Already #Operating: The Army #Operating Concept Describes Today, Not Tomorrow


Our Army recently published our Army Operations Concept (AOC), “Win in a Complex World.” There has been much criticism that there is nothing new in the AOC. That is certainly not true, but it is a concern if one sees concepts as oriented on future innovation. I think the AOC is more about deliberate adaptation than it is about innovation — that is not necessarily a bad thing, so long as someone is in fact looking beyond 2025 to the force we will need in the future.

The argument has been made that this AOC provides a baseline for transformation from the counterinsurgency focus of Operation IRAQI FREEDOM and Operation ENDURING FREEDOM to the needed Decisive Action-focus for the future. That may very well be true, but…the conduct of warfare has changed.

You can’t develop innovative concepts on a schedule or through an approach that ensures equality of input from every stakeholder.

I have been on several Army posts lately and there is a significant effort to return to the basics of combined arms integration and regaining our excellence in logistics. These are absolutely necessary for success in the future, but they are not sufficient because they focus primarily on the physical realm. The mental models of our soldiers must be balanced and include a comprehensive integration of the physical, cyber, and human realms. This requires a new concept and a new institutional integration and it needs to start now. If we want leaders who can integrate across those three realms, we have to start with captains today to develop colonels for a post-2025 force. We have to break some of our cherished structures. For example, if special forces will be the lead for the “human realm,” we have to have them take a greater role in the development of such capabilities for the conventional forces, as well. That may mean having conventional officers routinely moving into and out of special operations assignments and vice versa. It may mean three major commands (Forces Command, Army Cyber, and Army Special Operations Command) providing capabilities equally (including in rank), with one Training and Doctrine Command developing those capabilities. There are many other possibilities. We can be certain that our current construct cannot endure if we hope to safeguard the nation and secure its strategic aims in the future.

In my mind that means we must immediately start work on a truly future-oriented concept for the Army post-Force 2025. Such a concept must employ strategic foresight to envision a range of alternate futures and chart a course for transformation of the Army in a direction that enables innovative solutions to emerge as the strategic environment changes. The emergent strategic environment must drive the changes, not a procedural schedule from the Joint or Army Staff. This is because concept work is largely theoretical and experiential. It cannot emerge from a formal process, but rather must emerge from reflective practice. You can’t develop innovative concepts on a schedule or through an approach that ensures equality of input from every stakeholder. The effective concepts our Army has developed in the past came from strategic and operational necessity, strategic sponsorship by farsighted leaders, and imaginative work by hand-selected groups of talented, experienced, and courageous professionals. This was true of the concepts developed for AirLand Battle, Force XXI, STRYKER, Light Infantry, and Air Assault.

You cannot develop innovative concepts through a deliberate and bureaucratic staff process such as the Joint Capabilities Integration Development System (JCIDS). Such an approach dampens innovation and ensures protection of the status quo. A quick way to tell if the concept you are developing is going to be worthless: If you are cramming it into a standardized format, you are wasting your time. The actual structure of the concept ought to emerge from your learning and discourse on the environment(s) you envision; the problems that will confront you from those environments; and the solutions you develop for those problems. In JCIDS, we have defaulted in our concept development, just like we have in Joint doctrine, to a “lowest common denominator” approach that ensures complete agreement across stakeholders and thereby guarantees that it will not be forward thinking, but rather will reinforce the status quo. The AOC will serve our Army well as we transition from counterinsurgency to Decisive Action, but it must be immediately followed by an innovative, future-oriented, transformational concept for the Army post-Force 2025.

The new AOC only describes what we are doing today…now we must look at what we need to be doing in the future.


Jim Greer is a retired U.S. Army officer, the Vice President of the Center for Strategic Leadership and Design at ALIS, Inc., and a former Director of the School of Advanced Military Studies. The views expressed here are the author’s alone and do not reflect those of ALIS, Inc., the U.S. Army, the Department of Defense, or the U.S. Government.


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