TYSONS CORNER, Va. (Army News Service) — Developing technology for a new combat vehicle or other gear should not be the only focus as the Army prepares for future warfare, said the head of the Army Maneuver Center of Excellence.
As the center publishes the Army’s maneuver force modernization strategy, Maj. Gen. Eric Wesley said, collaboration efforts regarding the future of warfare must be in high gear.
Many of those efforts won’t necessarily be driven by new technology, but may instead spark changes in doctrine, organization, training, materiel, leadership and education, personnel and facilities, or DOTMILPF.
“It’s not just about armored platforms,” Wesley said. “It’s about a transcendent strategy that allows us to lift this entire enterprise, which includes industry and also our NATO partners, in order to move into the future rather than to continue to improve on the past.”
The strategy, which had its underlying maneuver concept signed off last month, will provide direction on where work in those areas should go. That could lead to a paradigm shift in what’s being taught at schoolhouses or the restructuring of organizations so the Army can compete against near-peer threats.
“It’s imperative that this entire enterprise collaborates and works together,” he said, speaking Monday at an armored vehicles forum hosted by the Institute for Defense and Government Advancement. “Otherwise, you’ll have nothing but stovepipes going out and exploring their own ideas without a lens or an azimuth.”
This sort of extreme makeover is nothing new for the Army. In 1981, Gen. Donn Starry, in charge of the Army Training and Doctrine Command, rolled out the Army’s “AirLand Battle” concept, which focused on air support for land forces.
Before doing that, Starry analyzed the Yom Kippur War of 1973, which later became known as the “Starry Study.” The armored battlefields seen in that Arab-Israeli war, coupled with how the Soviet Union was updating its armor fleet, gave Starry and others ideas on how to develop AirLand Battle.
“We were outgunned and outtanked,” Wesley said of that time. “Our competitor (the Soviets) was able to generate and produce countless tanks and artillery pieces.”
Rather than try to keep up with the Soviets, Starry suggested taking a step back and changing how Soldiers would fight in modern battlefields, which were expected to be dense with large numbers of advanced weapons systems.
“With so many threats coming from the Soviets, we had to consider a different solution instead of attempting to go mano a mano, gun-to-gun,” Wesley said.
AirLand Battle ended up changing how Soldiers trained and revamped the Army’s structure, recruiting efforts and materiel development.
“What’s amazing about the Starry Study is … that study ultimately resulted in the Army the United States owns today,” Wesley said.
“It wasn’t something that happened overnight, but it was founded in the analysis of the opponent we were looking at,” he added. “So, we have been here before and we know how to do this.”
Today, the U.S. Army is honing in on another fundamental shift. While AirLand Battle primarily focused on two domains, Army planners predict future battlefields will be more complex, with Soldiers juggling capabilities in the land, air, maritime, cyber and space domains, while maneuvering in a contested environment.
The maneuver force modernization strategy, which is being developed simultaneously with TRADOC’s overall multi-domain operating concept, will look at how Soldiers can fight against these threats in the 2020-2040 timeframe.
Many of the strategy’s ideas are coming from lessons learned involving a familiar competitor: Russia.
Last year, TRADOC started the “Russian New Generation Warfare Study,” which is looking at how the Russian military has fought in Ukraine, using capabilities such as electronic warfare, long-range artillery and unmanned aerial systems.
By 2025, according to Wesley, the Russians are on track to exceed many of the U.S. Army’s capabilities, while having parity in a few others. The U.S. military’s air superiority is also losing ground as near-peer adversaries develop new anti-access/aerial denial capabilities.
“Those days are over,” Wesley said of dominating the airspace. “We are strategically out of position in Europe now.”
Russian advances in cyber and the electromagnetic spectrum are also concerning. After the Berlin Wall came down in 1991, the U.S. Army disbanded all of its electronic warfare capability, while the Russians increased theirs, Wesley noted.
To deal with this, the Army needs to figure out how to deploy semi-independent units with young leaders who can make split-second decisions on their own. While at a conference in London earlier this year, Wesley described this as realizing mission command, a concept the Army has adopted but hasn’t really followed through on, he said.
“[NATO] armies, and in particular, ours, are drunk on information and dependent on permission,” he said. “You have to create training environments where a captain, for example, has to choose to do something that he was told not to do, but is consistent with the intent of the expectation of his higher command.”
Quick maneuvering will also be critical in future warfare, he said, with command posts having to be moved every two hours to prevent troops from being killed.
“Ukrainians are telling us now that you have to be more dispersed and you have to keep moving in order to survive,” he said.
This will require a huge shift from today’s operations in Southwest Asia, where Soldiers typically work out of forward operating bases.
“That’s a far cry from the command posts that we have used for the last 15 years in Iraq and Afghanistan,” he said. “We stayed in the same place for a decade.”
In light of what’s happening today, Wesley said he hopes multi-domain battle can be fleshed out quicker than it took the Army to finally execute AirLand Battle in 1991, almost two decades after the Starry Study.
“We won’t have that luxury,” he said, “because what we’re seeing in the Ukraine right now is that the Russians are fighting in all five domains.”
Reducing bureaucracy and having Army organizations working more closely together, with input from industry and academia, will help shape the future force, he said.
Along with acquisition reform, the Army is also propping up a cross-functional integrated concept development teams to speed up the development of new vehicle prototypes.
“We’re going to push the envelope on that,” Wesley said, while adding that industry partners will play a large role. “Without bold initiatives, you’re not going to be able to change.”
This and other ways of cutting through the bureaucratic red tape will help make any changes be made in a timely manner.
“We have a wonderful Army, but it is a big institution and big institutions create bureaucracy and we want to break that,” he said.
“We have to turn in tighter cycles,” he added, “and if we’re going to turn in tighter cycles there has to be maximum collaboration.”