ASC NEWS: U.S. Military Re-Emphasizing Large Warfighting Exercises (UPDATED)

By Connie Lee

Air Force photo

The U.S. military is shifting its training focus to conducting more large-scale warfighting exercises, Undersecretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness Matthew Donovan said Sept. 14.

The services have grown accustomed to working in smaller units for counterinsurgency operations, he noted during the Air Force Association’s Air, Space and Cyber Conference, which was held online due to COVID-19 safety considerations.

Now, the Defense Department is looking to implement more wide-ranging exercises similar to those conducted during the Cold War.

“We’re restarting those efforts,” Donovan said. “These types of exercises reassured our allies and demonstrated this capability to our adversaries. … It provided significant return value.”

However, the ongoing pandemic has created challenges, he acknowledged. For instance, the exercise Defender Europe 2020 was originally supposed to deploy the biggest force from the United States to Europe in over 20 years, but the event was modified to limit troop movement due to COVID-19

Larger exercises will help the military develop new skills as it seeks to implement the National Defense Strategy, which emphasizes great power competition with Russia and China, he said. Both nations possess large forces and are capable of fighting in multiple domains. 

“We've grown used to a rotational mindset — really since the end of Desert Storm — where we rotate small units in on mature infrastructure with a focus on [countering] violent extremist organizations. It’s something that we have to shift,” Donovan said.

The defense industry will need to be more agile to adjust for these changes as well, he noted. The services are at a critical point in time for their modernization efforts. The military hopes to modernize its force structure without incurring a lot of risk, he said.

“We need to ensure we have an industrial base — specifically a defense industrial base — that’s able to support a force structure and can respond quickly in an emergency,” Donovan said.

Additionally, the military will need to continue with digital modernization efforts. Adversaries are improving their technology quickly, and the United States must keep up, he said.

“The linchpin to this is digital modernization to seamlessly connect all our data in real time,” Donovan said. “Because [of] some of our foundational analog practices, we are at risk of falling behind our competitors.”

COVID-19 has been a “wake up call to DoD” on the importance of digital modernization, he noted. The pandemic has compelled the department to figure out ways to better transmit information faster. The crisis has “forced us out of our comfort zone and pushed us into the digital era," he added.

 Correction: A previous version of this article mistakenly identified Matthew Donovan as the undersecretary of the Air Force. 


Topics: Defense Department