Threat-based force planning vs. adaptability

It's certainly more reasonable to base force planning on perceived future threats than on taste.
The construction of battle fleets because of a love for battleships was not proven as successful force planning, for example.

But threat-based planning has some problems as well.

Lobbyists are everywhere. They want others to spend money, so they'll create motivations to do so. This includes the ability of the military-industrial-media complex to overemphasize marginal threats. Scaremongers have a good time if the perceived threat defines the spending.

Threat is not the same as war. Being permanently ready to quickly overwhelm a potential aggressor once he becomes aggressive guarantees that you spend a lot and are quite strong all the time - and stress your resources a lot. The strength effectively deters the other powers, but it also entices to abuse the own power ... and in turn to create additional foes a.k.a. threats.

During the Cold War, the NATO prepared about 95% of its military power for a specific war: World War III against the Warsaw pact. The necessary military power was not defined by what was affordable or what people liked or by how many talented personnel was easily attracted to the forces. The NATO's military power was defined by an arms race with the Warsaw Pact.
The concept proved to be imperfect; the West fell prey to hopelessly inflated Warsaw Pact strength estimates by the intelligence services. The Warsaw Pact was at no time nearly as powerful as we believed it to be. Scientists could have known that to everyone after a brief look at some basic economic and demographic data, though.

Threat-based planning assumes readiness at every time as desirable. This means that you will likely be at high power and spending levels all the time - but this doesn't help every time. The French did it in the 20's and 30's. They had the strongest army and felt secure. They kept their army the strongest one for a long period, even when Europe was quite calm and Germany only had 100,000 soldiers. Italy was weak and the French border with Italy was easily defensible as it was mountainous. But their army power was not powerful enough to cope with a rather short seven-year rearmament of Germany. The German army had focused on growth potential as it was legally limited to 100,000 personnel.
The French felt too secure as they were used to having the strongest army, and their equipment became outdated. Their ability to adapt to the new threat was limited, they entered the arms race quite late.

Few (in fact, I know no-one) in the USA expected much warfare in mountains till 2000. Only one (10th) division prepared for mountain warfare, and it did so half-heartedly. Threat-oriented thinking did apparently not prepare the U.S. military forces for the Battle of Tora Bora - in mountains.

I propose to emphasize another variable much more. You can almost forget about threat expectations - they're like expectations on the stock markets where most people follow a herd instinct and never see the tops and bottoms in advance.

Let's emphasize adaptability.

This includes
- generalist competence instead of specialization.
- ability to quickly change organizations within months instead of within years (was done before, with typewriters only) and even do it just for training
- ability to grow. We need enough reserve leaders and enough industrial base to grow our forces.
- awareness and active efforts to cut the lags that delay reaction to new threats
- ditch all dependence on civilian service contractors (kitchen services, guards, logistics) that wouldn't follow our force into a hot war zone in full strength and without delay.
- prefer versatile, adaptable systems over niche equipment as a general trend

Adaptability enables us to respond to aggressors adequately - and reduces initiative advantage that an aggressor always has.


edit 2016: Eight years it seems a focus on Eastern European NATO defence against Russia appears to be fully justified regarding force structure, terrain etc. Still, I would rather not want doctrine tailored against what's perceived as Russian doctrine, or equipment tailored against what's known to be in the Russian arsenal (soon) only.

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