More than 100 leaders from across the Army, the Department of Defense, academia and think tanks, met at Carlisle Barracks, Penn., last week at the “Winter Wargame Unified Quest 2013″ event to plan for the future of the Army – from about 2020 to 2030.
“The duty of military planners is not necessarily to get the future exactly right. Rather, it’s just not to get it too terribly wrong,” said Maj. Gen. Bill Hix, quoting British historian Sir Michael Howard.
Hix serves as director of the concepts development and learning directorate within Army Training and Doctrine Command. It is TRADOC that sponsored Unified Quest 2013, or UQ-13.
In plotting out a future for the Army, planners used a variety of statistical analyses, algorithms, models, computer simulations and their own subject matter expertise to explore and test a range of scenarios across the globe and within specific countries.
“We’re trying to narrow the cones of probability and uncertainty,” Hix said. “We don’t want to be surprised.
“Who could have anticipated the Arab Spring?” he continued, illustrating how events can change with great rapidity and unexpectedness, leading to changes in planning.
Sir Michael’s quote was particularly apt at UQ-13, since he is known as one of the pioneers of expanding the thinking of warfare beyond traditional battles and into the realm of sociology and psychology.
Likewise, planners at UQ-13 looked beyond winning and more at preventing wars in the first place using “prevent/shape” strategies, some of which hinge on social interactions and psychological perceptions among and between partner nations, militaries and organizations like the State Department – even multinational corporations.
Strengthening alliances, combined training, military-to-military exchanges, humanitarian assistance and technology sharing are all shaping-activities that the U.S. is doing now and even more so in the future to prevent war and if war becomes necessary, to leverage the capabilities of others, Hix said.
An example of a shaping strategy that may have had a tempering influence on the military of a country that was part of the Arab Spring, Hix said, was the good military-to-military relationship and exchanges that the U.S. has had with Egypt.
The wargame modeling and discussions demonstrated that as funding and manpower decreases and uncertainty in the world increases – particularly with the possibility of failed nuclear states – “prevent/shape” strategies will become even more important, Hix said.
As funding and manpower are reduced, the Army will also need to rely more on its technical advantages – which cannot be taken for granted in the future, Hix warned. He said the Army must take notice of increases in access to technologies worldwide and the increase of patents outside the U.S. Those increases are not just happening in Asia, he said.
“Africa reminds me of Asia 20 years ago,” he said. “Who knows where they’ll be in 2030?”
Another problem with keeping the edge on technology, he said, is America’s shrinking pool of talent. Young Americans with the right skill sets in science, engineering and information technology often go into private industry, where salaries and opportunities to move up fast are enticing, he said. Further, those Soldiers the Army trains tend to then go off and do other things.
Also, those who meet the intellectual requirements might not meet the physical ones, he said.
The Army will need to do a better job of providing incentives, training and identifying those who will succeed and thrive in high-demand, low-density military occupational specialties.
Planners are also discussing the possibility of a future where the Army might have Soldiers who do high-tech jobs exclusively, while other soldiers do the actual fighting.
Besides manpower challenges, there are materiel challenges in the financially uncertain future.
One interesting idea being floated at the wargame, from a NATO partner, is “sponsored reserve,” Hix said.
“Sponsored reserve” is a term used in the United Kingdom for some of its reserve force who can quickly transition their entire business to military use when needed during a crisis.
For example, there’s a trucking company that does commercial business in the U.K. that can be completely mobilized, including both drivers and their trucks, Hix said. The Army might buy the trucks in such an arrangement, but would not have to pay for their maintenance – a quid pro quo arrangement.
“That’s the sort of creative thinking we like,” Hix said, adding that the idea might not fly in the U.S. military.
But some ideas that come out of the wargame do stick, he said. When that happens, they are tested in live experiments with troops in the field or the ideas might go to labs for testing. Eventually, some ideas make it from concept to doctrine. That cross-over can have an impact on future technology used by Soldiers and can even result in changes to force structure, he said.
TRADOC hosts wargamming exercises annually; and each year, adjustments are made and new ideas are incubated.
“It’s a building block approach,” Hix said. “We’re constantly building on what we’ve learned and what we anticipate so that Soldiers have the right tools that will enable them to adapt and deal with problems we didn’t anticipate.”