For most of its history, the U.S. Army was basically a constabulary force that mobilized for war. It is only since the end of World War Two that the nation required the U.S. military to be a standing force capable of going to war without extensive mobilization and industrial expansion. Constabulary activities, which actually represented the overwhelming majority of missions undertaken between 1945 and today, were considered the lesser included case with respect to the primary mission, to deter if possible but fight and win if necessary a global conflict with the Soviet Union and its allies.
With the collapse of the Soviet Union, the political-military construct that shaped the planning paradigm for the U.S Armed Forces was rendered moot. Events in Southwest Asia obscured that reality, allowing defense planners to avoid the need to rethink the basic assumptions underpinning their approach to the size and composition of the military. For the Army, the last two decades have been particularly problematic in terms of rethinking the service’s approach to the future. Desert Storm and Operations Iraqi Freedom and Enduring Freedom appeared to validate the idea of a large Army focused on defeating foreign counterparts, overthrowing hostile governments and occupying foreign lands. All other missions still appeared to be lesser included cases.
The Army’s new Capstone Concept is an attempt to break free from the hoary planning paradigm that I would describe as “a big Army for big wars.” This does not mean that the Army will be reduced to a constabulary force. Dangers posed by unstable or rogue regimes such as Syria, Iran and North Korea suggest there will remain a need for a robust force capable of seizing and holding terrain. The Capstone Concept does two things very well. First, it embraces the fundamental identity of the Army as a force intended to gain, sustain and exploit control over land, resources and people.
But there will be an equal requirement for shaping activities that broaden and deepen the base of partnerships and alliances thereby reducing the risk of conflict. In his introduction to the new document, General Robert Cone, frames the Yin and Yang of the Army’s new paradigm extremely well.
“There are many elements of national power, but a force that can root out and defeat our enemies, and exert control to prevent and end conflict remains the foundation of our Nation’s ability to deter aggression. Concurrently, through partnership activities, the Army creates shared values and interests that provide for our long-term security, decreasing the likeliness we have to use force in defense of our Nation.”
The Capstone Concept continues the theme in Army planning documents of the challenges posed by a more complex, uncertain and dangerous world. One specific challenge is the rise of so-called hybrid threats, nations and non-state actors that employ a wide range of tactics, techniques and procedures as well as elements of advanced military technology to counter U.S. conventional military superiority. In reality, neither global complexity nor hybrid threats are particularly new phenomena. What is new is that the U.S. military and, in particular, the U.S. Army must pay more attention to them.
Increasingly, it is the Army that must reshape itself into a hybrid force, one capable of rapidly shifting between theaters, missions and coalitions as well as between low intensity and high intensity conflicts. The new stress on working closely with special operations forces will support the “hybridization” of the Army. As described in the Capstone Concept, the Army must achieve a degree of operational adaptability that makes it relevant to the day-to-day needs of the Combatant Commanders while still being able to fight and win wars on land.
“By building and preparing a force that is able to prevent, shape, and win, the Army will achieve a level of operational adaptability that makes it a relevant and preferred choice for combatant commanders to meet the demands of national strategy and defend America’s interests, both at home and abroad. Even when required to shift focus between these roles, the Army will always retain the ability to conduct its primary mission to fight and win the Nation’s wars.”
The Capstone Concept is a major intellectual step in the right direction by the Army. The question now is whether it can restructure and re-equip itself to operate as a hybrid force?