AUSA NEWS: Ukraine Challenging, Confirming Assumptions About Army Future

By Sean Carberry

Army photo

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Seven months after Russia invaded Ukraine, the smaller nation is not only still standing, it has regained territory seized by Russia in the early days of the war. Officials charged with modernizing the U.S. Army are watching closely to see how that conflict informs plans to develop new weapons and tactics.

“We have to be careful about saying we've learned something yet,” said Gen. James Rainey, the newly installed leader of Army Futures Command, during a panel discussion at the Association of the United States Army annual conference in Washington, D.C.

He noted that there is a formal lessons-learned process to go through, and the Army also needs to be careful about confirmation bias. That said, the Army is affirming some things, seeing new things and affirming “some really problematic things,” he noted.

The most immediate affirmation is that land still matters in warfare, he said. While the United States is shifting focus to the Pacific theater, land will play a role in a joint fight.

The next takeaway is the importance of people, he said.

“It is very clear that the person that has the soldiers … that have the skill and the will to fight is going to win a tough, nasty fight,” he said. The Army’s professional noncommissioned officer corps is a “superpower” that the Russians do not have, he added.

“It looks like the Russians built a formation and tried to push combined-arms maneuver down to a battalion level and didn't have the quality and capacity in their commanders to fight combined arms at battalion level,” which is the opposite of the Army’s approach, he said. “So that's good.”

Ukraine is also showing that the Army must come to grips with “fighting under continuous observation,” he said.

While the Army has some capabilities to disrupt enemy surveillance, “you're going to have to figure out how to fight when the enemy can see you,” he said.

“You're not going to be able to pile up things. You're not going to be able to build [tactical operations centers],” he said.

If he were training anyone below the brigade level, he’d be instructing them to figure out how to “fight out of turrets and underneath ponchos and rucksacks,” he said.

“How are we going to take all the high-tech stuff that we know we need and deliver it in a way that doesn't require you to stop, hold still or pile up more than a couple vehicles?” he said.

The Russians have struggled with many aspects of their campaign, he noted, and it's difficult determining how much of that is because of their inabilities and how much is because of the equipment and training provided to the Ukrainians.

For example, the success the Ukrainians have had using Javelins against Russian tanks would not happen to a good U.S. Army formation, he said. “But it's something we ought to figure out and pay attention to and continue to emphasize in our training.”

Another concern is the direction of the threat. For the last two decades, the Army was fixated on the threat of improvised explosive devices and went to great lengths to armor the underside of vehicles.

“Unless we figure out how to flip some of this stuff over, we might find ourselves in a situation where there's not as much of a bottom-up threat, but there is very clearly a top-down threat, 360-degree threat,” he said.

Gen. Edward M. Daly, commander of Army Materiel Command, said that Ukraine stresses the importance of setting the theater from logistics and sustainment perspectives — prepositioning stocks and supplies, another of Russia’s shortcomings.

“When we talk about prepositioned stocks, we are talking about making sure that it's modern, it's positioned correctly, it's ready to go and it's postured for immediate issue. That ensures that we maintain the advantage,” he said.

Setting the theater is all the more challenging in an environment of constant surveillance. Being watched all the time doesn’t just apply to the tactical and operational level, he said.

“At the strategic level, we're going to be contested from a logistics perspective from our power-projection platforms and from our organic industrial base sites all the way to the tactical edge,” he said.

That has significant implications for how the Army sets theaters like the Pacific going forward, he added.

“[At] the operational, tactical level, there's, again, several things we need to do in terms of building 21st-century sustainment, warfighting capabilities and formations that can really not only set the theater and enable the theater, but enable operational reach, prolong endurance and ensure freedom of action for [a combatant] commander and for an Army Service component command,” he said.

Lessons and observations in Ukraine also apply to the acquisition community.

“One thing that’s a big deal with our Ukraine response is our working with industry to dramatically and quickly move to higher rates of production for systems to replace what we've sent to support our allies in Ukraine,” said Doug Bush, assistant secretary of the Army for Acquisition, Logistics and Technology.

Both industry and Congress have been responsive and supportive in mobilizing on that front, he said.

“A key lesson that I have learned personally watching that is … this circumstance is why we have an organic industrial base. This is exactly it,” he said.

Government-owned capabilities are necessary in a crisis to fill-in in the short term until the defense industry can ramp up to the levels needed, he said.

Contracting officials have been working full bore, and he’s trying to do more to help them go faster, he said.

He noted that contracting officials and others in the acquisition community have been applying lessons learned in the COVID-19 crisis to their response to acquiring materiel for Ukraine and refilling U.S. stocks.

“A lot of people don't know that it was Army acquisition and contracting professionals who have done all the work to actually procure, distribute the vaccines, therapeutics, supplies,” he said. “Everything the nation needed and demanded to get through the COVID pandemic was your Army.”

Topics: Army News

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