Looking Back at the COIN-Oriented US Military Transformation


By Robbin Laird

In my lifetime, the U.S. military has gone through three major phases of development.

The first was the shaping of the force in the 1980s to deal with the Soviet threat to Europe and encompassed air-land battle. Hardwired networking was introduced and working ways to integrate forces more effectively was the hallmark of this effort.

And the approach was battle tested in the first Iraq War.

The second was the significant redesign of the US military from a power projection force to a primary focus on the land wars, and lower end of the conflict spectrum.

Here the United States shifted its resources, and combat innovations to fighting COIN wars and engaging in stability operations.

The third is the dramatic refocus from the land wars to sorting through what a 21st century high intensity warfare approach can be with the legacy of COIN, on the one hand, and the introduction of new technologies, such as the F-35, on the other hand.

In a very thoughtful book by Brig. Gen. Jason Q, Bohm, USMC, the author provides a solid look at the second phase of U.S. military development and ends the book by highlighting the nature of the challenge of facing the third phase of military development.

“America finds itself having to relearn many of the skills needed to succeed on the high end of the spectrum of conflict after predominantly focusing on fighting terrorist’s conducting counterinsurgencies and performing other tasks on the low end for nearly two decades.

“Many of these critical skills have atrophied and are now made more difficult by the rapid proliferation of technology and the establishment of two new warfighting domains – cyber and space.”1

The book provides a look at Bohm’s journey from the end of the Cold War through COIN and on the border of the new historical epoch.

His book provides a rich look at the kinds of innovation the USMC and the joint force underwent to deal with the global war on terrorism, COIN and stability operations.

One innovation which I had the opportunity to watch closely when visiting the USMC over the years, was the Osprey driven version of the crisis management force.

We visited 2nd MAW as well as the Marine Corps in Spain to have a chance to watch the standup of the SP-MAGTF.

According to Bohm: “The operational lift provided by the MV-22 Osprey, combined with the KC-130 refueling aircraft, was a game changer.” 2

The book is a highly recommended read to understand what this evolution of the US military to deal with the land wars meant to the military undergoing and executing the change.

It is also helpful in understanding how dramatic the shift back to hi-intensity operations is going to be.

Bohm highlights the key point about the USMC and innovation – they adapt, innovate and can take their combat experience from past phases of development forward into the next phase of development to deal with the new challenges.

“America’s armed forces met, and will continue to meet, the many challenges of adjusting to this changing world. They succeeded across the entire spectrum of conflict…”3









  1. Bohm, From The Cold War to ISIL: One Marine’s Journey (Naval Institute Press, 2019, p. 247.
  2. Bohm, From The Cold War to ISIL, p. 226.
  3. Bohm, From The Cold War to ISIL, p. 245