Getting the US Army’s Future Right: Critiquing a TRADOC Perspective


2014-01-28 By Ed Timperlake

No one doubts that landpower remains a key element of the strategic calculus.  The question is what type of landpower makes sense for the United States in dealing with 21st century challenges?

Is it the USMC approach to a three-dimensional enabled ground warrior or is it a COIN warrior without air enablement?

And answering this question is not simply a look at the future but a look at the recent past.  The COIN efforts in Iraq and Afghanistan have ended with the US unable to negotiate a status of forces agreement or any real working relationship with Iraq.  If COIN was so successful in winning the “hearts and minds,” why is being kicked out the reward for mission success?  And now the current Afghan leader seems to be following the same template of “success” for COIN in Afghanistan.

The services, which provide for ground forces set up a working group to think through the future of landpower.  In early 2013, the USMC, the U.S. Army and the Special Operations forces stood up a strategic landpower task force.  The purpose of the task force has been to look at likely operational scenarios and core needs for the land forces in the decade ahead.

"Strategic Landpower is not a strategy, it's an operational concept," says Gen. Robert W. Cone, commander of the U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command as he speaks at the AUSA Aviation Symposium Jan. 15, 2014, in Arlington, Va.
“Strategic Landpower is not a strategy, it’s an operational concept,” says Gen. Robert W. Cone, commander of the U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command as he speaks at the AUSA Aviation Symposium Jan. 15, 2014, in Arlington, Va.

The Terms of Reference or TOR for the Task Force underscores that “many would prefer to fight future conflicts primarily with standoff technologies and weapons.  If warfare were merely a contest of technologies, that might be sufficient.”

The TOR for the task force focuses on the role of landpower in providing key tools for operating in the “human domain” in overseas operations.  “The Army is the Nation’s principle land force.  The Marine Corps is an expeditionary force in readiness within the Nation’s maritime force.  Special Operations Command possesses a core competency for effectiveness within the human domain through its pervasive interactions with foreign partners and its ability to consider the importance of human dynamics in all operations.”

The architects of the task force have teed up a couple of key areas of significance in rethinking the role of land power in the period ahead.

One of these is their role in HA/DR operations and the follow on effect from such engagement.  “In the modern environment, the need to conduct large-scale aid and consequence management mission, both within the United States and internationally, is certain to grow.  Army, Marine Corps and Special Operations Forces continue to provide crucial aid to Americans in distress at home, and all people in need around the world, regardless of affiliation….Moreover, as a result of globalization and specialization within the global supply chain disasters that once only had a local impact can now systemically threaten the global economy.”

Another example is meeting the Chinese challenge in the Pacific.  “As tensions mount, many of the nations threatened by China’s rise are looking to the United States to “balance” China’s growing military power in the region.  The Air Force and Navy obviously have a crucial role in this arena, both as a deterrent to aggression and in military engagement.  Still, those efforts must be complemented by forward engaged and creatively employed Soldiers, Marines and Special Operations Force, as it signals a high level of American commitment to its partners and allies.”

So the mandate was to think about “ground” forces within the context of 21st century conditions in which they would play a role, but not the determinate role in a world characterized by the need to operate rapidly, insert power and withdraw as makes tactical and strategic sense. It was about how landpower fit in in the post-Iraq and Afghanistan contexts and not how the future was reduced to the COIN of the past few years.

Apparently, the head of TRADOC missed the context, and simply argues for maintaining a large mobilized Army because it is strategically necessary to do so, regardless of context, or circumstances.  General Robert W. Cone, the commander of TRADOC, decided to use the opportunity of launching the landpower concept to go after those doing power projection.

The task force was formed partly to counter critics who believe “precision strikes” by air and sea power can win a war without boots on the ground.

“While human beings transit air and transit sea, they live on the land,” Cone said. “And so your strategic outcomes are going to take place on the land.”

Note that role of air and naval power is reduced to transiting, presumably the US Army to the objective area, where then strategic outcomes are determined.  Apparently, the USAF is the Fed Ex for the US Army and the USN is the Maersk for the US Army in SUPPORTING the US Army. 

General Cone is a very senior U S Army General in a very important prestigious command. In his command of TRADOC he is taking stewardship of defining the future of the US Army. Consequently his words, reflective of “Big Army” thinking, have to be looked at in the context of real world consequences.

Beside the rather snide implication of identifying the USAF as a global “American Airlines”, and the US Navy as either a fleet of cargo ships or cruise liners he is factually wrong.

The historical record on strategic warfighting and war winning especially in Pacific wars show otherwise.  WW II in the Pacific- was ended by the Enola Gay and thereby saving 1 million American combat lives. On Naval Sea Power contributions to achieving victory in the first major war of the 20th Century, the Russo-Japanese War was won at sea with the historic Japanese Navy victory in 1905, at the Naval Battle of Tsushima.

Additionally, the Vietnam War ended badly in 1975, but airpower ended the US combat role with the 1972 stopping of the NVA “Easter Offensive” and the USAF and Navy Air going “downtown” over Hanoi in the Christmas bombing. Landpower had nothing to do with wining those two major combat engagements.

It must always be remembered that the absolute brilliantly executed US lead Air Campaign in Desert Storm allowed for a landwar of exactly 100 hours to achieve all objectives, declare victory and leave.

However If Big Army wants to support, equip and train a force to win in the Pacific against PRC on the land then they must make the case to the American people to build US Army land forces to march into Beijing, if not get out of the way and let the Air/Sea Battle lay down a strategic doctrine of:

  • PLA fights “feet wet they all die;”
  • NORKs attack and are immediately decapitated.

It is time to let the American people decide which services have the better grasp of 21st Century National Security capabilities and objectives. And also one must not forget how really to forge a huge and significant pre-conflict “signal” of US Deterrence.

Simply put what force has a better deterrence message–USAF/USN/USMC (afloat) in support of our Pacific allies–or Big Army planning for a Normandy invasion of the PRC.

If “Big Army” wants to emphasis SOF all well and good.  If “Big Army” cannot make the public case for a large standing force to invade China or even perhaps Iran with “combined arms maneuver” then downsize appropriately to a “Little Army” SOF mission and put enough “Big Army” in the reserves.

Although, to be very fair and unmentioned by General Cone, Army Air Defense Artillery (ADA) can be a major contributor to the Pacific Pivot-Air/Sea Battle.

Some decisions have already been made, Cone said. Special Operations has been added as an Army competency.

“You’ll have combined arms maneuver, you’ll have wide-area security and you’ll have special operations,” Cone said.

Finally he introduces words that make no sense but appear to well on the way to becoming an insider signal of profound wisdom– human terrain mapping.

“Is there a human domain” in warfare? Cone asked.

“But he said 12 years later, after tours in Iraq and Afghanistan, he’s the biggest advocate of what the Army has learned about human terrain.”

Unfortunately General a simple question is; how is Big Army and TRADOC  “human terrain mapping” working out with President Karzai?

One should remember that Cone was the CG during the Fort Hood massacure in 2009.  Lt. Gen. Robert W. Cone was Commanding General of the Army’s III Corps at the time. One could ask how well did human terrain mapping work out within the US Army and Major Hanson, a self-identified   “Soldier of Allah”? Lt. Gen. Cone ruled out terrorism and allowed the attack on his soldiers to be classified as “work place violence”.

“War is fundamentally a clash of human wills,” Cone said. “Technology is secondary.”

This is perhaps the ultimate absurd denigration of the US way of war. Two things are always assumed in the ethos of America, physical courage in all our service members and the very best weapon technology and tactics and training will be made available.

General how would a Roman Legion do against the USMC 2nd Marine Division in combat?

This is the first of two part article on the Future of the US Army.

See also the following: