Sustainable Readiness and Regional Alignment of Forces

By Foster, Chad R. | Military Review, July-August 2016 | Go to article overview

Sustainable Readiness and Regional Alignment of Forces


Foster, Chad R., Military Review


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The concept of regionally aligned forces (RAF) offers both challenges and opportunities for U.S. Army units at all levels. Perhaps most pressing among the challenges is the need to balance deployment mission requirements with the imperative to sustain an appropriate level of unit readiness over time. No two overseas missions are exactly alike, and every unit has unique characteristics, capabilities, and needs. While this reality precludes a single, standardized solution, examining different approaches can assist in guiding commanders as they plan, prepare, and execute these strategically important operations across the globe. The following attempts to define the relationship between RAF and the Army's concept of sustainable readiness while providing specific practices and observations from a cavalry squadron that recently participated in an RAF deployment as a possible way to approach achieving balance in that relationship.

Sustainable Readiness Model

The Sustainable Readiness Model will empower commanders and is flexible enough to accommodate differing readiness levels given anticipated mission requirements. (1)

--Lt. Gen. James L. Huggins Jr.

The Sustainable Readiness Model is the successor to the Army Force Generation (ARFORGEN) Model that drove manning, equipping, and training cycles from 2006 through 2014. ARFORGEN was a "structured progression of increased unit readiness over time" that cycled battalions and brigades through three "force pools" (2) This model assumed that formations would be unavailable for contingencies immediately following return to home station due to precipitous drops in overall readiness stemming from personnel turnover and a corresponding decline in training proficiency. Following this period (known as "reset"), commanders steadily rebuilt their equipment, manning, and training readiness on a schedule synchronized with the unit's timeline for the next deployment. (3)

Due to the limited time available between deployments under ARFORGEN, training plans were often dictated by higher headquarters, leaving fewer opportunities for leaders below the battalion level to conduct their own planning and assessments. Though ARFORGEN provided much-needed predictability when yearly combat deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan were the norm, it also limited the Army's flexibility to respond to unforeseen contingencies, as large numbers of recently returned units were, in essence, out of the fight until they could work their way back to the "available" force pool. At the lower levels, the top-down approach to training and preparing for deployment allowed many officers and noncommissioned officers (NCOs) to grow accustomed to having training plans provided by higher headquarters.

In contrast, the central idea behind sustainable readiness is the reduction of the "peaks and valleys" that characterized ARFORGEN. (4) It eliminates the planned period of unit nonavailability following deployments and requires that commanders maintain an acceptable readiness level at all times. Exactly what level of readiness is acceptable varies based on the nature of the unit's anticipated deployment. As the Army's number of brigade combat teams reduces to approximately thirty by the end of fiscal year 2017, there is also an increased urgency to avoid readiness "cliffs" (5) The Army must maintain immediate responsiveness and deterrence along a broad spectrum of possible contingencies. Just as ARFORGEN was needed to support the Global War on Terrorism, sustainable readiness is what the Army needs to support RAF.

Sustainable Readiness Tailored to Regionally Aligned Forces

The purpose of RAF is to provide forces that are "specifically trained" and "culturally attuned" to the needs of geographic combatant commanders. (6) For brigades and below, this ideally means special training in language, history, and cultural awareness in addition to their core mission essential tasks. …

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