Enduring Power: The Army Needs to Focus on What it Does Best

Once again, the Army is attempting to transform itself. The question the Army can’t seem to answer is, “why?” Yes, the world is becoming more complex and competitive: China’s rise, a resurgent Russia, an unstable Middle East, and the continued threat of the metastasizing cancer of Al Qaeda spanning from North Africa to Central Asia are all challenging America’s global leadership position. However, no single threat has emerged as existential to the U.S. or its vital national interests.

The real challenge lies at home. Domestically, the U.S. has become war fatigued as a result of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq and faces economic challenges stemming from the 2008 Financial Crisis and political gridlock resulting in sequestration. As a result, DoD, and in particular the Army, faces severe budgetary cuts. While all the Services face cuts of various magnitudes, the Army faces the steepest cuts to its manpower and acquisition programs. This has left Army leaders scrambling to combat critics of the Army’s utility in future conflicts (i.e., U.S. will not engage in land combat in the foreseeable future) while seeking to fundamentally change the Army to meet emerging threats.

The Army needs a convincing narrative of its purpose, but it has only muddied the waters with new joint and institutional concepts which fail to explain what problem the Army is attempting to solve and why it needs to change. Maybe the answer is not that the Army needs to change, but instead that it should return its focus to the core competencies that provide political and military leaders a range of options to deal with emerging threats.

While the nature of the threats may change, the mission of the Army remains enduring and is clearly enumerated in U.S.C. Title 10, which articulates the Army’s responsibility, as an institution, to national defense is to be “organized, trained, and equipped primarily for prompt and sustained combat incident to operations on land.” It needs to provide forces to accomplish tasks assigned across the range of military operations ranging from humanitarian assistance to state-on-state conventional war. More importantly, as a result of the past 14 years, the Army should not debate whether it will conduct small or big wars in the future, but should instead recognize, after reviewing its own historical records, that it needs to be prepared for both.

The Army should focus on what it does best — being the enduring and decisive instrument of national power.

So, what should the Army’s narrative be and how should it shape the emerging concepts being developed? The Army should focus on what it does best — being the enduring and decisive instrument of national power. Beyond its responsibility to homeland defense and as the nation’s initial infrastructure builders, the Army serves as the nation’s global institutional structure that supports and sustains joint force and inter-agency activities. It is the ultimate instrument of power underpinning the assurance, deterrence, and coercion provided by air, sea, and diplomatic power. Shy of nuclear war, it alone possesses the power to compel others to our will from the threat of sustained unified land operations threatening an adversary’s territorial and population control. The Army is the sustained force that provides the decisiveness in unified land operations as part of the nation’s unified action against an adversary.

In ADRP 3-0, Army Doctrine defines unified land operations as the way the Army “seizes, retains, and exploits the initiative to gain and maintain a position of relative advantage in sustained land operations through simultaneous offensive, defensive, and stability operations in order to prevent conflict, prevail in war, and create the conditions for favorable conflict resolution.” While the tactics and technologies employed may adapt and evolve to conduct unified land operations against emerging threats, the key competencies to successful prosecution of unified land operations consisting of forcible entry operations, combined arms maneuver, wide area security, and special operations are enduring. The Army, in conjunction with the joint force, conducts forcible entry operations to seize and exploit the initiative for follow-on forces; conducts combined arms maneuver to decisively defeat and/or destroy a adversarial conventional or hybrid force to gain a position of relative advantage; conducts wide area security to create space for a political solution by denying adversaries access to their source of political and material sustainment; and conducts special operations to exploit adversarial vulnerabilities to achieve strategic affects.

The real problem the Army faces today is how the Service provides forces capable of executing these competencies in a resource-constrained environment. How it delivers the force is the real challenge, not changing how the force fights. Its new institutional strategies need to clearly articulate how it will deliver manned, trained, and equipped forces capable of accomplishing their missions without confusing the customers; political and joint force leaders. All national and joint force leaders care about is the ability of Army forces to fight and win decisively. The Army needs to make sure its forces are ready to fight and its narrative and supporting concepts need to clearly articulate it. The Army doesn’t need to change. Its narrative and focus should be on what it does best — being the enduring and decisive instrument of national power.

Chad Pillai is an Army strategist. The views expressed are the author's and and do not represent the official position of the U.S. Army, the Department of Defense, or the U.S. Government.

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