The first decade of our newish century was a bloody one for the U.S. Army, but it was also one in which the service showed how adaptable it can be, transitioning itself—under fire—from a top-heavy, Cold War-centric force to a (still top-heavy) more agile organization that can switch from killing lots of people very quickly and efficiently to performing stability and humanitarian operations with remarkable speed.
But this newfound agility doesn’t mean that transitioning from over a decade of continuous combat to a postwar world is going to be easy, particularly since its slice of the budgetary pie is about to be reduced while it loses about 100,000 soldiers from its ranks — and as the nation turns its strategic focus to the vast blue waters of the Pacific region.
If there was one takeaway from last week’s Unified Quest 2012 event, where the Army brought together almost a hundred strategists and planners to game out how the Army of 2020 will fight, it's that the service isn’t interested in just staying at home. A variety of humanitarian assistance and combat scenarios hashed out during the event—which wrapped up last week in Potomac, Md.—stressed several key factors: speed of deployment/ redeployment; cultural understanding; force structure; the necessity of predeploying stocks of equipment; and training General Purpose Forces to conduct a variety of disparate missions with interagency and multinational partners.
Speaking with reporters on Thursday after the event wrapped up, Gen. Robert Cone, commander of the Army's Training and Doctrine Command (TRADOC), touted the idea of “regional alignment,” which would partner specific units with particular regions in the world in order to “make sure we have the intelligence that would look at what is going on inside that country” so any American troops deploying to the region could benefit. “That's the [Special Forces] model,” he conceded, adding that “I would like to say we could do that,” though there are no specific plans to do so at the moment. “We haven't figured it out how to align the number of hotspots with the number of units” just yet, he said.
And then there was the obvious shadow of Iraq and Afghanistan. One participant in a wide-ranging discussion about a humanitarian mission said that the ability to rapidly deploy a Joint Task Force headquarters will be critical to “set the conditions” that would allow the host nation and civilian relief organizations to take over as soon as possible. Getting in quickly and efficiently would also deter “further aggression and ultimately sets the conditions for our removal. Again, the important point there is the speed with which we get on top of the problem. The slower you get there, the more likelihood that you have mission creep and other things come into play to include the counterinsurgency.”
Another theme that was common across all scenarios was the need to enable communications between infantry squads up through division headquarters, as well as with host nation forces and international partners. Col. Wayne Grigsby, director of the Mission Command Center of Excellence, said the Army needs to “really focus” on tactical communications, including mission command on the move, and “extend that network down to company command post” in order to make sure that in future conflicts “the network is a weapons system.”
One thing that all of the scenarios made very clear was that the Army sees future conflict being dominated by “hybrid” threats that combine insurgent tactics and organizational structures with the kinds of sophisticated weaponry and jamming and hacking capabilities that can only be provided by a state, and that it expects some of these groups to be actively supported by “rogue” elements of foreign armed forces.
Overall, the Army of the future can’t just train to do one thing, be it conventional war or counterinsurgency. Gen. Cone said that while the Army of 2001 was designed to fight set-piece battles against a peer military power, and it took some time for that mind-set—and the training—to change, “the folly of that strategy” meant that the younger generation “paid for it in blood.” It’s not something he wants to see repeated.