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Army of Excellence

The design dilemma which the Training and Doctrine Command faced in the straight infantry division was remedied in June 1983. That month, General John A. Wickham, Jr. became Army Chief of Staff and directed the TRADOC commander, General William R. Richardson, to design a new, strategically deployable light infantry division limited in strength to approximately 10,000 personnel, globally deployable in approximately 500 airlift sorties. In order to accommodate this essentially new division type to the rest of the Army force structure, Richardson got authority to review and redesign the entire TOE Army. The Army of Excellence effort, so styled, proceeded through the late summer and fall of 1983, guided in part by the historical perspective gained through an examination of the deficiencies of the World War II experimental light divisions.

Undertaken by the Combined Arms Center with support from the TRADOC branch schools, the AOE effort developed and put in place the force designs of the 1980s Army. Planners redesigned each of the five Active Army corps - the V and VII Corps in Germany, and the I, III, and XVIII Airborne Corps in the United States - against theater specific war plans. All elements of the tactical Army and all division types were reexamined. The Army of Excellence organizations resulting did not supplant, but modified the previous Army 86 designs, with the notable exception of the new light infantry division. Such Army 86 design features as 8-howitzer batteries, forward support battalions, and 4-company heavy-division maneuver battalions remained. In the effort, the participation of the major Army commanders was constantly registered. The Chief of Staff of the Army approved the basic AOE designs developed by TRADOC in decisions of October and November 1983.

The centerpiece of the reorganization, the light infantry division was a 3-brigade organization with 9 battalions of straight foot-infantry, with a strength eventually set at 10,800 men. Deployable in approximately 550 C-141 airlift sorties, it was oriented specifically to contingency actions worldwide where response in the first days of a crisis was critical. Lacking armor and heavy howitzers, the division was structured on shock tactics rather than sustained firepower. Based on the historical lessons of World War II, force designers incorporated "corps plug" augmentation forces into the scheme to make up for the lack of firepower and logistical capability. By concept, an early-arriving light division could buy time for heavier forces to follow. The light division had a secondary mission of reinforcement of heavy forces in scenarios and terrain where it could be more effective than those forces - in cities, forests, and mountain areas. Many light infantry division capabilities were austere. The division - contingency focused - was conceived and approved as a hard-hitting, highly trained, elite light force, with high esprit and cooperation essential to its success. The design went through a successful certification process in the 7th Infantry Division (Light) at Fort Ord, supported by the TRADOC test organizations, during 1984-1986.

Creation of the AOE light infantry division embodied a noteworthy turn in the history of Army tactical organization. With it, the Army fashioned a division for use primarily in the contingency world, with only a collateral mission for reinforcement of heavy forces and only then where terrain and circumstance called for it. Ordinarily it would fight in components as part of an integrated heavy/light or light/heavy force. The light infantry division gave the Army a new and necessary flexibility. Force structure decisions followed which converted two nonmechanized infantry divisions to the new type and added two more in the Active Army and one in the reserve components for a total of five light infantry divisions. Army division totals in the AOE reorganization went from 16 Active Army and 8 Army National Guard to 18 and 10, respectively.

A significant aspect of the Army of Excellence was the strengthening of Ranger and Special Forces units to meet the challenge of low intensity conflict. In April 1987, the Special Forces was established as a separate Army branch.

In the newly designed Army of Excellence, TRADOC force designers reduced the heavy divisions to structures of approximately 17,000. The heavy divisions retained 10 maneuver battalions, but infantry squads and artillery crews went from 10 men to 9. Significant transfers from division to corps in field artillery, air defense artillery, and combat aviation left the divisions smaller with less organic combat power.

Though reduced in capability, the heavy divisions of the AOE were the constituents of a scaled-up heavy corps. The additions strengthened the corps, enabling it to fight the AirLand Battle with added power. The redesigned corps thus provided a more powerful fighting organization at the operational level of war. The AOE design of heavy divisions and corps moved Army tactical organization more fully into consonance with doctrine at the most significant level of organization.

Significant for the Army of Excellence in addition was the strengthening of Army Ranger and Special Forces units to meet the challenges of low intensity conflict in the unstable third world. Those additions included a third Ranger battalion and the organization of a Ranger regiment, and the addition of a Special Forces group. In April 1987, the Special Forces was established as a separate Army branch. Strong Ranger components were channeled into the new light infantry divisions.

The force designs of the 1980 Army were not without controversy. Primary criticisms of the light infantry division were that it was too light, lacked tactical mobility, and that its likely adversaries in the increasingly heavily armed third world would out gun, outmaneuver, and defeat it. But in the context of the more powerful corps to which it belonged, the AOE heavy division found general acceptance. There was recognition that the corps together with its divisions retained, as a unit, very strong combat power and that it constituted the right doctrinal answer.

Accompanying the debate of the light division was evolving support for the utility of heavy/light or light/heavy mixes of forces. Such mixes made good tactical sense where mission, enemy, terrain, troops, and time available - the "METT-T" considerations of doctrine - dictated the need and the wisdom of mixed forces.

Although to a degree open to criticism that it had overemphasized combat power at the expense of support units, the Army of Excellence met the twin challenges for which it was fashioned: The deterrent defense of NATO Europe in the final period and last challenge of the Cold War, and the provision of rapidly deployable light infantry forces for force packages needed to defend U.S. interests worldwide. Whatever the insufficiency in support units, the AOE that emerged was-in its training, advanced weaponry, war fighting doctrine, and organization -a professional Army of a high order attained by few armies in modern history.

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Page last modified: 05-07-2011 01:34:01 ZULU