This is another article in the #Operating: A Personal Reflection on the Army Operating Concept series.
There’s a lot to like in the new U.S. Army Operating Concept (AOC): Win in a Complex World. Any government document with 65 endnotes and a Thucydides call-out in its first three pages can’t be all bad. The AOC is appropriately wide-ranging, covering the full range of Army missions. This piece will focus narrowly on an AOC concept that is mentioned, but not significantly fleshed out: the global landpower network.
The idea of a global landpower network (which I’ll abbreviate to GLN because everyone loves a good acronym) revolves around a central aim: Create and sustain relationships with allies and partners that will build confidence, deter conflict, and if necessary, provide forces for a combined campaign. It calls on conventional and special operations forces alike to build these relationships through theater security cooperation activities, presumably ranging from individual schooling all the way to combined maneuver exercises. The idea reflects the significant success of the State Partnership Program, a post-Cold War initiative that joined National Guard forces with post-Soviet militaries to build up their capacity. It also echoes similar service initiatives like the U.S. Navy’s “Thousand Ship Navy”, which unfortunately seems to have been overcome by events.
The greatest challenge to the noble goal of a GLN is the persistent and pervasive weakness of many of our allies and partners. The Royal Netherlands Army recently sold the last remnants of its armored force to the Finns, and the British Army is in the midst of radical changes to both its operating capabilities and force structure. Other allies are hobbled by persistent political and social restraints; witness the Turkish Army’s inability to engage ISIS elements in artillery range or the Thai Army’s turning back of the clock in that country’s democratic system. U.S. officials’ perennial pleas at NATO and other security forums for other countries to maintain some semblance of military capability have become the Carthago delenda est of the 21st century. The three-headed monster of Russian revanchism, Chinese muscle-flexing, and an Islamic Thirty Years’ War have prompted some states to begin re-evaluating their defense force posture. But it is not yet clear if those concerns will materialize into action in an era where the Euro is still shaky at best and Pacific allies take frequent opportunities to poke at one another.
As a consequence, the other members of a GLN will not fight the way we do. It will not be the equivalent of the good old days of Allied Command Europe, where the difference between Allied land forces was mostly in quantity rather than quality and operational concepts. To illustrate this, we need look no further than the tenets guiding the application of combat power listed in the AOC (paragraph 3–4, for those of you playing along at home). Three of those tenets (Simultaneity, Depth, and Endurance) are heavily dependent on Mass, that persistent principle of war that continues to rear its ugly head in opposition to some of the more outlandish claims of network-centric warfare. Our allies and partners in a GLN simply won’t have the deep bench necessary to fully implement those tenets of warfare.
That doesn’t mean the idea of a GLN is DOA; it does mean we need to keep some provisos in mind when planning for its use:
- Networks involve a two-way exchange of ideas and information. A GLN conceived solely as a U.S. means to disseminate tactics and old equipment is doomed to failure because it requires altruism as a precondition for sustainment. Just because our network partners don’t fight like us doesn’t mean they don’t have things to teach us. Many of them have learned hard-won lessons on how to get the most out of a tight defense budget, something we could use a little brushing up on. Some of them may have equipment we can procure in low quantities to meet time-sensitive needs. A two-way exchange doesn’t mean playing games where we pretend everyone is equal, but instead involves candid conversations about what each member brings to the table.
- Don’t fear the caveats; work with them. Our ISAF experience shows us that members of a GLN are going to operate with caveats; those dreaded limitations of operational mission or tactics imposed by national capitals. Faced with these, most U.S. officers roll their eyes and mutter some version of Churchill’s famous quote about fighting with Allies. But if we’re being honest, we ought to acknowledge that we, too, operate with caveats, whether it’s “no boots on the ground” or the limitations of posse comitatus. Caveats are a pain, but not an insurmountable obstacle. The sooner we acknowledge them, the sooner we can find ways to work with them.
- U.S. enablers are going to play a bigger role than maneuver forces. Few GLN assets will be willing to be plugged into a U.S. maneuver formation due to the limitations discussed above. That means many of them will operate independently or in remote locations. Many of these partners will struggle just to deploy their assets to an austere environment; sustainment of those same assets in a dispersed manner will be beyond them. U.S. enablers, including MEDEVAC, fuel, and mobility assets, are going to be the coin of the realm to sustain GLN participation in a protracted mission. Again, this isn’t wildly different from our own needs; in fact, the logistics requirements of supporting a GLN can be a powerful argument for retaining these capabilities in the face of yet another round of “tooth-to-tail” arguments.
A GLN that effectively integrates allies and partners, warts and all, into our operations is a goal worth pursuing.
Ray Kimball is a U.S. Army Strategist and was one of the many soldiers that took part in the development of the AOC by reviewing and providing comment. 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.
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