Hell-in-a-handbasket has a post up about some of the modern military combatives programs, but there are a few mistakes that need some clarification.
Previously military combatives systems had the primary goal of killing the enemy in close combat. The purpose for this was for things like POW Escape, sentry removal, or the rare “out of ammo” scenario. Contrast this with FM 3-25.150 (FM 21-150):
1-2. PURPOSES OF COMBATIVES TRAINING
Soldiers must be prepared to use different levels of force in an environment where conflict may change from low intensity to high intensity over a matter of hours. Many military operations, such as peacekeeping missions or noncombatant evacuation, may restrict the use of deadly weapons. Hand-to-hand combatives training will save lives when an unexpected confrontation occurs.
More importantly, combatives training helps to instill courage and self-confidence. With competence comes the understanding of controlled aggression and the ability to remain focused while under duress. Training in combatives includes hard and arduous physical training that is, at the same time, mentally demanding and carries over to other military pursuits. The overall effect of combatives training is—
• The culmination of a successful physical fitness program, enhancing individual and unit strength, flexibility, balance, and cardiorespiratory fitness.
• Building personal courage, self confidence, self-discipline, and esprit de corps.
So this is not some sort of “quick kill” system that has removed all of the martial arts “nonsense.” Far from it, some of these programs are complete martial arts in and of themselves, seeded with an amount of what I can only call “spiritual development” like you would find in any traditional martial art. I am sure that it has been “streamlined” but remember what the design goals are, it is not just the inefficient things that have been paired down. Most of the implementations of military combatives that I have seen have been a cross between a physical training event and morale event. There are competitions at all echelons, and these competitions need to be safe enough to not injure the participants.
The 260 hour black belt is certainly on par with many martial arts studios: working out 5 hours a week for a year and getting a black belt isn’t all that unusual. I do not believe that the military has lost its zeal for physical fitness and I am sure that these sessions are certainly physically taxing, but that can also be true of any physical training for a contact sport. More to the point that a belt rank really only has relevance within it’s own art. Ranks are awarded within the art in question for demonstrated knowledge of the material. Additionally, I would say that in most martial arts a black belt isn’t anything close to being a “master” but rather the place where you have enough of a foundation in the mechanics to actually start learning. It’s more of a high school diploma than a PhD.
The military has a lot of other things that it’s personnel need to do. Combatives are only the primary job of a very few combatives instructors. The average infantryman needs to maintain his physical fitness, equipment, marksmanship, career training, and a lot of mandatory administration. Fighting unarmed is not a top military priority.
Finally the “buddy with a gun” philosophy I consider to be an edge case justification for the curriculum. Should the corner stone of the system be the idea that you are alone, unarmed, and facing a single unarmed opponent? Should the strategy for winning that scenario be to fight to a stalemate and hope your friend shows up first?
I am actually a fan of the modern military combatives systems that I have been exposed to, but not for reasons of combat effectiveness or military necessity.