NEWS | Jan. 1, 2004

XVIII Airborne Corps: Spearhead of Military Transformation

By Douglas A. Macgregor Defense Horizons 37


XVIII Airborne CorpsOverview

War transforms armies. Combat accelerates transformation by moving it out of the realm of academic debate and endless speculation about the future to a pragmatic approach focused on fielding new capabilities within new combat formations as soon as possible. In war, transformation means conserving equipment and operational methods that are still relevant while incorporating new technologies, tactics, and organizations that enable victory. It is nearly impossible to replicate in peacetime training the true conditions of land warfare—ambiguity, uncertainty, and above all terror, killing, and exhaustion. For the Army, the best opportunity to transform involves parallel evolution, a method that moves new technologies into combat formations today and explores what the troops will actually do with them in action. With a conflict in progress, this approach is better than trying to predict future uses in an inflexible operational requirements document developed in isolation from the field environment. 

Joint, expeditionary warfare demands agile land, sea, and air forces linked by more than simply networked sensors and communication. Brain-to-brain connectivity animated by a cultural predisposition to deploy and fight anywhere on short notice akin to the special operations mindset is equally vital to transformation. Additionally, routine joint training and operations within a joint rotational readiness system are essential to readiness for joint expeditionary warfare. In the new come-as-you-are strategic environment, Army mission-focused force packages must bring the Joint Force Commander the capabilities he needs, whether they be theater missile defense or survivable, mobile, armored fighting vehicles that deliver accurate, devastating firepower. 

XVIII Airborne Corps seems ideally positioned to spearhead Army transformation. Scaling, equipping, and organizing existing XVIII Airborne Corps forces for integration as specialized modules of combat power into plug-and-play joint command and control structures, such as the notional Standing Joint Force Headquarters, gives the Army an unprecedented opportunity to pursue new directions in adaptive force design.