A reduced reliance on airfields and seaports in a recent war game resulted in increased speed and entry operations. (Sgt. Juan F. Jimenez/Army)
- Filed Under
New Gear: What’s next
If necessity is the mother of invention, get ready for a lot of new stuff. In the near term, that will include:
■ Getting the network into standard units.
■ More interoperable and user-friendly mission command.
■ Mobile and survivable command posts.
■ 3-D or 4-D printing to reduce logistic repairs.
■ Hands-free, heads-up displays so “people playing ‘Call of Duty’ [no longer] have an ability to access data our soldiers don’t.”
And that is just the start, according to Maj. Gen. Bill Hicks, deputy director for the Army Capabilities Integration Center. He described some “very promising” advances in science and technology after the conference. One was mo-lecular changes to reduce the weight of vehicle armor by half without lessening protection.
Have you ever heard of graphene? It would take an elephant balanced on a pencil to break through a sheet with the thickness (or thinness) of plastic wrap. Imagine using that as body armor.
The Innovation Group moved one-third of its force using two conceptual troop carriers. One was an ultra-heavy vertical takeoff-and-landing aircraft that would (theoretically) cut BCT deployment from 29 days to four. The other was a conceptual joint high-speed, shallow-draft ship expected to reduce sealift time by half.
Many in attendance were pleased with the modeled results and pressed the need for such platforms. In an era of austere entry, that would seem necessary.
But one top Army leader said not to count on it. Not because he didn’t like the idea. He did. But these programs would require joint money, and they may not be a priority for sister services.
“We’ve done that in the past, and it failed every time,” he said.
The general advised looking at making the Army’s fighting force smaller and faster.
A major shift took place Nov. 20 that will change the Army as you know it.
Squads and brigades will be smaller and complemented by robotics, as well as unmanned ground and aerial vehicles. The heaviest vehicles will come in at 30 tons — less than half the weight of the M1A1 tank and the planned Ground Combat Vehicle. Front-line fighters will be equipped with intelligence gear that operates at the “speed of change.” Some soldiers may be assigned to a region for their entire career. The human and cyber domains of war will be merged.
Service leaders have been touting an expeditionary and scalable Army. Now, they’re putting their money where their mouth is. They are using the five-year drop in funding to change investment strategies and turn to innovative solutions that will reconfigure all manner of formations with rapid deployment in mind.
These revolutionary changes were not established on Congress’ floor or within the Pentagon’s halls. Instead, they came in a National Defense University conference room, where dozens of top generals and civilian service leaders gathered to discuss the results of a yearlong training exercise geared toward future conflict.
The exercise is called Unified Quest. The scenario centered on the use of chemical weapons by a collapsing nation against U.S. forces at home and abroad. The nation had chemical weapon stored in seven cities, and there was a strong possibility of nuclear weapon proliferation from a border nation.
The war game took place in 2025, and with good reason. Two separate teams independently responded to the same scenario. The first, called the “Evolution Group,” was equipped with current and planned capabilities and structures. The second, called the “Innovation Group,” was equipped largely with nonexistent but technologically feasible gear and used a variety of unique strategies and force structures.
The results were telling.
The Evolution Group took nearly four weeks to deploy and its operational fires commenced on Day 29. When the operation concluded on Day 85, the weapons of mass destruction were lost and blue forces could not account for opposition scientists.
The Innovation Group, using the same model, departed in five days and commenced operational fires on Day 8. The operation concluded on Day 24 with all WMD either secured or fixed.
With that said, it wasn’t easy for the Innovation Group. A reduced reliance on airfields and seaports resulted in increased speed and entry operations, and multiple points of entry left enemy forces scrambling. But it was difficult to move or sustain blue forces after entry. This led to an advantage for the adversary.
While the Evolution Group had more robust sustainment due to concurrent arrival, its troubles far outweighed its successes. One infantry brigade combat team had no reserve and limited resupply. The adversary massed fires and overwhelmed this “vulnerable” force. And the enemy was able to anticipate and resist the predictable (and necessary) reliance on major ports and airfields.
When the dust settled, senior leaders saw a need to change formations, strategies and gear to better succeed on future battlefields.
Changes to troops
The first battle is to prevent the battle, and win decisively and quickly if full battle is required.
The Unified Quest exercise validated the regional alignment model designed to enable soldiers to prevent and shape so they don’t have to fight and win, especially if that fight may become a large-scale conflict a cash-strapped Army is not equipped to fight. So you can expect this plan to gain steam in coming years.
A lot of preparatory training will be done at home station — a combination of run-and-gun and virtual, simulated and integrated training to replicate scenarios you are likely to face while deployed. Those threats will range from the complex to the criminal.
Expect immersion in language, regional expertise and culture training. Soldiers also will spend a lot of time training allied armies to do things they are now unable to do. There will be a lot of joint and partner-building exercises to increase U.S. influence and enhance the nation’s ability to gain access if required.
One general officer questioned whether a 19-year-old could handle the tasks described, and suggested the need for a more educated, higher-ranking force as the Army gets smaller.
A top leader rebuffed the idea and said young officers have proved they can handle responsibilities. He added that he is “overwhelmed by the increasing knowledge, understanding and capabilities of [noncommissioned officers],” and that the goal is to further develop the NCO corps for such operations and environments.
He pointed to author Malcolm Gladwell’s theory that it takes 10,000 hours of practice to master a skill. The goal now is to compress the experience of a 35-year-old special operator into a 25-year-old officer or NCO.
Training is one obvious aspect. But Army leadership also is looking to science and technology to build better soldiers. Such science can help people learn faster, identify those prone or immune to stress, hone decision-making skills and measure various propensities. The latter can help put people in the right teams or place the right person in the right specialty. It also can help identify toxic leaders early on.
Such science is already a part of the Brigade Pre-Command Course. One leader said this aspect gets the lowest marks among students at the onset but the highest marks upon completion.
“We probably need to do this before they become brigade commanders,” he said. “This is low-cost, high-impact.”
Changes to strategy
While deployed forces will maintain strategic balance, expeditionary maneuver will restore balance when required. The key will be getting forces in during a narrow time window before the situation deteriorates. As the exercise showed, the Army as planned doesn’t do well in this endeavor.
For starters, it is not geared well for the growth in urbanization expected in coming years. The world is growing closer physically and virtually. It’s predicted that by 2040, 65 percent of world’s population will live in megacities far larger than New York City. One-third — some 2 billion people — will live in slum conditions. The Arab Spring will continue to shake out and weapons proliferation will pose new risks. An increase in coalition building around specific problems is likely, and enemy combatants will move across borders with ease.
Many more problems can be added to that:
■Increasing deficiencies in cyber warfare.
■A lack of battlefield intelligence at the squad level.
■Increasingly hostile anti-access and area-denial capabilities.
■A lack of airlift.
Fewer than one-third of Air Force crews are airborne-qualified. Gen. Robert Cone, commander of Army Training and Doctrine Command, this year identified 23 deficiencies in troop delivery during a similar exercise.
“We are too heavy and too reliant on old platforms,” one senior leader said at the conference.
Army Times was granted access to this open, and sometimes contentious, discussion under the agreement of anonymity for speakers.
The exercise also found that speed doesn’t come without risk. The Innovation Group had reduced reliance on airfields and seaports. The increased speed and multiple points of entry left enemy forces scrambling. But it came close to mission failure because resupply could not keep up. And the team had to rely on linear logistics and because sea basing could not be established.
Logistics leaders agreed that their field is “not yet integrated with the global response strategy of an expeditionary Army.”
“We have 20th-century logistics supporting 21st-century fighting forces,” one said.
As such, box kickers can expect serious effort toward technical advancements.
Sustainment wasn’t the red flag. A greater emphasis also will be placed on how quickly and competently the Army can aggregate and disaggregate units. Future force structure will lean heavily on the rapid forming, dissolving and reforming of units. Brigade combat teams and divisions may not operate in habitual command relationships. These realities were not dismissed lightly, as it was a significant issue in many hot washes that followed operations in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Despite these obstacles, the exercise showed that speed of operation will matter greatly in future operations. This approach better ensures an adversary “will be forced to respond to our actions, at the time and place of our choosing,” one four-star said.
And it will keep troops safe. The high-speed Innovation Group was able to decrease from high to low threat in 15 days. The Evolution Group didn’t get there until Day 45.
An unexpected turn of events happened when the intel community made a case for using “well-versed assignments” to keep its highly trained people in their region of interest. Top leaders didn’t balk at the idea. In fact, one who has a whole lot of pull said some enablers should remain in their region of expertise, and that he was “open to idea of aligning brigades” in such a manner but couched that comment by saying the service would “know better as the structure evolves.”
Yes, the Army’s 30-year plan was released just last year. And yes, it seems much of it will be thrown out the window.
But leaders are optimistic about the changes.
Eighty percent of gear the Army will use to fight in 2020 is already in the force or in the works, participants said. The bulk of these programs were started between 1990 and 2005. Much has changed and continues to change. The Evolution Group showed that the planned Army will not be optimal in light of such radical change.
Simply put, the Army will be in a fair fight by 2025 if these changes are not made, top leaders said.
The U.S. has “substantial advantage” only in interconnectivity and synthetic biology, they said. There is “considerable advantage” in armor, rail guns and robotics. Investment is needed to retain advantage in computing, night vision and UAVs. Adversaries are already overtaking advantages in active protection, cannon and rocket artillery, chemical weapons, C3/deception, solid rocket booster missiles and shaped charges.
But a “leap-ahead investment” in cyber, energetics, laser weapons, radio frequency weapons or power could be a “game-changer.” These will better allow for the self-sufficiency needed to overcome the logistics burden and operate in swift fashion.
But the delicate balance of the theoretical and practical was evident as ideas were exchanged. Representatives from research, development and acquisition fields sometimes looked perplexed, sometimes sat wide-eyed — and sometimes emitted audible gasps as uniformed leaders described the capabilities they need.
One example came when a top leader demanded a better network on the battlefield and made the familiar point to a smartphone as an example.
“We must have situational awareness while moving,” he said, describing troops as being in a black hole for hours while the aircraft draws near the mission. And when they arrive, “it is a completely different situation than when they took off.
“When we deploy, we have to put 100 damn trucks on the ground. Why?” he asked. “Instead of bringing infrastructure, let’s use the existing infrastructure. Let’s focus on the protection of data and reduce our footprint by 90 percent.”
The suits in attendance said it is a good idea, but it would require a much more open architecture that would be far more difficult to manage. In addition, cellular networks are not available everywhere. And if they are, additional capabilities may be needed. And if the people running that network “show up and turn it off on you, now you’re really going to struggle.”
The general wasn’t ready to retreat. He gave the builders and thinkers the green light to not only see what science has to offer but to help develop that technology. And while the soldier can’t always use host-nation networks, a rapid and immediate network could be developed that would have a far smaller footprint, he said before repeating the prevailing focus: “A reduced footprint means increased speed and increased lethality.”
Such differing dialogue was the exception, not the rule. The suits were motivated by the pending changes and the careful approach described by Army leaders. For example, they were told to not follow the Future Combat Systems example and instead make sure the item works before it is bought. That means experimentation such as that seen in the Network Integration Exercise will likely be required prior to acquisition.