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Army Views Other Services as Transformation Template

July 2002
By Robert K. Ackerman
E-mail About the Author

It’s not about outgunning the opposition–the first shot wins.

The U.S. Army is changing its combat philosophy to resemble more closely those of the other services. Instead of being the armored force that can absorb whatever an enemy hurls at it and respond in kind, the transformed Army will rely on advanced technologies to prevent an enemy from inflicting harm on U.S. forces. This new approach could include eluding adversaries and their weaponry, or striking first before the foe can bring its weapons to bear.

The Army’s transformation already has begun to take root. Several units have been equipped with advanced information technologies. New systems are being procured for the Interim Force as the rest of the Army is brought up to technological speed. The goal is to have a fully transformed Objective Force by 2010.

Achieving this goal will require new approaches to both acquisition and technology. Lighter, more lethal weapons will be needed to replace heavier traditional systems. New types of explosives, exotic propulsion and breakthrough energy sources all will be necessary to reduce the logistics footprint that this transformed force will have in deployment.

Claude M. Bolton Jr., assistant secretary of the Army for acquisition, logistics and technology, is in charge of ensuring that the Army acquires the technologies that it needs to maintain force supremacy in the midst of its transformation. Bolton’s duties also encompass serving as the senior research and development official for the Department of the Army and as science adviser to the Secretary. He must continue the Army’s transformation during a time of war. And, this must be achieved while planning for future conflicts that are likely to emerge.

“The balloon will go up again, and again, and again,” he declares. “We must ensure that our people out there have everything they need to make sure that we come out the winner. And, we must do it in such a fashion that they know, when they go into the battlespace, that they have a distinctly unfair advantage over the enemy—and, more importantly, that the enemy realizes that.”

Bolton, a retired U.S. Air Force general, outlines the comparisons with the Army’s other U.S. military counterparts. “Beginning in 2010, the Army will look a lot like its sister services,” he says. “Today, we have the world’s number-one Army and, in particular, the world’s number-one heavy force. The Army of the future—the transformed Army—will be lighter, faster, more lethal and connected,” he predicts.

One reason this goal will be achieved is that the Army will not have all of the heavy armor it currently possesses. One of the aspects of the Abrams tank that makes it the premier main battle tank is that its armor can absorb a hit from most field munitions and continue functioning with no harm to the crew. This, in turn, allows the tank to return fire and destroy the enemy.

However, the new Objective Force will eschew heavily armored vehicles in favor of survivability through first strike. Instead of absorbing the first hit and following up with a lethal response, the Army will design its forces to avoid the need to absorb a hit by striking first.

Bolton compares this to the doctrine followed by the U.S. Navy and the Air Force. With the exception of armored battlewagons, the Navy was designed to destroy an enemy before the foe can inflict substantial damage on the fleet, especially with submarines. Both Navy and Air Force aircraft largely are designed for speed and maneuverability, and their survivability is predicated on not being struck by enemy air-to-air or surface-to-air munitions. These platforms prevail because of superior battlespace situational awareness and tactics that dispense with an enemy before it can attack.

The Army is moving in the same direction, Bolton continues. “We will have less armor, and to be survivable we must be connected among ourselves, with the other services and with our coalition partners. We must understand where the enemy is and where we are, and we must develop tactics to be able to take out the enemy before they have a chance to do the same to us.

“Information technology allows you to do that,” he emphasizes.

This technology-driven transformation also will require considerable changes in tactics. Bolton relates that Army experts are working, through wargames at Carlisle Barracks, Pennsylvania, and through the Interim Brigade Combat Teams at Fort Lewis, Washington, to develop these new tactics and procedures.

This effort is not limited to the Army, however. Any future operations will focus on the battlespace rather than just the battlefield, and this will involve air, naval and space forces all moving throughout the battlespace to defeat the enemy. Bolton likens this to a huge bubble—2 kilometers across—moving across the battlespace wiping the enemy out of its path.

One of the first steps to be taken in this shift away from heavy armor is the Stryker. This interim armored vehicle is adapted from the Canadian Light Armored Vehicle (LAV)-3. Army experts took the off-the-shelf LAV-3 and incorporated new information technologies, advanced armor and a new gun. Bolton cites soldiers who have used its prototype as describing it as “light years improvement over the M-113” personnel carrier. Deliveries commenced in April, only 18 months after the original request for the vehicle. Developing this type of vehicle independently would have taken five to 10 years, Bolton contends.

The key transformation technologies involve information and connectivity, Bolton declares. The Future Combat Systems (FCS), for example, will be “the heart and soul of the Objective Force.” Its main thrust will be the capability to link systems into a system of systems.

With information technologies changing so rapidly, the Army is writing requirements that allow it to establish blocks in systems of systems to allow upgrades over time. This takes advantage of evolutionary acquisition principles as the Army pursues spiral development.

The technologies necessary to achieve near-term goals already are available, Bolton notes, and they will not require extensive maturation. Integrating them, however, will be the challenge.

The Army recently examined more than 500 technologies, many of which were information technologies, to determine when they might mature. Bolton relates that some are available now, whereas others vary from near-term to long-term availability. Many of these will be vital to the Objective Force, he notes. The near-term technologies—those available next year—represent the first block of the FCS that will be fielded by 2010.

Foremost among these requirements are sensors that can see the enemy. These might be ground-based, airborne, spaceborne or manportable, with all elements playing a role. “Once we’re plugged into the network, everybody becomes a sensor,” Bolton points out.

The Army Science Board is looking at more distant technology improvements, both to be incorporated and to defend against. Bolton explains that, while today’s information technologies tend to advance according to Moore’s Law—a doubling in processing capability every 18 months—the science board experts are examining future technologies that are exempt from that law. For example, a few months ago scientists were able to demonstrate quantum computing. Though primitive, this effort opened up a new dimension in computational science in which the researchers were able to employ only six atoms to perform an arithmetic calculation.

Bolton continues that incoming communications and information systems are digital. Accordingly, their codes could be broken by adversaries with extensive computational ability and considerable time. When the quantum computer is perfected, it will advance the state of the art in processing from billions of operations per second to many trillions. This will enable an enemy to break most encryption in a short period of time. The Army Science Board is keeping track of quantum computing developments to determine when they will begin to have an effect on Army operations. “It’s a heck of a note to put all your eggs in this IT [information technology] basket—which all the services are doing today—only to find out some day when the balloon goes up that someone is scrambling your eggs,” Bolton warns.

Other exotic technologies beckon. Ground-based laser weapons for battlefield use may be 20 years away, but these are in the planning stages. Electromagnetic guns also hold great potential for the lighter, more lethal force.

Energetics is a key area of study for the Army, which is depending on industry for advances. TNT has been a favorite for many years, but now the Army would like its warheads to pack more power into a smaller package.

Electrical power is another concern. All of the new information systems will require electricity, and limitations already are beginning to emerge. Some high-mobility multipurpose wheeled vehicles (HMMWVs) have alternators rated for only 60 watts, although they can produce as much as 100 watts. However, installing many of these new information systems may require 300 watts. “There is a logistics footprint here that they need to take control of,” Bolton maintains.

The need to reduce the logistics footprint extends to other areas as well. Roughly 80 percent of the materiel that is deployed in the battlefield consists of water and fuel. Some existing technologies, for example, permit extracting potable water from diesel fuel, which would reduce the water requirement for deployment. Other research aims to develop hybrid electric HMMWVs.

The war on terrorism, particularly operation Enduring Freedom, reinforced the Army’s ongoing transformation, Bolton maintains. He describes the war as a focusing of the Army’s transformational effort. One major result that is emerging from this war is the impetus it has created to implement the transformation faster.

While the Afghanistan operations have validated much of the Army’s transformation, some concerns have begun to emerge. Soldiers’ lives were lost because the Army did not have the necessary firepower when they were threatened, Bolton allows. Operating in that environment poses some questions, such as whether the RAH-66 Commanche helicopter will be able to function at 12,000 to 16,000 feet when it is deployed. Other issues revolve around whether forces will be able to see through dust and at night effectively.

One other key point is that, despite the success of precision-guided munitions, ground forces still must be deployed as soon as possible. Bolton relates that the action against the Taliban and al Qaida became much more effective when ground troops were able to move from cave to cave in pursuit of their quarry. “It would have been beneficial to have our heavy forces there on day one,” he states. “We couldn’t do that because they are heavy. It points out that moving on to the interim and objective forces—which are lighter, faster and more lethal—is exactly what you want to do.”

Firepower for the lighter force may take several forms. Bolton cited guided multiple launch rocket system (MLRS) munitions, the Excalibur 155-millimeter precision-guided artillery projectile and small composite high-kinetic-energy ammunition or missiles currently under development at the Army Materiel Command.

The Army is considering shifting funds from the Crusader artillery system into indirect fire. Experts are looking at using other systems, both land-based and airborne, to see how the Army can direct fire against an enemy. New technologies such as smart- and guided-artillery shells and elements of the Excalibur program all will be looked at to address the issue of both indirect and direct fire, Bolton maintains.

Off-the-shelf acquisition, both commercial and military, likely will increase, especially for information technology. However, the Army is working to change its off-the-shelf acquisition approach. “Our success in the past has been spotty because we love to get [a technology] and change it,” Bolton allows. “When you change it, it is no longer commercial off-the-shelf. That leads to other challenges.”

The focus will be on capabilities, he continues. “In 2015, if we are at war—and history says we will be in a big war—then what capabilities should the soldier have? That is more than a rhetorical question to us. Once you understand capabilities, how does that translate into systems around that warfighter?” The Army is accelerating its effort to model and simulate capabilities on the battlefield, he notes.

The Army has adjusted its acquisition processes to incorporate the new information technologies that are key to the transformation. Bolton explains that his office works closely with requirements officials along with the training and doctrine experts in schools on this process. One major change is that requirements are written for a system of systems. “I’m not waiting for a requirement to come over the transom to me,” he states.

An integrated logistics support organization ensures that a system’s design phase incorporates sustainment. The aim is to reduce a system’s footprint to keep the Objective Force supportable and sustainable, Bolton notes.

The first contract for the FCS did not employ federal acquisition regulations, Bolton observes. It was a Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) contract that employed Section 845 regulations, which allow the Army to obtain the technology faster with both groups sharing costs.

Performance levels are based on capabilities rather than on specific elements of system performance. Logistics, for example, might be one vital metric. A key performance goal might be a 50-percent reduction in sustainables such as water and fuel, which would help enhance battlefield capabilities.

Bolton wants industry to provide more ideas on how the Army can partner with it more effectively. “We have done a good job, but we need to do that better,” he states. The key lies in the Army’s ability to translate a requirement into a contract and then rely on industry’s expertise to carry out that mission.

The biggest challenge facing the transformation probably will not be technology. “In 2010, we likely will look back and say, ‘Technology was about 10 percent of the effort—90 percent was us, and 100 percent of that was attitude,’” Bolton declares. “We must change a lot of things that we are doing.”

Bolton continues that the extent of change planned for the next seven-and-a-half years has not been seen in the past 100 years. “We are going across the entire Army—whether we are talking about doctrine, operations, training, leadership or materiel—and everything is changing.

“The technology will be only a small part,” he continues. “The bottom line is that it is up to us as individuals and as a team to make it work.”