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The U.S. Army Turns Focus to the Division Level

Divisions will now be the unit of action, instead of battalions, leaders say.

As the U.S. Army reshapes itself to succeed in a near-peer environment, the service is again turning its focus to commanding from the division level. Instead of battalions being the unit of action, divisions will now take that role, service leaders shared.

Divisions are larger organizations, commanded by a two-star general with up to 15,000 soldiers, usually divided into three or four brigades. The command-focus shift makes divisions the decisive element, a designation meant to support the service as it prepares to fight across greater distances but in close combat, especially in the Indo-Pacific region, and against China, considered the nation's greatest national security threat. The move has many implications to strategy, technology and culture, Army leaders said, speaking at the Program Executive Office Command Control and Communications-Tactical’s biannual Technical Exchange Meeting X, held in Philadelphia May 24-25.

"The Army is going to continue to be absolutely indispensable," said Gen. Randy George, the Army's vice chief of staff. Gen. George is slated to become the Army’s next chief, pending Senate confirmation. The current Army Chief of Staff, Gen. James McConville, is scheduled to retire this summer.

“I don't care where we go anywhere in this world, the Army's going to be needed," Gen. George said during the conference. "We're going to bring close combat, and oftentimes that doesn't get talked about, but that is what we are going to have to do. We're going to be securing our formations and defeating our enemies. Long-range fires, contested logistics, integrated air and missile defense, all of those [things are needed], and what will underpin that is going to be command and control, and making sure that we can bring all those systems together.”

Gen. James Rainey, commander of Army Futures Command, warned, “we will fight under constant observation and in constant contact of some form. The days of command posts, aviation assembly areas, division support areas—those days are gone. And now, how are we going to execute the command and control warfighting functions in that context?”

Gen. Rainey clarified that reestablishing the division as the decisive element would indeed be different from how divisions operated 20 years ago. “We're not going backwards,” Gen. Rainey said. “It is taking all the goodness of the Brigade Combat Teams (BCTs), but reestablishing the division commander’s ability to wage, shift and sustain the main effort. With our BCTs, it’s our O-6 commanders having access to all of the warfighting functions and the benefits of that, and we have to sustain that. It's taking BCTs, the right enabling formations, artillery, integrated air and missile defense, intel and electronic warfare back into our formations.”

Gen. James Rainey
The days of command posts, aviation assembly areas, division support areas—those days are gone.
Gen. James Rainey
Commanding General, Army Futures Command

The nature of future warfare against a near-peer adversary warrants this change. “The reality is that we are probably not fighting in the desert anytime soon,” added Col. Terry Tellis, commander, Operations Group, National Training Center. “Most of the places we where we will be going to are tied to population centers.”

When asked if this environment would leverage line-of-sight communications, Col. Tellis confirmed the approach could change, based on what the brigades and divisions would need to be doing.

“If you look at the doctrine from today, it would articulate that at the BCT level and below, they probably are close enough within line of sight. It is at the division level and probably corps level that are not necessarily line of sight. If you look at the front edge of what that looks like now and gaze over the train, depending on whether it's in Europe or in the Indo-Pacific command, you really got to think through what capabilities are needed and what you are asking the BCTs to do," Col. Tellis said. "We're all seeing the division as the unit of action but at some point, the division’s close fight and the BCTs’ deep fight are very similar. And you have to have the ability to execute intel and fires handover. That's when you'll start needing to have certain capabilities, and you'll have to lay that out against part of your mission analysis.”

Gen. Rainey noted the future battlefield will be a demanding atmosphere. “The complexity of the close fight; think about a river crossing in contact against a good enemy, or a vertical development, a joint forcible entry against the good enemy,” Gen. Rainey suggested. “Brigade Combat Team commanders are going to be wholly consumed in that close flight. And they are going to have to get their good intel reads, joint fires and Army fires from their higher headquarters. And higher headquarters is going to have to protect them. And they are going to have to have push logistics. And there is nowhere to hide. There's nowhere to set up big brigade assembly areas. That will be a cultural shift.”


Gen. Randy George, USA
I don't care where we go anywhere in this world, the Army's going to be needed. We're going to bring close combat, and oftentimes that doesn't get talked about, but that is what we are going to have to do.
Gen. Randy George
Vice Chief of Staff, U.S. Army


For industry to provide solutions to support the division-centric Army of the future, the vice chief identified four attributes: simplicity, intuitiveness/learnability, low signature and constant iterations.

“We can't have our mobile formations that we know need to be mobile, driving around with 500 trucks and dozens of Pelican cases, and taking hours and hours to set up so they can get all their different apps working,” the vice chief said, referring to the communications equipment and more that troops use. “We just can't do that. We’ve really got to focus on simplicity. In Iraq and Afghanistan, and the days of the great big antenna farms, where we didn't have to worry about an air threat, we didn't have to be worried if somebody was going to spot us. Those days are over. We just can't have big signatures. We need simplicity of systems that can work across multiple pathways that we can go in between when we need to, and [with] a low signature. And we need your help with that." 

From a Futures Command perspective, the commanding general also asked for solution characteristics. Capabilities must provide warfighters with a common operating picture—one that is truly common—voice communications must be resilient and redundant; and systems that provide access to joint fires.

“And at the brigade level, we're going to need to have redundant command posts, but they're going to have to be really small, and they are going to have to be able to hide in the electromagnetic spectrum, and hide physically, move constantly, with short displacement times,” Gen. Rainey stated. “There will be a lot of changes. But it is going to allow commanders to focus on fighting. Soldiers are going to know how to employ the network they have, which is going to let them actually train on fighting and not be consumed by making stuff work.

“And I'm kind of an optimist on this," he said.