Sequestration’s Silver Lining: A More Resilient U.S. Army
Leaders are seeking answers to questions that will affect strategic, doctrinal and training decisions: What will future warfare look like? Where will it occur? How it will be fought? How should we prepare?
Although sequestration-related cuts will doubtlessly cause near-term pain, overall, it appears likely that they will accelerate a transformation process which would have otherwise proceeded, albeit at a much slower pace. Hence, it seems appropriate to consider how the abrupt disruption of sequestration may generate opportunities to rapidly transform, rather than slowly evolve, the Army into a force that is best positioned to support national defense objectives.
Resilience science might help provide some answers. Resilience is defined as the ability of an ecosystem to return to its original state after being disturbed. Although developed through the study of ecosystems, resilience principles and methodologies have allowed managers to study, model and manage a wide range of complex systems — from coral reefs and old growth forests to non-physical domains such as cybersecurity, economics, organizational decision processes and the human psyche.
By applying resilience science methodologies, actions that shape the Army — energy projects, for example — are evaluated with respect to how they affect, positively or negatively, the Army’s ability to provide mission services under both normal and disrupted conditions.
A proposed project’s value is linked to its ability to enhance desired outputs during times of disruption. Projects shown to reduce risks are given precedence over projects that provide fewer direct mission benefits. As a result, limited resources are directed toward projects that best help accomplish a goal.
As a science, resilience examines how entities absorb and adjust to unpredictable and unforeseeable disruptive events. Unlike traditional risk management tools that focus on quantifying and balancing known risks against available resources, resilience addresses a system’s capacity to retain core functions in the face of both predictable, calculable threats and unpredictable disruptions.
Throughout the Army’s long history, it has perpetually adapted to changing conditions, needs and resources. It will do so again. As the Army responds to the short-term challenges of sequestration, applying resilience methodologies and principles can provide a mechanism to cope with the challenges. Viewing sequestration through the lens of resilience science, it becomes evident that sequestration presents opportunities.
Scalable Army: Sequestration presents an opening to develop an Army that is more readily scalable. Such a pursuit would result in investments in information technologies that would transform logistics and increase the Army’s ability to manage the proximity, density and diversity of its resources. This would ultimately result in a more capable, more agile and less resource-dependent force.
Increased Modularity: Sequestration offers the chance to roll back significant bureaucratic creep that has resulted in a rigid and uncommunicative specialist-based operation. Specialists excel in crafting solutions that protect systems against specific risks. But narrow solutions are insufficient to meet today’s multi-dimensional challenges. Current military systems must be able to withstand unforeseen challenges from many directions, and many such challenges cross the boundaries between areas of specialist expertise. Budget cuts could spur the consolidation of programmatic responsibilities and areas of functional expertise and promote increased cross talk. Leaders should focus on the integration of interdisciplinary generalists or “multi-specialists” who promote cross-disciplinary teaming and problem solving. This will broaden the perspective of staffing elements and lead to improved decision making and project oversight.
Organizational Simplicity: Numerous offices, commissions, working groups and task forces — each claiming ownership over specific efforts or areas — have populated the Department of the Army. Sequestration presents an imperative to streamline or methodically eliminate many of these groups and enact a more rigorous prioritization of their activities. The consequence would be the simplification of many activities, initiatives, and approval regimes. Resilience science can provide defensible evidence to overcome some of the forces that tend to subvert rational decisions.
Organizational Openness: Sequestration provides an opportunity for the Army to examine existing bureaucratic structures and processes. This restructuring could result in a bureaucracy more open to innovation and cross-fertilization, which would facilitate broader knowledge sharing and development of expertise. Attention would be directed toward solving complex challenges.
Revised Priorities: Tightening budgets should drive efforts to eliminate projects that do not demonstrably benefit the Army. The elimination of these projects will liberate resources for more beneficial purposes.Distinguishing between numerous worthy projects, however, can present significant challenges. Resilience as a lens provides a useful tool for assessing and ranking multiple proposed projects. This science can provide support to overcome existing momentum and resistance.
Information as an Economic Multiplier: As the Army seeks to reduce operational costs, information-based tools can be valuable. Since the 1990s, U.S. combat forces have been equipped with advanced command, control, communication and intelligence technologies. The increased ability to synchronize activities, coordinate initiatives and adjust movements in real time has transformed the U.S. war fighting mindset.
The right information, provided in the proper format to the right recipients in a timely manner can remove the need for significant investments in hardened and redundant infrastructure. In a similar fashion for installation infrastructure and energy, a tight information feedback loops can provide near real-time awareness of potentially disruptive events.
Sequestration offers the Army a rare chance to embrace resilience science as a means to better manage fiscal and political uncertainties, thus proving that sequestration’s dark cloud does, indeed, have a silver lining.
James W. Mancillas Ph.D., is environmental technology branch chief at the U.S. Army Environmental Command located in San Antonio, Texas. Nicole Sikula is an environmental ecologist and John McDonagh is a member of the command’s office of legal counsel. The views expressed in this article are solely those of the authors and do not reflect the official policies or positions of any department or agency of the U.S. government.