The history of the U.S. Army is one of long periods of relative quiet punctuated by short episodes of massive engagement. When it was not engaged in major conflict the Army was doing all the so-called “Phase Zero” activities, partnering, capacity building, security assistance, etc. Most of this was done at home, along the American frontier. It was only after World War Two that the Army shifted over to a state of permanent readiness for major conflict.
Now, as the conflicts in Southwest Asia draw to a close and the Army is challenged with the requirements both to downsize and come home, it is facing something of an existential crisis. What is the purpose of an Army when there is no war, no frontier to guard and no infrastructure to build? The Army is trying to articulate a new peacetime agenda which focuses on tasks such as maintaining relationships with foreign militaries, building trust with allies and friends, using presence to deter would-be aggressors and the like.
At the same time, the Army leadership wants to remind the public and national decision makers that its most important role is in conflict. We build or maintain an Army for war. Unfortunately, the Army appears uncertain about the acceptability of speaking about war. So it is spending a lot of time elliptically referring to war by speaking of will, the human dimension of war and the need to influence the behavior of others. While all these points are true, they are secondary to the reason for which the United States needs an Army.
War is about imposing oneself on others, both physically and mentally. This is usually achieved by establishing physical control of territory, infrastructure and populations. Yes, there are lots of things the military can do, particularly the Army, short of war to shape the potential battlefield, deter potential conflicts or just make other peoples and governments’ control over their territory, infrastructure and populations better (humanitarian assistance, for example). But war is about the use of calibrated violence intended to exercise control. There is no better way to establish control in peace and war than by boots on the ground. Often it takes sustained deployments to achieve the desired results, hence the need for a robust Army.
The Army leadership does make many of these points but not in a straightforward manner. Rather than speaking of uncertainty, speed of change, the human dimension of conflict, “left of the bang”, etc. the Army should state its case clear and directly. I would do it in seven sentences.
1. War is a nation’s most serious business.
2. If a nation wishes to deter war, it must demonstrate a credible ability to fight and win a war.
3. The best way of demonstrating this capability is with a robust and integrated Joint Force that includes a strong land power component.
4. A strong land power component is one that can control critical territory infrastructure and populations. This may require defeating hostile land forces.
5. Only a robust Army can do #4 above.
6. Such an Army can perform a range of other missions that enhance deterrence, reassure allies, support humanitarian needs and respond to domestic emergencies.
7. However, it is the Army’s readiness to do the serious business of war that makes it such a vital element of the nation’s national security system.
Because we are bringing it home, the Army must be expeditionary. But there are three things it brings to a future conflict:
1. Weight — heavy forces plus lots of integrated capabilities including Special Operations Forces, engineers, etc;
2. Endurance/sustainment; and
3. Maneuverability once on the ground.
The Army knows these facts. That is why it is so interested in investing in heavy platforms like the Ground Combat Vehicle, Paladin PIM and the Armored Multi-Purpose Vehicle (AMPV) to replace the aging M-113s. These are not light systems; they are all relatively heavy armored combat vehicles. An Army just “doing windows” will not need these platforms. One that must seize terrain, destroy opposing ground forces and maneuver strategically once on land will.
One other thing the Army will need: air dominance. In the future, as adversaries deploy long-range strike systems and integrated air defenses, the Army will not be able to deploy major formations ashore, stage them and their logistics support and conduct strategic maneuver unless it is guaranteed control of the air. So, it is as important to invest in the instruments of air dominance as it is to maintain a strong Army. The two capabilities go hand-in-hand.
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