WASHINGTON — Potential peer adversaries have been studying the way the U.S. fights for the last 20 or 30 years and their takeaway is this: “They don’t want to fight us in a close fight. They want to keep us at a distance,” said Maj. Gen. Eric J. Wesley.
Wesley, who serves as commander of the U.S. Army Maneuver Center of Excellence at Fort Benning, Georgia, spoke Sept. 7, during an Association of the United States Army-sponsored forum on aviation.
The American way of war for the last 20 years is, “we identify who our opponent will be. We take six months to stack metal in that theater. And when we’re ready, we go across the line and fight. Every one of our peers knows that and they want no part of that,” he explained.
So what they’ve done in terms of investments is “to create stand-offs that preclude our advantage in the close fight,” he said.
That includes “protective domes” that provide anti-access, area-denial or A2AD, he said.
They accomplish this through building a mass of long-range precision mass fires, a bulwark of electronic and cyber warfare offensive capabilities and other means, “all designed to keep us at a distance and keep us strategically out-positioned. That means we’ve got a massive problem.”
Furthermore, it is likely that one or several of five domains that Americans are used to dominating will be denied, be it air, ground, cyber, space or sea.
BREAKING INTO THE DOME
There are three things that can be done to defeat A2AD, Wesley said, none of which are currently being done.
The first, he said, is to remain forward deployed. But he said that’s a strategy that has been out of vogue since the end of the Cold War.
Another way is the be more predictive of potential conflict. “Read the tea leaves early and get deployed early,” he said.
A final way is to “fight our way into theater,” he said. “That’s a different way to fight than we’re used to.”
Wesley also offered several solutions that would likely be effective at the brigade level to help overcome adversary A2AD.
First and foremost, units must train to fight in cross-domain maneuver, he said. And secondly, brigades must be able to operate semi-independently, because communications with higher echelons will likely be cut off.
Fighting in cross-domain maneuver, he explained upends the traditional approach of air power enabling ground maneuver forces. In this new construct, ground or even cyber could enable air. This requires creative thinking in a non-linear fashion.
Operating semi-independently would mean putting mission command in the hands of junior leaders, relying on their judgment, flexibility and ability to read and understand the commander’s intent. A technology piece, such as renewable or smart energy, goes with this type of self-reliance as well, he said.
Others weighed in on how to break into the seemingly impenetrable A2AD dome that adversaries might erect.
Brig. Gen. John Evans, who serves as commander of U.S. Army Special Operations Aviation Command, said he favors the indigenous approach. He said that means relying on aviation and other assets of allies to free up the limited resources the U.S. might be able to bring to bear. “We can’t go it alone anymore,” he said.
Special Operations is especially good at situational awareness, he said, adding to Wesley’s comment about the need to “read the tea leaves.”
“We’re globally positioned and sense what’s going on throughout the world,” he said.
Evans was quick to point out that Special Ops was not designed to go it alone. Instead, they get in first and develop favorable conditions on the ground to allow conventional forces to move in.
“We’re also good at precision targeting,” he said, meaning being able to break down some of the enemy’s defenses that are in their dome.
Maj. Gen. Bill Gayler, who serves as commander of the U.S. Army Aviation Center of Excellence, said that he thinks the No. 1 priority for cracking the dome is long-range precision fires. “Without some complementary fires followed by short-range defense, we’re vulnerable. We need munitions that can travel much further.”
As for precision munitions delivered by air, he said he thinks smaller ones in greater quantities in an aircraft’s payload will be more effective than just a couple of big ones.
Also, Gayler said that lessons learned from the Russian invasion into Ukraine and Syria indicate how vulnerable troops can make themselves based on their communications signatures. Cellphone use, for instance, contributes to a strong signature that can allow enemy forces to more easily pinpoint their targets.
Evans concluded: “We’ve got to learn what the enemy is doing and adapt our ways to stay ahead of their decision cycle. Otherwise, future adversaries will confound us with what they are going to do.”
(Follow David Vergun on Twitter: @vergunARNEWS)