tries to scare me with some booga-booga end-of-the-world scenario, we have more reason to be sceptical than to take it seriously.

Conflict is like a dance. No one thing is a guaranteed winner forever. It is a long series of responses and counter-responses. The good Colonel sounds like one more military theorist assuming that a given trend will go on forever, that no counters or defences will ever be effective…. Just like the air-power theorists in the 1930s who predicted that “the bombers will always get through”

PeterW. said...

The Colonel keeps contradicting himself. Even when he says something that I agree with, the number or errors and contradictions means that I can’t trust his analysis.

He says that America pays “too much” for its military capability at the same time that he argues that we should be employing our (speaking as an Ally) “best and brightest” in capacity design and production. Does he expect that to happen if we don’t PAY them any more than the Russians pay their people? How’s that working out in Ukraine?

He wants to cite Jackie Fisher’s reduction of the Royal Navy without mentioning how many ships the US Navy has dropped off its list in the last 30 years. He wants to cite Germany as the only emerging threat to the British Empire, when the fact is that the world was mostly full of Empires and would-be empires, all of which had the potential to build large naval forces. It is not just about keeping land-possessions, but keeping open trade routes that - as two World Wars emphasised - were absolutely critical to Britain’s survival and prosperity. That had been the case since Britain started trading overseas.
Land-borders may be your priority if you spent your career in a land-based army, but it’s frivolous to talk about the cost of military capacity without accounting for the economics that pay for it.

He wants to rule out Counter-Insurgency warfare without recognising that if you deny yourself the capacity to engage in a particular strategy, you give your enemy an incentive to engage in exactly that, because he knows that you will give up and surrender. Had we adopted his dogma in 1945, Nazi Germany and Imperial Jan would still exist on the grounds that occupation was too expensive and would never work. Because culture. Because insurgency.

Funnily enough, the Afghan Norther Alliance were exactly the kind of “Limited Liability Partners” that the Colonel argues that we should be supporting as allies.

Funnily enough, going into Iraq with a relatively small force seems to have been the error - supported by the politicians - that permitted the insurgency in Iraq to take off.

Funnily enough, his prediction that NATO is “imploding” looks ridiculous in the face of both applications to JOIN NATO, and the widespread majority support by the people of every NATO member in Europe, for the current handling of the war in Ukraine.

…… and then there is the war in Ukraine itself.
Russia has proved to be the threat, not the threatened.
Russia’s actions are leading to an INCREASE in their border with NATO, not a decrease.
While the expenditure of munitions and the bombardment of front-line positions is reminiscent of WW1, it has not led to universal destruction at an unprecedented level. Bakhmut may look like Ypres or Stalingrad, but Kyiv does not look like Berlin or Tokyo.

In a way, listening to this is like reading a novel. If the narrative gets it right in the areas that I know about, I will accept and appreciate the areas where it engages in speculation or outright fiction. The Colonel says some things that are interesting, and no doubt pleasing to those who want them to be true, but his foundations are built on sand.

Dan said...

Devastation has always been a part of warfare. The question is where the devastation occurs and to whom it happens. To date the people actually fomenting and creating wars rarely suffer the devastation their proclivities cause. Till they do suffer wars will continue.

Anonymous said...

This may be old. MG Martin was Commandant of the Army War College up until 2012. Given COL MacGregor's "contrarian" (to the current political direction) views, I doubt he is very welcome at the AWC these days.

HMS Defiant said...

I think the Colonel made many fine points. Perhaps its that Naval War College background I have that pointed out things like all of Europe was free to send observers to witness the lethality of modern weapons on the battlefield in both our Civil War and in the Boer War and the best their countries could come up with to engage entrenched machine guns and massed artillery firing frag was to march into the fire shoulder to shoulder again and again and again. Or, dig deep into the ground to create something as ridiculous as Maginot Line.
I don't think anything will come of it. Obama and Clinton fundamentally destroyed the Officer Corps in this country when they slotted replacements into the 3 and 4 star ranks (who select all future 3 and 4 star officers) and made it intensively political. There will be no more Marshalls or Eisenhowers in the current regime and it will take something that breaks the Army to change that.
I think we all see the side benefits to holding on to armor vehicles of some type as Russia is demonstrating now everyday. The USN shipbuilding has been a tragic disaster. The LPD 17, DDX, CGX, Ford and other surface shipbuilding is beyond dire. The industrial base to build and maintain a large navy in this country simply no longer exists largely because the labor costs got out of control. That is also what dooms the Army and Navy as they shed ships and reduced crew sizes to get out from under the terrible burden that is the Pension scheme. It's kind of like what the USPS is facing and the only way out of it is to, oh, I don't know, perhaps introduce a bug that will kill most people over 65. Give them time, they made a hash out of it the first time they tried it with Covid. I'm sure they'll do much better next time.

PeterW. said...

HMS Defiant.

I remain sceptical of the idea that Commanders just ignored firepower.
This is because they loved firepower and used it whenever they could.
The reason for the stalemate is that the same brains that are regarded as lacking when it came to developing offensive tactics, developed DEFENSIVE tactics that worked spectacularly well.

As pointed out, most of those who weren’t participants in the US Civil War or the Boer War observed what happened and made plans accordingly. But they faced a problem that none of their critics have to, which is that no-one had beaten multiple layers of trench systems, reinforced with barbed-wire, machineguns, strongpoints and massive amounts of artillery, before.

The critics have never had to face that kind of warfare with armies composed of minimally-trained recruits who cannot operate the way we expect highly-trained, professional, volunteer armies to do. If there is a lesson regarding what happens in that situation, it should be the fighting in the Donbas this winter. It has looked more like Stalingrad than Kuwait, because both sides have worked out that basic infantry can defend trenches pretty bloody well if properly motivated.

It’s that kind of thing that is making MacGregor look parochial and out-of-date. I don’t blame an American for wanting to focus on America’s industrial strengths. I do blame him for being the kind of pompous ass who assumes that everyone can and should, play the same way.

cruithni said...

The transcript is on the YouTube page under the three dots right of the share button.

HMS Defiant said...

I would examine more where he is right then where one could disagree. Counter-Insurgency as we do it is a dead letter. It simply cannot be done by civilized nations. I thought his comment about shutting down Leavenworth and the War College was amusing. It wasn't that way in the Navy. The officers that planned and fought the war in the Pacific had studied a Pacific campaign extensively for decades. Much of it happened as was foreseen in the wargames played in Newport. All of it played out in a time that still accepted staggering losses as part of the process.
It isn't like that anymore around here.

boron said...

@ PeterW
TNX for your clarity

Anonymous said...

The colonel is typical of many in his profession. I wonder what the Carthagians thought about their fates; of Baghdad after the Mongols used its citizens heads to build a huge pyramid. I must have been misinformed by my past 30 years around the war that war is fun and games, especially for the defeated. \