What is an “Expeditionary Force?” No, Really, What is It? | Small Wars Journal

What is an “Expeditionary Force?” No, Really, What is It?
Michael Gladius
For a Pioneer nation like America, built on exploration and a apparently dateless frontier, the love affair of expeditions is part of our home soul. The term “ Expeditionary Force ” sounds cool, as it evokes feelings of adventure and risk-taking in far-away places. expeditionary forces are comprised of tough, competent men who travel luminosity in distant areas, and trust on their wits to survive and win in unfamiliar environments. thus, it ’ s merely natural we want to call everything our military does abroad an “ Expeditionary Force. ”
however, not everything is an “ Expeditionary Force, ” just by virtue of being abroad, as JP 3-0 presently defines it :

expeditionary force : An Armed Force organized to achieve a specific objective in a foreign state .

Defining it this way turns every war America has fought since 1815 into one crusade by an “ Expeditionary Force, ” careless of the huge differences between the campaigns. This broad official definition does not distinguish between Pershing ’ second punitive chase of Pancho Villa in 1916, Patton ’ s 3rd Army in 1944, or the SOF-dominated Invasion of Grenada in 1983. These three campaigns had vastly different objectives, organizations, and methods, with few similarities besides being fought in a foreign area, yet JP 3-0 would call them all “ Expeditionary Forces. ” A more specific definition is warranted to avoid confusion, particularly when planning a campaign or developing a permanent military unit structure .
There are three distinct styles of modern war, based on missions and methods, and their principles have not basically changed since the 1970s. [ one ] These are : Continental Warfare, Expeditionary Warfare, and Insurgency/COIN. Although discrete, they are not mutually exclusive, and blending 2 or more at the strategic level [ two ] should be the definition of “ Hybrid Warfare : ”
Proposed definition for Hybrid Warfare :

A Style of Fighting that blends elements and strategic end-goals of two or more styles of Modern Warfare : Continental, Expeditionary, and/or COIN .

Understanding the differences between the three is crucial to avoid using the ill-timed tool for the subcontract. We will start by describing COIN and Continental war, to show what Expeditionary Warfare is not, and then describe what Expeditionary War is .
Insurgency/COIN is the most familiar to us at the here and now, as we are engaged in this type of Warfare in the Middle East and Africa. This is the most political form of war, and lacks large-scale maneuvers above battalion level. alternatively, both insurgents and COIN forces crusade at the squad-, platoon-, and company-level, each trying to annihilate the other, and frankincense nick aside at the other ’ randomness forces over time. Both sides ’ tactics search annihilation, but their operations and strategies are both attritional in nature. COIN is a style of war that is driven about entirely by strategy and tactics, rather than what happens at the operational level. Despite actual combat taking set on a humble scale, and the higher proportion of sociopolitical actors at the strategic level, COIN is manpower-intensive. It is normal to require american samoa much as a 20-to-1 advantage in numbers to efficaciously engage COIN before factoring in non-military needs. Despite the necessitate for overwhelming numbers, however, the equipment requirements per capita are the smallest out of any mannequin of war. COIN from a military perspective is a war of snipers, mortars, airmobile/riverine light infantry, Gendarmes, and mine-resistant armored grease-gun trucks. Swarm tactics, vertical envelopments, and impregnation of regions with platoons are its usual tactics. In Vietnam, the United States effectively countered the guerrilla threat through the Marine Corps ’ Combined Action Companies, backed by Aero Rifle Platoons acting as a QRF, and this model will continue to be valid for the foreseeable future. Beyond this, all other efforts are sociopolitical in nature .
For future COIN campaigns, the writer would recommend assigning the entire Marine Corps to the job. not only does the Marine Corps have a gallant history of pacification in both Vietnam and the Caribbean, but COIN ’ s radically different requirements from Continental Armies and Expeditionary Forces means it would be institutionally better to have a separate outgrowth of the military dedicated to the tax. In theory, this disjoined branch could be the Army, while the Marines tackle continental war or expeditionary war, but this would require triple or quadrupling the size of the Marine Corps, and would require more effort than switching to a COIN force out ( which the Marines are already properly-sized for ) .
frankincense, the official definition of COIN is sufficient and does not need to change :

pacification : comprehensive civilian and military efforts designed to simultaneously defeat and contain insurgency and address its root causes .

The second gear style of Modern Warfare is the Continental War. Continental Wars are fought in geographically huge theaters, and normally are wars with unlimited political objectives ( i, to wholly destroy or overthrow the enemy ). Although small unit tactics are no less authoritative compared to COIN, Continental wars are defined by what happens at the functional ( Regiment/Brigade, [ three ] Division, and Corps ) level. Continental wars about always utilize one or more Field Armies, containing multiple Corps each, and their operations involve multiple Division/Corps thrusts in parallel across an adversary ’ south facade and throughout his strategic depths. Unlike the tactical grade, in which battles are decided at decisive points, operations are greater than the union of their parts. A good analogy would compare the dispute between tactics and operations to that between a speck and a public square .
1 For this rationality, traditional continental powers ( China, Russia, Germany, Persia, Zululand, etc. ) historically favored operational-strategic blockade, as the huge theaters give them ample exemption of tactic and their armies possessed the necessity work force and mobility. Naval/amphibious tactics besides follow this tendency, and sol Island-hopping campaigns can be considered a pas seul of continental war. other traditional solutions, particularly for those fighting at a numeric disadvantage, include elements such as long-range gunnery and armor protection. In the mod age, the two wars which best illustrate continental war are the 1973 Yom Kippur War and the 2014 war in Eastern Ukraine. Both wars were characterized by :

  • Hyper-violent combat at close range and long range, both in open plains and fortifications/urban combat


  • Mass employment of GR-AMM, including handheld rockets

  • The dominance of heavily armored vehicles, both tanks and troop carriers

Heavy Tanks, in particular, are prevailing on the modern continental battlefield due to their firepower, protection, and mobility. Any continental army must therefore posse a robust armor spinal column supported by equally-protected mechanized infantry ( preferably mixing them down to the company level ), and backed by an across-the-board align of armored automotive artillery, tactical nuclear weapon, EW platforms, and Cyberwarfare hub. Heliborne or dismounted light infantry armed with hand-held antitank munitions, heavy machine guns, mortars, and MANPADS are useful in dense/difficult terrain, but must be experts in concealment, magic trick, and entrenchment due to their vulnerability to massed artillery strikes ( this besides applies to lightly-armored vehicles like the Bradley and Stryker ). Both weapon and breeze power are vulnerable to counterbattery/AA fire, and thus must emphasize long-range draw combined with either accelerate or protection. For Artillery, armored self-propelled guns are mobile enough to shoot-and-scoot, while besides able to survive hits ; towed artillery has neither advantage. Aircraft by and large lack thick armor, and must therefore use EW and supersonic accelerate to evade attacks. Electronic Warfare and Cyberwarfare are not only necessary for impeding an enemy ’ sulfur communications and targeting systems, but besides to ward off drones, whether they are used singly or in swarms. preciseness munitions and cluster munitions are particularly advantageous and should consequently be omnipresent .
In short, continental armies are melting pots when it comes to tricks, tactics, ideas, and equipment. The main drawbacks are that they do not travel unhorse, aren ’ t brassy to build/maintain, and must remain tethered to supply lines. optimization of cost-effectiveness is constantly a step in the right focus, but the temptation towards “ if it isn ’ triiodothyronine faint, it ain ’ triiodothyronine properly ” in continental forces must be avoided. alight forces in continental wars have extra mobility compared to heavy forces, but not everybody surrenders when their maps tell them they ’ re surrounded. Against an opponent who stands his ground ( or attempts a break ), armies comprised entirely of light forces must possess an overwhelm numeral advantage in order to compensate for their lessened killing baron, and the losses which would be sustained are higher than America is will to pay. rather, light and heavy forces should be paired in concert, beginning at least at the brigade level. Improvements to the Teeth-to-Tail ratio should focus on items such as improving the choice of logistic formations so that the Army can afford to either shrink them, have fewer of them, and/or shift them to divisional grade. other options include improving fuel efficiency, mechanical dependability, and/or electric ( i.e., batteries and sensors ) longevity in vehicles/aircraft to minimize the number of fuel stops and maximize loiter time. A continental Army is built to survive a tactical slug equal, and America should double down on its ability to outlast her opponents after surviving the foremost round .
Since this condition does not exist in JP 3-0, the following new term is proposed :

continental army : A ground force, normally larger than one corps, organized to fight wars with outright objectives, particularly those in urban areas and/or geographically huge theaters. Continental Armies use a mix of abstemious and heavy mechanized units to simultaneously engage combined-arms war at the tactical, operational, and strategic levels .

ultimately, we come to Expeditionary Forces. A dependable Expeditionary Force is not defined by its equipment, but by its mission : long-range operations which are not connected to a continuous issue course. Historically, expeditions ( both civilian and military ) began where civilization, and more importantly its infrastructure, ended. The miss of continuous resupply meant that expeditions were numerically small and Spartan, as they had to carry everything themselves. The 19th-Century british Army is the best exercise of this in the military, as their campaigns in Africa and India routinely led them hundreds of miles from their provision bases. A typical british Expedition consisted of only a handful of battalions supplemented by local anesthetic levies, and tactics frequently consisted of moving to a strategically significant position that could be defended, entrenching, and repelling counterattacks through fusillade fire ( to conserve their limited supply of ammunition ) and artillery. Campaigns were shortstop, normally lasting less than a class, and would be considered failures if no decisive results were achieved .
In the modern age, continental wars trust on constant resupply, and COIN forces deal primarily with convoy ambushes, quite than being threatened with their sum rupture. This swerve continues when discussing island campaigns in the Pacific, as supplies brought by the Navy are still a regular occurrence. A on-key expeditionary force out, by contrast, would voluntarily go beyond the reach of resupply ( i.e., early than strictly airlift ) to fight. Such a impel would use conventional tactics like a continental army, but would fight in geographically minor secondary theaters with terrain unsuitable for mechanized war. A good exemplar of what an expeditionary Force would look like comes from a miss opportunity in the early stages of the Vietnam War : When the Ho Chi Minh Trail was beginning built, it passed directly across the 17th Parallel DMZ. President Ngo Dinh Diem successfully cut the trail, and in reception the North Vietnamese moved it across the boundary line into Laos, which was excessively weak to resist infiltration. Before his assassination, Diem asked the United States to consider an intervention in Laos to cut the raw lead as it passed through the lao panhandle. This plan went through multiple revisions, [ five ] but systematically called for 4 divisions to establish blocking positions in the difficult mountain terrain, with a finical draw a bead on of thwarting bicycle traffic. Blocking wheeled traffic would prevent heavy weaponry from traveling south in any big measure, [ six ] and foot patrols ( possibly supplemented by SOF/local Montagnard allies ) would tackle everything else. The force could be resupplied via Route 9, which contoured the region absolutely and was designed to be adequate under monsoon conditions. Nor could the communists bypass these positions by wheeling far west, as they would add another 500 miles to the journey and pass into Thailand, which was militarily stronger, and more anti-communist, than Laos .
2 Route 9 Today
At first, these 4 divisions and this lifeline may seem to be contradictory to the estimate of a true expeditionary force ; excessively big of a force and excessively ceaseless a resupply route. Yet 4 divisions would be far excessively small to carry the war beyond the lao panhandle or conventionally intrude on North Vietnam, which is reproducible with the strategically defensive pose America and South Vietnam both favored. It would, however, be excessively bombastic to suffer the destiny of the french at Dien Bien Phu. [ seven ] The Expeditionary Force would be operating in highly unmanageable terrain that combined both mountains and pathless hobo camp desirable for light forces quite than mechanized war. Their alone provision path could potentially be cut at any time by communist infiltration, as would happen at the start of the siege of Khe Sanh in January 1968. furthermore, their aim was to seize defendable grate through which the Ho Chi Minh Trail had to pass, entrench, and then repel communist counterattacks and cut their issue routes- fair like the 19th-Century british. It was a far cry from a continental crusade aimed at overthrowing the government in Hanoi, and even farther from a pacification attempt.

so in the Modern Age, a true expeditionary force would possess the follow attributes :

  • Light, non-mechanized Forces

  • Small formations, no larger than one corps

  • Infrequent and/or irregular resupply

The best candidates for this type of war are not amphibious forces, but paratroopers. amphibious troops, even when seizing circumscribed objectives, can however count on the navy for resupply and relatively unimpeded strategic mobility, and therefore fight as a miniature continental united states army. Air rape troops are better-suited to continental war because helicopters are more agile compared to parachute drops, while their disadvantages ( compared to airplanes ) in fuel consumption and range are well within the capacity of a continental army ’ second logistics and mechanized reach. Paratroopers, by contrast, have to travel clean because of the weight limits of aircraft ( both for the initial drop and airlift resupply ), and are meant to be surrounded and partially isolated once they land. many unique features of paratroopers have become less crucial in continental war, but remain viable for expeditionary war. Paratroopers can be deployed anywhere in the world within 18 hours. They can land in one large wave, quickly overrunning enemies through the use of speed, and then consolidate and dig in. For establishing blocking positions or quickly seizing key terrain, they are ideal .
So the follow new definition for “ Expeditionary Force ” is proposed :

New definition : An armed military unit, no larger than one corporation, organized to achieve specific, but limited and much defensive, strategic goals in a foreign state. Their missions will normally take home in difficult, restrictive, and/or low-acreage geography, and they thus make use of igniter units such as paratroopers and air cavalry .

Having established the distinctions between the three types of modern war, the next natural question is their organization. As note previously, the generator recommends assigning the Marine Corps to cover pacification, and the Army to continental war. For an expeditionary force, the easiest method acting is to use the Army ’ s existing structure with a few modifications .
I and III Corps would in full embrace continental war, with I Corps keeping its Pacific concenter [ eight ] and III Corps focusing on open war and inaugurating the Army ’ s first dedicated urban battle school. Both corporation would possess at least one specialized riverine brigade and one mountaineer [ nine ] brigade, and I Corps would retain at least one jungle war division ( For Arctic war, the author would recommend creation of a disjoined Corps in Alaska, due to the distinct logistic requirements of arctic terrain ). This arrangement permanently preserves Continental war, including its urban and amphibious variants, from an institutional perspective and each Corps would provide a mecca for theorists and experiment. It besides requires entirely a switch in mentality and allocations, rather than inventing new equipment. Should a continental war break out, then these corps can swell organically into a field united states army, rather than construct said battlefield armies ’ orders of battle from scrape .
The XVIII Airborne Corps would become America ’ s Expeditionary Air Corps ( EAC ), comprised of 3 Paratrooper divisions and 3 Air Assault Divisions. This arrangement is not arbitrary ; the paratroopers are intended for establishing blocking positions and semi-static war, while the Air Assault Infantry ( “ Dragoons ” ) would play a load-bearing character as a mobile reserve. The paratroopers are the anvil, the air rape troops would be the hammer. Possessing three of each in peacetime allows the EAC to mix and match, depending on the optimum ratio, for an approaching dispatch ; for model, one mission may only require 1 paratroop division for blocking positions, but three atmosphere rape divisions for patrolling the gaps. The change by reversal is evenly probable. therefore, the EAC ’ mho organization is highly compromising and can be adapted to most situations. Since few expeditions will require the use of all 6 divisions at once, the possibility of 2 or even 3 expeditions occurring at once is a actual possibility .
All of the EAC ’ randomness aircraft, whether they be for drops, airlift/resupply, or Close Air Support, should be organically integrated into the Divisional or Corps ordain of battle, and not attached temporarily from the Air Force. Bifurcated analogue chains of command can provide useful redundancy in the strategic defense, but this is a liability in the offense/tactical level. organic integration reduces friction within the chain of command, increasing responsiveness, and if the Air Force continues its quixotic quest to get rid of the A-10 Warthog, then those wings can find a newly dwelling in the EAC. The divisions would besides do away with the brigade, returning to the Regimental Combat Team, and consolidate all defend units under divisional control to become less “ tail ” -heavy compared to continental or COIN armies .
The EAC ’ s engineers and weapon would be placed in the Paratrooper divisions, while the Air Assault Dragoons would rely on mortars and helicopter gunships in stead of howitzers to remain highly mobile. All equipment carried by the EAC ’ randomness paratroopers and Air Assault troops should be air-droppable and man-portable since they will operate in areas that may or may not have airfields or roads. Each part would inevitably be restructured to ensure that there are sufficient porters and/or riflemen to carry all of its own gear on road marches without requiring vehicles. Helicopters are extremely utilitarian in moving men and supplies cursorily through broken terrain, but the expedition ’ second limited supply of fuel ( and/or bad flying upwind ) may temporarily force the troops to carry everything on foot. The air assail infantry ’ s mobile patrols will constantly get first priority for fuel, and the paratroopers ’ semi-static defenses will reduce consumption vitamin a much as possible on their end. Having every item man-portable ( or adequate to of being broken down into man-portable pieces ) guarantees that it ’ sulfur light adequate for paratroopers, and if the Expedition loses its vehicles it ’ ll be slowed rather than stopped dead in its tracks. here, the motto “ If it ain ’ metric ton light, it ain ’ deoxythymidine monophosphate right ” does apply. Mortars will be of overriding importance in expeditionary war, even more so than regular weapon, and a 1:1 ratio of 60-mm mortars to rifle squads is to be expected at a minimum .
aim in the EAC should place a high gear stress on marksmanship, both in semi-automatic and fully automatic, and include both SERE and mountain war prepare. All personnel, not good the infantry, should be held to higher marksmanship standards than in continental armies, since their ammunition resupply is less regular, and their artillery support smaller per caput. In many respects, it should emulate the fabled pre-WWI british Expeditionary Force ( BEF ) [ ten ] standards of marksmanship, in which 600 meters was considered “ close range. ” This high standard was inspired by the Second Boer War, which was fought as a continental war in a pathless frontier environment. The Boers conserved their limited ammunition supply by emphasizing individual marksmanship, rather than through volley fire, and it proved to be so effective the british Army eagerly copied it after the war. The BEF would ultimately rely on this same tactic when it faced the brunt of the von Schlieffen Plan in 1914, and the power of skilled marksmen did not disappoint ( the 1914 political campaign besides illustrates many of the limitations of expeditionary forces in continental war ). Tactics have since changed, but this merely adds the necessity of train individuals and crew-served weapons to shoot accurately on amply automatic, quite than lowering semi-automatic standards. Training a corps to this higher standard will besides aid the development of the Army ’ sulfur Designated Marksmen Program, as it will provide a raison five hundred ’ être for its continue being in peacetime/drawdowns, feedback on its tactical and institutional potency, and a career grapevine for instructors. All EAC personnel should graduate the Army ’ mho SERE school and Mountain Warfare school, since they will need many of the skills historically reserved for Long-Range Reconnaissance Patrols and non-mechanized armies. expeditionary forces will frequently fight in mountainous terrain, and SERE methods will be essential for any paratroopers who are dropped on the ill-timed drop zone, air rape infantry whose choppers are shoot depressed, or if the Expeditionary Force is overrun ( God prevent ) and must exfiltrate the theater on foot. The course of study must besides include across-the-board water system education ; expeditionary troops must be strong swimmers and not view water system as a barrier to bowel movement .
In conclusion, recognizing the three discrete styles of mod war benefits the Army more than trying to make everything “ [ generic ] Expeditionary. ” Each style can teach the others their limited tricks : COIN forces can innovate small-unit tactics and counter-infiltration methods, expeditionary forces can teach marksmanship and other classical music light infantry skills, Continental formations can bring everything together and improve everybody ’ s logistic options, and SOF can make items lightweight and highly efficient. It besides benefits strategists, as their instruments will force them to think in terms of a COIN/Continental/Expeditionary triage, and act as a realist determine on the optimism of leaders who would otherwise see the military as the suffice to every problem. For a small come of shuffling equipment and work force, we can broaden our mental and doctrinal worldview, improve our situation in the world, and become in truth ready for any eventuality .
End Notes
[ one ] The only change that could be argued as a game-changer are drones, but these have numerous conventional countermeasures .
[ two ] Strategic ends define the style of war, and tactics flow from these. Dividing styles by their tactics is misleading, as any tactic can serve a battalion of strategic goals
[ three ] A modern Brigade is a WWII-era Regimental Combat Team with its own organic support, preferably than relying on its parent division .
[ four ] Much of urban fight closely resembles WWI-style Trench Warfare, and then the two do not need to be listed individually
[ vanadium ] After President Diem ’ sulfur character assassination, General Westmoreland became its strongest advocate and continued to ask license to launch it until his successor by General Abrams .
[ six ] There was some smuggling of dense weaponry through cambodian ports, but this was disrupted early in the war .
[ seven ] The french had 11,000 men to the Viet Minh ’ s 50,000. Four american divisions would number roughly 40,000 men, far larger than the french. It is besides much bigger than the 6,000 Marines who fought at Khe Sanh.

[ eight ] They would possess the majority of the Army ’ s amphibious and provision ships
[ nine ] Mountaineer brigades/divisions would train to fight at elevations above 8,000 feet .
[ x ] Coincidentally this, excessively, was 6 divisions potent, although it would by and by grow into a continental united states army .

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