XVIII Airborne Corps: Spearhead of Military Transformation

By Macgregor, Douglas A. | Defense Horizons, January 2005 | Go to article overview

XVIII Airborne Corps: Spearhead of Military Transformation


Macgregor, Douglas A., Defense Horizons


Overview

War transforms armies. Combat accelerates transformation by moving it out of the realm of academic debate and endless speculation about the future to a pragmatic approach focused on fielding new capabilities within new combat formations as soon as possible. In war, transformation means conserving equipment and operational methods that are still relevant while incorporating new technologies, tactics, and organizations that enable victory. It is nearly impossible to replicate in peacetime training the true conditions of land warfare--ambiguity, uncertainty, and above all terror, killing, and exhaustion. For the Army, the best opportunity to transform involves parallel evolution, a method that moves new technologies into combat formations today and explores what the troops will actually do with them in action. With a conflict in progress, this approach is better than trying to predict future uses in an inflexible operational requirements document developed in isolation from the field environment.

Joint, expeditionary warfare demands agile land, sea, and air forces linked by more than simply networked sensors and communication. Brain-to-brain connectivity animated by a cultural predisposition to deploy and fight anywhere on short notice akin to the special operations mindset is equally vital to transformation. Additionally, routine joint training and operations within a joint rotational readiness system are essential to readiness for joint expeditionary warfare. In the new come-as-you-are strategic environment, Army mission-focused force packages must bring the Joint Force Commander the capabilities he needs, whether they be theater missile defense or survivable, mobile, armored fighting vehicles that deliver accurate, devastating firepower.

XVIII Airborne Corps seems ideally positioned to spearhead Army transformation. Scaling, equipping, and organizing existing XVIII Airborne Corps forces for integration as specialized modules of combat power into plug-and-play joint command and control structures, such as the notional Standing Joint Force Headquarters, gives the Army an unprecedented opportunity to pursue new directions in adaptive force design.

What is the strategic purpose for which a transformed American Army should be built? General Washington's Continental Army was a force-in-being--as long as it existed so did the new United States. General Winfield Scott's Army was an expeditionary force hastily built solely for the capture of Mexico City. General Grant's mass mobilization Army was formed by attrition warfare and intended for one purpose: the destruction of the Confederacy. General Marshall's Industrial Age Army was focused on the defeat of Japan and Germany and very little else.

President Bush provided a clear strategic purpose for the Army in his address to the graduating class of 2002 at West Point: defending the United States at home with an economic mix of civil and military capabilities while the strength of the active land, sea and air forces is employed to attack and destroy the enemy on his own ground. This strategy dictates the requirement for land forces that not only deploy rapidly but are strong enough to perform armed reconnaissance to drive enemy elements into killing zones for destruction by strike assets. Any new force design for the Army must be based on the strategic assumption that Army combat units will be organized for global, joint, expeditionary warfare, with the air and naval services conducting both operational and tactical maneuver and strike.

Lessons from Recent Combat

Before turning to the subject of a new force design, it is useful to reflect on recent combat operations on the ground in Afghanistan and Iraq. What lessons do they hold for future Army force design?

First, the new character of post-Cold War target sets--with dwell times ranging from 30 seconds to 2 minutes--demands the effective integration of maneuver and strike forces within a joint operational framework through networked sensors and communications systems designed to enable Army forces to quickly exploit what they learn. …

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