At an inflection point in the nature of war, the Army is building readiness for an uncertain future. As the Army Deputy Chief of Staff, G-3/5/7, Lt. Gen. Charles A. Flynn is at the helm of enabling current operations while shaping the force and global posture of tomorrow. In addition to four combat tours in support of Operations Enduring Freedom and Iraqi Freedom, Flynn previously served as deputy commanding general, U.S. Army Pacific, and commanding general, 25th Infantry Division. We sat down with him to discuss strategic readiness at echelons across the force.
What does ‘strategic readiness’ mean for our Army?
In my view, strategic readiness is actually having an Army that’s ready to deploy, fight, and win anytime, anywhere, against any adversary. It’s the ability to move large numbers of people and materiel to sustain campaign-quality combat operations in the land domain. Whatever the point of contact is—whether it’s a crisis, humanitarian assistance and disaster relief, or actual combat operations—the Army is responsive enough, with speed, to ultimately meet the demands of the combatant commanders at the time of need.
What do you see as the biggest challenge to building strategic readiness as we shift from predominantly counterinsurgency (COIN) operations to large-scale combat operations (LSCO)?
Balancing the trade-off between the readiness demands of today and our ability to modernize the Army for the future. Throughout the Middle East in the COIN environment of the last two decades, we have gone from the known to the known: Known time, known location, and known unit going into a known location against a known threat. We likely won’t have that luxury in the future. As we demonstrated in response to riots at the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad at the beginning of the year, that was reversed.
We went at an unknown time, from an unknown place, and into an unknown environment that was dynamic and constantly changing. From an operational perspective, the Army demonstrated global responsiveness through its strategic readiness.
At the strategic level, the Army is also the force provider. As always, our goal is to deliver the right capability to the combatant commanders at the time of need. One of the things I’m most proud of is the force structure work we’ve done over the last couple of years. Through the guidance of the secretary of the Army (SA) and the chief of staff of the Army (CSA), we have designed, and are beginning to develop, the force of the future. We’ve done a great job bringing all of the components together in the creation of Multi-Domain formations.
That being said, that force of the 2028 or 2035 time frame will require some trades with existing capabilities so we can man, train, and equip those future formations. Requirements for LSCO obviously differ from those of COIN operations, but we have to stitch all of that together over time to maintain readiness. So as advanced capabilities to support the Multi-Domain Operations (MDO) concept come to fruition at Army Futures Command, we are connecting everything to the mid-term—the force-development period—to begin addressing some of those gaps; that will ultimately allow us to have that formation of the future.
At the end of the day, we’re trying to create conditions where we are strategically predictable to our partners and allies, and, to a degree, even to our adversaries. We want them to know certain things about us and fear that; but at the same time, we want to be operationally unpredictable so we’re able to do things with speed in a variety of environments and under any condition. I think our response to the riots in Baghdad is a great example of how we’re working to maintain overmatch in the land domain, while balancing readiness with modernization so we can bring in future capabilities.
How will the Defender exercise series display strategic readiness?
The Defender series is going to be the Army’s model for building strategic readiness, and then present MDO capabilities in priority theaters in Europe and the Pacific areas of operation. Through a whole host of exercises, our global posture is going to be tested and stressed: Everything from Army Prepositioned Stocks (APS) and our ability to move munitions to our ability to sustain the force as a whole. What’s our stance as an Army as we deploy, employ, and redeploy the force or move it along interior lines?
The exciting part of the Defender series is it’s really going to take the total Army—all components and the entire enterprise—to be engaged to support exercises of that size and scale in those two theaters. We’re going to perform the exercises every year to continue to stress our systems so we get repeated practice and truly demonstrate strategic readiness. A wide range of tactical actions will take place in these exercises that will solve a lot of operational and strategic problems for us.
What is the Army’s role within the joint force to enable strategic readiness?
The Army provides foundational capabilities that only it provides to joint force commanders—things such as sustainment, signal and communications, intelligence, engineering, police, and inland water movement. These are absolutely essential to the global combatant commander's ability to be successful in the execution of their plans, both from a day-to-day perspective as well as their operational plans within the theater.
The Army has made significant investments across the globe to recalibrate our force posture, including over a billion dollars into our APS in the Pacific. When the crisis in Korea loomed large a couple years ago, we did extraordinary things by way of Army Materiel Command (AMC), and the whole host of sustainers across the enterprise, to provide what I refer to as “deterrence by positioning.” It changed a lot of the calculus in Korea and throughout the Pacific.
By providing those foundational capabilities to the joint force commander, we can transition more quickly from a state of deterrence or competition into, if required, a higher level of deterrence or conflict.
Can you discuss the importance of actions at the tactical level for enabling readiness at the strategic level?
Leaders must recognize that, more holistically than ever before, their readiness applies to every level. This is true for every leader at every echelon. Everyone needs to be able to see themselves, and their organization, and then take the initiative to provide the leadership, supervision, and ownership of the program to solve problems.
Leaders at the tactical level need to understand where their people and equipment are. They need to be able to alert, marshal, and deploy from their motor pools to the railhead. They need to be able to get to a line-haul position and move their equipment by road. They need to be able to get to seaports and airports, and be organized when they get there.
Most importantly, leaders need to be able to do it with speed and in those dynamic, unpredictable environments—both here and abroad—going from unknown into unknown. Solving operational and strategic problems requires skilled, proficient leaders at the tactical level.
Who is responsible for strategic readiness at echelon?
The CSA has made it clear that he and the SA are ultimately responsible for the strategic readiness of the Army. Having said that, they are also laser-focused on enabling commanders at every level to maintain tactical readiness, because they are complementary to one another.
Being able to conduct battle drills at the company, battery, and troop levels, or being able to execute your mission-essential tasks at the brigade and division levels, is incredibly important. If you want a campaign-quality Army, capable of conducting combined arms maneuver in the land domain, you have to be able to execute those missions and tasks at the tactical level. So the CSA and SA have empowered commanders at every echelon—especially in U.S. Army Forces Command (FORSCOM), U.S. Army Europe, and U.S. Army Pacific—to keep their tactical formations sharp.
That tactical sharpness and edge enables operational and strategic readiness because now you have ready tactical formations that can move with speed; they are familiar with their equipment and have it at the ready; and they can be delivered to the point of contact to address current threats or deter future aggression. They are able to be at the point of need for the global combatant commanders.
I think the CSA sees this as a very commander-centric task. He is reliant on the commanders to maintain that tactical-readiness edge. At the same time, the enterprise has to come together through U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command, FORSCOM, AMC, and the Army Service Component Commands to enable delivery of that tactical sharpness to those crisis points.
What is the key to success for all of our Soldiers in an uncertain future?
Leadership. I don’t think that’s any different from what we needed when I first came into the Army; the leadership of the formation is absolutely essential. At the end of the day, all of these problems are going to be solved by quality leaders who are trained and ready. That means being a fast learner, physically fit, and mentally alert. It means being deployable, knowing your position, and having the knowledge, skills, and attributes to understand the environment in which we’re operating. Most importantly, it means being committed to your people, your unit, and to the mission.
As our CSA says: People are his number one priority. When I hear Gen. James McConville speak, I hear him say, “Ready people, ready Army.” We are going to have our people ready. By investing in them, training them, and most importantly providing them high-quality leadership, we’re going to have a ready Army. Leadership is a critical—maybe the essential—element of combat power. It’s also our greatest strength. That “ready Army,” through its ready people, is going to be able to fight and win anytime, anywhere, and against any adversary.
Arpi Dilanian is a strategic analyst in the Army Logistics Initiatives Group, Office of the Deputy Chief of Staff, G-4, Department of the Army. She holds a bachelor's degree from American University and a master's degree from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute.
Matthew Howard is a strategic analyst in the Logistics Initiatives Group, Office of the Deputy Chief of Staff, G-4, Department of the Army. He holds bachelor's and master's degrees from Georgetown University.
This article was published in the April-June 2020 issue of Army Sustainment.
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