#Operating Above & Beyond the Concept: An Email Response


Alas, one hardly knows where to begin. There is little to applaud in the Army Operating Concept (AOC). After all, just the idea of using the Army Operating Concept as an AUSA strategic communications document is utterly bizarre and inimical to the purpose of a futures concept.

The AOC is not a futures concept. What one sees in the AOC is a document that is: a) at least 90% doctrinal in content, and b) essentially a repetition of what the Army has been saying about itself for the last 3 years. If you can remember the following . . . Prevent-Shape-Win, mission command, complexity, uncertainty, mission-tailoring, initiative, adaptation, leader development, the Soldier, regional engagement, and the fact that the Army always fights within a joint/combined framework . . . . then you have mastered the AOC. If there is anything new in those ideas, I would be pleased to know what it is.

The AOC is bounded in time by two other things. First, the Chief of Staff of the Army is attributed to saying in an article in the Wall Street Journal from Sunday, 12 Oct, that the AOC is, “catching up to how the Army is now being used.” Catching up to...the present? That’s hardly solid ground for building a concept that is supposed to be looking as far as 25 years (2040) into the future. The second thing — my personal assessment — is that the document is primarily informed by a time perspective that extends no further than 2025. While it is true that the Army has moved from Army 2020 to Force 2025 and Beyond, it is almost impossible to find anything that describes the “Beyond” piece except for exceedingly generic statements. I admit that there are a couple of examples in the AOC that can be cited as evidence of a deeper perspective.

The AOC does not include an operational visualization of how the future force operates in the deep future. Very few issues are explored to a meaningful depth; broad generic statements are viewed as sufficient. As a result, the concept’s claim to cover the strategic, operational, and tactical levels of war is not achieved. However, one does wonder if the Army Capstone Concept (ACC) is no longer viewed as its strategic-level concept, with the AOC focusing on the operational/campaign level. Is the ACC, signed out less than two years ago, viewed as defunct, superseded by a subordinate concept?

The document makes much of the ideas of “Multiple Dilemmas,” “Multiple Options,” “Multiple Domains,” and “Multiple Partners.” The first of these 4 terms is welcome since the Army certainly lacks the capabilities needed to present multiple dilemmas to a future enemy that can be logistically sustained and be operationally meaningful. However, I’m at a complete loss to imagine the times in the last 50 years when the Army did not present multiple options to higher commanders or the National Command Authority, operate in multiple domains, or fight with multiple partners.

I’m only scratching the surface above with respect to the shortfalls of the AOC, but in the interest of brevity, I extract below the Military Problem Statement and the Central Idea and present them with the challenge to others to define why these words would not be equally relevant to the Army going to war in the Gulf for the first time in 1990?

3–1. Military problem
To meet the demands of the future strategic environment in 2025 and beyond, how does the Army conduct joint operations promptly, in sufficient scale, and for ample duration to prevent conflict, shape security environments, and win wars?
3–2. Central idea
The Army, as part of joint, interorganizational, and multinational teams, protects the homeland and engages regionally to prevent conflict, shape security environments, and create multiple options for responding to and resolving crises. When called upon, globally responsive combined arms teams maneuver from multiple locations and domains to present multiple dilemmas to the enemy, limit enemy options, avoid enemy strengths, and attack enemy weaknesses. Forces tailored rapidly to the mission will exercise mission command and integrate joint, interorganizational, and multinational capabilities. Army forces adapt continuously to seize, retain, and exploit the initiative. Army forces defeat enemy organizations, control terrain, secure populations, consolidate gains, and preserve joint force freedom of movement and action in the land, air, maritime, space, and cyberspace domains.

Three points in closing:

  1. I’m perplexed by the intent to use Army Warfighting Challenges (WfC) as the means for refining the AOC further. Aren’t the Army WfCs essentially near-term problems with more or less known solutions?
  2. The characterization of AirLand Battle in at least 3 press articles recently is absurd, inaccurate, and insulting. Comparing the two is like comparing War and Peace with My Dog Skip.
  3. I would identify a collection of operational topics that the AOC could have and should have covered, but that would only extend an already long post.

Scott McMichael is a retired U.S. Army artillery and foreign area officer. Scott is the author of two books and ~20 articles in military and Sovietology journals and was the senior concept author for the Army from 2001–2008. The views expressed are the author's alone and do not represent the U.S. Army, the Department of Defense, or the U.S. Government.

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