Regionally aligned forces continue to organize despite budget uncertainties

By David VergunOctober 30, 2013

Regionally aligned forces
Leaders from the Army speak Oct. 22, 2013, at a forum on regionally aligned forces, at the Association of the U.S. Army's 2013 Annual Meeting and Expostion, at the Washington (D.C.) Convention Center. Pictured from left are: Maj. Gen. Christopher K. ... (Photo Credit: U.S. Army) VIEW ORIGINAL

WASHINGTON (Army News Service, Oct. 23, 2013) -- As forces draw down from Afghanistan, more are available for regional alignment, said the Army's top forces generation leader.

But unfortunately, total forces are also drawing down, limiting that manpower, added Gen. Daniel B. Allyn, commander, U.S. Army Forces Command, known as FORSCOM.

Allyn and seven other panel members spoke Oct. 22, at a forum on regionally aligned forces, or RAF, at the 2013 Association of the United States Army Annual Meeting and Exposition at the Washington Convention Center.

The Army "intends that all forces not committed to assigned missions" -- like those in Korea, Afghanistan and in the Global Response Force -- "will be in a regionally aligned force construct, available to the geographical combatant commander," he said.

Besides the issue of availability of forces for RAFs, the other is sequestration and budgetary challenges facing all the services, he said, noting that training is also taking a heavy hit.

For a RAF unit to be at a full readiness level, it goes through a thorough training cycle at a combat training center, which includes decisive action engagements and wide-area security, as well as follow-on, region-specific training.

But the dollars are not there, he said, to rotate units through that cycle, except for those assigned to ongoing operations.

For example, should sequestration continue, just one FORSCOM-assigned RAF brigade -- 4th Brigade Combat TEam, 1st Infantry Division, backfilling 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 1st Infantry Division, for AFRICOM -- will be able to train at NTC this fiscal year. "That's how tight our resources are," Allyn said.

"If there were more resources available, we would certainly be sending more [brigade combat teams] to combat training centers," he said.

RAF itself is seen by Army leaders as the best strategy going forward, even in this climate of uncertainty and scarce resources.

RAF is important during this time of fiscal austerity and the drawdown, said panel member Lt. Gen. James L. Huggins Jr., deputy chief of staff, G-3/5/7. "We'll need to rely more and more on our partners' capabilities and they on ours, as their armies are drawing down as well."


Brigades, divisions and corps are assigned to combatant commanders from different regions of the world -- U.S. Africa Command, U.S. European Command, U.S. Pacific Command, U.S. Northern Command, U.S. Central Command, and U.S. Southern Command.

Those forces, including active and reserve components, could be U.S.-based with some forces deployed to the region to which they're assigned.

The level of forces in the region could be an entire brigade, as was the case during an AFRICOM exercise in South Africa this year, and during a corps-level exercise this year in Australia. Or, it could be as small as a two-Soldier advise-and-assist mission.

Units assigned to a region could also be deployed outside their area, should the need arise. Units are not permanently assigned to regions. They rotate in and out of the various regions.

While component commanders can get pretty much the tailorable and scalable force they need, when they need it, they should try to anticipate those needs in as far in advance to mitigate risk and delays and help the Army better apportion those assets, Huggins said.

The primary goal of RAF is to prevent war by partnering with nations within the region, according to Allyn. Partnering can be military-to-military training, providing disaster relief and humanitarian assistance, and sharing intelligence and interoperability.

Partnering with other nations includes "engagements and interactions between us, our allies and partners -- and even potentially our adversaries," he said, adding that the players include not just the Army and its sister services, but also U.S. and foreign governments, agencies and non-governmental agencies.


The National Guard has had a State Partnership Program, or SSP, for 20 years now, a precursor to the current RAF. Additionally, the Army Reserve has also had a robust military-to-military training program for a number of years. The reserve components' programs, together with the active component, are all tools in the toolbox that the combatant commanders have at their disposal.

There are some advantages SSP has. While active-duty RAF units rotate in and out of regions, National Guard Soldiers, whose states are aligned with different countries on a more or less permanent basis, have "long lasting relationships" that the active component doesn't, said panel member Maj. Gen. Patrick A. Murphy, adjutant general, New York National Guard.

Murphy's New York Guard has been aligned with South Africa for 10 years, and he said their close personal relationships have "fostered a high level cooperation," particularly in law enforcement. The New York Guard brought their expertise to bear as advisors for the World Cup, which was held in that country.

Panel member Maj. Gen. Patrick J. Donahue II, commander, U.S. Army Africa/Southern European Task Force, concurred that the State Partnership Program really works. During a visit to Botswana, he said that while his active-duty Soldiers were given a cordial welcome, "when the North Carolina Guard showed up, they were treated like rock stars. It's all about those established personal relationships, plus, the Guard has that resident expertise."

The Army Reserve also adds special benefits to RAF, said panel member Lt. Gen. Jeffrey W. Talley, chief, Army Reserve/commander, Army Reserve Command. "We provide long-term stability just as the Guard does," he said.

The Reserve has conducted training exercises in some 30 countries over the last year, as part of the Army Reserve Engagement Cells program, he said. Within those cells are subject-matter experts with expertise in logistics, medicine, engineering, languages and a host of other areas, he said.

The Reserve's civil affairs units have Soldiers trained in myriad languages and cultures, he said. The Reserve also has a linguist program Soldiers can take advantage of.

Some of those Soldiers may also be working full time in the State Department and other agencies, he added.

Talley said he encourages Soldiers leaving active duty to consider the Reserve, as they still have invaluable talent their country can use.

Another stabilizing factor in national and regional expertise are special operations troops, who have in-depth language and cultural expertise and often train and advise militaries, said panel member Maj. Gen. Christopher K. Haas, commander, U.S. Army Special Forces Command (Airborne).

As to the active component part of RAF, the Soldiers are usually not linguists or resident experts, but they are expected to have a good level of cultural understanding as a result of their RAF experiences, Allyn said.

Additionally, it is not uncommon for active-duty formations to have Soldiers whose first language and culture are not American. While the process for finding these Soldiers has not yet been institutionalized, Allyn said wise commanders should "scan their formations to identify resident expertise" for regions their units are assigned.


The French have been able to use their intimate knowledge of many areas of the world where French is spoken and where they have lived and trained since colonial times, said panel member Maj. Gen. Olivier Tramond, director, French Army Doctrine Center.

The French led a successful peacekeeping mission recently in Mali, where jihadist forces were prevented from overrunning the country. Tramond credits past French outreach efforts in Africa with getting other nations onboard with that peacekeeping effort.

Although the French army is relatively small, Tramond said they've been doing RAF-like missions throughout the world for decades. He said small units sent in are often isolated, so they have to adapt, think for themselves and rely on partner nations, including those in the European Union and U.N., probably even more so than the U.S.

Because their army is small, he said its members must be highly trained, enculturated and ready to deploy at a moment's notice.


There's a danger that with a shrinking budget and manpower, that the "Army is trying to cover down on the world. Forces will shrink and resources are finite," said panel member Nathan Freier, senior fellow, International Security Program, Center for Strategic and International Studies.

The Army needs to better identify where important engagements will be, he continued, because "in some places where it's important to be, we won't be allowed in because we're not welcomed."

Also, "some things we want to prevent are not preventable," he said, citing stability of nations that might be influenced by political or grass roots events, where military-to-military exchanges, while helpful, cannot prevent all instability around the world.

The thought in the Defense Department seems to be, "we'll manage terrorist threats remotely" through cyber and "use SOC" where force is needed and direct other forces to Iran or North Korea should the balloon go up.

Nevertheless, Freier acknowledged advantages to using RAF to learn to operate in austere and challenging conditions around the world.

Allyn concluded that one of the most important benefits of RAF is that it's exciting work for young leaders. He used the example of a second lieutenant deployed to Uganda to help train her military police counterparts. She left highly motivated by what she and her Soldiers accomplished.

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