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National Defense > Blog > Posts > Army Gen. Dempsey: Unpredictability of future wars will shape how Army buys weapons
Army Gen. Dempsey: Unpredictability of future wars will shape how Army buys weapons
The Army has a message for the defense industry: We want technologies that help soldiers win wars, but we don't expect any cutting-edge weapons to become a substitute for boots on the ground.

As the Army unveils a newly updated doctrine known as "capstone concept," the service is acknowledging that it cannot predict what the next war will be, so it will pursue a flexible approach to training and equipping troops. For defense suppliers, this marks a departure from the traditional way of doing business -- which was predicated on the Army anticipating specific requirements for future weapon systems and developing technologies over years and decades.  Just like the Army has had to adapt to change, industry also has to follow, said Gen. Martin E. Dempsey, the commanding general of U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command.

The Army must  articulate its requirements and capability gaps, Dempsey said last week in an interview at the Pentagon. At the same time, the industry must react and "respond on our timeline,” he said. His remarks come at a time when Defense Department officials and President Obama have tried to eliminate some Cold War-era weapons programs that military officials say they no longer need. “It’s clear to us that technology will always be an important enabler, but it will never be a substitute for the kind of close contact that has to occur in dealing with enemies on the ground,” Dempsey said. “What has to happen at the end of the day is that a soldier has to walk into a village in order to understand the village. You’re not going to understand a village by sitting outside of it.”

In the interview, Dempsey discussed the Army’s Capstone Concept, a document updated about every five years that projects the Army’s capabilities and challenges over the next decade-and-a-half. Officials plan to release the 2009 Capstone Concept Dec. 21, but a draft has already been posted online.

The document describes an Army that continues to rely on cutting-edge weapons and sensors -- but one that doesn’t expect such technology to replace soldiers on the ground. That techno-centric philosophy was embraced by former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, who believed the United States could win wars mainly through air strikes, high-tech weapons and a minimal troop presence. The Iraq and Afghanistan wars have proved that vision to be flawed, said Brig. Gen. H.R. McMaster, director of concept development and experimentation at TRADOC.  Dempsey saw first-hand, as commander of the 1st Armored Division in Baghdad in 2004, that the Army was not equipped or trained for the mission it was assigned to perform.

The lesson is that now the Army must strive to balance pressures to define and field technology at a faster pace with the need to ensure it fills those gaps with the best solution, said Dempsey. “To use a baseball or golfing metaphor, we’re seeking the sweet spot between rapid acquisition and the certainty that comes with a very deliberate process,” he said. “Rapid timelines bring with the some uncertainty and some risk.”


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