Monday, July 01, 2002

The Path to the Future Army


[This is my 2000 article in Military Review (pages 91-93) with my corrections of editing errors and my charts restored. To save words I relied on the charts for some information but they were stripped out for publication. Although  they rely on undead links that may or may not work. But with my editing corrections the charts aren't critical. I figured I should copy it from the undead Yahoo!Geocities site while it still exists. I posted this in July 2002 just to put it somewhere and available for linking.]

The Path to the Future Army

by Brian J. Dunn

The revolution in military affairs (RMA) calls for an army that can exploit new weapons and methods. Yet the 21st-century US Army must rely on legacy systems before it evolves into the objective force.1

Without a single threat around which to plan force structure, there is still a need for strategically mobile units powerful enough to win rapidly and decisively. Since the Army must deploy from the Continental United States (CONUS) and because heavy armor cannot be replaced overnight with lightweight weapons, divisions must be smaller. Already this century, the Army has fielded large square divisions to slug it out in World War I's attrition warfare; smaller mobile divisions for World War II; and big Cold War heavy divisions to absorb massive Soviet tank assaults as well as strategically mobile light divisions.2

The next generation's unknown enemies and the need for smaller divisions argue for reviving a modified round-out brigade concept. Such an Active Component (AC)-Reserve Component (RC) integration could create an Army that exploits the RMA yet retains the capability to deploy globally and win across the full spectrum of conflict.

A Smaller Phalanx—
For Now
The 21st-century Army will include interim brigade combat teams, seven digitized contingency-force divisions based in CONUS and selectively digitized campaign forces including three AC divisions plus the Army National Guard (ARNG).3 Contingency forces will need to operate alongside less-digitized units in the ARNG, with allies, the Marines and the rest of the Army.

The Army's new heavy Division XXI (DXXI) is unsatisfactory to some because it rejects fundamental changes based on arguments that the RMA will make the division a redundant layer of command.4 The division's role in setting the conditions for the brigade fight is still needed.5

Given that radical restructuring will disrupt the Army's ability to meet today's threats, the Army's approach is well founded. Nor is DXXI as conservative as it appears. The use of legacy systems is not a failure to exploit the RMA. A revolution is created by many changes, only some of which are revolutionary.6 DXXI is digitized and seeks a revolution in thinking that is more important than immediate structural changes.7 It blends today's proven heavy divisions with the promise of tomorrow's digitized brigades using revolutionary weapons.8

Although DXXI establishes a sound baseline for discussion, it would be too large to be strategically deployable. More fundamental, plans wrongly assume the Army will fight nothing worse than short and victorious major theater wars (MTWs) and that reserve forces cannot be ready in time. Arguments to convert all ARNG combat brigades into light infantry for domestic operations reflect this reasoning.9

Douglas A. McGregor makes an excellent case for land power in Breaking the Phalanx.10 However, like earlier prophets, his conclusion that the age of mass armies has passed is premature. Although a global peer competitor will not likely emerge in the next generation, regional peers could deter the United States by developing large armies shielded by key systems that degrade US technological advantages.11 The capability to fight a peer rightly resides with ARNG divisions, yet they have no formal role in US war plans.12

The Round-Out Concept
Today's Army keeps the active Army and ARNG separate. Although the ARNG needs a role, the force structure should not integrate reservists within AC units that deploy quickly, as DXXI proposes. Time-demands on a citizen-soldier's civilian career might cause retention problems.13

Integration is essential, but at brigade level it would make the two-battalion AC brigade nondeployable, as would integration at the battalion level. A promising idea advocates adding a fourth ARNG battalion to AC brigades rather than rounding out. This would preserve a deployable AC unit and improve ARNG training.14 Although this idea has merit, it is at too low a level to create a full-spectrum force. Including ARNG brigades within a greater number of two-brigade divisions based on DXXI replicates this proposal on a level that creates a full-spectrum Army.

Two brigades are enough to fight. The United States deployed a two-brigade division to Kuwait in early 1998; the British fought in Operation Desert Storm with a two-brigade division; and US armored divisions in World War II had only six line battalions. DXXI is designed to defeat offensively an enemy equal in size. Even a two-brigade division that masters this doctrine will be superior to the three-brigade Army of Excellence (AOE) division only able to defeat an enemy one-third its size.15

A two-brigade division might lack depth against a tough opponent, however. The ability to deploy strategic distances and fight with two brigades, yet have a third ARNG brigade available, is a prudent course. Objectors who believe reserve components are less ready must consider the excellence of today's AC, which skews RC comparisons. Today's reserves are actually better than the active Army of the 1970s.16 It is possible to restore a modified round-out brigade concept.

Proposed Structure
A proposed structure for the 21st-century Army is based on three tiers: the contingency force needed within 60 days, the campaign force needed within 90 days and the war reserve force needed starting in 6 months.17

Contingency force divisions would field two brigades each with a third ARNG brigade attached. These mostly CONUS-based divisions would execute the halt phase in an MTW. Six contingency force mounted divisions would be at the heart of the Army's offensive capability.

Contingency force divisions would be more deployable than the AOE division or DXXI and more powerful even if the RMA did not multiply their power. Their hedge against RMA failure would be a brigade from the ARNG that could mobilize as time allowed and circumstances demanded. Contingency force divisions not deploying early could donate a brigade to a deploying division if a third brigade was needed quickly. The contingency force mounted division could contain fewer than 12,000 troops.
Campaign force divisions would be a step lower in readiness, with one active and one ARNG enhanced brigade. They would flow into a theater after mobilization to counterattack decisively and defeat the enemy.

Campaign force divisions could also donate an active brigade to a contingency force division or serve well in peace operations by providing a core AC combat brigade with room for attachments from allies, the Marines, military police units, ARNG volunteer companies or battalions and additional support units. Four of these divisions could be Germany-based, and one mounted division would be appropriate for Kuwait should political circumstances allow it.

War-reserve force divisions would be needed last and take the longest to mobilize. It would take at least two years to create one from scratch, but they would be valuable despite lower readiness.18 The force would include the two integrated divisions (AC headquarters commanding ARNG brigades) as a general reserve force that could serve as a rotation base in a longer MTW. Backfilling the corps in Germany would be another mission for war-reserve-force divisions if they conducted post-mobilization training in Germany.19 The ARNG's role as a bridge between military and civilian worlds is too important to discard.20 These divisions would contain two ARNG brigades, one of which would be an enhanced readiness brigade.

Similarly organized light divisions would be more of a challenge. Individual foot soldiers would have to be plugged into the tactical internet.21 Given that the Army has an airborne division and can look to the Marines for light infantry, light divisions might be a luxury for an Army stretched thin yet expected to win two MTWs. A beefed-up light division based on brigade combat teams might be a better alternative.22 With a two-brigade active structure, a reasonably sized division with a decent punch could be created.

Exceptions to the basic two-brigade design are airborne and air assault divisions. Their ability to maintain deployable forces if reduced to two brigades is questionable.

The 21st-Century Army
The Army cannot be radically restructured quickly.23 The proposed divisions would have to be created from the force structure already planned. Active Army divisions would provide 18 heavy brigades, six light brigades, three air assault brigades and three airborne brigades. The ARNG, after implementing an agreement to convert combat brigades to support units, would have 30 combat brigades.24 These 60 brigades could be organized into 26 divisions (17 AC, two integrated and seven ARNG). Two combined arms divisions (with one combat brigade plus support units) would be included.

This organization takes advantage of the reality that while divisions retain a three-brigade structure, only three AC divisions base all three with the division flag. Every other division, including forward-deployed divisions, functions with two brigades in practice. This proposed division structure would disrupt the Army minimally while allowing it to adapt as new capabilities were verified and as threats became apparent. More division flags will make it easier to test new organizations and tactics.

The Army can also experiment with active brigades under ARNG headquarters with one of the campaign force light divisions. While it makes more sense to place ARNG brigades under AC command, the Army should be open to the reverse. Bunching up brigades three to a division for depth will leave excess division headquarters. The Army could reconstitute divisions around the leftover division headquarters using stockpiled legacy systems enhanced by new munitions.25 More divisions might also diminish officer-corps careerism and fear of failure evident today, which is exacerbated by competition for prized positions in the 10 divisions.

One possible refinement would be to eliminate one campaign force mounted division. The AC brigade could be converted to an armored cavalry regiment (ACR). The RC enhanced brigade would be assigned to the mounted integrated division and that division's RC brigade would be converted to an ACR.

With focused logistics, the two-brigade division could fight with smaller support units augmented only if a third brigade is attached. Because ARNG and USAR logistic units have better readiness than combat units, they could augment support units. Even DXXI proposes to incorporate reserve squads, platoons and companies eventually instead of individual members.26

Flexibility would be enhanced by making brigades more self-contained. The DXXI brigade of three maneuver battalions plus organic mortar, reconnaissance and engineer units is the right amount of combined arms integration for proposed divisions. The ability to operate semi-independently would allow brigades to operate under corps command or be attached to any division in any tier. The battalions will be smaller, as DXXI proposes, with 45 tanks/infantry fighting vehicles in three companies each.27 Moving toward McGregor's group concept but not yet implementing it leaves room to take the radical leap of eliminating divisions, should supporting evidence be strong enough.

An Army for Any Future
The Army should not design its forces based on speculative revolutionary technology not yet even designed.28 Such unfounded faith, which dismisses mass, could inculcate within the Army a "silver bullet" mentality that promises clean video-game wars. Already, too many people believe history and the RMA have made large-scale conventional warfare obsolete and advocate a force sized for a one-plus war. This standard assumes the Army will recognize a threat well ahead of time and rearm. Unfortunately, there are many ways to fail.29 Should a new threat emerge, these proposed divisions could be enlarged without the more provocative step of creating new divisions.

The proposed division concept is a compromise between RMA believers and skeptics—those who believe the Army faces no significant land threat and those who fear it cannot defeat a major land power. It fields streamlined divisions that exploit the RMA with legacy systems geared to fighting tomorrow's MTWs or smaller operations, is expandable to provide depth against an enemy able to mount serious resistance and can evolve into the revolutionary objective force. It will defeat anybody. MR

1. "America's Army: Preparing for Tomorrow's Security Challenges" (Carlisle, PA: Strategic Studies Institute, December 1998), 10.
2. See Glen R. Hawkins and James Jay Carafano, Prelude to Army XXI: U.S. Army Division Design Initiatives and Experiments 1917-1995 (Washington, DC: United States Army Center of Military History, 1997), .
3. Dennis Steele, "The Army XXI Heavy Division—First Blueprint of the Future Army," Army (July 1998), 35.
4. See Douglas A. McGregor, Breaking the Phalanx: A New Design for Landpower in the 21st Century (Westport, CT: Praeger, 1997).
5. COL John J. Twohig, MAJ Thomas J. Stokowski and MAJ Bienvenido Rivera, "Structuring Division XXI," Military Review (May-June 1998), .
6. Barry Watts and Williamson Murray, "Military Innovation in Peacetime," in Military Innovation in the Interwar Period, Williamson Murray and Allan R. Millett, eds (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1996), 373-77.
7. Douglas A. McGregor, "Setting the Terms of Future Battle for Force XXI," The Land Warfare Papers (Arlington, VA: The Institute of Land Warfare, 20, June 1995).
8. John G. Roos, "Striking the Best Balance," Armed Forces Journal International (October 1998), 46.
9. COL John R. Brinkerhoff, "The Brigade-Based New Army," Parameters (Autumn 1997), .
10. Douglas A. McGregor, Breaking the Phalanx, 227.
11. "America's Army," 6.
12. See Army National Guard: Validate Requirements for Combat Forces and Size Those Forces Accordingly, Government Accounting Office (GAO) Report, National Security and International Affairs (NSIAD)-96-3 (Washington, DC: GAO, 14 March 1996).
13. Stephen M. Duncan, Citizen Warriors: America's National Guard and Reserve Forces & the Politics of National Security (Novato, CA: Presidio Press, 1997), 205.
14. LTC Jeffrey A. Jacobs, "One Army: But at What Level?" Army (April 1999), 8-10.
15. LTC Billy J. Jordan and LTC Mark J. Reardon, "Restructuring the Division: An Operational and Organizational Approach," Military Review (May-June 1998),.
16. LTG Frederic J. Brown, The U.S. Army in Transition II (Washington, DC: Brassey's, 1993), 53.
17. LTC David T. Fautua, "How the Guard and Reserve Will Fight in 2025," Parameters (Spring 1999), .
18. COL John Brinkerhoff, "The Army National Guard and Conservation of Combat Power," Parameters (Autumn 1996), .
19. Ibid.
20. Brown, 52-69.
21. Jason Sherman, "Lighten Up," Armed Forces Journal International (October 1998), 58.
22. LTC Richard D. Hooker Jr., "The Light Fight in 2010," Armed Forces Journal International (March 1999), 30.
23. William T. Johnsen, "Force Planning Considerations for Army XXI," Strategic Studies Institute (18 February 1998), 13.
24. Brinkerhoff, "The Brigade-Based New Army."
25. Brown, 77-78.
26. Steele, 34.
27. Ibid.
28. Pat Towell, "`Boots on the Ground,' Eyes on the Future," CQ Weekly (8 August 1998), 2166.
29. See Alan R. Goldman and Gerald A. Halbert, "Will America Be Prepared for Its Next Peer Competitor?" Landpower Essay Series (Arlington, VA: The Institute of Land Warfare, 98-1).

Brian Dunn is a research analyst for the Michigan Legislative Service Bureau. He received a B.A. from the University of Michigan and an M.A. from Eastern Michigan University. He served in the Michigan Army National Guard.