Academic journal article Military Review

Maintaining the Combat Edge

Academic journal article Military Review

Maintaining the Combat Edge

Article excerpt

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The Army has to regain its edge in fighting conventional wars while retaining what it has learned about fighting unconventional wars.

--Secretary of Defense Robert M. Gates, 10 October 2007 (1)

THE UNITED STATES has been at war in Iraq and Afghanistan for over nine years. During this time, there have been profound changes in the Army's force structure across all warfighting functions. These changes have accompanied a steady atrophy in our ability to conduct major combat operations (MCO) and should give us cause for concern. Much of the unit structure and training competency that existed nine years ago are no longer present, even though the National Security Strategy of May 2010 mandates: "We must maintain our military's conventional superiority, while enhancing its capacity to defeat asymmetric threats." (2)

The Army's recent shift to emphasize a single mission essential task list (METL) is a positive change. However, due to the short dwell time within the Army Force Generation (ARFORGEN) model, we have not fully exercised the modular force structures that exist in the Army today under the rigor of our new METL. Our modular force has also not been subject to long-term ARFORGEN requirements and sustainment operations at home station. This shift in focus to a single METL, combined with extended dwell periods, will allow commanders at all echelons to experience and identify modularity's effect on their units.

The changes toward modularity have transformed the Army from a division-based structure optimized for fighting large-scale conventional wars to a brigade-based expeditionary force largely stationed in the continental United States. While this reorganization has proven to be versatile and effective in support of Operations Iraqi Freedom and Enduring Freedom, we have yet to truly test the modular force in support of our new METL. Many senior leaders, both military and civilian, have recognized this shortcoming; however, they have had few opportunities to observe training events focused on major combat operations conducted by a modular force. The capabilities, types, and numbers of this modular force are in need of review as we increase dwell times and focus on preparing trained and ready forces.

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Our veteran Army is an effective stability and counterinsurgency force, but our junior leaders and soldiers are untrained on the wide area security and combined arms maneuver tasks found in our current METL. The pool of available talent to restore these capabilities is dwindling at the brigade level and below. Currently, the Army's only expertise and experience with these skill sets resides with senior noncommissioned officers and senior field grade officers. If we have not effectively trained and mentored our junior leaders on such skills, we will lose hard-earned institutional knowledge resident in the Army of Desert Storm and Operation Iraqi Freedom I.

Insights garnered from battalion-, brigade-, and division-level exercises conducted within the 2nd Infantry Division (2ID) over the past several years confirm that the Army must swiftly use its intellectual capital to restore balance in training. Not only is 2ID the Army's only forward-deployed committed division, it is also the Army's only modular division currently focused full time on major combat operations in support of the Army's new METL. The 2ID regularly trains for wide area security and combined arms maneuver tasks during a variety of full-spectrum training events.

Preparing for Hybrid Opponents

We have learned through painful experience that the wars we fight are seldom the wars that we planned. As a result, the United States needs a broad portfolio of military capabilities with maximum versatility across the widest possible spectrum of conflict.--Secretary of Defense Robert M. Gates, 2 February 2010 (3)

If we have learned anything from the current conflicts, it is that our enemies will seek to use a full array of threats against us. …

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