Adapting Forces to a New Era: Ten Transforming Concepts

By Hans Binnendijk and Richard Kugler Defense Horizons 5



A key Department of Defense goal is to build highly capable forces whose mastery of high-tech warfighting will allow decisive victories against new threats and well-armed opponents in future operations. A set of new operational concepts, many of which have surfaced in the ongoing defense strategy review, may facilitate this goal. They focus on rapid and decisive operations in distant theaters rather than on homeland defense. As generic concepts for future warfighting, they offer valuable insights on combat capabilities that should be acquired. Before these principles can be adopted, they must be scrutinized on their individual merits and integrated to provide balanced guidance to force development.

New operational concepts must be embedded in a sensible transformation strategy that should be carried out in measured, purposeful ways. The strategy should focus on the mid term, during which new threats may appear but entirely new forces will not be able to be built. The standard of preparing for two regional wars should be replaced with one that focuses on capabilities for the widening spectrum of conflict and operations in new geographic locations. A three-theater standard should be adopted that readies forces to wage one big war in any single theater while also having sufficient assets for medium-sized strike missions and traditional operations elsewhere. Transformation should strive to create adaptable forces that can handle shifting challenges, unfamiliar missions, and periodic strategic surprises. It should produce a future posture dominated by improved legacy forces but including some ultra-high-tech forces for special missions. If new operational concepts are capable of producing such forces and capabilities, they may deserve serious consideration.

Ten new operational concepts have emerged as candidates for inclusion in transformation and Joint Vision 2020. These concepts focus on building better forces for multiple purposes and employing these forces in specific ways. If the concepts are adopted, creating combat and support forces for them will require programmatic measures. Many of the concepts can be pursued by reorganizing existing forces, continuing normal modernization, or acquiring new information systems and smart munitions. Nonetheless, they will require some budget increases plus a resource strategy that responds to fiscal constraints. Investing wisely in a full set of new concepts will produce stronger forces than focusing on a few concepts in ways that deprive others of funds. The combination of new concepts, not any of them individually, offers promise for the future. Moreover, these concepts, which focus on creating high-tech strike forces, must be accompanied by capabilities for low-intensity conflict and by investments in such often-overlooked areas as logistic support, bases and infrastructure, maintenance, and war reserves.