By the Maneuver Center of Excellence, Fort Benning Public Affairs
FORT BENNING, Ga. (Jan. 23, 2018) -- The Maneuver Center of Excellence held the Maneuver Warfighter Conference at Fort Benning, Georgia, Jan. 8 through 11.
The multi-day event included speaking portions by three four-star generals, a former speaker of the House of Representatives, a futurist, and many others, who focused on cross-domain maneuver and preparing for the future.
The theme of this year's conference was "cross-domain maneuver:" the cohesive employment of Army capabilities in land, maritime, air, space and cyberspace to achieve overmatch in the battlefield. Maj. Gen. Eric J. Wesley, the Maneuver Center of Excellence and Fort Benning commander, on the first full day of the conference gave an overview of both the conference and of cross-domain maneuver as part of the Functional Concept for Movement and Maneuver 2020-2040.
"The role of the tactical commanders is going to be to optimize all domains to his benefit such that the sum of those capabilities is bigger than the individual parts," said Wesley. "That is what gives you overmatch."
The four-day event began Jan. 8 with an icebreaker. The following three days included morning sessions with distinguished speakers and panelists at Marshall Auditorium at McGinnis-Wickam Hall. Guests included Secretary of the Army Gen. Mark A. Milley, U.S. Army Forces Commander Gen. Robert B. Abrams, U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Commander Gen. David G. Perkins, former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich and futurist P.W. Singer.
The first day of morning sessions began with an overview of the large concepts: future operational environment, current operations, and cross-domain maneuver. The next day included sessions on the future of technology, mission command, training and leader development, and cyberspace / electromagnetic spectrum capabilities at the brigade combat team level. The third day, after a video teleconference with Gingrich on strategic overview, included a session on the battlefield framework of the future and a panel on cross functional teams.
Wesley, during the opening session of the conference, defined the focus of the conference as a whole.
"The question is not whether you have prepared, and the question is not whether you are willing," he said. "The question is whether our Army is prepared and ready for large-scale, ground combat against a peer threat."
In a follow-on session on cross-domain maneuver within the new maneuver concept, Wesley explained that peer threats are currently investing in standoff. The U.S. Army concept of cross-domain maneuver is part of a strategy to break through that standoff.
"Our adversaries -- our peers -- have studied the United States Army, and they've watched us in our dominance over the last 25 years or so," said Wesley. "They've concluded that they want no part of close combat with the United States Army. And everything they're doing right now is to avoid that."
The second day, attendees learned more details of the future of technology, what the cyberspace domain entails, and how mission command relates to cross-domain maneuver.
Abrams, as the commander of FORSCOM, elaborated on mission command. He emphasized in order to succeed in the future battlefield, leaders must empower subordinates and junior officers to carry out mission command.
"The future battlefield that we are talking about is nothing like what we have experienced for the last 15, 16, 17 years," said Abrams. "This is a much different battlefield than we are talking about, and it will put a premium on mission command."
Several commanders from Fort Benning took part in a discussion of leadership and training development. Col. Anthony G. Judge, commander of the 199th Infantry Brigade, said he means to train effective leaders in the Army.
"The end state, the goal, is to train cross-domain maneuver leaders who can lead, win and survive on the multi-domain battlefield," he said.
Another panelist, Col. Douglas G. Vincent, commander of the Airborne and Ranger Training Brigade, insisted that even though the battlefield was changing, the fundamentals would not.
"The one thing that's remained the same is the need for confident leaders of character," Vincent said.
Besides training and leadership, the second day of morning sessions focused on the changing technological landscape the Army finds itself in.
P.W. Singer, a contributing editor for Popular Science, outlined many current technologies that may significantly shape the decades to come. In his session, he outlined the technology that directly interfaces with the human body and brain, 3D printing, and the proliferation of drones and sensors. These technologies, Singer told the audience, made cybersecurity that much more valuable.
"All these areas are exciting, but they also open up new vulnerabilities that we have to think about," he said. "We've already seen the hacking of cars, the hacking of human bodies, the hacking of drones."
Deputy Commanding General (Operations) of the U.S. Army Cyber Command Brig. Gen. J.P. McGee also emphasized the continuing and further importance of cyberspace in operations.
"Cyberspace and electromagnetic activities, those are the commander's business," said McGee. "And just like any other domain, we need to learn how to use it effectively."
The last day of morning sessions began with Gingrich, who spoke to the audience via teleconference from Vatican City. As part of living in a dynamic world, he urged the audience of officers to be adaptable.
"The world is changing very rapidly and is much more complex than we think, and you have to adjust to it, and you have to think about it before it overruns you," he said. "Your professionalism is the key to our ability to be safe and to be successful."
In the session that followed, Perkins talked about the doctrinal and training changes forthcoming due to the addition of domains to the Army's battlefield. Perkins said multi-domain thinking must happen early.
"From the very beginning, every problem is inherently multi-domain," he said. "We want to have a converged -- an integrated -- solution from the beginning, versus a synchronized solution of federated answers later on."
A panel took place on cross-functional teams, or CFTs, wherein experts in several fields across the Army would work closely to develop capabilities more rapidly and with less cost. Taking part in the panel was Maj. Gen. James M. Richardson, the special adviser for Program Integration at the Office of the Vice Chief of Staff of the Army at the Pentagon in Washington D.C.; Brig. Gen. David A. Lesperance, U.S. Army Armor School commandant at the MCoE; and Brig. Gen. Christopher T. Donahue, U.S. Army Infantry School commandant at the MCoE. Lesperance is also the director of the Next Generation Combat Vehicle CFT, and Donahue is also the director of the Soldier Lethality CFT.
Richardson outlined the multi-discipline approach CFTs must take, but emphasized the role of field experience.
"The requirements are generated in the field, and the warfighter has to be in the loop," said Richardson. "The warfighter, to me, has to be one of the most important aspects of this team, informing us what they need out in the field."
During the closing remarks to the conference as a whole, Wesley reminded the audience of the rapid changes the Army has undergone at short notice in order to adapt to the world. Similarly the Army will have to adapt to changes in the world now and changes likely to come.
"We have a fundamental problem as an Army as we move into the future that is not unlike where we've been in the past," said Wesley. "We do have a challenge, we do have work to do, and we do have to evolve the force."
Wesley gave the audience a way forward that could be enacted now.
"If there's one thing you can change tomorrow to move towards the future, it's in training," said Wesley. "You can change what you train tomorrow.
"Do we think we as a force are ready to fight a major land combat in the future operating environment?" Wesley asked the audience. "We've got some work to do, but we've got a pathway to get there."