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WASHINGTON: “For both Russia and China, they lag far behind where we are in terms of an NCO corps,” Army intelligence analyst Ian Sullivan told me. “[But] the answer for both Russia and China might not be to build an NCO corps that is similar to the United States…. What if their way of war doesn’t necessarily require it?”
That’s an answer that “doesn’t necessarily resonate” for a lot of US leaders, brought up in a Western military tradition that absolutely depends on non-commissioned officers, Sullivan acknowledged in an interview: “We couldn’t go to war without ’em.” But it’s dangerous to mirror-image an adversary, and China and Russia have taken a very different approach to modern conflict, said Sullivan, the deputy intelligence office (G-2) for US Army Training & Doctrine Command (TRADOC). It’s an approach that could make it easier and less expensive for our competitors to professionalize their militaries than US observers might assume.
Both Russia and China have focused on their commissioned officer corps first and foremost, he told me, although they’ve also invested in improvements on the NCO side. Both have focused on long-range firepower, cyber warfare, and disinformation campaigns under centralized control. That contrasts sharply with the more bottom-up, NCO-led approach preferred by Western militaries, both in open warfare and in peacetime competition.
Our adversaries are improving military training and education, but they may not need a Western-style NCO corps to wage the centralized, long-range warfare they prefer.