Security Studies Program Seminar

Dimensions of Army Transformation

Thomas McNaugher

March 15, 2006


Ongoing changes and would-be changes in the Army

Exploring the information revolution: C2 and ISR. I think this is what transformation really is.

Toward full spectrum capabilities: training, leader development; balanced structure. The army has to be as prepared to fight the North Koreans at the DMZ as it is to do counter-insurgency in Iraq or humanitarian aid in Somalia.

Agility: weight, size, readiness. Can you go over a bridge without destroying it? What is the smallest size unit that can be sent somewhere independently? Can you pull something out of the Army and use it without de-stabilizing everything around it?

Preparing for nuclear-armed adversaries: snatch or cover down; operate under a cloud. This did not receive enough attention in the QDR. The Army toyed with tactical nuclear weapons in the 1950s. Then they returned to WW II-style division in 1962-3. They have not thought through what happens if DPRK drops a nuke on U.S. soldiers. North Korea could actually do this. No one is thinking about this.

Waves of transformation

•  Gordon Sullivan: Force XXI (1993): Network and armored divisions, starting small and working up. Focused mainly on communications, less on ISR.

•  Eric K. Shinseki: FCS, Stryker (1999). Stryker brigades force a heavy-light Army. FCS assume (demands?) progress on ISR, communications.

•  Peter Schoomaker: modularity, force generation (ARFORGEN), personnel stabilization (2003). Army organized around modular, fully ready brigades. Substituting RSTA for maneuver battalion in brigade. Some rebalancing.

Early pursuit of information technology

The Army is a combined arms force. Very complex with many different parts. The Army spread out across the country, and everyone had its senator and congressman. This means there are a lot of players involved in any change. The Army has more dispersed political support.

Change starts with the branches—this may have been the “problem” that prompted Force XXI. Gordon Sullivan has to figure out what to do with all the different efforts to use information technology that are taking places in all the different branches. Force XXI supposed to bridge all the existing technologies and create a network.

There was no operational urgency—starts small and cheap and works out to division, corps.

Lots of technical problems emerged. MITRE is the Army think tank for systems engineering of command and control, and they had to work through these.

Shinseki's transformation demands near-perfect network and ISR.

The operational motivation probably stemmed from Task Force Hawk, Albania, 1999. Clark asked for 24 apaches, get an entire corps HQ. Including M1s and M2s too big and heavy for Albania 's bridges. Army appears stuck in the past, and Bill Cohen is not pleased.

Medium weight C-130 sized vehicles solve mobility problem and force ISR innovations. Shinseki gives a speech in October 1999—lays out plans for highly networked, medium weight force called Future Force.

Can only survive with “near perfect” situational awareness. Networked C2 required to apply fires quickly. If you're going out with 20 ton vehicles, you better know where the enemy is.

Like Sullivan, Shinseki faced a legacy problem—had to deal with the technologies that were already there. Force XXI technologies plus JTRS, WIN-T.

Where is the Army Today?

Real progress on networking—thanks mainly to Force XXI and OIF. Faster and more holistic planning. Faster and more accurate delivery of fires. Much improved “blue” situational awareness—I actually know where I am, and I know where my friends are. This makes a big difference. BFT—Blue Force Tracker. Force XXI technology.

But there are lingering (enduring?) limitations. Severely limited “Red” situational awareness. We don't know where the enemy is, especially when he steps away from the hot boxes like APCs! It's not clear to me we'll ever see the enemy the way we need to if we're going to have a 20-ton vehicle.

Continuing “digital divide” at brigade and below. “Bandwidth on the move” limitation. You can't receive as much data while you are mobile.

There are also compatibility and inter-operability problems. Serious technological problems with network components.

Organizationally, this looks like the Army using new technologies to do what it's always done. And a continuing debate about purpose. Is this to help us fight better against an enemy that isn't out there any more? This is not full spectrum. Is the FCS relevant? Who is going to get in the hot box and fight us?

What about purpose: can the Army become a genuinely “full spectrum force”?

What does full spectrum mean? Different skill mix—rebalancing to include more of the skills, units needed for OOTW. Training vs. structure trade-offs. New personnel, readiness policies needed.

Different headquarters, C4ISR.

Need wider ranging leader development, education. Reading “the peace field.” Thinking strategically. Putting military in the political and strategic context. In the Cold War, the army thought mostly tactically. In the 80s it started thinking operationally. In the cold war, the strategic thinking had already been done.

Big war personnel policies, peacetime deployment rules yield serious distortions.

What the nation wants starting in the 1990s is not the nearly ready division, but the perfectly ready brigade. For various reasons, about 30% of any unit isn't there at any one time. So you steal from other brigades and corps. You can put together a ready brigade, but you've destroyed a lot of other brigades in the process. This runs totally counter to traditional way of organizing. It wasn't a big problem to mess up a brigade or two when the army had 40. It becomes a much bigger problem in Iraq. We have had to totally change headquarters in Iraq. Have a lot of civil affairs, a lot of allies, a lot of Iraqi.

Army resisted changed through the 1990s.

Army focus on conventional warfighting predates Vietnam consensus by several decades. Schizophrenic 1990s: planning for conventional war. Struggling to put OOTW chapter in operations manual. School curricula remained focused on conventional ops. NTC remained focused on armored warfare. “Just in time” approach to preparing units for OOTW.

OIF destroys 1990s accommodation, produces serious moves toward change.

Rebalancing of force alters skill mix. Modular brigade means design beefs up headquarters, moves unit design toward full spectrum capabilities. Unit stabilization could solve turbulence problems. This probably wouldn't have happened if we had just done Afghanistan. There have been significant changes in NTC and school curriculum.

Army is changing, but will it stick?

Innovation driven by three factors: 1) Available technology: blessing and curse—you're stuck with what is already there and must build around it. 2) Leadership: but it only gets 2-4 years. The decision cycle is longer than the personnel cycle. There is a level at which the Army is essentially leaderless. The Army rolls along with the help of leaders, but no leader can change the entire Army. 3) Operational environment: duration matters.

Key differences from Vietnam make me somewhat optimistic. “We fired Westmoreland after one year.” Leadership includes remarkably innovative officers. No Fulda Gap to turn back to.

But how Iraq ends will be important—and unknowable for now.


Rapporteur: Caitlin Talmadge

back to Wednesday Seminar Series, Spring 2006