This holiday season offers America’s Army little reason for rejoicing. Bogged down in a difficult campaign to bring democracy to Mesopotamia, the service is in danger of being blamed for a political defeat in the global war on terror. The Army’s sacrifices have earned it first place in line for some holiday relief from the nation’s leaders, but once pressing operational needs have been met, there’s the question of what rewards the service should receive for the long run.
The Army might hope for a more competent collection of national leaders who would stop sending the service on ill-conceived missions, but recent experience proves that the nation can’t count on all its politicians being as mature as a Senator Clinton or a Senator Warner. The Army might hope for additional brigades to reduce the burden of excessive operational tempo, but recruiting thousands of new soldiers is tough in a high-employment economy. So what realistic rewards can we give the Army that offer some prospect of a brighter future? Here are four suggestions.
Better language skills. The biggest deficiency U.S. soldiers have exhibited in Iraq is their inability to understand what the locals are saying. With so few Arabic speakers in the force, war-fighters often must either guess at what Iraqis are trying to tell them, or depend on indigenous interpreters of uncertain reliability. There are plenty of languages that might come in handy in the future, but Spanish isn’t hard to learn and Korean speakers aren’t hard to find. Arabic, in its various dialects, is both tough to learn and in scarce supply. The Army needs a crash program to make one in every fifty soldiers fluent in Arabic.
Better intelligence tools. Counter-insurgency and counter-terrorism have less to do with firepower than finding the enemy. During the Cold War, U.S. forces could search for Russian missile silos and tank armies from space, but today’s elusive threats demand collection systems that are closer to the action, such as the long-endurance Global Hawk unmanned aerial system that can provide imagery, eavesdropping and tracking of ground targets as events are occurring. There is also a need for tools such as the Distributed Common Ground System that can quickly combine, display and distribute tactical intelligence from many different sources, because in counter-insurgency, time is always of the essence.
Better communications. Space may not be the best vantage point from which to look for terrorists, but it is the key to keeping the Army in touch with the rest of the joint force. That’s why the Transformational Communications Satellite system to provide a global “Internet in the sky” for U.S. war-fighters must be kept on track. The other key pieces of the Army’s future communications framework are the Joint Tactical Radio System and the War-fighter Information Network (Tactical), or WIN-T. If these three programs are brought to fruition in a timely fashion, soldiers will never again have to worry about their communications being degraded by lack of range, resilience, bandwidth or inter-operability.
Better light trucks. The Army’s 120,000 High Mobility Multi-Purpose Wheeled Vehicles, or “Humvees,” comprise 50% of the service’s tactical truck fleet. They were a big improvement over the jeeps they began replacing in 1985, but they’re taking a beating in Iraq. More importantly, they lack essential self-protection features for the kind of combat the service is likely face in the future. The Army needs enough funding to refurbish or replace thousands of Humvees returning from the war zone, but it also needs to step up the search for a next-generation light tactical vehicle that is less vulnerable and more versatile.
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