Academic journal article Parameters

Tread-Heads or Technophiles? Army Officer Attitudes toward Transformation

Academic journal article Parameters

Tread-Heads or Technophiles? Army Officer Attitudes toward Transformation

Article excerpt

The Army has committed itself to the most dramatic change of any of the US military services. In October 1999 General Eric K. Shinseki, then the Army Chief of Staff, announced a goal of reconfiguring the Army from a force mainly composed of heavy formations into a medium-weight force capable of deploying a 5,000-soldier brigade anywhere in the world within 96 hours. The Army is replacing some heavy armored and mechanized units with a force of six Stryker Brigade Combat Teams equipped with light wheeled armored vehicles. By 2010, it will field a networked Future Force equipped with the Future Combat System. (1) This shift away from heavy armor as the main combat element of the Army portends change not only to the Army's organization and systems, but also to its hierarchy, career paths, and organizational culture.

The officer corps will play a key role in determining the success or failure of Army transformation. Enthusiastic officers will work hard to make new concepts and organizations a reality. Skeptical officers, by contrast, could undermine such efforts. Unfortunately, to date leaders have had little reliable data upon which to gauge the attitudes of Army officers toward the new combat methods. On the one hand, the Army leadership asserts that the service embraces innovation. As the Army Trans formation Roadmap puts it:

   The Army recognizes the need to create a culture of innovation, and
   we are beginning to address this need through the officer
   professional development system.
   Initiatives to nurture innovation are emerging from the top down and
   the bottom up. These provide evidence not only of the Army's
   commitment to this endeavor, but also of the favorable climate
   within today's Army towards innovation. (2)

On the other hand, in the wake of General Shinseki's initiative there were numerous reports of opposition to transformation from within the ranks of the service. (3) Nearly all such reports, however, are anecdotal, consisting of scattered quotes from unnamed sources.

This article presents selected results of the first systematic effort to understand officer attitudes toward transformation in recent years. It is based upon surveys conducted in 2000 and 2002 of more than 4,500 officers--including nearly 1,900 Army officers. It reveals a dramatic shift in Army attitudes toward transformation during that period. In 2000, Army officers as a group were among the more skeptical of the need for change; in late 2002, they were among the most supportive. In 2002 they shared a belief that the spread of long-range precision-strike capabilities would require the Army to become lighter and more capable of dispersing on the battlefield. However, they were uncertain that the Army was on the right path in seeking to replace heavy armored vehicles with formations reliant upon robust information networks. Moreover, many felt that elements of the Army's organizational culture inhibited innovation.

Why Study Officer Attitudes?

There are four compelling reasons why it is important to understand officer attitudes toward transformation. First, the military services will be the ultimate practitioners of the new ways of war. The extent to which their members are enthusiastic about change may help determine the success or failure of new technologies, operational concepts, and organizations. Second, although very few officers will likely emerge as true innovators, the existence of a climate conducive to innovation within the officer corps may encourage individuals both to generate new ideas and to remain in the service to bring them to fruition. Third, a large percentage of career officers will rise to senior leadership positions within their services in the next 10 to 20 years. In those roles, they will establish command climates that will either support or inhibit risk-taking and innovation. Past research has demonstrated the importance to innovation of senior officers who protect and nurture the careers of young innovators under their command who are willing to take risks: Finally, officers are the recognized experts in military affairs in the United States. …

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