The Army #Operating Concept: An Insider’s Perspective

The recently published 2014 Army Operating Concept (AOC) broadly defines how the Army will operate in the near, mid, and far terms. In a bureaucratic sense, the AOC defines capabilities that are required of an Army that will one day make its way through the JCIDS process. However, from a personal perspective, the AOC represents a challenge. It is a challenge to the warfighters and leaders who have been a part of an Army at war for the past thirteen years. To me, the AOC is a challenge to shape and form the Army and its future leaders and build the foundations of its success in the years to come.

From a strategic perspective, the AOC discusses what conflicts may look like through the lens of current conflicts. ISIL, Russia, and North Korea certainly represent challenges to Combatant Commanders today. In 2025 and beyond, the crisis with Ukraine and Russia may be over, but the “little green man” challenge may pop up in another theater. ISIL may be a remnant of history, but radical groups bent on death and destruction will still be a threat to the United States and our friends and allies.

In 2007, I deployed to central Baghdad as a company commander in 2nd Brigade of the 101st Airborne Division. This was my second deployment with the STRIKE Brigade Combat Team, the previous deployment having been immortalized in Jim Fredrick’s book Blackhearts. Although the mission, outcome, and location of these two deployments were disparate, they shared a common aura of certainty in the year prior to each. For a tactical unit (Division and below), the future was, to a large extent, certain. Although counterinsurgency is complex, the total environment was not.

This complexity has not been ingrained over the past decade and a half. Senior officers and NCOs of my generation will be challenged to create training environments that consider all domains and multiple battlefields. This is a new paradigm. The 2014 Army Operating Concept discusses complexity when it states “The complexity of future armed conflict, therefore, will require Army forces capable of conducting missions in the homeland or in foreign lands including defense support to civil authorities, international disaster relief and humanitarian assistance, security cooperation activities, crisis response, or large-scale operations.”[1] While the Army did conduct missions other than Afghanistan and Iraq over the past 13 years (e.g. Hurricane Katrina Relief Operations), the overwhelming majority of units were singularly-focused on the Central Command Area Of Responsibility (AOR). Home station and Combined Training Center (CTC) training did not have to consider other complex mission sets.

Further complexity will revolve around how the Army gets into a theater of operations. Backing up the ideas in the Joint Concept for Operational Access and the Joint Concept for Entry Operations, the AOC states “Army forcible and early entry forces, protected by joint air and missile defense, achieve surprise and bypass or overcome enemy anti-access and area denial capabilities through intertheater and intratheater maneuver to multiple locations.”[2] Company, battalion, and brigade commanders deployed with the assumptions of air superiority, and that entry into a theater of operations would be unopposed.

As the Army moves past nearly 14 years of combat in Iraq and Afghanistan, the future mission sets of Brigade Combat Teams is uncertain, unpredictable, and complex. That young company commander I spoke about earlier will no longer have certainty in his or her future. Company commanders deploying to West Africa to assist nations struggling to contain the Ebola virus do not enjoy the luxuries I had as a commander. Three or four months prior to their deployment, they may have never heard of Ebola or even have seen Dustin Hoffman in Outbreak. They did not have a decade’s worth of intelligence and contacts in what will be their Areas of Operation. There is no Pre-Deployment Site Survey (PDSS), no left seat/right seat ride transition, and no CTC rotation that mimics West Africa.

Moreover, those Company Commanders fighting Ebola will not have the luxury of stopping at the Green Bean Café on the morning of a mission. Deployments going forward will be more expeditionary in nature and mindset. Expeditionary is not always the speed of deployment, but at times the austere conditions Soldiers will operate in. There are no containerized Housing Units, no Foreign Operating Base Mayor’s cell to fix the internet, and no Brown and Root dining facility. There may not be port-o-johns either. The expeditionary mindset will be prevalent throughout the Army.

Another factor the Army Operating Concept recognizes is the requirement to operate with Joint, Interorganizational, and Multinational (JIM) partners. Again, going back to 2007, it was a given that a Company Commander would have to integrate operations with local security forces, and possibly some state department personnel. Seven years later, not only does that Company Commander have to work with host nation security forces, but s/he is likely to take direction (not necessarily command) from members of the World Health Organization or the Centers for Disease Control.

As stated in the AOC, the Army “creates multiple options for responding to and resolving crises.” A crisis can occur at any position along the Range Of Military Options (ROMO). Preparing to operate across the ROMO will be a new mindset. Again, as a commander in 2007, the ROMO was narrowed in scope to counterinsurgency operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. The only connotation ROMO had was a quarterback who consistently blew fourth quarter leads. Furthermore, company commanders in the future will be required to respond globally to crisis, not limited to two countries in central Asia.

As a leader who commissioned in 2000, just prior to the start of the Global War on Terror, I predict the 2014 Army Operating Concept will drive a change in mindset. As mentioned previously, today’s company commanders, platoon leaders, and junior NCOs will face a myriad of problem sets that may not resemble what senior level officers and NCOs have faced. This younger generation of leaders will grow up in a different Army. Just like those who grew up in the Army of the 1990s, conducting National Training Center rotations preparing for Major Combat Operations had to adjust to counterinsurgency, likewise those of us who grew up in an era of counterinsurgency will be forced to learn and relearn combined arms maneuver at the brigade and division level.

Finally, the AOC places the onus on my generation of officers to develop the next generation of leaders. The AOC states “Adaptive leaders possess many different skills and qualities that allow the Army to retain the initiative. Army leaders think critically, are comfortable with ambiguity, accept prudent risk, assess the situation continuously, develop innovative solutions to problems, and remain mentally and physically agile to capitalize on opportunities.” Those leaders will be developed and taught by a generation of combat tested officers and NCOs. I relate this to a time in 2000, when I was a young second lieutenant stationed in Korea. The only members of my battalion wearing combat patches were the field grade officers and senior NCOs who participated in Desert Storm or in combat operations in Somalia. In the next few years, senior leaders will have to recognize that we cannot rest on our laurels, as the ranks will be filled with inexperienced Soldiers who may go an entire enlistment without a combat deployment. Those Soldiers and their families will expect to be trained and prepared for combat, should the time come that they’re called to engage in it. The AOC demands that leaders prepare our Army for conflict, wherever, and whenever that may be.

Daniel Sukman is a U.S. Army strategist and works at the Army Capabilities Integration Center (ARCIC), the organization responsible for the production of the AOC. The views expressed here are the author’s alone and do not reflect those of the U.S. Army, the Department of Defense, or the U.S. Government.

Have a response or an idea for your own article? Follow the logo below, and you too can contribute to The Bridge:

Enjoy what you just read? Please help spread the word to new readers by sharing it on social media.


[1] 2014 Army Operating Concept. Paragraph 2–6

[2] Paragraph 3–3.b