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Force Planning Considerations for Army XXI

Authored by Dr. William T. Johnsen.

February 18, 1998

55 Pages

Brief Synopsis

The U.S. Army has moved along the path of preparing for the 21st century. This process began with the conceptual examinations and assessments carried out under the "Louisiana Maneuvers" and the Army's Battle Labs, and matured through the Force XXI process. The Army recently completed its first series of Advanced Warfighting Experiments that will shape the redesign and restructure of the future force, Army XXI, for the early years of the new millennium.

While the broad outlines of Army XXI have been sketched out, many of the details remain to be filled in. Undoubtedly, these efforts will be influenced by the recent reports of the Quadrennial Defense Review (May 1997) and the National Defense Panel (December 1997). Indeed, debates over details of the force structure and the ultimate size of the Army are not likely to abate any time soon.

To assist in the further conceptual development, Dr. William T. Johnsen places Army XXI in a broad strategic context. He briefly examines the anticipated international security environment and the roles that the U.S. Armed Forces and the Army can be expected to perform. He then assesses a wide range of general factors that will influence the capabilities needed to carry out the anticipated roles. Finally, he examines general and specific criteria that can be used to determine the appropriate size of Army XXI.


The international security environment can be expected to remain in a state of flux through 2010 and beyond. Despite the greatly improved security conditions, residual risks to U.S. national interests will remain from the Cold War period (though not from the Cold War). New dangers have emerged (and more can be expected). Concomitantly, the absence of superpower confrontation has removed many Cold War constraints on the use of U.S. military power for other than vital national interests. The current scope and pace of operations, therefore, can be expected to continue or increase for the foreseeable future.

To protect U.S. national interests, the U.S. Armed Forces will continue to perform their long-standing roles of deterrence, compellence, and support to the nation. Because this performance of roles may vary from the experience of the Cold War, the consequences for Army XXI forces, the land power contribution to U.S. military power, could be significant.

Promoting U.S. national interests through shaping the international security environment also will become a major role for the U.S. military. While diplomatic and economic initiatives will play key parts, shaping the environment frequently will require the limited application of military power to achieve long-term U.S. goals of regional and international stability, improved economic climates, and increased democracy. The United States currently faces a window of opportunity—perhaps limited—where it does not face a global military competitor, and ongoing actions are effectively containing major regional competitors. It must take full advantage of this opportunity to shape the future international security environment.

To fulfill its multiple roles, the Army's force structure and design must provide the capabilities necessary to operate across a broad spectrum of conflict in peacetime, crisis, and war; to perform effectively throughout the full range of military operations; and perform successfully at the tactical, operational, and strategic levels of war. This broad range of capabilities also must ensure that the United States is not susceptible to asymmetrical counters that circumvent U.S. capabilities or attack perceived U.S. vulnerabilities.

The Army will have to generate these capabilities despite reductions in personnel and force structure beyond the significant cuts that have occurred in recent years. The triple demands of increased operational pace, reduced force structure, and constrained budgets will require the Army to undertake a significant revision of current force structures to prevent Army XXI from becoming a “hollow force.”

This restructuring also will be affected by the potential inherent in the “revolution in military affairs” (RMA). Whether the United States or others are on the brink of an RMA is an open question; but we must strive to apply as much improved technology, doctrine, and organizational change as possible to give Army XXI forces the greatest possible edge.

The RMA is not without its complications, however. For instance, the high costs associated with the development and procurement of technologically sophisticated weapons systems, equipment, and capabilities undoubtedly will strain a constrained or declining budget. Furthermore, planners must ensure that a focus on RMA-equipped forces does not lead to gaps in Army capabilities that could be exploited by an opponent.

Nor should planners assume that forces using high technology, precision, stand-off weapons systems will meet all demands across the conflict spectrum. Because of their focus on high technology precision engagement and high speed maneuver, RMA-type forces may be very good at deterring, punishing, and compelling. But, they may not lend themselves to effective employment in many peacetime engagement and stability operations, to include combat operations along the lower portion of the range of military operations. As a result, some force structure will have to be devoted to forces capable of performing these key missions.

This may not be easily accomplished, especially if costs to equip the RMA portion of Army XXI limit the amount of force structure available to perform missions along the midto low-intensity portions of the conflict spectrum. Alternatively, these costs could leave little funding available for peacetime engagement activities.

In developing its force structures, the Army will have to establish priorities on how it apportions its capabilities in the future. Forces primarily intended to perform deterrence and compellence roles may be equipped with high levels of RMA equipment. Forces largely expected to perform shaping and support to the nation roles could be equipped with older systems augmented with as much technology as possible. Eventually, these forces would receive full-scale fielding of RMA systems.

The fiscal inability quickly to equip all units to Army XXI standards will result in a hybrid force that contains some units with RMA types of equipment, while, perhaps, a large portion (at least initially) will be equipped with “legacy” systems of the current force. RMA-equipped forces must be able to operate in close conjunction with legacy systems to avoid creating gaps in capabilities that an opponent could exploit. Similar accommodations will have to be made to ensure that Army XXI units are capable of operating with allies and coalition partners.

Developing force structures for Army XXI also will depend on the relative success of shaping activities between now and 2010. If shaping activities largely are unsuccessful, then a greater proportion of force structure will have to be devoted to deterrence and compellence roles, and there may be little incentive to devote substantial effort to shaping activities. If shaping activities enjoy mixed success, then forces may be more evenly apportioned between the various roles. If shaping largely succeeds, then relatively more forces may be devoted to those activities.

As far as sizing Army XXI is concerned, the two Major Theater War (MTW) criteria will apply for the near term. It can be adjusted as conditions merit. While RMA capabilities may be able to reduce the size of forces assigned against the two MTW requirement, the costs associated with this fielding may not free up as much force structure for other roles as may be anticipated. This will affect the ability to spare forces to perform the shaping role in the immediate future. To meet these demands, therefore, may require a greater reliance on hedging forces as a risk management tool.

In developing Army XXI force structures, planners must be aware of the risks inherent in optimizing forces for either wartime or shaping roles. While the Army should opt for flexible forces that can be task organized for multiple missions, it should not go to extremes. It may be neither possible nor desirable to design the ultimate “Swiss Army Knife” of units.

Future requirements for Army XXI may require a fundamental overhaul of how the Total Army is structured and organized. Specifically, the Army may have to revise the current “Abrams Model” of the Total Force mix that relies significantly on Reserve Component combat support (CS) and combat service support (CSS) to support major, sustained Active Component operations. This may require substantial redesign of the U.S. Army Reserve and the U.S. Army National Guard, as well as the Active Component, to ensure an appropriate mix of capabilities, modernization, and readiness; for example:

• The Active Component's current mix of combat, CS, and CSS units may have to be realigned to provide greater Active Component CS and CSS capability to support more frequent and prolonged smaller-scale contingencies and shaping operations.

• The Reserve Components, particularly the Army National Guard, may have to go beyond current plans to convert heavy combat formations to CS and CSS units to generate the capabilities necessary to meet the anticipated increase in smaller-scale contingencies and shaping commitments.

• Financial constraints on funding highly advanced equipment may require a mix of Active Component and Reserve Component heavy combat forces to provide a risk management tool. These forces would have to be able to “swing” between support of RMAequipped forces in the deter and compel roles and the conduct of shaping and support to the nation roles. These forces also would have primary responsibility for foreclosing potential asymmetric approaches to U.S. RMA capabilities.

To accommodate all demands on future force structure capabilities will require Army XXI forces that are versatile (i.e., capable of operating effectively in peace, crisis, and war); flexible (i.e., can be employed in more than one role); and adaptable (i.e., possess multi-mission capable equipment and personnel that can adapt to rapid changes in roles, missions, and tasks). Only such a force will be able to protect and promote U.S. national interests, while limiting the ability of potential opponents to identify and exploit asymmetric challenges to U.S. capabilities.

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