Preparing Today’s Military for Its Next Challenges

One of the hardest parts of transforming the military is the lack of a clear picture of the challenges it will face, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff said in a recent interview. “The transformation of the United States military (today) is to get us ready for what’s around the next corner,” said Air Force Gen. Richard B. Myers. “And this is difficult, because we don’t know what’s around the next corner.”

The chairman said that while the United States may not know specifically where the next threat will come from, “we know that the forces we came out of the last century with are not the forces we need today, or probably the forces we will need in the future.”

Myers credits the Goldwater-Nichols Act of 1986 as starting transformation in the military by forcing the services to work more closely together. He said the landmark law laid the groundwork for the success of today’s forces.

The global war on terrorism highlights the accomplishments and needs of the military. In Afghanistan, innovative ways of using air power and special operations forces embedded with indigenous forces were the key to defeating al Qaeda and the Taliban. Around 20,000 U.S. servicemembers continue to provide support to the Afghan government and to hunt al Qaeda and Taliban remnants in some of the most forbidding terrain in the world.

Operation Iraqi Freedom was the first “really integrated joint fight” in U.S. history, the chairman said. In the first Gulf War, the services were “deconflicted,” meaning the Marines were given a certain area, the Army another and coalition forces still another. In Operation Iraqi Freedom, the services depended on each other for combat power and support. In one instance, a Marine commander, serving under an Army commander, was in charge not only of Marine forces, but also British and U.S. Army units.

“Any unit making the approach to Baghdad relied heavily on airpower to be there at the right time, in the right place and with the right ordnance,” Myers said. It didn’t matter if the aircraft were from the Air Force, Navy, Marines or Army – all worked off a common knowledge base, common mission plan and were able to speak directly with the supported units on the ground.

But the military can do better, Myers said. Command and control is the area that will give warfighters the single biggest payoff. “We need to put efforts into command and control and link all players on the battlefield so information flows seamlessly between soldiers in foxholes and airplanes and tanks and ships and air defenses,” he said.

The joint task force commander should have the visibility of the battlespace and the tools needed to make changes in the plan quickly, Myers said. Right now, the Defense Department is ensuring that “legacy systems” – those systems already in use – can speak to each other. “If every commander in a joint task force – from platoon on up – sees the battlefield the same way, then they can very quickly apportion forces to get the job done,” the general said.

This flexibility and agility, Myers said, is key to new capabilities needed to defend against unknown threats. The U.S. military must be able to adapt quickly to changing circumstances. It must have the capabilities honed and ready when they are needed.

New technology plays a part, but only a part, said the chairman. “Technology can help you transform, but the real nuggets are how you employ what you have or how you develop systems that have inherent agility and flexibility and that aren’t single-purpose,” he said.

The bottom line, the chairman said, is that people are necessary for transformation in the military. Commanders cannot be threatened when subordinates have new ideas, but rather need to encourage new ideas and give subordinates the room and budget to try those ideas out, Myers said.

“We need people who say ‘I understand what the doctrine says, but the situation we’re confronting is quite a bit different, and here’s what I think we ought to do,'” the chairman said. “Most of this transformation will be cultural and will happen between our ears.”

From U.S. DoD

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