In the 1920s and 1930s, the United States Cavalry confronted fundamental questions about its identity framed within the context of intense branch partisanship and severe manpower and budgetary constraints. While it took prudent steps to maintain as powerful and modern a body of horse cavalry as possible, an intense struggle for the soul of the institution raged. Conservative officers insisted cavalry was the arm that fought on horseback. Pro-mechanization reformers proclaimed mobile combat power and not the horse to be the essence of the arm. Extremists garnered most of the attention then and since, but most cavalrymen stood somewhere in between. These men had a progressive attitude toward their arm. They understood the declining military utility of their mounts and sensed the armored vehicle's ability to replace it.Despite this generally supportive attitude, the fact remains the cavalry only made halting progress between the World Wars toward mechanization. The small American mechanized cavalry program, and the assumptions upon which it was based, ensured that advocates of mechanization only slowly could build support for their reforms. Faster change called for exactly the kind of bold, visionary leadership the interwar Chiefs of Cavalry did not provide. Faced with the unenviable task of holding together an institution under attack from without and torn apart within, the chiefs sacrificed the cavalry's future on the altar of branch unity. With the creation of the Armored Force in July 1940, the United States Cavalry ceased to be the Army's arm of mobile combat power, becoming instead a monument to the failure of peacetime military innovation.
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In the wake of the Cold War, the Army increasingly finds its institutional focus shifting away from preparing for sustained mechanized land combat. This trend serves the Army’s immediate operational needs and addresses its perceived need to demonstrate relevancy, but it also raises an important question. How can the Army preserve for future use its hard won expertise in combined arms mechanized warfare? The art of these operations is well documented in doctrine, tactics, techniques, and procedures, but the science of time, space, and combat power in heavy division operations is not. In effect, the Army is already lapsing into what J.F.C. Fuller described as “military alchemy,” denying the science of war in favor of theorizing on its art. The generation of officers raised during the Cold War and tested in battle in the Gulf is fading away taking with it the Army’s practical expertise in the physics of combined arms mechanized warfare. This knowledge is largely unrecorded in doctrine and has long been absent from the core course tactics instruction at the Command and General Staff College. If the Army is to preserve its institutional expertise in mechanized warfare, it must undertake to document, analyze, and codify this missing science. Failure to do so would place the Army at risk of being dangerously unprepared for the challenges posed by close combat with peer and near-peer competitors in the new century.
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As the 21st Century dawns, warfare is in the midst of revolutionary change. Information Age warfare characterized by knowledge, speed, and precision is slowly supplanting Industrial Age war and its reliance on mass. The advent of precision firepower is but the first tremor of this tectonic shift. As it reverberates around the globe, the Precision Firepower Military Technical Revolution will dramatically increase the lethality and reach of defensive fires. Unless the means for offensive maneuver adapt to overcome the greatly enhanced power of the defense, future soldiers will face stalemate and indecision much like their forefathers confronted in 1914. As the world’s leading economic and military power, the United States has both the resources and the incentive to sustain its ability to conduct rapid, decisive land combat. As air-mechanization’s theorists and the Army After Next Project have shown, the key lies in creating air-mechanized Precision Maneuver forces that profit from the synergy created by digitization, precision firepower, and vertical envelopment. This monograph argues that there exists sufficient means and technology to create an initial Precision Maneuver rapid reaction corps before 2010. It would behoove the Army to embark on this project immediately. The nation’s security demands the Army act now to build a new force, one that leads the next revolution in war by redressing the growing imbalance between fire and maneuver, one with the speed, reach, and precision required for rapid, decisive, land campaigns in the Information Age.
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