Operationalizing the Army #Operating Concept

I want to open and close this essay with my philosophy drawn from my father, a senior budget analyst in the New York State Budget Division, and a very influential supervisor I worked for in the Pentagon who reinforced his thoughts on defense policy by stating that “Funding is policy, and all else is rhetoric!” So, how does this relate to the AOC? A successful AOC drives the Army budget in transforming itself operationally and institutionally. Plainly speaking, the Army needs to put its money where its mouth is.

In the near, mid, and far terms, the Army faces numerous challenges ranging from transnational terrorist organizations to state near-peer competitors. However, the Army’s single biggest challenge will be future Army funding levels resulting from the Budget Control Act (sequestration). Simply going to Congress asking for more resources to meet the Army’s operational requirements is no longer a viable approach. There are two reasons for this. First, as the threats in the Operational Environment (OE) mature, the other services will need to invest in expensive modern programs to overcome high-end A2/D2 platforms from emerging near-peer competitors – programs that are beneficial to congressional districts. Also, as I stated in my War on the Rocks (WOTR) article, “The Return of Great Power Politics”, the nation’s and, by extension, the joint force’s ability to address global security challenges will be challenged as Russia and China increasingly seek to constrain our actions in an increasingly multipolar world. The second reason is domestic politics in the ongoing “Guns vs. Butter” debate as the nation’s fiscal challenges exacerbate the budgetary struggle for funding between defense, the social safety net, and investment on infrastructure and education.

The mixtures of conventional and asymmetrical threats compounded by budgetary uncertainty are the ingredients for complexity stated in the AOC. To address this complexity, the AOC states “The Army will adjust to fiscal constraints and have resources sufficient to preserve the balance of readiness, force structure, and modernization necessary to meet the demands of the national defense strategy in the mid- to far-term (2020 to 2040).” That sentence above all others raised my suspicions on the effectiveness of the AOC based on my experience with the Army’s “Force 2025 & Beyond” initiative. Participants at the Center of Gravity (COG) analysis for “Force 2025 & Beyond,” determined the Army’s budget was the COG, with the justification being that the budget would be the single greatest determinate of how the Army balanced General Odierno’s “Three Rheostats: Force Structure, Modernization, and Readiness.” Members of the G-8 challenged the budget as the COG, citing “requirements” as the COG, but that doesn’t stand up to scrutiny if the Army can only afford to pay for 8 out of the top 10 requirements. So, with the budget as the COG, how can the Army operationalize the AOC? Balancing the three rheostats is the easy answer, yet this is not so easy when certain variables lie beyond the Army’s control.

The Defense Planning Guidance and subsequent Quadrennial Defense Review limited the Army’s flexibility through mandated force structure cuts by calling for endstrength reductions from a wartime high of 560K to 450K active duty, with further cuts needed if full sequestration goes into effect. While forced to cut endstrength, despite an increased demand for land forces globally, the Army has been unable to get Congressional authorization to shed excess basing and facilities infrastructure to save money. Modernization efforts such as the Future Combat System, Crusader, Comanche, the network, and even the Army’s camouflage pattern have exposed the Army’s acquisition shortfalls in the past two decades that have caused the ire of Congress and the public. Additional constraints on modernization include Congressional resistance to the discontinuation of the Abrams tank production line to free up modernization funds – a similar lesson to that the Air Force learned in attempting to terminate platforms such as the A-10. The only flexibility the Army has is with readiness. To accelerate modernization, the “Force 2025 and Beyond” initiative seeks to reform the Army’s acquisition model by increasing effectiveness and efficiency, coupled with continuous assessment of programs to build, field, and equip forces in the lifecycle of new technologies. This has to be done in the speed of adaption driven by friendly or enemy breakthroughs in concepts and/or technologies.

To meet the operational tenets of the AOC, the Army needs to provide forces capable of rapidly responding to threats to our security. This creates a Catch-22 dilemma as the Army cuts endstrength while demands for readiness increases. In a recent speech, the TRADOC Commander said “The Army equips the Man while the other Services man the equipment.” I partially disagree with this statement since the quality of our air and sea platforms is equally based on the high level of training and education of the personnel assigned to those platforms as Soldiers assigned as members of an Abrams tank, M109 Howitzer, Patriot Battery, and Apache Helicopter. In all domains, the performance of equipment is a direct reflection of the quality of the people trained to employ that equipment. Either way, how the Army utilizes its Soldiers will determine the success of the AOC in overcoming the Catch-22 dilemma.

In an internal strategist e-mail titled “Transitioning from the Spear to the Sword”, I highlighted that the Army was mandated by the Secretary of Defense to cut headquarters by 20 percent. However, I noted that a lot of the cuts are budgetary shell games done by reducing the size of the contractor workforce, freeze hiring, and normal attrition form retirements. At the same time, the Army accepts risk by cutting deeper into the operational forces needed by Joint Force Commanders to address the challenges identified in the AOC. I argued that before the Army went to Congress seeking more resources, it needed to make radical changes to its institutional structure, like a corporate restructuring, that placed greater emphasis on the operational force (the product/service demanded) vs. the institutional force. The target for such restructuring was not the schools and training centers needed to prepare the force, but rather the multitude of institutional headquarters and agencies that perform overlapping and redundant functions and have been a misallocation of personnel and resources.

Headquarters of the Department of the Army (HQDA) and its supporting agencies are too large and share many responsibilities with subordinate Army Major Commands (ACOMs) such as Army Materiel Command (AMC), Forces Command (FORSCOM), and Training and Doctrine Command (TRADOC). HQDA needs to be trimmed in half and devolution of authorities needs to be push down to the ACOMs. TRADOC and FORSCOM should be merged to perform the Army G-3 function, since neither command in the post-Goldwaters-Nicholas Act construct will command army forces in combat even if a major expansion is required. Wholesale restructuring of the Army’s corporate enterprise will force the Army to transfer more of its personnel from corporate/institutional support to operational assignments; thereby ensuring units are fully-manned and ready for operational tasks.

Utilizing the AOC as a blueprint for the future, the Army needs to build a “POM-Trace” to carefully track and integrate acquisition programs for modernization; incorporate existing weapons platforms and emerging platforms into the tenets of the AOC and how units are assessed for readiness; and implement major corporate restructuring to demonstrate good faith efforts in utilizing existing budgetary resources. This will bolster the Army’s means to operationalize the AOC and make more compelling arguments for an increase in resources from Congress. As I stated in the beginning, “Funding is policy and all else is rhetoric.” If the Army operationalizes the AOC to drive the budget rather than be driven the by budget, it will be successful.

Chad Pillai is a U.S. Army strategist. The views expressed belong to the author alone and do not represent the U.S. Army, the Department of Defense, or the U.S. Government.

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