WASHINGTON: The House Armed Services Committee unanimously endorsed Defense Secretary Jim Mattis’s efforts to improve the infantry and added a few suggestions of its own. Let’s give infantry units more drones and train them more like special operators, the amendment to the annual defense policy bill said, and maybe consider creating a special training center for small unit leaders, like a Top Gun for grunts.
The amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act came from freshman Congressman Jimmy Panetta, son of former Defense Secretary Leon Panetta. While one of the most junior members of the committee, Rep. Panetta is a former Navy Reservist who served in Afghanistan as the intelligence officer for a Special Operations Task Force going after “high value targets,” military-speak for terrorist leaders. His Monterey district includes the Army’s famed Presidio as well as the Naval Postgraduate School, with Vandenberg Air Force Base and the Marine Corps’ Camp Pendleton a few hours south.
Panetta’s proposal got packaged with other non-controversial amendments in a so-called en bloc amendment — both Chairman Mac Thornberry and ranking Democrat Adam Smith had to approve its inclusion — which then passed by a unanimous voice vote.
What’s in the amendment? The only hard requirement is for Secretary Mattis to brief the committee — the language implies personally — about his Close Combat Lethality Task Force (CCLTF), no later than December 1st. But the amendment also includes several respectful suggestions and endorsements to which Mattis will no doubt pay keen attention:
- Drones: “The Committee notes that greater tactical integration of existing unmanned aircraft…. offers a unique opportunity to address deficiencies in close combat units.” Sec. Mattis’s briefing to HASC should address “the feasibility of making existing unmanned aircraft organic to ground close combat units.” It’s worth noting that Marine Corps Commandant Robert Neller has pledged to add a quadcopter and a dedicated drone operator to every rifle squad.
- Special Operations Forces: “The Committee believes that the CCLTF’s efforts to bring SOF capabilities and training methodologies to line close combat formations is an important element of the overall CCLTF effort.”
- Personnel Management: Sec. Mattis’s briefing to HASC should include “proposals for rationalizing personnel management for ground close combat formations.” The military’s personnel bureaucracy is notorious for breaking up teams by moving troops and leaders around every few years.
- Top Gun For Grunts: Mattis should also address “the feasibility of establishing a Joint Close Combat Leader Center as a center of excellence for small-unit infantry leadership.”
“(D)espite comprising a tiny fraction of total Department of Defense personnel, the ground close combat formations primarily tasked to close with and destroy the enemy bear a unique burden, reflected in them historically accounting for almost 90% of casualties…..The Committee notes that, relative to the overall size of the Department budget, the cost of supporting modernization to equipment and training for ground close combat formations is relatively small. The Committee believes that increased investments in these units’ personnel, equipment, readiness, and training offer outsize returns for our military’s combat capabilities.”
The full text of the amendment is available below.