AUSA News: Army Transforming — Not Just Modernizing — for Future Battlefield

By Josh Luckenbaugh

Army photo

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Modernization has been a key Army focus as the service has shifted from the global war on terrorism to strategic competition. Now, the Army is intent on transforming to match the changing nature of warfare, service leaders said Oct. 9.

While modernizing with new technology is an important piece, “equipment by itself does not transform the Army,” Doug Bush, assistant secretary of the Army for acquisition, logistics and technology, said during a panel discussion at the Association of the United States Army’s annual conference in Washington, D.C.

“We have to train soldiers, and everything else that goes with creating units that go to combat is necessary” for transformation, Bush said.

Gen. James Rainey, commander of Army Futures Command, said there are “fundamental changes to warfare coming. … There are some big, dramatic things coming [in] the future, and the time to act on that is now.”

The Army has a “moral responsibility to do everything we can to learn” from the conflicts in Ukraine and now Israel to understand what the modern battlefield looks like now and what it will look like in the future, Rainey said.

“We are absolutely observing some very unique things that are happening,” he said. “And it's even more complicated when you got to look at what's going on in Ukraine, for example,” and discern between what is unique to that conflict and “what is probably changing the character of war. And then how do you take that change through the lens of our pacing challenge in the Indo-Pacific and adapt it, or make it make sense, in that fight, or a larger fight in Europe? So, it's an incredibly complex problem.”

Some things about the battlefield will remain the same, such as war being “about people, about human beings … a contest of wills,” he said. And while some have questioned the ability of ground forces to play a role in a potential conflict in the Indo-Pacific, Rainey said land will remain decisive.

“We're a joint force, we fight as a joint force,” he said. “Anybody who says air and maritime theater, you're not really having a serious, professional conversation.” Land is “where all the people are, where all the roads are, it’s where all the resources are, and I believe the future is going to remain about the land.”

Additionally, the United States at least will always “fight in accordance with the law of armed conflict,” he said. “Those of us that have commanded in combat are not going to indiscriminately drop bombs and shoot rounds and turn things over to AI and cede the moral responsibility.”

What will change about warfare, however, is that forces will “be under constant observation and constant contact of some form at all times,” Rainey said. “That is a big deal for folks that grew up thinking that maneuver warfare was about hiding and surprising and using [intervisibility] lines and picking my formation based on when I'm going to be observed.”

But “while the enemy can see us, we don't have to concede that they're going to be able to understand what they're seeing,” he continued, positing that counter-C5ISR systems will be more important than C5ISR capabilities.

The Army has an “overwhelming bias” for offensive systems, but going forward the “technology greatly favors the defense,” he said. “The defense is getting more and more lethal and stronger, and the offense is getting harder and more costly, and we need to look at that through the lens of our training.”

In the future, the service will likely need a “50-50 type split — the ability to build an integrated defense with some organic offensive capability,” he said. “I'm not certain that we're going to face an enemy that can deal with a fully integrated joint force defense to deter enemy aggression, so I think there's a lot of potential there.”

Other changes will include fighting in cities — “not attrition warfare to clear big, giant cities, but we're going to have to have equipment and formations and leaders that can operate in urban areas if they have to for limited periods of time,” he said — and a return to maneuver to position fires.

Maneuver to position fires is “more in line with the way we fought historically, but over the last 20 years, we've settled into fires setting conditions for maneuver,” he said. Army infantry forces are “precious,” he added. “We don’t do attrition warfare; we can’t trade 10, 20,000 casualties. So, before we commit that force, we need to have exhausted every mechanism we have to destroy or defeat our enemy.”

To build the Army of 2040 for this future battlefield, capabilities need to be in low-rate production or in prototype by 2030, and “fielded full-up” by 2035, Rainey said. The Army is currently working on its projected budget through 2029, “so 2040 is going to be on us” soon, “and the time to do something about that is in the next 18 to 24 months. So, I’m really excited about that.”

Rainey highlighted two major Army transformation projects: human-machine integrated formations and a new command-and-control warfighting system.

The goal of the new formations is to find the right mix of humans and machines and “optimize both of them for the things” that they are best at, he said, adding the Army has “real versions of our first prototype platoon” testing at the National Training Center at Fort Irwin, California, and at Fort Moore, Georgia.

The Army’s command-and-control system requires improvement to take advantage of the “opportunities that exist in the future with things like AI, machine learning, large language models [and] quantum computing,” he said. “We're not going to be able to fully realize the potential of that unless we move to a truly data-centric approach with the command-and-control warfighting system.

“People ask me what's my biggest concern, it always comes back to the ability to execute the command-and-control warfighting system by commanders — commanders who can make more decisions, better decisions, faster decisions,” Rainey said. “If we can't do that, fires aren't going to matter, protection’s not going to matter, maneuver’s not going to matter.”


Topics: Army News

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