As the Army transitions away from wartime commitments, what should the strategic focus be for future challenges and what will the Army of tomorrow and beyond look like?
These questions were discussed during the Training and Doctrine Command-led “Army Campaign of Learning” Senior Leader Seminar, or SLS, at the National Defense University on Fort McNair, here, today. Army Chief of Staff Gen. Ray Odierno, along with 75 senior Army and other DOD leaders and multinational representatives attended.
To promote the candor necessary for open discussions, leaders’ names could not be used for attribution, except during the media roundtable which followed, with Gen. Robert Cone, Training and Doctrine Command, or TRADOC, commander and Brig. Gen. William C. Hix, director, TRADOC Concept Development and Learning.
The human dimension was a major focus of the SLS. Small-unit leaders at the squad and platoon levels will continue to operate in ambiguous environments where maturity and an understanding of the cultural and political aspects will be just as important as tactical proficiency, according to the panelists.
“Soldiers and leaders have done a magnificent job over the past 10 years in understanding the human dimension,” said Cone. “They are familiar with working with Soldiers of indigenous forces and other governments, learning the language and culture, all while operating in uncertain environments.
“The question facing us is, ‘how do we build the structural imperatives necessary in the Army for these practices to continue?'” he said. “Young Soldiers know the importance of people. The human domain must be centerpiece of our future efforts.”
A member of the panel from a major university with research labs also emphasized the importance of the human dimension. He said exciting new research into the brain, genome and neuroendocrine systems is being conducted in the lab.
“Researchers are seeking to determine how people make decisions and how emotions play a part in that process,” he said. “Results could have significant applications to the understanding of Soldiers’ mental processes and performance, how units operate and better understanding the people we work with and against.”
“The human dimension also means putting the right people in the right jobs,” Hix said. “What’s best for them is also best for the Army.”
Discussions also centered on how to avoid war through an investment in “prevention, partnerships and shaping.” Some of these include humanitarian operations, coalition building, combined training exercises, and foreign military exchanges.”
“We now have around 4,700 foreign soldiers in TRADOC schools,” said Cone. “They participate in discourse with our soldiers and acquire a better understanding not just of the Army, but of our American society. This is one of our greatest strengths in shaping and growing our relationships. We might not change their minds when they return to their countries, but at least the experience gives them a basis to begin a conversation.”
The African Command is a prime example of where the Army is working to build relationships, said Cone.
“I visit commanders there and they say before going, ‘so I’m going here and not to Afghanistan, what am I going to do now?'” Cone explained. “And then when they get there they discover there’s a lot to study and focus their intellectual energies on, perhaps helping to prevent a future conflict.”
The panel continued with discussions on weapons of mass destruction proliferation, cyber security, operations in space, access to hostile areas and mobility within those areas.
Hix said it is a challenge to predict what the Army will look like decades later.
“We predicted the end of oil two or three times during my lifetime,” he said, “but predict we must, using the best possible political, demographic, economic and technological data we have and see where they converge.
“We’re working with scientists from around the country,” he continued. “I tell them, ‘we need to do this’ and they then go and make it happen. It might take 10 years of research and another 10 years to implement, but it’s money well spent.”
He spoke about the historical nature of scientific investment.
“In the 1960s, research was underway on the Bradley, M-1 tank, Apache, Patriot missile and [multiple launch rocket system],” he said. “We didn’t have the money then to spend on those systems, but a decade later a strategic imperative for those systems suddenly developed and all that research paid off.”
The panelists seemed to agree that it’s in everyone’s best interest to continue looking at the Army of tomorrow, 2020 and beyond.