The U.S. Army Peers Into the Future
Technology plays a key role in helping the service adapt to a coming decade filled with uncertainty.
U.S. Army futurists believe that events such as last year’s Arab Spring predict a future that includes fighting not only on land but in cyberspace as well. The Army must do it with a renewed emphasis on using technology to empower commanders and their troops during a looming period of significant fiscal restraints.
The U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command (TRADOC) at Fort Eustis, Virginia, released the U.S. Army Capstone Concept last December, a 34-page document that is an attempt by the service to define its role in the post-Afghan War era and provide a framework for how to fulfill that role. In the foreword, Gen. Robert W. Cone, USA, commanding general of TRADOC, writes that the capstone concept outlines the future operational environment, the role of the Army in the joint American military force and, finally, what capabilities and resources they will need to complete their mission. “Greater speed, quantity and reach of human interaction and increased access to military capabilities make the operational environment more unpredictable and complex, driving the likelihood and consequence of disorder,” Gen. Cone states. As a long-range plan that defines where the Army wants to be in the year 2020, the Army Capstone Concept (ACC) is heavy on context and analysis and leaves details and implementation to constituent commands.
According to Maj. Gen. William Hix, USA, the latest ACC is mindful of the fiscal realities the Army faces today, and that it has matured after fighting two wars in the last decade. Gen. Hix is the director, Concepts Development and Learning Directorate, Army Capabilities Integration Center, at TRADOC. One of the significant planks of the ACC emphasizes technology, cyber and electromagnetic warfare. “What’s important in the cyber arena is the intersection of humans, cyberspace and land. You have this challenge of people being able to operate on land, with civilian populations, terrain and manmade structures, and also to operate and collaborate in cyberspace. There has been news reporting about how the Tunisians sparked the Arab Spring with the use of cellphones among educated young men who were fruit vendors. It sparked a collaboration among these men that morphed into a revolt against the government,” Gen. Hix explains. The Army must improve the way it operates in cyberspace, he states.
The ACC takes into account lessons learned in Iraq and Afghanistan regarding the use of technology. The Army needs to take advantage of “the continuing maturation of the network” and also leverage what was learned from the extensive use of fiber optic networks. The general also points to ongoing work at Fort Bliss, Texas, with the Network Integration Evaluation (NIE) to improve mobile networks.
When it comes to technology, Gen. Hix says, the goal is to empower tactical and operational commanders to be able to take action in cyberspace with the same freedom of action they have on land. The objective is to deny the enemy the ability to leverage cyberspace to command and control their own forces, to collaborate and to influence populations. At the moment, technology does not give Army field commanders the tools they need to do this, he adds.
Gen. Hix says the capstone concept seeks to find a way to leverage the promise of technology in a way that lifts the burden from the shoulders and cognitive space of soldiers. He acknowledges that an increasing number of the Army’s enlisted members and junior officers are digital natives who have grown up surrounded by digital technology and Internet connectivity. “They’ve lived on the Internet their entire lives, they have an expectation from operating in the commercial arena and they expect the military arena to operate the same way,” he maintains.
These expectations should send a strong signal to firms that provide communications systems to the Army. “Industry has to replicate the intuitive nature and ease-of-use in the military that you see in commercial capabilities,” Gen. Hix says, adding that the equipment placed in the hands of soldiers should be as easy to use as the smartphone in their pockets.
In comparing the new concept with its predecessor, Gen. Hix says that in 2009, the most important principle was operational adaptability and it reflected the needs of a force fighting in two land wars simultaneously that were in different stages of engagement. While operational adaptability remains an important concept, the latest ACC analyzes new realities, he says.
For example, the latest ACC examines the numerous pro-democracy movements that took place across the Arab world last year—the Arab Spring. The concept’s authors say this is the kind of event the Army must consider when mapping out its future plans. At the same time, Gen. Hix relates that the previous concept offered relevant guidance on how the Army prepares for events with nontraditional outcomes. For example, the long-term relationship that the Army established with its Egyptian counterparts, which some experts say resulted in the military handling citizen protests in a professional, even-handed manner, demonstrates how policies laid out years and even decades ago can impact events today. “In some cases, it was our long-term engagement and the idea of being able to shape the environment; maintain contact with our partners and allies; and attract new partners that is a fundamental component of preventing conflict,” he explains.
The rapid pace of technology change reflects the pace of change in numerous other environments in which the Army operates as well. The capstone concept posits that the Army must remain agile and adaptable if it is to remain effective, with a projected troop strength of around 490,000 in the next couple of years, Gen. Hix says.
The ACC is not meant to be a crystal ball with highly accurate predictions of future events, the general points out. Instead, it is meant to be a road map to outline, in broad strokes, how the service should prepare for a world in which it will work with the rest of the U.S. military, concludes Gen. Hix. “Our job is to anticipate the kinds of challenges that the Army is going to have to respond to as part of the joint force and to delineate the kinds of capabilities that the Army needs to deal with that.”