Though the discussion was about building the Army that will exist beyond 2020, many attitudes and approaches were met with real-time frustrations from service members, foreign militaries and industry leaders.
The goal is to go from Army of execution to an Army of preparation, said Gen. Robert Cone, commander of U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command. Despite current challenges, the service must reallocate some of its energy toward the future.
That is no easy feat. The process starts with policy that becomes concepts, concepts then become capabilities, capabilities become requirements and requirements are funded in a resource constrained environment.
Policy is an ever moving matter as governments and regional players evolve.
A growth of Asian militaries can be expected, while the rest of the world falls into military decline, said Kathleen Hicks, director of the International Security Program, Center for Strategic and International Studies. The goal is to make China’s rise stable and positive.
There will be poverty reduction and improvement in health and wealth, but it will coincide with a growth in urbanization, she said. By 2040, 65 percent of world’s population will live in cities, and one-third – some 2 billion people – will live in slum conditions.
The Arab awakening will continue to shake out and weapons proliferation will pose new risks. Hicks said an increase in coalition building around specific problems will be likely, which makes the survival of existing alliances such as NATO a matter of considerable concern as it will affect how the United States uses force in the future.
A German training commander took the opportunity to address the removal of troops from his continent. While the panel talked often about the need to train alongside others and how interoperability is key, the ally was cautious. He asked how and when this training would happen in light of ongoing budget and force cuts.
The panel stressed the need to capture lessons learned in Afghanistan and Iraq, trust in the physical and virtual training planned for the regional alignment model and take advantage of regional training exercises. But Cone did concede that this effort is “complicated by the loss of Joint Forces Command,” and the service would have to do a better job of reaching out.
“The last place we want to meet and work these things out is the battlefield,” he said.
That’s because speed and multiplicity will be the name of the game as asymmetric warfare becomes the norm. Twenty-eight nations now have weapons grade plutonium. Troops could have to deal with the proliferation of proxies, collapse of governments and humanitarian disasters beyond the scope of anything seen to date.
Concepts and capabilities will continue to evolve in the midterm and integrate in the long term, said Lt. Gen. Keith Walker, deputy commanding general of TRADOC Futures and director of the Army Capabilities Integration Center.
He pointed to the cutting of 750,000 soldiers and funds after the Vietnam War as an example.
“Fortunately, the intellectual led the physical,” he said. The result was the Air/Land Doctrine and the “Big Five” innovations – the M1 Abrams main battle tank, the M2 and M3 Bradley fighting vehicles, the Black Hawk and Apache helicopters, and the Patriot air defense missile.
The intellectual led the physical again after Operation Desert Storm, which saw a cut of 500,000 soldiers and associated funding. But this ushered in the digitization era.
“The question is where do we invest now?” Walker said.
His answers focused heavily on the human nature of conflict, and leader development “is the number one investment.” Significant investment in human sciences can also be expected, as sergeants today do what a Special Forces sergeant first class with 10 years of experience would have done a decade ago.
Expeditionary maneuver is also among priorities as troops will increasingly need to get somewhere fast despite anti-access and area denial efforts. Hicks said she expects intolerance for land forces for the next 10 years, which adds to the dilemma, but said any number of factors could change that attitude. Regardless, don’t expect intermediate staging bases built up over time.
Advance computing to enhance situational awareness is another hot topic. Walker said squads get surprised 70 percent of the time, which should not happen.
Requirements must be designed to keep soldiers competent in their craft, said Brig. Gen. Wayne Grigsby, director of training for Army Operations and Plans.
There must be “tactical and techno competence” and an understanding that mission command and regional alignment are interdependent.
Familiar buzz words were used by the man who matches money to mission.
Lt. Gen. James Barclay, deputy chief of staff for programs, said new gear must be versatile and tailorable, affordable and cost effective – and must be based on network and squad.
He said the service will rely on incremental improvements and smaller procurements are likely. Barclay said the focus will be on mature technologies to reduce developmental costs and he expressed concern about maintaining the industrial base.
The panel did concede that the acquisition process takes too long. They said the service must produce more adaptive requirements, consider leasing options and cut back on the abundance of testing that is required.
Cone urged “institutionalizing adaptive mechanisms,” and pointed to the promise of the Asymmetric Warfare Group as an example for the future. He also suggested the Rapid Equipping Force fall within TRADOC and the Joint IED Defeat Organization fold into a Defense Department model.
He said a “couple” of these units “might have been on cutting block in recent months,” though he did not elaborate.