News | Sept. 1, 2001

Resurrecting Transformation for the Post-Industrial Era

By Douglas A. Macgregor Defense Horizons 2


The Bush administration took office amid high hopes for the fundamental transformation of the Armed Forces. Yet within months, the problem that transformation was designed to solve— changing a large, expensive Industrial Age structure, especially the Army, into a leaner, more strategically agile Information Age force—receded as more pressing issues arose. Instead of being transformed, Cold War military structures will remain unchanged for the time being, while morale and quality of life are shored up. Into this policy vacuum, military leaders have tossed an expensive collection of wish lists that tend to one of two extremes: a bigger, faster, better version of some platform already in use, or something out of science fiction with delivery timelines that stretch all the way to 2032. Although these modernization programs are billed as promoting transformation, they are business as usual.

Fortunately, this is not the whole story. Help may be on the way. The terms of reference for the current Quadrennial Defense Review (QDR) anticipate the emergence of new ground, naval, and air forces reorganized for “more rapidly responsive, scalable, modular task-organized units, capable of independent combat action as well as integration into larger joint and combined operations” sometime after 2006. How the bureaucratic politics of service-centric operational thinking and single-service modernization will produce this outcome is unclear.

This statement also begs the question, why wait until 2006 to build joint warfighting capabilities with today’s forces and technologies when the United States needs—and can achieve— these capabilities now to protect its global interests? Experience in the private sector demonstrates that successful corporations do not plan to transform in the distant future; they transform constantly, just as the world around them transforms. Military transformation is a process, not an end-state that depends on exotic technologies that may not be available for decades. America can lose its position of military dominance only by standing still and investing in the past.