Academic journal article Military Review

In Defense of the Theater Army

Academic journal article Military Review

In Defense of the Theater Army

Article excerpt

The Army's ability to set the theater is essential to preventing conflict and, if deterrence fails, allowing the Joint Force to seize the initiative while protecting the force and restricting the enemy's options.

--The U.S. Army Operating Concept

The theater army and its theater-assigned Army forces set the theater and the joint operations area for the employment of landpower in contingencies and campaigns.

--Theater Army, Corps, and Division Operations

Theater armies have a rich and storied history, conjuring images of Courtney Hodges commanding First Army, George Patton commanding Third Army, and Alexander "Sandy" Patch commanding Seventh Army, along with Eighth Army commanded by Robert Eichelberger in the Philippines during World War II, and later by Matthew Ridgeway in Korea. (1) Following combat operations, the roles of theater armies evolved to suit operational and strategic requirements, executing missions ranging from occupation duties to training Army Reserve and National Guard units. In a more recent example, Third Army served as combined forces land component command (CFLCC) during Operations Enduring Freedom and Iraqi Freedom, and later as combined joint forces land component command (CJFLCC) and then combined joint task force (CJTF) for Operation Inherent Resolve (OIR). Despite this history and the unique role theater armies fill, these headquarters are a recurring target for reduction and possible elimination in the ongoing efforts to reduce force structure.

According to doctrine, theater army responsibilities are straightforward. However, possibly due to the fact that most officers have little experience with theater armies, there is a great deal of misunderstanding regarding their roles. (2) Because of this, theater armies are a target of convenience in the quest for force reduction, but recent recommendations go too far, eliminating vital theater army roles and functions. In reality, the responsibilities of theater armies are far more expansive, requiring specialized sets of capabilities.

Contrary to misunderstandings regarding their doctrinal role in today's environment, theater armies are becoming more strategically necessary than ever. Owing to their unique capabilities, theater armies can form the backbone of joint or multinational forces, serving as a joint or multinational force integrator and providing a platform that facilitates joint force interdependence.

This article proposes that theater armies should be retained. They have provided and can continue to provide viable options for conducting significant operations using the principles of mission command. These include maintaining a vital, persistent forward presence; conducting shaping through theater security cooperation and military engagement; providing regional expertise; and laying the foundation for, and forming the gateway through which follow-on ground and joint forces can deploy and fight as necessary.

From Reduction to Elimination

Recommendations to modify the organizational structure of theater armies/Army service component commands (ASCCs) have been ongoing for some time. Early efforts at reduction originally sought to scale down only the mission command responsibilities of theater armies, calling into question their ability to command operational forces, particularly for extended periods. In 2011, Field Manual (FM) 3-93, Theater Army Operations, signaled this intent. It recommended the elimination of the operational command posts (OCPs) originally intended to form the foundational structure for joint task forces (JTFs) or joint force land component commands (JFLCCs) designated to run major operations. (3) In 2014, FM 3-94, Theater Army, Corps, and Division Operations, which replaced FM 3-93, echoed this same sentiment, stating, "theater armies have limited capabilities to serve as a JTE or JFLCC, and then for only a short duration or limited contingency operation. …

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