Aim Is to Help Prevent Wars, Not Just Fight Them
By JULIAN E. BARNES
WASHINGTON—The Army is unveiling a new global strategy for reshaping the largest American military force for a world where the U.S. faces many small and indirect threats, rather than just a few large ones.
The policy shift draws on the lessons the Army has learned in Iraq and Afghanistan, and is meant to help prepare for a future of disparate threats, such as those involving extremists in Iraq, instability in North Korea and Russian aggression in Eastern Europe.
While the Army has long defined its core mission as winning wars, equal weight will now be given to preventing war, an acknowledgment that the Army will be asked to respond to humanitarian crises, reassure allies and deter aggression in addition to fighting on battlefields.
“In the past the Army has been focused on: ‘Will we be able to win?’ ” Gen. Ray Odierno, the Army chief of staff, said in an interview. “But because of the changing complexity of the environment, we have to understand we will have to do something more.”
Added David Barno, a retired lieutenant general and a senior fellow at the Center for a New American Security: “It is a recognition that the Army’s role is not to sit behind the glass and be ready to go to war in case of emergency, but to perform a proactive function of preventing wars from breaking out in the first place.”
The changes come at a time of sharply reduced military spending, and a lack of money for many new modernization programs. The new policy will influence the kinds of cuts the Army is likely to make, Army officials and analysts said, and result in fewer investments in new heavy weaponry and more for equipment needed by small infantry units, such as transport helicopters that can move faster and travel further.
The strategy, formally called the Army Operating Concept, will be released this week at the annual meeting of the Association of the United States Army in Washington. It is separate from the Pentagon’s legislatively mandated Quadrennial Defense Review. The effort was conducted as all U.S. military services undertake reviews of strategies and operation concepts in light of growing budget pressure.
The strategy paper identifies Russia and China as “competing powers.” It notes that Russia appears “determined to expand its territory” and notes the country has used its land forces in innovative ways to annex Crimea and destabilize Ukraine without eliciting a military response from the North Atlantic Treaty Organization.
Deterring such aggression, the new operating concept says, will require the creative use of American land power.
“Without a viable land force capable of opposing the Russian army and its irregular proxy, such adventurism is likely to continue undeterred,” the strategy document says.
Gen. Ray Odierno, the Army chief of staff, wants to reshape the military force for new kinds of threats. Getty Images
Gen. Odierno said the strategy is catching up to how the Army is now being used. The Army is deploying seven of its 10 division headquarters around the world to coordinate U.S. responses to an array of crises, including the continuing fight in Afghanistan; the threat of Islamic State militants, known as ISIS; and the West Africa Ebola outbreak.
“The world is changing all around us, so we have to adapt and change,” Gen. Odierno said. “We are facing one threat in Korea, we are facing another threat with Russia, and another with ISIS. So we have to mold our response.”
Deterring and preventing fights doesn’t mean the Army will move away from an emphasis on its battlefield might, said Gen. David Perkins, the head of the Army’s Training and Doctrine Command, which helped draft the new strategy. “The enemy has to be absolutely sure he is going to lose the fight,” Gen. Perkins said. “There are other ways to win. But it must be absolutely clear if it comes down to a fight who is going to win.”
Past Army operating concepts, like “AirLand Battle,” drafted in the early 1980s, have guided the military for a generation. Gen. Perkins said when he joined the army as a lieutenant in a tank platoon, he had to memorize Russian tanks and military formations. Today, he said, the Army must prepare its young officers for uncertainty.
Key to the new Army strategy, Gen. Odierno said, was not just winning a tactical battle, but creating a lasting solution to a problem.
While the Marine Corps now is presenting itself as a crisis response force, ready to immediately respond to a developing national-security threat, Army officials say they want to remake the Army into the crisis resolution force, ready to deploy larger headquarters operations to coordinate a joint military response to a problem.
“Some people say we win battles and lose wars,” Gen. Odierno said. “We are good at responding to crises. But we have to respond and have sustainable outcomes.”
As a guiding strategy, AirLand Battle not only guided the training of officers, but also shaped the types of weapons that the Army developed and purchased. The requirements laid out by AirLand Battle led to the development of the Abrams tank and the Apache helicopter, officials said, weapons that allowed the U.S. to use overwhelming force to defeat Iraq in the 1991 Gulf War.
Still, the new strategy shifts the military’s traditional focus away from a reliance on technology, based on experience showing that enemies have learned to skirt the Army’s strengths and search for weaknesses, while big powers have become more adept at copying and stealing technology.
As technological advantages erode, the strategy asserts that Army officers must be trained to adapt and innovate in the face of uncertainty and imperfect information.