US army

This week, the annual Land Warfare Conference – a joint venture between the British Army and Royal United Services Institute (RUSI) – is being held in London. In his conference paper, IISS Senior Fellow for Land Warfare Ben Barry examines the key land-capability lessons of recent wars, attitudes towards the utility of land forces, and the changes being made to US, British and French land forces.

In the US and NATO countries, the long and costly wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have ‘eroded confidence in the utility of land forces’, he explains. Some US commentators have suggested that the US rebalance to Asia means that air, maritime, amphibious and special-forces capabilities are of greater use and less risky than land forces, while in the UK, ‘the statements of some politicians, officials and commentators suggest they consider Afghanistan and Iraq to have been so problematic that in most foreseeable scenarios British boots on the ground will not be required’.

Yet there remain many threats from groups that use force on land, for example insurgents in Latin America, Africa and Asia, he explains. ‘In parts of Brazil and Mexico, organised crime and narcotic gangs overmatch police, requiring extensive military support.' Many flashpoints could trigger armed conflict on land, including the Korean Peninsula and India’s borders with Pakistan and China.

‘This has triggered capability enhancements to the South Korean and Indian armies. Meanwhile, Brazil, Russia, India and China and Gulf states are converting part of their growing prosperity into improving their armies, and more UN peacekeepers are deployed on land than ever.’

British and French armies are reducing in size, and yesterday General Ray Odierno, Chief of Staff of the US Army, announced the as part of its planned restructuring from a strength of 570,000 to 480,000 regular troops, the US Army would be reducing its number of brigade combat teams from 45 to 32, although the size of the remaining brigades would increase.

Barry notes that four key NATO forces – the US Army, the ground element of the US Marine Corps and the British and French armies – all seek to retain a combined arms combat, including infantry, armour, engineers and artillery. They also plan to retain the advances made over the last decade, such as precision artillery, air-land integration and unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs). But these plans, as well as the broader future capability of these armies, depend on budgets being sustained.

‘Given the White House and Congress’s difficulty in agreeing a way out of sequestration and the British government’s continued struggle to contain public spending, the sustained funding of planned UK and US land capability may be at risk,’ Barry concludes.

Read the full paper

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