Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Building Army Forces for Future War

Oct. 13, 2014 - 12:47PM   |  
Twenty-threeyears after the first Gulf War, America’s post-Cold War surplus of military power is gone. We’ve squandered it in a series of open-ended conflicts inside the ungovernable wastelands of the Middle East and Southwest Asia against tribal peoples without armies, air forces or air defenses.
It’s the kind of warfare that rewards the tactical application of overwhelming firepower at the expense of coherent operations and strategy. Americans don’t want or need a repeat performance. The task now is to build US Army maneuver forces to fight and win in a future war of decision.

Wars of decision are interstate conflicts involving vital strategic interests that affect the survival of the republic. Wars of decision are infrequent, normally 50-100 years apart, but Americans cannot afford to lose a war of decision.
Unlike the conflicts since 1945, wars of decision change borders, reshape societies and alter the international system. Eastern Ukraine, northeast Asia, the western Pacific and Mesopotamia are places where wars of decision gestated in the past. Future victory depends on the willingness of the Army’s senior leaders to subject today’s Army to an extreme makeover without bias; one that is aligned with the demands of 21st century lethality, scalability, agility and economy.
Now is not the time to fight inside simulated battlespaces more than two decades into the future where capabilities are crafted into logarithms that preordain the outcome in favor of a retrofitted Cold War Army with modest changes on the margin.

Innovation is critical, but as Steve Jobs asserted, people, not institutions, innovate: “Innovation has nothing to do with how many research and development (R&D) dollars you have. When Apple came up with the Mac, IBM was spending at least 100 times more on R&D. It’s not about money. It’s about the people you have, how you’re led, and how much you get it.”

“Getting it” means understanding that wars of decision are decided in the decades before they begin when strategic self-awareness, an authentic, unbiased appraisal of one’s own capabilities and constraints, guides force development.

■ In both world wars, Americans were lucky that other great powers fought for years before our entry, giving the US armed forces, and the US Army in particular, time to build up fighting power.

In the 21st century, we are unlikely to be so lucky. Given American resistance to a draft, future Army combat forces must be professional fighting forces-in-being; i.e., ready, standing forces that are not dependent on mobilization. These forces must be trained and equipped to fight, not to conduct nation building.

■ Twenty-first century operations that depend exclusively on salvos of precision-guided weapons will decide little of strategic importance on land. If Army maneuver forces are tightly integrated with joint ISR and strike capabilities, fewer, smarter, highly trained professional soldiers inside the right organization for combat can accomplish much more than the mass armies of the past. To do so, Army maneuver forces must be organized as self-contained, stand-alone formations that can operate with ease inside a joint, integrated military command structure.

■ In the 21st century, US Army maneuver forces must switch from a ground-holding strategy to a force-oriented strategy. In his famous march to the sea from Nov. 15 to Dec. 21, 1864, Gen. William Tecumseh Sherman did not invest time or troops in holding ground. Instead of slowly advancing to “cleanse” the battle area of Confederate forces and then occupying the area, Sherman destroyed Confederate forces whenever they appeared. He seized Savannah, but otherwise operated like the Soviet armies of 1944 and 1945, striking deep to disrupt the enemy’s society and accelerate its collapse.

■ Recasting Sherman’s operations in 21st century form requires more speed and agility from the Army to get to the fight, as well as the right mix of sealift and airlift. It’s time to adopt rotational readiness on the US Navy’s model to align Army force packages with strategic air and sealift; avoid last minute, hasty assembly of units and equipment; and manage funding for operations and maintenance more efficiently.

A war of decision is coming in the next 10-20 years. When it breaks out, there won’t be time to “lash up headquarters” and “train up” units. The US Army must work now to combine the near-simultaneous attack of its ready, deployable maneuver forces with the concentration of precision strikes across service lines in time and space. These appraisals point the way. ■
Colonel Douglas Macgregor (retired) is a decorated combat veteran and the author of five books. His newest, Margin of Victory, will be available next year.


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