In the words of the Beatle’s song, “The magical mystery tour is waiting to take you away.” Unfortunately, this tour is not being offered by the Fab Four but by the senior leadership of the United States Army. Not only does the tour promise to take the Army to new and mysterious places but to do so faster, riding on entirely new conveyances and employing a raft of revolutionary, even magical, capabilities once it has arrived at its destination. As if these were not incentives enough with which to entice any would-be tourist or national decision maker, the Army hopes it can provide this unique experience at a reduced cost.
According to published reports provided by attendees at the out brief of the Army’s Campaign of Learning, the Army is seeking to re-invent itself into a force that can move at a “speed that matters,” which seems to mean after the national command authority has decided to act but before a situation deteriorates into a crisis or even major conflagration. But in order to achieve this goal, the Army believes that its combat formations must get smaller, lighter, faster and more lethal. At the same time, they must be better protected and in constant communications.
This new vision basically throws away most of the Army’s current investment portfolio. First to go under the bus – so to speak – is the Ground Combat Vehicle (GCV). The Army now envisions smaller units, with squads numbering as few as six soldiers able to fit into vehicles half the 70 ton weight of the GCV but, as a result of investment in advance materials, able to provide the same level of protection or better as the GCV and armed with futuristic directed energy or hyper velocity weapons.
In order to conduct the best of all possible magical mystery tours, not only must the Army be recast, acquiring new vehicles, weapons and communications systems, but the other services need to change their investment priorities too. In particular, the Army seems to have concluded that “speed that matters’ will depend on a substantial investment in ultra-heavy vertical lift platforms and a fleet of very high speed, shallow draft ships. This revolution in transportation will allow the Army to avoid the traditional points of debarkation and other tourist traps. The fact that neither the Air Force nor the Navy has anything remotely resembling the E-ticket rides proposed by the Army is just another element of the magic and the mystery.
Without question, the Army would benefit from successfully bringing into the force structure game changing advances in power generation, directed energy weapons, unjammable communications, robotics, advanced materials and cyber tactics and techniques. Anything that lightens the weight of deployed units and reduces their logistics requirements would provide positive return in terms of speed, mobility, force protection and overall cost. But to bet the future of the Army on not just one or two successful leap ahead investments but an entire portfolio of them is highly risky to say the least.
The more fundamental problem with the Army’s new vision is that it is a tour without a final destination. This is not entirely the Army’s fault; the Obama Administration has failed to provide the necessary strategic guidance which would enable the services to properly plan for the future. As a result, the Army is left to worry about what kind of military the Nation requires and what national decision makers will desire in terms of the need for speed versus other operational characteristics such as decisiveness.
The Army is caught between two mysteries: what kinds of conflicts will it fight in the future and what kinds of technologies will dominate in those conflicts.
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