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July 22, 2004

Army Transformation

If you look at the era of limited warfare since World War II, this continuum of American involvement in limited liability wars from Korea to Iraqi Freedom, you'll notice that 81 percent, or four out of five, servicemen and women who died in combat at the hands of the enemy have been infantrymen -- not soldiers or Marines, but infantrymen. Something like five percent of the force is suffering 80 percent of the dead at the hands at the enemy.

What's also interesting in this period of limited wars is that the greatest killer of Americans on the battlefield is the mortar -- simple iron tube that throws a grenade up into the air. The enemy today, of course, is taking mortars and artillery shells and turning them into explosive devices. The principle is the same.

From the opening statement of MG Scales (see extended post)

With that setting the stage...

This post is about Army transformation. I encourage my readers who work in the business to scan the stuff below, read the document, and come back and offer their views. You can comment anonymously, simply by putting bogus data in the comment fields. Feel free to contact me directly, if you have something to say that you don't want public. Just please make it clear that it's not for the public! I am a blogger, after all! If all you have to say is an incoherent screech, don't bother, I'll just delete it. 8^)

The link at the end of this post is to the transcript of recent testimony given to the House Armed Services Committee on the subject of Army Transformation. There is much there worth pondering, for those of us who are involved with it, either intellectually, like myself and Rammer, or operationally, like SGT Hook and Uruloki. I'm providing some snippets that caught my eye as I went through it, hopefully they will encourage you to read the whole thing. I would right click and save the document, rather than spawn it from my server. That way you'll have it locally to read at leisure.

From Rep. Roscoe Bartlett's (R-MD) intro to the hearing:

Both President Bush and Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld have embraced transformation as a guiding concept for reshaping our military forces for the new security challenge facing our nation. Arguably, the Army has emerged as the most visible and aggressive effort to implement this vision. The questions before the committee are varied and complex, but they include: Precisely how is the Army transforming? Is it moving in the right direction? And, is it wise to attempt such radical change while the Army's troops are continuously engaged in combat?

We may find that the Army has no choice but to significantly change to meet the demands of modern warfare, but we also have an obligation to determine what will be gained and what will be lost as the Army undergoes this lengthy and difficult process.

Change is always difficult. We understand that some have criticized the Army for being too bold in changing when it is fully engaged in combat in Iraq. Others, including some at the witness table, have said that the Army's plan is too timid to meet the challenges to today's security environment.

While part of the Army's plan involves procurement programs, the more critical proposed changes rest in the Army's culture, doctrine and organization. In any case, we have a duty to carefully review this important initiative as the most fundamental change facing the Army since the end of the draft, close to thirty years ago.

Our witnesses today have either operated within or studied the Army intimately. Since none of them are presently officially connected with the Army, they are well placed to provide their frank and unvarnished views of the changes the Army is undergoing.

The rest is in the Flash Traffic.

Rep. Ike Skelton (D-MO) ranking minority member:

The timing of this hearing could not be timelier. Last week, we heard testimony from the vice chief of staff, General Cody, who told us how thinly stretched the Army is. Members of both sides of the aisle asked him tough questions about the Army's capability to meet all the demands we've asked of it. And to his credit, General Cody gave us some pretty straightforward answers. So some of them were very encouraging, but some quite concerning.

And when the subject of additional force structure came up, as it always will, and as long as I've sat on this committee, while General Cody acknowledged that the Army could use additional soldiers that this committee has provided in the short term, he stressed that the key to building a more capable Army was not so dependent on force structure. Instead, he argued that it was a question of organization.

I know that we will touch on this issue, but one thing that concerns me about the reorganization and the testimony we have had over the past months and years, we're so dependent upon contractors -- where do the contractors fit in all of this reorganization? (Ed. Note - emphasis mine, I'm a contractor and so are numerous of my readers) It's obvious we can't go to war but for them, so we have to do more than just look at those in uniforms.

And the Army is embarking on this radical transformation to a modular brigade structure. And while the demands are at the greatest that I've seen on the battlefield. We're stretched dangerously thin. I figure the Army has just one chance to get this transformation right, and to do it and fail while we're at war may well be the straw that breaks the camel's back, and the camel being the United States Army.

From GEN (ret) Keane, first witness:

To understand Army transformation, it must, in my view, be understood in the context of transforming an army which is at war. We have been at war almost three years, a war much different than any we have fought in the past, but a war similar, in that it is a clash of ideas and values, much as that we fought with Communism and Nazism in the 21st century.

We are at war with a political ideology, with political objectives, rooted in one of the great religions of the world. Clausewitz taught us, as a first principle, to win a war, you must understand the nature and character of it. In other words, you must be able to define your enemy.

This is critical, because only then can you adequately address the challenge and ensure you are using the best application to defeat it. We are caught in a civil war inside Islam between moderates and traditionalists against the radicals. The radicals desperately want to stop Western ideas and values from contaminating their ideal. Such ideas and values as universal suffrage, separation of church and state, capitalism, which redistributes wealth, and democracy, which protects the rights of the minority and guarantees personal freedom.

While the radicals have taken hostage of one of the great religions of the world, we cannot underestimate the importance of this religion to them. It provides the passion, the intensity and the staying power of the movement. They capitalize on the pathology of fear, economic depression and cultural inferiority, which runs rampant in the 22 Muslim nations.

This enemy is radical Islam, and its manifestation is the Al Qaida. It's manifestation is Iran. It is the foreign terrorists linked with the Baath Party terrorists in Iraq. It is the radical Islamist movement in the 22 Muslim nations. It fuels the hate, and it funds the terror, in the Middle East. They have killed us and will continue to kill us in order to stop our influence in their region of the world.

While this movement is similar to Communism and Nazism in terms of the clash of ideas and values, it is more dangerous because of the combination of fanatical terrorism and the desire to use weapons of mass destruction against us.

Nazism was defeated by brute force, and Communism was defeated by resolute nations with a better idea. It will take a combination of both force and a better idea to win this war.

First -- I think there are two important considerations. First, it will take much more than military means. Yes, we must kill those who would kill us, but it is much more a political, economic and cultural fight if we are to eliminate the root causes.

Second, this is a long, long war, which will dominate the 21st century, similar to the war with Communism dominated the 20th. Only after properly defining who our enemy is and what the nature and character of the war is can we understand how hard this is, how big this is and how long it will last.

It is in this context that we are transforming an army. It makes transformation just not a reality, but an imperative. It also makes transformation exponentially more difficult. But we have been here before, and we should be encouraged by our previous success.

General Keane is more polite about it - but he agrees with me, Wahabism Delenda Est!

From MG (ret) Scales, second witness:

I'd like to present very brief themes in my remarks that centers around three subjects. Number one is an infomercial for land power, number two, some brief comments about technological transformation and, number three, some more detailed comments about what has increasingly become termed as cultural and cognitive transformation.

First, the infomercial. Take a close look at the photos of young American service personnel killed in Iraq and Afghanistan and you'll notice that almost without exception, they're ground soldiers. And this isn't a new phenomenon. Mr. Skelton knows that I'm a historian, so I can't give any testimony without a brief piece of history.

If you look at the era of limited warfare since World War II, this continuum of American involvement in limited liability wars from Korea to Iraqi Freedom, you'll notice that 81 percent, or four out of five, servicemen and women who died in combat at the hands of the enemy have been infantrymen -- not soldiers or Marines, but infantrymen. Something like five percent of the force is suffering 80 percent of the dead at the hands at the enemy.

What's also interesting in this period of limited wars is that the greatest killer of Americans on the battlefield is the mortar -- simple iron tube that throws a grenade up into the air. The enemy today, of course, is taking mortars and artillery shells and turning them into explosive devices. The principle is the same.

Second in priority are small arms and automatic weapons. No American has died from enemy ship fire since World War II, or from enemy air attack since Korea. The last major American sea battle was Leyte Gulf in 1944. The last serious air-to-air engagement was Linebacker II in 1972.

In 1994, French journalists asked Ho Chi Minh how he could possibly expect to win a war against he world's greatest superpower, and he applied prophetically, quote, "They will kill many of us, and we will kill a few of them, and they will tire of it first."

Al Qaida has learned from the Chinese and the North Vietnamese the immutable lesson that America's greatest strategic vulnerability is dead Americans. Thus, the killing of Americans from a strategic context has become an end in itself rather than a means to an end. The formula is simple and repeated time after time after time, kill enough of us and we will go home.
So, putting aside humanitarian considerations just for a moment, it would seem logical from the above that we in the defense intellectual industry, and those of us interested in prosecuting this current conflict, would put as a first order of priority the protection of those most likely to die, those who do the dying, and those who do the killing.

So the question is really left in sort of two parts. First of all, if all of us in this room believe that Iraqi Freedom or the operations in Afghanistan and Iraq are aberrations and the day will come when we will return to large-scale conventional, techno-centric warfare, then our numbers are fine.

If you believe that what we see in Iraq and Afghanistan today are harbingers of the future, then it's clear, I think, to me and to General Keane and to others sitting at this table that the land forces of this country, the Army, the Marine Corps, Special Operating Forces and the close combat aspects of the Army Reserve and the Army National Guard are simply too small to fight a mission that's going to be protracted, possibly, for the next 50 to 100 years.

From COL (ret) MacGregor, third witness, who is NOT as sanguine about what's going on. If the Army has a COL John Boyd, MacGregor is it:

I am much less enamored of the direction in which the United States Army is currently headed. I've given you a statement. I am going to highlight some of what is in the statement.

The theme of my message today is that the American people, and you, their representatives who are in a position to do that, must field a powerful standing professional army. We don't have that. That's what we need.

We have been struggling with this issue since 1991. Today, we are struggling with structural problems, policy problems, rotational problems that have nothing to do with the men who are in positions of authority now and a great deal to do with the last 14 years, during which we clung tenaciously to old structures, old ideas and old policies.

Unfortunately, many of the assumptions that underpin the current transformation have their roots in the past, in the 1990s and in the early years of this century. And they are invalid, and they are distorting Army transformation, and they threaten to lead us down the wrong path.

In addition to this point, before I go on, I want to point out that this current reorganization plan, in my view, is inherently quite dangerous. I will talk a little bit about it later on, but I want you to keep in mind that this was conceived last year in the summer, when the assumption was that our primary requirement would be to rotate large numbers of smaller brigade formations through many years of peacekeeping duty in Afghanistan and Iraq.

It assumed an environment that doesn't exist today. It assumed that smaller formations could cope with what would really be a relatively benign environment. It is not a structure that is being built for war, and that is a serious mistake, because I think that within the next four to five years, contrary to conventional wisdom, we will find ourselves confronting much more serious circumstances in the Middle East, North Africa, Southwest Asia.

Now, to start with the distorting assumptions. The first one has already been mentioned, and it is alive and well and continues to be pervasive inside Army transformation. This is perfect situation awareness. It is the key underlying assumption of the Army's Future Combat System. It is an illusion.

Situational awareness promises that information about the enemy and his intentions will always be available when it is needed, and that everyone inside the battle space will create and exploit information in exactly the same way. We can't build networks to do that today. We don't have access to that kind of information. We can't filter it. We can't establish it. And there is no evidence, as you've already heard from General Keane and General Scales, in either Afghanistan or Iraq, that it exists or will ever exist technologically.

Right now, you need to update a PAC-3 missile sixteen times a second to ensure that it strikes an incoming missile that is moving at roughly a kilometer a second. That is not enough to move the volume of information through the networks that is required to sustain and operate the Future Combat System. It won't work.

During Operation Iraqi Freedom, despite unparalleled intelligence assets, most of the fighting on the ground was characterized by the participants as resulting from meeting engagements, battles in which American forces unexpectedly bumped into the enemy.

Another flawed assumption is the belief that strategic speed, that is speed of deployment, is worth sacrificing protection and firepower. What the Army does after it arrives in a theater of crisis or conflict is much more important than how fast it gets there.

Getting a light force to the same place a few hours or days sooner does not have the same effect. In fact, it may produce a speedy defeat rather than a decisive victory.

The current emphasis on light infantry, large quantities of light infantry with nothing more than the weapons they can carry after they dismount to attack from either up-armored Humvees or Strykers will sustain heavy losses. I think we've got plenty of evidence for that today in Iraq.

Light infantry is not designed to lead penetration attacks into urban areas or against any prepared enemy defense and should not be used in that role.

From Mr. Towell, Visting Fellow, Center for Strategic and Budgetary Studies, fourth witness:

The basic idea is that you take personnel out of their individual entry training, you assign them to a formation -- the modular formation in this case will be a brigade -- and they stay there for three years at a time. They marry up with a cadre of officers and NCOs, and then that brigade stays together for a total of about three years, and then disbands.

Unlike other aspects of the transformation plan, this isn't new. This isn't an effort to capitalize on new technology, nor to address new developments in the strategic arena we face. This is an idea that's been on people's to-do lists for longer than the professional lifetime for anybody in this room, and it has been proposed over that 50 or 60-year period to address a chronic problem that the Army has wrestled with at least since the end of the Second World War, and that problem is personnel turbulence.

The way the Army's personnel system has been organized has -- one of the cardinal premises has been that you want to move people who are your potential leaders 30 years on, you want to start moving them around early on, through a lot of wickets, through a lot of job wickets. You want to give them a feel for different pieces of this amazingly diverse institution. And you want to move them through the extremely demanding and extensive professional education system that the Army -- all the services, but we're talking about that one -- that the Army requires that its career people go through.

The consequence of that -- nobody sits out with malice or forethought to say, let's have a continual churning of people through the maneuver units. But the practical consequence of that imperative at the heart of the personnel system is that you get a continual churning of people through the battalions and companies that make up the maneuver, that 5 percent of the force that General Scales mentioned that is out there at the point of the sphere.

And that has two adverse consequences. First, there is no time -- the argument goes -- there is no time for the people in the small units that are actually out there prowling through the back alleys of Fallujah and so forth to form bonds of mutual confidence and trust that result in the unit developing cohesion -- the psychological staying power that will shore up individuals under the stress of battle.

I know that Macgregor's in the -- he's no longer in a foxhole next to me. He's in whatever they call them these days, and there will be more -- the strength, the staying power of the unit, will be greater than the staying power of any individual soldier in it.

So the first casualty of turbulence is an inability to build sufficient cohesion to deal with the stress of combat. And the second is, you just don't have time for the team, as a team, to train to higher levels of complexity. You're continually repeating the primary grades, because every six months you've got enough new people who've come in that you've got to start over. You're not able to train on a progressive schedule that would bring a battalion or brigade over a three-year period to the levels of tactical sophistication which theoretically you could reach if you kept everybody there and once and could pursue that kind of an accretive, progressive training schedule.

The proposal is important enough in its own right to warrant your attention, but it's also important because there's implications for other values in the military personnel process, including some which have been very important to this committee and to Congress.

There are going to have to be tradeoffs to do this. And one of the tradeoffs that General Schoomaker has been very frank about is we're trading breadth of experience for depth of experience. It doesn't matter for the kid who's in the driver compartment of the Bradley.

The full thing is available here.