The Army and Land Warfare: Transforming
For over a century the Army was largely a
territorial force committed to homeland defense. That changed between
the Spanish-American War and World War II as it became an expeditionary
force and the Nation moved to reconcile isolationist tendencies
with its growing great power status. After 1945 the service became
primarily a frontier force that supported the strategy of containment,
which relied on forward deployment in Europe and Asia. With the
end of the Cold War, the Army encountered geopolitical changes
coinciding with the rise of regional powers and militant Islam.
These events are accompanied by military transformation that emphasizes
expeditionary operations while exploiting capabilities emerging
from the revolution in military affairs.
The Army is pursuing a three-track approach
to military transformation. The first involves sustaining and modernizing
a significant portion of the so-called legacy force. Its capabilities
are dominated by heavy mechanized units that deterred aggression
while forward deployed in Europe and South Korea and routed the
Iraqi army. The second and third tracks are directed at fielding
an expeditionary army. The centerpiece of the second is an interim
force of Stryker brigade combat teams (SBCTs), rapidly deployable
medium-weight units with more punch than light formations such
as light infantry and airborne divisions, though not as heavy and
logistic-intensive as armored and mechanized infantry divisions.
These teams serve as a bridge to the Objective Force, the third
track, which is intended to incorporate SBCT mobility, deployability,
and sustainability with the lethality and survivability of heavy
For more than a decade there has been a spirited
debate over the existence of a fundamental change in the nature
of warfare - a revolution in military affairs. That controversy
not only reflects the growth and rapid diffusion of military-related
technology, but un-certainty over its ultimate impact. Like the
dramatic advances in mechanization, aviation, and radio which changed
the military in the interwar years, the Army must interpret and
exploit information and information-related technology as well
as precision-strike weapon systems to engage targets over a wide
area with greater lethality, precision, discrimination, and speed.
Despite the implicit uncertainty of predicting
military competition over the next ten to fifteen years, the Armed
Forces appear to have made three assumptions with respect to land
competition will continue to favor the offense, and identifying
and defeating critical mobile (ballistic and cruise missile) targets
will remain difficult; thus deploying and sustaining forces through
major ports and air bases will be increasingly risky.
such as cities, complex terrain, and underground facilities will
become more important as enemies strive to avoid open battles that
heavily favor U.S. air and ground forces.
- Highly distributed,
networked operations are possible.
Identifying the need to transform is one thing;
effecting military trans-formation is another. Organizations that
have successfully transformed benefited from a clear statement
of the disparity between the post-transformation conflict environment
and pretransformation conditions. Current vision statements are
regrettably not very compelling. Joint Vision 2010 and Joint Vision
2020 have addressed the need to achieve positional advantage over
an enemy (dominant maneuver), engage an enemy effectively (precision
engagement), support such efforts efficiently and effectively (focused
logistics), and defend friendly forces (full-dimensional protection).
Although desirable qualities, they offer little guidance on changes
in missions and military competition. Indeed, effective maneuver,
engagement, logistics, and protection would be qualities desired
by any military in any era.
Nonetheless, the Army is arguably the most
aggressive service in pursuing transformation. Documents like Concepts
for the Objective Force envision a number of characteristics common
to transformed land warfare:
will shift from linear to nonlinear.
will operate in more dispersed ways.
will be conducted at a higher tempo, leading to greater reliance
on speed of mobilization and deployment and in combat operations
- Advanced information
technologies will enable ground forces to violate the principle
of mass to better protect themselves by dispersion, while losing
little of their ability to coordinate or mass combat capability.
- Although close
combat will remain a key element in land warfare, advanced information
capabilities and munitions will enable ground forces to conduct
decisive engagements at far greater ranges.
- Ground operations
will be more dependent on maritime and air forces-in short, land
warfare will become even more of a joint operation.
- The spectrum
of land combat will become blurred, with various forms of warfare
merging, requiring unprecedented flexibility from land forces.
According to this white paper, "In contrast
to the phased, attrition-based, linear operations of the past,"
transformed operations focus on disrupting battle plans "by exposing
the entire enemy force to air/ground attack, rather than rolling
[its] forces up sequentially." The Army intends to employ superior
information and the ability to strike at extended ranges not only
for nonlinear operations (fires covering gaps between formations),
but to fight at extended ranges. This places demands on forces
that are capable of locating an enemy at long ranges, relaying
that information quickly, and coordinating strikes at long range.
Traditional land warfare has Army units closing
with and destroying enemies, which means winning the close battle
by fighting in the trenches. But imagine a blindfolded pugilist
who cannot see the opponent. Assume further that the opponent had
an advantage in reach and could incapacitate the other boxer with
one blow. That situation describes Army formations that see an
enemy before being seen, strike without being detected, and employ
precision fires as an initial knockout punch. Under these circumstances,
the Army would logically seek decisive engagement at extended range.
Transformation plans call for six Stryker
brigade combat teams as an interim force, with the first brigade
to be fielded in the near term. The Army intends to buy two thousand
Strykers to serve as the primary SBCT combat vehicle. The principal
program requirements are that the vehicle must be transportable
on C-130s, carry a nine-member infantry or engineer squad and crew
of two, have communications interoperability among ten interim
armored vehicle variants, and mount a 105mm cannon capable of destroying
The Stryker comes in two basic types: a mobile
gun system and infantry carrier-the latter in eight configurations,
including command, reconnaissance, and nuclear, biological, and
chemical detection. The first SBCT, however, will have three substitute
vehicles because mobile guns, NBC reconnaissance, and fire support
systems will not be available in 2005. SBCTs will also be fielded
with line-of-sight antitank missiles, tactical unmanned aerial
vehicles, digital communication, high-mobility artillery rockets,
lightweight howitzers, and smart mortar rounds.
At present the Objective Force is only a concept.
Although the Stryker is central to SBCTs, the future combat system
is the core of that force. Variants of this capability will combine
the characteristics of howitzers, main battle tanks, and infantry
fighting vehicles, while exceeding their lethality and survivability
and weighing approximately 20 tons (compared to the 19-ton Stryker).
In addition to the future combat system, the Objective Force will
comprise a networked, combined-arms team with manned and unmanned
ground systems and unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs). Once the system
proves itself, it will be adopted by the legacy and interim forces,
which will be merged in the Objective Force. The Army is pursuing
an aggressive - some might say risky - plan to bring the future
combat system to the development/demonstration phase in FY06, production
during FY08, and fielding by FY10.
Like the Stryker, the future combat system
must be transportable in C-130-type aircraft. Its design parameters
will also compel a fundamental shift by the Army in the conduct
of operations, particularly in the armor community. Mandating a
70 percent reduction in weight from the Abrams tank and 50 percent
less internal volume (300-400 cubic feet) to fit aboard C-130s
reverses a trend toward bigger and heavier ground combat vehicles.
Such a radical weight loss will require basing survivability not
on armor plating, but on locating an enemy first at extended ranges
and striking with a precision first-round kill. While revolutionary,
this concept is also unproven.
Risk also characterizes the first generation
direct-fire variant of the future combat system, which is expected
to defeat main battle tanks and to be as lethal as the Abrams.
Rapid deployment timelines for the Objective Force have driven
the demand for radical weight reductions in the future combat system
relative to the current Abrams tank. At some point, reducing unit
weight will inevitably lead to reduced lethality (fewer munitions),
survivability (less armor), and so forth. This suggests that everything
cannot be a force design priority-there must be tradeoffs.
Aside from the future combat system, the Objective
Force will depend heavily on information-intensive systems, including
command, control, communications, computers, intelligence, surveillance,
and reconnaissance architectures, robotic ground vehicles, and
various sensors. The force will use UAVs and robotics to conduct
beyond-line-of-sight reconnaissance and surveillance. But it is
unclear that these capabilities will be available within the ambitious
timelines the Army has set for fielding Objective Force units.
In addition, a key element in the operational concept that underlies
the force is the Comanche, a troubled helicopter whose production
run has been halved. Yet this aircraft has been called the "quarterback
of whatever we see offensively in terms of deep-armed reconnaissance
[and] armed escort for ground forces."1
Barriers to Transformation
A range of hurdles challenges transformation.
Some are discussed below. Others, such as limitations on technological
progress, shortfalls in human and material resources, and unwarranted
assumptions concerning the ability and willingness of other services
to support the transformation of the Army, remain to be considered
According to Concepts for the Objective Force,
the Army goal is deploying "a brigade combat team anywhere in the
world in 96 hours after liftoff, a division on the ground in 120
hours, and five divisions in theater in 30 days. This will drive
system and capability parameters." While this requirement suggests
a major redesign of maneuver formations, there is no compelling
basis for this principal force design metric. There is a case for
rapidly deployable expeditionary force, but why a brigade in 96
hours? The Army must make difficult tradeoffs in its design parameters
(force lethality, mobility, and sustainability) to meet these extremely
demanding and seemingly arbitrary deployment timelines. One has
only to look at the SBCT design to discover potentially pernicious
effects of an overwhelming emphasis on a single-force performance
metric. These brigades are bereft of organic logistic support,
self-propelled artillery, and organic air assets.
Research confirms that the deployment timelines
are overly ambitious. An Army study determined that it would take
12.7 days to move one SBCT to Kosovo from Fort Lewis, using nearby
McChord Air Force Base. If facilities at the Pristina airfield
were improved to handle all-weather, round-the-clock operations,
and if the throughput of air bases en route was doubled, and if
maximum use were made of commercial aircraft, deployment could
be achieved in 7.5 days, almost twice the target time of 96 hours.
According to an analysis by Boeing, which manufactures C-17 cargo
aircraft, deploying one SBCT in 96 hours would require between
103 and 168 C-17s dedicated solely to that mission, and assuming
that the aircraft fly at greater than normal mission completion
Despite attempts to prioritize force design
around C-130s, the Army may not have come to grips with the limits
imposed on the designs of both SBCTs and the Objective Force. Forces
could possibly be deployed to intermediate staging bases on C-17s,
then inserted into a theater by intra-theater lift such as C-130s.
However, there is the issue of transloading SBCT/Objective Force
equipment to C-130s, which inflicts further delay. Moreover, the
2,800-mile range of C-130s implies a maximum ingress and egress
route from intermediate staging bases of 1,400 miles each. But
it appears possible -indeed likely- that in the not distant future,
enemies could deploy ballistic missiles with ranges exceeding 1,400
miles, placing staging bases at risk.
There also have been problems with the weight
of the Stryker with respect to C-130 transportability. While most
variants have been granted waivers for the aircraft, the Stryker
mobile gun system still presents problems. Of course, its borderline
weight will also significantly reduce C-130 operational range,
further complicating deployment options. This situation may be
worse for the future combat system, which is intended to be nearly
as light as the Stryker. Based on these factors, Military Traffic
Management Command has concluded that "if maximum transportation
flexibility [is] to be of paramount importance, the maximum C-130
air transport weight of future vehicles should be in the 29,000-32,000
pound [14.5-16 ton] range. These weights ideally would include
the crew, 3/4-tank of fuel, and full ammunition, armor, and equipment."
2 Both the Stryker and future combat
system significantly exceed these limits.
An increasingly likely contingency for the
Army is urban operations. Not only will enemy forces have more
incentive to fight in cities to avoid open battle with a stronger
military, but there will be more urban terrain in which to seek
sanctuary. Two pillars of American dominance-air superiority and
systems-derived intelligence - are vastly degraded in urban terrain.
The value of superiority in signals intelligence is greatly reduced,
as enemies can communicate with nontraditional means such as runners.
Air strikes and other forms of bombardment, even precision munitions,
have greater limitations in an urban environment, where enemies
can be located among civilians or near targets that are difficult
to engage, such as hospitals and religious sites. Tactical human
intelligence is key in providing extremely specialized information
needed to operate on the urban battlefield - from the direction
doors open and the utility portals in the sewer systems to the
disposition of enemy regular and irregular forces. But human intelligence
is not a U.S. strength.
The Army is attempting to structure and train
SBCTs with urban warfare in mind, with half of collective training
explicitly dealing with such operations. The base unit for both
SBCT and the Objective Force is combined arms mechanized/motorized
infantry - the traditional type of infantry - heavy team employed
in urban areas for house-to-house fighting. But serious questions
remain concerning the suitability of the structure of SBCT and
the successor Objective Force for urban warfare. Both forces are
based on the vision of "see first, understand first, act first,
and finish decisively." In urban operations, however, it seems
likely the local inhabitants or occupying enemy forces will have
a better picture of the environment than Army forces which arrive
after the fact.
A Brief Tenure
Dramatic change in large military organizations
usually spans a decade or more. However, the institutional practices
of the Armed Forces typically rotate leaders out of assignments
every three or four years. This cycle may suffice for officers
whose responsibilities are near term, such as combatant commanders
with immediate warfighting missions in their areas of operation.
It is less desirable where they are tasked with effecting military
Experience indicates that organizations that
have successfully transformed have usually had a few senior leaders-who
understood the new environment and bringing about change in complex
organizations - serve for double or triple the length of time of
typical general officers. In contrast, General Erik Shinseki who
is Chief of Staff, U.S. Army, laid out his vision for transformation
in October 1999, aware that his tenure would probably be four years.
However, military transformation is a long-term
process that places great value on maintaining hedges against uncertain
geopolitical and military-technical outcomes. These hedges must
balance concern that, while options remain open, it is easier for
an organization to retain existing ways of doing business. Enemies
of change believe they can outlast the tenure of the leaders who
champion transformation. By locking in many Objective Force characteristics,
Shinseki sacrificed keeping options alive downstream in favor of
committing the Army to a certain path, making it more difficult
to reverse course. In short, he appears reluctant to entrust his
vision for transformation to his successors.
Military revolutions are usually characterized
by an increased risk of strategic surprise, like submarine warfare
in World War I. Yet even systems placed on a fast track often take
ten years or more to be fielded.
Considerable time is needed to reach the best
decisions on new systems and force structure. Given these considerations,
Army leaders must adopt a different modernization strategy to achieve
the goal of dominating military operations over the conflict spectrum
in the long term. The service must emphasize wildcatting-experimenting
with a limited but operationally significant number of various
systems, as well as operational concepts and force structures.
Successful modernization is generally not restricted to a single
option. Premature selection of key systems may produce a fortunate
outcome if the Army guesses right. However, committing to a single-point
solution in an uncertain world may prove devastating should the
guess turn out to be wrong.
It is also important to avoid false starts
and dead ends. The former are systems deployed before the technology
surrounding them matures. The 2,000 Strykers could represent an
expensive false start because the Army believes that a more capable
system - the future combat system-can be fielded to eclipse it.
Dead ends are capabilities that appear promising, even revolutionary,
but fail to meet expectations. The challenge is not to escape acquiring
dead-end systems too early; it is to not buy them at all. For example,
if the Pentagon does not make breakthroughs in missile defense
or operational concepts that govern their employment within the
planning horizon considered here, fielding ballistic missile defense
systems such as the theater high-altitude air defense system could
represent dead-end investments for the Army.
Field exercises are also beneficial in times
of high uncertainty and rapid change. They provide opportunities
- as close to actual combat as possible - to assess the merits
of warfighting concepts and capabilities. During the Cold War,
the military invested in high fidelity facilities that enhanced
field training. For example, the National Training Center at Fort
Irwin prepared brigade-size units for combined arms mechanized
warfare against a Soviet threat. Yet comparable facilities to support
joint exercises focused on anti-access/area-denial threats, as
raised in the Quadrennial Defense Review, do not exist. A joint
national training center is needed for transformation exercises.
Several concerns arise from the absence of
facilities to support exercises that prepare joint forces for challenges
on the operational level. One is promoting training on the tactical
level. Yet it is often the warfighting concept on the operational
level that can inform tactics. A second concern is the ability
of the Army to determine the viability of its operational concept
for Objective Force, in which information architectures play a
Finally, the Army lacks adequate facilities
for urban warfare training. Despite some improvements, few have
live-fire capability. Moreover, most training is done on the small-unit
level, and little is performed as a combined-arms exercise, let
alone with other services or nations. The Army lacks an organic
capability to hone aerial integration under realistic conditions.
Operations in Mogadishu, Jenin, and Grozny have shown, and Iraq
may prove, that the Armed Forces need a joint urban warfare training
Various issues deserve further attention.
A point of departure would be assessing how to modify the operational
concept and structure of the Objective Force to reduce risks, while
enabling the Army to meet the threat that first stimulated transformation.
Whenever risks cannot be reduced, opportunities to develop strong
hedges can be explored. Despite some formidable problems, there
is cause for optimism. The Army has identified the requirement
for transformation and advanced compelling reasons to support it.
It initiated the process before potential threats became severe
enough to jeopardize the ability to conduct land warfare at acceptable
costs. Put another way, the Army has time to adjust its strategy
for military transformation to enhance prospects for success and
mitigate the consequences of any shortcomings.
N O T E S
1 Ann Roosevelt, "Comanche
Helicopter Still Top Army Program Despite Problems," Defense Week
(March 4, 2002), p. 6.
2 Joseph F. Cassidy, C-130 Transportability of
Army Vehicles (Newport News, Va.: Military Traffic Management Command,
Transportation Engineering Agency, 2001), p. 13.
*** Sidebar ***
Several documents, concepts, and systems guide
Army transformation efforts. The Army Vision: Soldiers on Point
for the Nation-Persuasive in Peace, Invincible in War (October
1999) provides the foundation. According to this statement, the
service will realize "strategic dominance across the entire spectrum
of operations" with forces that are "responsive, deployable, agile,
versatile, lethal, survivable, and sustainable." Rapid deployment
goals will drive system and capability parameters. More specifically,
the Army "will develop the capability to put combat force anywhere
in the world in 96 hours after liftoff-in brigade combat teams
for both stability and support operations and for warfighting"
and be able to generate "a warfighting division on the ground in
120 hours and five divisions in 30 days." Airlift, particularly
C-17s and C-130s, are the only means currently capable of supporting
the goals for deployment into theater; in the future, other modes
of rapid deployment such as the high-speed vessel or lighter-than-air
transports may be developed.
To achieve this vision, the Army is proceeding
with the Legacy Force, Interim Force, and Objective Force. The
Legacy Force guarantees near-term warfighting readiness and is
comprised of current units and equipment. The Interim Force is
designed to fill the near-term capabilities gap as the Army transitions
from the Legacy Force to the Objective Force. It seeks to combine
the best characteristics of current forces-heavy, light, and Special
Operations Forces - and leverage state-of-the-art technologies.
In November 2000, a family of 19 ton-class wheeled vehicles built
by General Motors and General Dynamics Land Systems was selected
as the armored vehicle for the Interim Force. The vehicle is named
the Stryker and the unit of action designated the Stryker brigade
combat team (SBCT). The Army has allocated over $6.4 billion through
fiscal year 2007 to field six SBCTs; the first is expected to reach
initial operating capability in 2003.
The Army Transformation Roadmap describes
the Future Combat System (FCS), which is the centerpiece of the
Objective Force. FCS is "a joint and combined arms interoperable,
20-ton-class, rapidly deployable, networked system-of-systems with
manned and unmanned aerial and ground platforms, direct and indirect
fires, air defense, intelligence, reconnaissance, surveillance,
and embedded battle command on the move." In March 2002, a Boeing-Science
Applications International Corporation team was named lead systems
integrator for FCS; the Army plans to complete the development
and demonstration phase of FCS acquisition by 2006 and field the
first Objective Force unit in 2008.
For details, see: www.army.mil/vision/;
Article also available at: http://www.dtic.mil/doctrine/jel/jfq_pubs/1432.pdf