By CNN"s Larry Shaughnessy
The U.S. military has been at war for more than a decade, its longest stretch of continuous fighting ever. But the new budget released this week by Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta includes a mandate for new training in how to fight a war.
Why does a battle-hardened Army need training on how to fight a war? Look at it this way. The Army is like a football team that for the past 10 years has been forced to play soccer. Now the soccer game is nearly over, and they have to prepare for the Super Bowl. Sure their kicking game may be solid, but they haven't thrown a forward pass in years.
"You've got some artillery officers who've never fired a gun, certainly not in a combat situation," Pentagon spokesman Capt. John Kirby explained.
We should stop here and explain. The Army does not call those things that a soldier carries and fire bullets to be "guns." Those are called rifles or sidearms. A "gun" is a large cannon-like weapon that fires rounds the size of your head, if not bigger.
Kirby's point is that for 10-plus years in Afghanistan and Iraq, the Army and Marines have largely been fighting counterinsurgency (COIN) operations. The enemy - which uses small arms and handmade bombs - has no armored vehicles, no aviation support and little in the way of communications gear to coordinate attacks.
Our next war may look very different.
North Korea has one of the world's largest special operations forces, as well as tanks, artillery, short-range ballistic missiles, anti-aircraft weapons and a huge army.
Iran has tanks, submarines, fighter jets and anti-ship missiles.
That is why Panetta said Thursday, when the budget plan was released, "The strategy requires the Army to return to a full-spectrum training, developing a versatile mix of capabilities; developing a versatile mix of formations and equipment to succeed on land, including in environments where access will be contested."
Elaborating on the secretary's remarks Friday, Kirby said, "It's about preparing troops for the full range of missions and capabilities that we're expected as a military to provide the country."
Gen. Raymond Odierno, the Army Chief of Staff, said the plan to offer a wider array of training is already being devised for a U.S. base in Germany.
"We will rotate units, for example, into our training - our training complex we have at (this base) that allow us to train with our NATO partners and also with some of our other partners in Europe," he said. "And we'll be able to do that at several levels - a battalion level, a company level, across several different domains."
While the secretary didn't mandate "full-spectrum training" for the Marines, Kirby said they are facing a similar problem tied to focusing too much on counterinsurgency and less on the corps' original mission.
"You've got some young Marines who've never deployed on a ship, who've never practiced amphibious warfare," Kirby said. "What we're recognizing here after 10 years of very manpower-intensive counterinsurgency warfare, our capabilities, our conventional capabilities - that's what we need to focus on."
To do that, the Marines are changing what they teach at their main training base in Twentynine Palms in California.
And this week the Marines are launching Bold Alligator, the corps' largest amphibious-landing exercise on the U.S. East Coast in a decade. Some 20,000 Marines and other troops aboard 25 ships and 120 aircraft will practice a Marine specialty - landing a large, self-contained fighting unit on a beachhead in a short time.
"It's today's fight with today's forces, and represents the revitalization of the full range of amphibious operations," Lt. Micheal Sheehan said about Bold Alligator.
Still, this new approach doesn't mean the old one is suddenly irrelevant. All this training for the so-called next war, notably, is happening even as 91,000 US troops are still fighting the war in Afghanistan.