Army’s Post-War Game Plan: ‘It’s Really Messy’
The Navy and the Air Force already have a nifty concept, called “air-sea battle,” for how they view the future. For the Army, coming up with a concise definition of what its job will be post Iraq and Afghanistan is proving to be an uphill battle.
During a meeting with a team of strategic planners this week, Army Chief of Staff Gen. Ray Odierno recognized that the Army’s role in providing security for the United States is too complex to be captured in a slick catchphrase. And yet the Army’s leaders find themselves under pressure to craft a credible narrative of how the service will align itself with a new Pentagon strategy that deemphasizes ground warfare and sets its sights on Asia. Adding to the sense of urgency are looming budget cuts, which could result in a smaller force and reduced funding for new weapon systems.
Army leaders believe that, unless the service can clearly explain to Congress, the American public and even its own ranks, what its mission will be after current conflicts end, it will risk not just losing financial resources but also the hard-won war-fighting skills that soldiers have acquired over the past decade.
This week Odierno unveiled his first attempt at articulating his vision for the future Army. In a document titled, "Marching Orders," Odierno casts the Army as the force that can "prevent, shape and win" future conflicts.
The Army is involved in so many activities around the world these days that trying to condense its mission into a simple narrative might be unrealistic, says Lt. Gen. Keith C. Walker, director of the Army Capabilities Integration Center.
“It’s really messy,” Walker says.
Walker and other senior officials participated this week in a seminar in Potomac, Md., titled, “How the Army Fights,” which is part of a series called United Quest 2012 that seeks to define the way forward for the Army.
The current challenge has stirred nostalgia among Army strategists who long for the days of “air land battle,” the 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,” says Maj. Dave Williams, a strategist at U.S. Army Forces Central Command.
“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 says during a presentation at the seminar.
In the 1920s and 1930s, there were “Rainbow Plans” that influenced doctrine and thinking. During the Vietnam War, concepts such as “airmobile” and “active defense” also emerged. After the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan had been well under way, the Army adopted the “full spectrum operations” mantra to encompass just about every type of conflict.
There are just too many missions on the Army’s plate to boil down to a simple narrative, Williams says. He suggests the service should narrow its focus to one area that embodies a core threat to U.S. vital interests.
That’s the problem, Walker says. “There is no clear enemy.”
Gen. Robert Cone, commander of Army Training and Doctrine Command, acknowledges that it is going to be difficult to articulate a cogent plan for an uncertain future. Nonetheless, TRADOC is gearing up to produce an updated operational concept and doctrine manual later this year.
It was just four years ago when the Army unveiled a new operations manual that elevated the missions of keeping peace and stability in war-torn nations as being of equal importance to defeating adversaries in a conventional battlefield.
Confronted now by a budget crunch and a new strategy that calls for the U.S. military to shift away from drawn-out counterinsurgencies and to increase its presence in Asia, Army officials once again are rewriting doctrine.
In the meeting with TRADOC officials, Odierno emphasized the idea that the Army not only has to react to the changing climate but also has to better explain how it will play in Asia. Even if the air-sea battle is mostly about naval and air warfare, land forces play an important role that outsiders may not realize, Odierno stressed, according to participants who attended the meeting.
Even if a war is being fought by naval and air forces, they need the Army to provide logistics support, to secure entry to ports and to perform untold other functions that help secure access for ships and airplanes, says Fred Svedarsky, chief of the concepts division at the Army’s combined arms concept directorate, in Fort Leavenworth, Kan. As far as increases in the U.S. military presence in Asia, the Army ought to be a key participant as most U.S. allies in the Pacific build their military power around land-centric armies, says Svedarsky.
Odierno also has asked TRADOC to study options for prepositioning equipment in the Pacific.