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The military must shift its focus to the future and beyond the hard-won lessons of the past decade, the Army's training commander said at a joint conference May 15.
That future should put soldiers in a new Cyber Center of Excellence and a cyber career branch, place iPads in barracks for soldiers to train on, and turn a new focus on the human dimension of conflict, said Gen. Robert Cone, commander of Training and Doctrine Command. He spoke in a keynote address at the EAST: Joint Warfighting 2013 conference here.
"The Army has been comfortable in the last few years in taking lessons from Afghanistan and Iraq," he said. "It's time to shift our focus to the future."
He described a wide range of ideas for the way ahead to an audience of military and industry professionals.
A major new effort to preserve lessons and invest in the future, Cone said, is the initiative to set up the Office of Strategic Landpower, a joint organization being formed by three principal components of landpower.
He said the three components have signed off on the project: Army Chief of Staff Gen. Ray Odierno, Marine Commandant Gen. James Amos and the chief of U.S. Special Operations Command, Adm. William McRaven. A related white paper is available, which Cone encouraged his audience to read.
The Strategic Landpower initiative is, in part, a response to discussions with Special Operations Forces counterparts and a concern that "we're really afraid what's going to happen when budgets get tight and you guys go back to your corner and we go back to our corner," primary lessons will be lost, Cone said.
The intent now is "to prepare the land force and develop the sort of subsystems that ensure we have a sophisticated understanding of the human domain," Cone said. "The fear I have is unless we pick this up as a key lesson, and put in the energy necessary, we're going to come apart."
That understanding of the human dimension was largely missing in the last decade, Cone said. When the U.S. went to war in Iraq, its forces had an order of battle and a target, but "we really didn't have enough knowledge of the culture, the language, the networks, the tribes," and the Iraqi will in the face of the American forces' "capitulation" mission, Cone said.
In Iraq, " our special forces brethren ... really understood that and gained a much more comprehensive understanding of where we were headed," Cone said.
The relevance for war fighters in a future that may bring "loose" weapons of mass destruction, cyber threats and unknown enemies is that conflict will be "driven by the nature of human interaction," he said.
The future for soldiers
The Army needs a cyber career specialty, Cone said.
"The strength of the Army is in longstanding programs, where a young soldier goes into a specific occupational specialty and understands where he will go for the next 25 years," he said. "Right now in the cyber realm, I'm not sure we have that kind of career progression, and career path. We've got to establish that."
The Army also needs a Cyber Center of Excellence, Cone said, and the current proposal is to put it at Fort Gordon, Ga., because that post has the Signal Center of Excellence.
"We have got to shift resources in the U.S. Army … to put more effort into cyber," Cone said.
One question for the post-Afghanistan future is how to keep "the most digitally enabled generation of youngsters we have ever had" involved and energized.
"The challenge we have is this is a generation of young war fighters who can solve real-world problems and they do not want to sit out … at Fort Hood and Fort Bragg, etc., and solve pretend problems in a training environment," Cone said.
The Army must "leverage the power of the digital revolution to deliver low-overhead, easy-to-use training solutions," Cone said. "Why can't I have iPads for soldiers in the barracks and have squad leaders lead them?"
The big area of investment for the future is shifting "from the paradigm of big physical [training] structures to smaller handheld applications, where commanders can design their own training objectives and soldiers can execute wherever they are," Cone said.
One real-world mission for soldiers will arrive in the concept of regionally aligned forces.
"They get deployments downrange into these theaters where they've never been before," Cone said, citing the 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 1st Infantry Division, which is heading for dozens of missions in Africa.
These missions will put soldiers on the ground to get familiar with the kinds of networks involved, he said.
In a separate panel discussion, the head of the Army Combined Arms Center echoed the theme of preparing for the future, saying he was asked to peer 45 years into the future and predict what U.S. forces will encounter.
Lt. Gen. Dave Perkins said that to put that challenge in perspective, he looked 45 years into the past to come up with this hard-to-predict scenario: In five years, two big buildings would be built in Manhattan, and 20-something years after that two guys would destroy them and because of that, the U.S. would get involved in large armed conflicts around the world. What were the two guys armed with? Box cutters. What was the command and control? A guy in a cave in Afghanistan. What did we do about it? We invaded Iraq.
"If I had laid that out 45 years ago that that was the future, I'm sure I would be accused of taking advantage of happy hour a little too early," Perkins said, who quoted Yogi Berra as saying "predictions are difficult, especially about the future."