Following President Obama’s unveiling of a new national security strategy in January, the military services have raced to position themselves as key cogs in the Pentagon’s plans for fighting future wars.
The document, which directs the military to focus on potential enemies in Asia and the Pacific region and to no longer plan for large-scale ground wars, immediately was seized by advocates of naval and air warfare as a nod to shift resources from the Army to the Navy and the Air Force.
The “ground-wars-are-over” meme and a Defense Department budget proposal that truncates the size of the Army by nearly 80,000 soldiers have put service leaders on the defensive in the Pentagon’s internal battle for resources.
The Army is now seeking to rewrite the narrative by promoting its large presence in Asia-Pacific and by emphasizing the role of ground forces in any future conflict.
“People don’t realize we have more people in the Pacific than the Navy and the Air Force,” said Gen. Ray Odierno, chief of staff of the U.S. Army.
The Army will be downsizing over the next five years, “but you won’t see any reductions out of the Pacific,” Odierno told reporters Feb. 21 during a breakfast meeting.
An active debate in under way within the Joint Staff on how the Army will do business in the Pacific, Odierno said. “There will always be a baseline of Army capability in the Pacific.”
Among the issues that are being contemplated is whether to increase the prepositioning of equipment aboard ships in the Pacific region, Odierno said. These floating stockpiles would be available both for crisis response and to help train friendly militaries in the area, he said. Odierno noted that he recently hosted the chief of the Australian army and both spent three days discussing ways to increase joint training.
Several U.S. allies in the Pacific are expecting the Pentagon to help counter China’s rising influence in the region. Odierno sees the Army taking on more responsibilities in mentoring and training U.S. allies’ ground forces. Seven of the 10 largest armies in the world are in the Pacific, he said. Armies also are the most influential of the branches of the military in 22 out of 27 Pacific nations, he noted.
Odierno pushed back on the idea that the Air-Sea Battle concept undermines the relevance of the Army.
“I see Air-Sea Battle as one technique that could be used” in future efforts to counter enemies equipped with high-tech weaponry, he said. “There are roles for ground forces that we need to do.”
It would be a mistake to assume that future wars will be against any particular type of enemy, he said. “What I see is a hybrid threat” that combines high-tech weapons, terrorism tactics, insurgencies and criminal activities, he said. That is a “complex environment” that will require contributions from all branches of the military, said Odierno.
During a meeting with Army strategists at the Pentagon last month, Odierno acknowledged that the president’s “pivot to the Pacific” plan has put pressure on the Army to come up with a credible narrative for the relevance of ground forces.
Some analysts have argued that today’s Army is in need of a sequel to the “Air Land Battle” concept that Vietnam-era Gen. William E. DePuy championed and became the Army's marching orders in 1982. It served as a guiding principle that shaped Army doctrine, equipment and training for decades.
“We’re looking for something like that,” Maj. Dave Williams, a strategist at U.S. Army Forces Central Command, told service officials during a seminar earlier this month. “We are looking, quite candidly, with a bit of envy to the Air-Sea Battle that the Air Force and Navy came up with,” he said.
Army strategists have pointed out that even if a war were fought by naval and air forces, they would need the Army to provide logistics support, to secure entry to ports and secure access for ships and airplanes.
“The Army would be well served to continue to change the context of the dialogue … from a context that is about high-end technology and high-tech platforms and move it to the context of maintaining operational access,” said Michael Raimondo, a military analyst at the Marine Corps Combat Development Command.