Academic journal article Parameters

An Alternative Future Force: Building a Better Army

Academic journal article Parameters

An Alternative Future Force: Building a Better Army

Article excerpt

Recent operations in Iraq highlight the need for the Army's leadership to rethink major aspects of its transformation strategy. While the three-week period of combat operations that toppled the regime illuminates one set of implications, the continued and contested postwar operations illuminate another. Furthermore, the insights emerging from Iraq are not isolated, but part of a growing body of operational knowledge gleaned from post-Cold War operations in Bosnia, Rwanda, Somalia, Haiti, Kosovo, and Afghanistan. In the light of this decade of hard-won experience, it seems that the Army's transformation concept rests on a set of major assumptions which should be questioned. This article examines some of those assumptions and suggests an alternative pathway for preparing US ground forces to meet the challenges of the next several decades.

The Objective Force

The intent of the Army's Transformation Plan is to transform the Army into a generally homogenous force--the Objective Force, now termed the Future Force--equipped with advanced technology medium-weight combat vehicles (less than 20 tons) that will allow it to have battlefield effectiveness similar to today's heavy forces. In this sense, homogeneity implies that multiple types of divisions and brigades of the current Army (heavy, light, airborne, air assault) will merge into one uniform type--although apparently the Army is still considering the possibility that the 82d Airborne and 101st Airborne (Air Assault) divisions may remain unique organizations.

In October 1999, General Eric Shinseki, then the Army Chief of Staff, articulated a vision whose laudable goal was to make the Army more strategically relevant. Since that time, an Army Transformation Plan has evolved centered around the creation of a new generation of fighting vehicles based on a common platform, the Future Combat Systems (FCS), and a new organization where brigades, divisions, and corps are replaced by Units of Action (UA) and Units of Employment (UE). General Shinseki also laid out an ambitious schedule under which the FCS "system of systems," with its proposed array of manned and unmanned combat vehicles and associated situational awareness technologies, would be developed by the early years of the next decade.

The first operational UA, roughly equivalent in size to a current brigade, would appear around 2012, followed by approximately two maneuver brigades converted to the Objective Force design each year thereafter. Current Army plans assume that the combat elements of the Army National Guard also would be transformed by 2030. The principal design constraint on the Future Combat Systems is weight. The requirement that the FCS weigh between 16 and 18 tons has two origins. First is the goal of creating an Army that is strategically more responsive than today's heavy forces but more capable than today's rapidly deployable light forces. Second, the Army wants to give the Objective Force the capability to conduct "air mechanized" maneuver via tactical airlift, initially by the C-130 and in the future by a follow-on system that is either a very short take-off and landing, fixed-wing aircraft or a heavy-lift rotary-wing aircraft, the Air Maneuver Transport (AMT). (1) To realize this operational airmechanized maneuver capability, potentially deep in an enemy's rear areas, the Future Combat Systems can weigh no more than 16 to 18 tons. (2)

The Army is resorting to an array of approaches to squeeze weight out of the force structure. Instead of relying on heavy armor for protection, the Army is postulating a combination of high-technology protective measures and situational awareness to protect the FCS combat vehicles. Second, it is slimming down the supporting logistical structure by exploiting hybrid engine technology so that the FCS family will demand far less logistical support for large-scale military campaigns at both transoceanic (strategic) and regional (operational) distances. …

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