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The Asymmetric Warfare Group: Closing the Capability Gaps

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Lt. Gen. James J. Lovelace Jr. & Brig. Gen. Joseph L.Votel

Army Magazine
March 2004

Lt. Gen. James J. Lovelace Jr. is deputy chief of staff, G-3.

Brig. Gen. Joseph L. Votel is the deputy director, Information Operations/director, Army Improvised Explosive Device Task Force, Office of the Deputy Chief of Staff, G-3.

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The Asymmetric Warfare Group: Closing the Capability Gaps

"Operation Iraqi Freedom (OIF) and Operation Enduring Freedom (OEF) have shown that insurgencies can arise out of regime change and can hinder follow-on stability operations. The current enemy has adopted asymmetric strategies and tactics that enable it to mitigate U.S. strengths. U.S. forces must adapt to the new strategic environment and develop proficiencies that counter these tactics." Army Strategic Planning Guidance 2005

This article outlines the vision and mission of a new Army organization, the Asymmetric Warfare Group (AWG), currently being formed to enhance Army and joint force commanders' abilities to confront and defeat current and future asymmetric threats.

For more than two decades, U.S. joint military organizations have thoroughly dominated the conventional battlefield. In conjunction with special operations forces (SOF), conventional forces have propelled the nation to military superpower status through unmatched combat, technical and power-projection capability. Every new or improved capability, however, no matter how dominant, brings with it a whole new set of inherent vulnerabilities. A smart, resourceful enemy will seek out those chinks in his adversary's armor and attack them with asymmetric means. Today's conventional forces, although more agile and lethal than their predecessors, remain vulnerable to such attacks when the enemy finds capability gaps to exploit. The Asymmetric Warfare Group has been created to focus on this challenge and bring to bear a holistic application of intelligence, training and technology to defeat both current and future asymmetric threats.

The stunning victories in the 1991 Gulf War, Afghanistan and in the major combat operations phase of Operation Iraqi Freedom are clear examples of the U.S. military's ability to overmatch conventional competitors. Opponents and would-be opponents simply cannot match the lethality, speed and reach of U.S. joint forces. This dominance, however, creates the incentive for adversaries to level the playing field by seeking adaptive tactics, techniques, procedures and weaponry in an asymmetric approach. A stark example of this is the current threat posed by improvised explosive devices (IEDs) in Iraq. With a relatively small amount of resources-access to common electronic components and military ordnance and basic electronic and demolition skills-insurgent terrorists can build devices that literally have the capability to destroy the most prominent conventional warfare systems-Abrams tanks and Bradley fighting vehicles. The fact that more than 50 percent of the casualties in OIF result from IED attacks is a sobering reminder of the effectiveness of these devices.

Using asymmetric tactics, adversaries attempt to exploit their ability to hide in plain sight and attack U.S. forces in ways that are unconventional, unexpected and that turn the U.S. Army's own operating techniques against itself. Examples of these vulnerabilities are readily apparent. The reliance on vehicle road movement creates many opportunities for roadside bombs, for instance. Attempting to avoid such insurgent tactics by ferrying troops via helicopter between bases creates alternate opportunities for attacks on aircraft. Consolidating soldier services in one location, like a large dining facility, enhances physical security but also presents unique target opportunities.

Some of our adversaries are not bound by the laws we value and which regulate U.S. military actions. They strive to exploit worldwide press coverage of visual effects, civilian casualties and our purported weak national will in order to distort the truth and to undermine U.S. national resolve and the resolve of foreign partners. Attacks, often in the form of bombings, rogue mortar attacks and kidnappings, serve to highlight the challenge conventional forces face in not only protecting themselves but also the indigenous population against insurgent cells, who are principally armed with patience, ideological fervor and resourcefulness. Insurgent attacks are often able to achieve local advantages, which taken separately are not operationally significant, but which when executed as part of an overall campaign of terror and intimidation have the capacity to generate operational or strategic effects.

Contributing to the significant effects of these asymmetric attacks are the enemy's demonstration of continuous innovation and adaptability. He studies U.S. actions and reactions and, because of his size, flexibility and lack of accountability, is able to change his techniques rapidly. As a result, conventional units lacking the ability to quickly identify asymmetric tactics and devise effective countermeasures may intentionally or unintentionally change mission focus from killing the enemy to protecting the force.

Given a long-term global war on terrorism, the current lack of a clear, peer competitor, and the relative success of and access to resources for asymmetric techniques, it is safe to assume that all U.S. forces-conventional and otherwise -will face threats of this nature well into the future. Defeating or minimizing the effects of these attacks is proving essential to achieving U.S. national strategic objectives.

As a result of the increased terrorist use of IEDs in Iraq and Afghanistan, then Army G-3 Gen. Richard Cody directed the creation of the Army IED Task Force in October 2003 to assist in coordinating and synchronizing the wide variety of ongoing efforts to mitigate the rising threat of IEDs. Initially attacking the problem along three lines of operation-threat specific intelligence, focused training and integrated technology-the task force reached out to a variety of organizations across the Army and the Department of Defense, working to get the best solutions in place. Some expertise already existed in the force structure. For example, in their role as Army masters of mobility, the U.S. Army Engineer School espoused tenets of assured mobility (protect, predict, prevent, detect and neutralize) that provided an effective paradigm for identifying, categorizing and integrating solutions to address the expanding problem of IEDs.

The task force set about finding and developing solutions that could rapidly and effectively be applied to counter this pervasive threat. Forensic and technical analysis of IED sites and residue by teams proficient in explosive ordnance and technical exploitation provided valuable information to help soldiers, battle staffs and commanders to understand, predict and counter IEDs before and during operations. (Recent improvements in this area are helping to get left of boom and actually target the bomb makers themselves.) Focused awareness training conducted by members of the task force in theater and at home stations gave soldiers better situational awareness and practical training experience and helped to change the training at combat training centers. Finally, partnerships with the acquisition community, research and development labs, combat developers and highly innovative organizations like the Rapid Equipping Force helped to quickly identify, develop and deploy advanced and emerging technologies to detect and neutralize IEDs and increase force protection.

Facilitated by the task force's focused efforts, a combination of better individual and vehicle protection, awareness training, command focus and the smart application of technology has reduced the casualty rate per incident by more than 30 percent, despite an increasing use of IEDs in theater. Parallel initiatives, within both the Army and joint community, have contributed significantly to mitigating other asymmetric threats currently menacing U.S. forces in theater. The Training and Doctrine Command-sponsored Counter-Strike Task Force is addressing the threat posed by insurgents' use of mortars against forward operating bases. Other special focus teams have addressed up-armoring of vehicles as well as the threat posed to helicopters and fixed-wing aircraft by insurgents armed with surface-to-air missiles.

The initial successes achieved by the task force and its partners, as well as an overriding need for a coordinated department-wide effort, led Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz to approve, on July 12, 2004, the establishment of the Army-led Joint IED Defeat Integrated Process Team (IPT). The establishment of this team is the clearest recognition that although the threat of IEDs primarily affects ground-based forces, the solutions to address this particular asymmetric threat exist in all U.S. services and agencies. Organized around the existing Army IED Task Force, this group assumed the mission of pulling together all counter-IED efforts within the Department of Defense. The IPT identifies, prioritizes and resources materiel and non-materiel solutions from across the services and DoD in coordination with interagency and international partners. The original Army task force, now augmented by joint service staff officers and NCOs, continues to accomplish the counter-IED operational mission as the Joint IED Defeat Task Force while also providing necessary support to the IPT.

Despite U.S. conventional military superiority and successes in the effort to stem asymmetric attacks, the ability of our current adversaries to innovate and rapidly adapt their techniques continues to highlight gaps in U.S. conventional force capabilities. While the extent of these capability gaps varies based on the type of organization, training and combat experience, the general subjects listed below represent some focus areas that will affect quick, integrated responses to the threat of asymmetry and help to fill current gaps.

• Adequate knowledge of indige nous cultures and availability of skilled linguists.

• Broad training and application in information operations.

• Forward-deployed technical and human exploitation capabilities.

• Investigative skills to analyze, understand and exploit enemy vulnerabilities.

• Intelligence processes better tailored to targeting a constantly changing, decentralized adversary.

• Procedures to rapidly disseminate lessons learned and quickly adjust training.

• Streamlined acquisition and fielding procedures.

The experiences and training path of the Army over the last several decades have prepared it well in many ways for the rigors of the global war on terrorism. U.S. Army education systems are the envy of every army; its noncommissioned officer corps is simply unmatched; and U.S. Army combat training centers are first-class. The enemy we face, however, requires that we continue to change and modify our approach to ensure we can accomplish the missions assigned. As current modularity efforts are demonstrating, changing and growing Army organizations to instill a culture of innovation and adaptability are key to this effort.

T o this end, the Army began organizing the Asymmetric Warfare Group in January 2005, with a targeted initial operational capability by midyear. The AWG will become a lead organization in providing the conventional force with global perspective and expertise in full spectrum training, planning and execution of countermeasures to asymmetric warfare. It will help to alleviate the need for the creation of ad hoc task forces to address theater-specific threats. Like most Army units, the AWG will be organized for continuous operations, capable of deploying quickly and able to operate in multiple simultaneous areas of responsibility. The AWG will focus on current and evolving asymmetric threats to U.S. forces in order to devise countermeasures (training, procedures and technology) to these threats and deny potential enemies the ability to exploit gaps in U.S. capabilities. Many of the tasks and capabilities associated with the current Joint IED Defeat Task Force will migrate to the AWG, but IEDs will not be the only threat it will address.

The centerpiece of this unit will be its people. Staffed by seasoned warfighters and functional experts, the AWG will be a center of excellence for innovative thinking and imaginative implementation. A special assessment and selection program will be used to identify personnel for this unit with the right skills and aptitude needed for the mission. Military members will possess recent and relevant operational experience. Civilian members will provide the special skills that are not readily available within the Current Force. Training for this unit will emphasize holistic solutions, combining information, intelligence, training and technology. The unit will develop broad linkages to a variety of DoD and other interagency organizations working in related areas. Linkages to the warfighter will be established through dedicated liaison teams to functional and geographic combatant commanders.

The AWG, organized under a special table of distribution and allowances, will have the flexibility to change and modify, as the evolving mission requires. An Army combat arms colonel will command the AWG and a command sergeant major, a deputy commander and an executive officer will assist him. The AWG headquarters will have a robust staff to ensure coordination, planning and execution to accomplish its global mission. Particular to this headquarters will be its charge to develop and maintain a joint common operational picture (JCOP) for asymmetric threats. The staff will have an integral trends analysis capability to assist in future threat prediction and analysis. The headquarters will also be a focal point for international coordination and cooperation on asymmetric threats.

In addition to a headquarters and headquarters detachment, the AWG will initially include three subordinate squadrons, each commanded by an Army combat arms lieutenant colonel and each with a very specialized mission. The operations squadron will be the face of the AWG to the deployed joint force and Army commander. This squadron will provide the trained and ready teams that deploy forward to collect, develop and disseminate tactics, techniques and procedures (TTPs) and observations. Direct communications linkages will ensure rapid information dissemination to the training base and will help to inform development of procedural or technological countermeasures. The operations squadron will be able to provide liaison and staff integration with supported commands and will be capable of assisting deployed units in the integration and training of rapidly fielded countermeasures. A second operations squadron is envisioned for long-term sustainment operations.

The primary mission of the training and assessment squadron will be to provide tactical advisory training for predeployment forces and to coordinate training of countermeasure TTPs and technology with service and joint trainers and developers. The work of this squadron will be directly informed by the efforts of the operation squadron teams passing information from forward locations. In accomplishing this task, the training and assessment squadron will leverage the inherent capabilities of continental U.S.-based joint and Army lessons learned processes, training centers and doctrine developers. An important but secondary function for this squadron will be the selection and training of unit members.

The concepts integration squadron will evaluate ongoing operations to identify asymmetric gaps and required capabilities, conduct program and concept development, and manage requirements to close asymmetric gaps. Forward-deployed operations squadron teams will provide the feedback to inform the efforts of this unit. The concept integration squadron will also conduct liaison with the technology and acquisition communities and coordinate item testing and development of technology-related training materials.

The AWG must ultimately achieve a joint structure to provide a true, complete and time-sensitive picture of the battle space that includes all aspects of asymmetric warfare. All services, not just land forces, are subject to asymmetric threats and, more important, must possess capabilities for addressing current and future asymmetric adversaries in a holistic fashion. Joint integration will be achieved over time with initial service augmentation into the AWG staff and, optimally, with full service integration into the three squadrons discussed above.

Equally important to accomplishing the mission of this organization are robust linkages to other organizations that possess and can provide specific support to understanding and developing countermeasures. Relationships with Army battle labs, training centers and schools, research and development centers, joint and service intelligence agencies and special mission organizations are vital to full cooperation and defeat of asymmetric threats. On occasion, the attachment or support of direct military organizations to the AWG will be required to ensure that the right skills and capabilities are working together in a synchronized fashion.

Asymmetric warfare as we are experiencing in the current conflict is not just an operational anomaly; it is here to stay. Conventional U.S. forces can expect to see these types of threats in every future operation. Adversaries around the world are carefully watching and studying the activities in Iraq as an example of how they may confront conventional forces in the future.

The AWG was created to take a broader look at current and evolving asymmetric threats to U.S. forces in order to devise countermeasures to these threats and deny potential enemies the ability to exploit gaps in U.S. capabilities. The success of the AWG in accomplishing this mission will be crucial to ultimate victory in the global war on terrorism and is a critical component of future Army and joint forces operations.

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