Army War Game Will Ponder a Future of Unpredictable Crises and Shrinking U.S. Budgets

By Sandra I. Erwin
At an Army war game next week, military strategists will speculate on what future battles the United States may fight. They will also weigh the potential impact of the world’s economic downturn and the U.S. growing debt on the military’s ability to respond to global crises and to engage in major conflicts.
The seminar is designed to challenge Army thinkers to look far into the future at a time when the service is being criticized for staying focused on current wars at the expense of preparing for unexpected contingencies. Overseeing the “alternative futures” seminar is Col. Jeffrey F. Vuono, deputy director of the Army’s Future Warfare Division at the Training and Doctrine Command, in Fort Monroe, Va. The discussion will be part of a series of debates and academic discussions that make up the Army’s annual “Unified Quest” war game.
The Army aims to cultivate future leaders who possess warrior-diplomat skills such as being able to negotiate with foreign government officials. They also will need to be prepared to cope with unforeseeable crises against a backdrop of reduced military budgets, uncooperative allies and global volatility, Vuono said Oct. 26 in an interview at the Association of the U.S. Army’s annual conference in Washington, D.C.
Grooming “adaptable” leaders has been a priority of TRADOC’s commander, Gen. Martin Dempsey, Vuono said . The “futures” war game will contemplate what-if scenarios that could test the mettle of the Army’s emerging generation of leaders who have spent most of their careers focused on counterinsurgencies in Iraq and Afghanistan,  in the post 9/11 era of U.S. military expansion and rising defense budgets.
Under the Army’s new top-level guidance on how it will fight in the future, junior leaders who command small units take on a pivotal role. They will be dispersed over large areas and will operate under a decentralized command structure. That has major implications for doctrine, training and equipment, said Lt. Col. Mark Elfendahl, chief of joint and Army concepts at the Army Capabilities Integration Center at Fort Monroe.
War commanders in the future also could see a far different “resource” environment than the one to which they have grown accustomed, Elfendahl said in an interview. The world is being reshaped by an economic slump and by a power shift from Western states to emerging nations such as China, he said. “We probably don’t think enough about the implications [of those developments] for the U.S. armed forces in 15 to 20 years. … What does it mean for us?”
One of the “alternative futures” that will be considered in the war game is a world with diminished financial resources and a U.S. national debt that is so out of control that foreign investors no longer might be willing to invest in U.S. Treasuries. Such a scenario would most certainly affect the Pentagon’s budget and, conceivably, the size of the Army and its ability to modernize, Elfendahl said. Traditional U.S. allies, confronted by their own fiscal woes, could back away from participation in military operations alongside the United States. “What might we have to do to grapple with this?” Elfendahl asked.
For the Army, the possibility of having to live with smaller budgets raises huge questions. Not only could it affect the size of the force and major acquisition programs but also the Army’s combat readiness, said Elfehdahl. The current readiness model, known as “Army force generation,” assumes that, at any given time, a certain number of active-duty and reserve units will be ready to go anywhere in the world to conduct “full spectrum operations.” Sustaining such level of readiness may be unaffordable if the nation has to take drastic measures to reduce the current debt. “I could envision a future economic crisis that would have such a devastating impact on the Army that some people may come to the conclusion that we can’t afford to keep every unit ready,” said Elfendahl. A possible option might be to return to the days of “tiered” readiness, when only a small percentage of the force is trained at the highest level. “That’s the kind of hypothetical discussion we’d like to have,” he said. Assumptions about the “all-volunteer” force also may have to be questioned as a result of declining resources. “Can we afford an all-volunteer force?  That’s an expensive proposition,” he noted. “Where do we go …. [when cutbacks are] forced on us by economic reality?”
The notion of grooming military leaders who can adapt and succeed in adverse circumstances is a “key component” of the Army’s war gaming plan, Vuono said. TRADOC chief Dempsey also is reshaping leader education and training programs so officers acquire non-traditional skills that – based on the experience of the past decade – have proven to be essential for any unit commander. The ability to negotiate, mediate and generally work with civilians in war zones are among the skills that will be emphasized, Vuono said. “The leaders of tomorrow will have ever increasing demands.”
Officials are hopeful that these war-gaming sessions will help counter recent criticism that the Army is not looking far enough into the future. Following the publication this summer of an updated doctrine guide known as the Army’s Operating Concept, several retired officers and contractors disparaged the document for being too counterinsurgency-centric and for not laying out a vision of where the Army sees itself two or three decades from now.  Elfendahl, who was a co-author of the Operating Concept, said the Army in fact is planning for the future, but is trying to avert a repeat of the Future Combat Systems, a wide-ranging modernization program that sought to develop technologies in response of a particular preconceived notion of how the Army would fight wars in the future.
The Army is still scarred by the termination of FCS, which ultimately failed because it assumed wars would be high-tech, quick and relatively bloodless. Advocates of big-ticket acquisition programs would like to see the Army set a long-term path again and “take that big acquisition leap,” Elfendahl said. The thinking in some circles is that “If you want to make money in the long run you have to commit to a vision and stick with it. We did that in FCS. And see where it went,” he said.

Topics: Defense Department, DOD Budget, Simulation Modeling Wargaming and Training

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