Experts Envision Future Force

July 2009
By Maryann Lawlor and Helen Thompson Mosher
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Gen. James N. Mattis, USMC, NATO Supreme Allied Commander Transformation, and commander, U.S. Joint Forces Command, calls for the acceleration of military transformation.

Persistent warfare demands fundamental changes.

Call it hybrid, unconventional or asymmetric warfare, the conclusion is the same: the United States and its allies must be prepared to fight a war against integrated threats posed by traditional and nontraditional adversaries. Accomplishing this task will require simultaneous improvements in almost every area of today’s forces, including training, agility, acquisition, strategy, tactics and cultural awareness. To defeat complex foes and their multifaceted attacks, the U.S. military has developed a framework that sets the course forward. However, this plan is not designed as the be-all and end-all of strategies. Instead, it is meant to address past and current challenges and to propel the military and other government agencies into an unpredictable future.

The complexity of current and future warfare was the discussion topic at the Joint Warfighting Conference, which took place in Virginia Beach, Virginia, May 12-14. With a theme of “Building a Balanced Joint Force: How Best to Meet Demands of the Future Security Environment?” the event was a gathering of experts in all aspects of conflict, including military, government, industry and nongovernmental organizations (NGOs). Similar to the multifaceted threats that peaceful nations face today, the variety of information technology and leadership professionals concurred that the future operational environment will be even more complex than the one the military faces today.

Agreeing that the time for military reform is here, Deputy Secretary of Defense William J. Lynn outlined a number of plans currently underway at the U.S. Defense Department that will address the needs of the new force. “From now on, irregular warfare is a regular part of our plan,” he said.

Future activities include a dedication to fiscal responsibility, with the entire cost of current operations contained within the department’s budget, rather than continuing supplementals. In addition, fiscal responsibility will include transparency in government spending, because both the government and the military have lost confidence in the department’s ability to deliver products on time and on budget, Lynn added. To achieve this goal, the acquisition staff will be increased by more than 20,000, which will be achieved in a number of ways, including hiring 9,000 new personnel, and shifting other agency and contractor personnel to the acquisition work force.

The department also plans to bring discipline to the requirements process and improve cost estimations; poorly performing programs will be canceled, Lynn said. These changes will not be easy, but he believes the department will succeed because of what he called “the perfect storm”: a president who is dedicated to change, a Congress that is willing to act and a Defense Department that is willing to work hard and is dedicated to reform.


William J. Lynn, deputy secretary of defense, describes the new vision for the U.S. Defense Department.

Gen. James N. Mattis, USMC, NATO Supreme Allied Commander Transformation, and commander, U.S. Joint Forces Command (JFCOM), set the tone of the conference by pointing out that a certain degree of urgency exists for discussion about the future of warfare because adversaries are collaborating on a never-ending basis. Gen. Mattis, along with others, agreed that it is time to look at the future of the joint force from a number of angles. The bottom line is that in the coming years the United States will not face wars that have clearly defined beginnings or clearly defined ends. Rather, the United States and its allies are in a period of persistent war, the general said.

Gen. Mattis stated that the United States must accelerate the rate at which it is changing. If this does not occur, it will be like a ship moving at the speed of the current, staying in one place. The Capstone Concept for Joint Operations (CCJO) encapsulates some of the solutions by providing a grand strategy, he said.

Experts discussing hybrid warfare agreed with this assessment. Lt. Col. Frank G. Hoffman, USMCR (Ret.), research fellow at the Foreign Policy Research Institute, Marine Corps Combat Development Command, stated that the focus of warfare in the 21st century must incorporate a broader spectrum of tools and a convergence of different types of warfare. This is not a novel concept; however, it is “one we have not been prepared for institutionally or militarily,” the colonel emphasized.

Vice Adm. Robert S. Harward Jr., USN, deputy commander, JFCOM, pointed out that the hybrid war the United States is fighting today has been going on for some time. For example, in the 1970s terrorists hijacked commercial airplanes, forcing them to be flown to specific destinations. Since that time, hybrid warfare has evolved, and it now includes not only state and nonstate entities but also individuals, criminals and the disenfranchised, all of whom must be considered in operations, Adm. Harward added.


Gen. Martin E. Dempsey, USA, commanding general, U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command, notes that the U.S. military could have done a better job of preparing its leaders for the complexity in combat, engagement and leadership.

Uncertainty, complexity, rapid change and persistent conflicts will remain as challenges on the operations landscape, Gen. Martin E. Dempsey, USA, commanding general, U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command (TRADOC), agreed. He pointed out that meeting these challenges will require versatility, campaign quality, improvisation and the right instincts. In addition, the general called for improvements in training, collaboration and decentralization. “If you attack a decentralized operation in a conventional way, it becomes more decentralized,” Gen. Dempsey said.

Dr. Thomas P.M. Barnett, author of The Pentagon’s New Map, proposed that warfighting and peacekeeping today are an indication that the United States and its allies are on the frontier of globalization. However, the gap that exists between developed and underdeveloped nations likely will take 30 to 40 years to close; in the meantime, 90 percent of the violence in the world will take place inside the gap, he noted. “Globalization is coming to these areas [inside the gap] very quickly, but they’re not ready with leadership,” Barnett said. Increasing security during this time of growing globalization will require more private than public sector investment, and creating jobs is the only exit strategy, he added.

One way to address current threats is to create small and agile military units that comprise specialists from many areas, including tactics, strategy and intelligence. Adm. Eric T. Olson, USN, commander, U.S. Special Operations Command, advocated a balanced warfare approach that provides agility to transcend the spectrum of conflict effectively. He pointed out that a balance between indirect and direct warfare already has been successful in places such as Colombia, the southern Philippines and Afghanistan. “The key to balanced warfare is persistence,” he said. “The emphasis is on engaging the underlying environment rather than on the threats that emerge from that environment.”

This is an approach that Gen. Mattis also proposed. He revealed that creating high-performing units is one of his top priorities, and that smaller units then would need to be aggregated when facing larger enemy forces. “We want the troops to be able to adapt,” the general said.


Dr. Thomas P.M. Barnett, author of The Pentagon’s New Map, speaks about the effects of globalization on nations and coalitions.

To achieve many of these goals will require a transformation of the current acquisition system. While some members of a panel discussing innovative acquisition expressed confidence in the current system, others stated that drastic changes are needed. Dr. Dov Zakheim, vice president, global defense, Booz Allen Hamilton Incorporated, opened the discussion by describing the U.S. government acquisition system as one that is based on end-running the system. “How do we make the exception the rule?” he asked.

Agreeing that the severe shortage of contracting officers is one of the problems, this issue is only the tip of the iceberg, panelists agreed. At the core is a need for professional development of the current acquisition force. The system that is in place to train and promote acquisition personnel today is inadequate, Zakheim stated.

Achieving a Balanced Joint Force
Members of all four services concurred that the need for agility requires a definition of problems and adoption of new concepts, platforms and technologies. Lt. Gen. Paul K. Van Riper, USMC (Ret.), former commanding general, Marine Corps Combat Development Command, pointed out that the CCJO is only one document that must be considered as the services move forward. For the services to fully understand the challenges facing the future force, the concepts from this document must be combined with those in the Joint Operating Environment document, the National Security Strategy and, eventually, the Quadrennial Defense Review.

Lt. Gen. David P. Valcourt, USA, deputy commanding general/chief of staff, U.S. Army TRADOC, shared that for his service to address the issue of balancing force, it must first define the problem, which includes ever-changing fighting environments, the need for versatility and the requirement to continue to conduct intelligence gathering. “Our most precise weapon is the soldier on the ground,” Gen. Valcourt said.

Focusing particularly on jointness, Maj. Gen. William J. Rew, USAF, director of operational planning, policy and strategy, and deputy chief of staff for operations, plans and requirements, U.S. Air Force Headquarters, discussed the cultural barriers to true jointness. Too many people think that cultural awareness means language training at the academy, he said. However, the armed forces need to recognize the cultural differences across the services as well as across coalition forces. “Some of our command structures do not foster that interaction. We like to do things from a distance. We shouldn’t forget the importance of the human dimension. Warfare in the end is a people endeavor,” Gen. Rew stated.


Adm. Eric T. Olson, USN, commander, U.S. Special Operations Command, states that the key to balanced warfare is persistence.

Strong Relationships Foster Success
Collaboration and coordination among military services are not the only issues that must be resolved. Increasingly, the military finds itself working with NGOs in both humanitarian and post-warfare missions. During current operations, militaries from all nations have been filling nontraditional roles to fight counterinsurgency and to bring about stability.

Calling on his experience in Afghanistan and Iraq, Gen. Anthony C. Zinni, USMC (Ret.), former commander of U.S. Central Command, said that the military has been involved in everything from agriculture to zoos: The jobs needed to be done, he emphasized, so military forces filled the gap. However, over time, Gen. Zinni became concerned about who would continue to conduct the work once the military left an area, he noted.

Cooperative security planning is the subject of a document titled “The Military Contribution to Cooperative Security Joint Operating Concept,” which JFCOM and the U.S. European Command co-authored. Len Hawley, former deputy assistant secretary of state, shared that the concept examines the standard operating procedures in the military, government and the NGOs. These procedures differ so greatly that they get in the way of collaborative efforts, Hawley said. While it is easy to say that organizations must cooperate, it is not easy to do, he stated.


Stephen Carmel, senior vice president, maritime services, Maersk Line Limited, points out that globalization of trade and the interaction it involves is a growing reason for instability in nations worldwide.

Religion, Demographics Affect Joint Operations
The challenge that cultural differences pose was brought up in discussions several times during conference. Ralph Peters, a retired U.S. Army officer, author and New York Post columnist, pointed out that the U.S. government is not comfortable discussing religion as a profoundly disruptive and inspiring force today. Religious devotion has influenced politics and ethnicity in all nations with the exception of the United States. “This makes a huge difference in how we fight,” he said. Dr. Thomas G. Mahnken, former deputy assistant secretary of defense for policy planning, agreed with Peters, noting that a shift is occurring in demographics as well as in the importance religion plays in loyalty to a cause.

Carmen Medina, assistant deputy director for intelligence, Central Intelligence Agency, remarked that changes in demographics combined with religious fervor is at the root of conflicts worldwide. She proposed that the line between war and criminality is likely to continue blurring; as a result, ambiguity in military action will continue. In the past, nations fought until negotiations took place, but ending conflicts in the future will be more difficult, because the adversary does not believe that negotiation is acceptable, she stated.

Economy Impacts Security
Widely reported piracy off the coast of the Horn of Africa is evidence that the global supply chain now is intertwined with international security. Stephen Carmel, senior vice president, maritime services, Maersk Line Limited, pointed out that the causes of disruptions in the supply chain are increasingly difficult to isolate. Cyberattacks are increasing, which endangers the global supply chain, which heavily depends on information technology, he said. “A stoppage anywhere is a stoppage everywhere. Everyone is on the grid,” Carmel stated.

In his opinion, too much attention is being paid to responding to individual attacks. Instead, the focus should be on finding solutions to the root cause. For example, piracy that is based out of Somalia is the result of economic and political instability. “Until this changes, piracy will continue,” he declared.

Photography by Michael Carpenter

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