|Gates, who has said he will leave office this year, predicts that future conflicts will look radically different [AFP]
Robert Gates, the US defence secretary, has warned that the US should avoid future land wars such as those it has fought in Iraq and Afghanistan but not forget the difficult lessons learned in those conflicts.
Gates was chosen as defence secretary by George Bush, the former president, and given the job of rescuing the military from what many saw as an unwinnable war in Iraq by Barack Obama, the incumbent president.
"In my opinion, any future defence secretary who advises the president to again send a big American land army into Asia or into the Middle East or Africa should have his head examined," Gates said in a speech to cadets at the US Military Academy at West Point, in New York state, on Friday.
As a result of the last 10 years at war, West Point cadets are joining a force that is "resilient but also stressed and tired", Gates said during what is expected to be his last address at the training ground for future army officers.
"The army must prepare itself for the complex threats it will face in the future, including terrorists seeking weapons of mass destruction, outlier nations capable of nuclear warfare and the modern militaries being assembled in Russia and China," he said.
Today's army is filled with soldiers who have had "little opportunity to do more than catch their breath and then get ready for the next deployment',' Gates said.
Gates, who has said he will leave office this year, but has not announced when, laid out his vision for the future of the US army as it regroups after a decade of long and repeated deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan.
|Gates said conflicts will require Navy and Air Force engagements, not head-on clash of big land forces [AFP]
"The army has made a painful war-driven transition from a force designed to face off against other large militaries to a more nimble service that trains other armies and takes on nation-building even as it hunts insurgents," Gates said.
"It must better prepare itself to continue to face such unconventional threats and unorthodox duties in the future."
Gates has made many decisions regarding the nation's 1.1 million-strong ground force since he took over the senior Pentagon role in December 2006.
He came in facing an escalating war in Iraq that was requiring more forces.
Over time he sent thousands more troops into Iraq to a peak of nearly 180,000 and was forced to extend soldiers' deployment tours from 12 months to 15 months.
As the Iraq war began to wind down, he and the Obama administration ordered another surge this time into Afghanistan, where they are battling entrenched uprisings in the south and east.
Future high-end conflicts involving the US military are more likely to be fought with air and sea power instead of large ground forces such as the one that invaded Iraq in 2003 and the one in Afghanistan, he said.