The Army is taking a series of strategically minded and carefully crafted steps to position the force for a full range of potential mission scenarios in an unpredictable, yet challenging and fast-changing future operating environment, service leaders said Oct. 22.
Lt. Gen. John F. Campbell, the Army’s deputy chief of staff, G3/5/7, led a panel titled “Versatile Force for the Nation,” at an Institute of Land Warfare forum during the Association of the United States Army’s annual meeting and exposition.
“The world we live in is very complex, interconnected and politically fragmented.” Campbell said. “Events resonate across the globe very quickly and are amplified by the 24/7 global media. If I had to pick one word for the Army as we move forward, it would be ‘agility.’ We need to have an Army that is precise and able to rapidly deploy,” he said, making reference to the Pentagon’s Defense Planning Guidance.
Placing a premium on the need for the Army to be versatile and adaptable in a rapidly evolving global threat environment, service leaders said the Army must be able to succeed if called upon to perform a unique and broad set of roles and missions. These include conventional, irregular, counter-terrorism, counter-weapons of mass destruction, or WMD, stability, humanitarian and disaster response activities.
Campbell also explained that the Army would harvest lessons learned from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and re-balance toward the Pacific theater as the Afghan drawdown continues.
Part of this includes strengthening alliances with partner nations in the region as well as more broadly looking at mission-focused regional alignments for units as a force-structure strategy for the future.
Regionally aligning units will allow the service to refine and strengthen soldiers’ cultural and social understanding of specific geographical areas in which the Army may be called upon to operate.
“Regionally aligned forces are going to be extremely important as a best means to provide forces that will be better trained and better aware of their operating environment. We want to ensure that our Soldiers can perform better socially, cognitively and physically,” said Lt. Gen. Keith Walker, director of the Army Capabilities Integration Center, Fort Eustis, Va.
While citing that the Army now has about 60,000 troops currently stationed in the Pacific theater, Campbell and Walker explained that a shift to the region would involve more of a re-balancing effort allowing combatant commanders in the Pacific region to once again have access to forces diverted to Central Command to support efforts in Iraq and Afghanistan.
“We’re a different Army from what we were in 2001,” Campbell explained. “We’ve modernized and we are looking to rebalance toward the Pacific as we draw down Afghanistan and Iraq. At the same time, the Army has to look at the world we live in. The Army is resetting. Our goal is to meet the needs of all our combatant commanders. For the past 10 to 11 years, we’ve focused on CENTCOM. As we move toward the future, we are going to partner more with Special Operations Forces and our coalition partners.”
Describing “operational adaptability” and “versatility” as essential characteristics needed for the future Army, Walker talked about the conceptual rigor informing an ongoing “campaign of learning” designed to inform the Army’s strategic approach to the future.
Even though the particulars of a potential future environment are, as of yet, unknown, complex and uncertain, the Army can consider a range of factors, trends, likely scenarios and contingencies as a useful learning exercise designed to inform a “working hypothesis,” Walker explained.
“What characterizes the global environment is the exponential increase in the amount of human interaction and just how fast information gets around the world. We want to have an Army that can adapt to the unknown,” Walker said. “The Army of 2020 is about a transition, preparing for a broad range of actors, an incredible mix of state and non-state actors, para-military forces and uniform forces – some with very sophisticated weapons. We have also had some anti-access/area-denial challenges and those may likely increase.”
In particular, the still-evolving results of the Arab Spring as it played out in North Africa and the Middle East, a potentially volatile stand-off with Iran, the growth of al Qaeda in certain locations and an uncertain future in North Korea – are all important considerations informing the calculus regarding future plans and potential future engagements, said Todd Harvey, principal director for force development, Office of the Secretary of Defense.
“The variety and complexity of the challenges we expect to face remain constant and, in some cases, are increasing,” Harvey said.
Harvey also cited concerns about the possibility of potential adversaries, radicals or disruptive forces acquiring stockpiles of weapons in some cases,such as portable, shoulder-fired missiles, unmanned aerial systems, cyber capabilities and improvised explosive devices.
“As we look at the landscape before us, it is really a mixed bag. There is obviously potential for quick swings and a high degree of unpredictability,” Harvey said.
As a result of these many factors and considerations, Army planners are taking a look into the “deep-future” with a mind to harvesting science and technology innovations, developing, training and sustaining an agile, superior force and preparing a mix of tailor-able capability for the future, Walker and Campbell said.
Emphasizing modernization, lethality and the soldier, Squad and small unit as the foundation of the force, Campbell stressed to the audience that “the most discriminate weapon on the battlefield has always been the American soldier.”