HUNTSVILLE, Ala. – A decade from now, the Army must be able to fight and win against large, sophisticated militaries at a moment’s notice anywhere in the world while maintaining the proficiency in low-intensity conflict it has perfected over the past 16 years, according to Secretary Mark Esper.
In his first address to the Association of the U.S. Army as the service’s senior civilian, Esper on March 26 laid out an incredibly ambitious vision of the service in 2028 when the investments his administration is making today will bear fruit.
“The Army of 2028 will be ready to deploy, fight and win decisively against any adversary at anytime, anywhere in a joint, multi-domain high-intensity conflict while simultaneously deterring others and maintaining its ability to conduct irregular warfare,” he said at the AUSA Global Force Symposium here. “The Army will do this through employment of modern manned and unmanned ground combat vehicles, aircraft, sustainment systems and weapons coupled with robust combined-arms formations and tactics.”
Many lines of effort, including but not only the establishment of the new Futures Command that will oversee modernization, will have to merge and succeed for Esper’s vision of the future Army to come true. If the plan works, the Army should gain or retain decisive overmatch of the Chinese and Russian militaries, which are making significant investment in military manning and modernization. Esper mentioned the two countries by name twice during his half-hour address.
During the tenure of just-retired chief Gen. David Perkins, Army Training and Doctrine Command (TRADOC) developed the operational concept titled Multi-Domain Battle in which the land-based Army operates in and attacks into the sea, air and space demands. Esper said that doctrine will be fundamental in transforming the Army to where it needs to be in 2028.
“Much like a transmission synchronizes inputs through gears and produces a stronger output, doctrine synchronizes the Army’s core functions to produce greater lethality,” he said.
The Army next year will form a “multi-domain task force” operating under Army Pacific that will serve as a prototype for how the service organizes, trains and deploys its formations for future high-end fights, Esper said. Ideas already in circulation include equipping more units with short-range air defense and cyber capabilities.
“Advancing our doctrine will be one of the major lines of effort we will push in the coming years,” Esper said. “A decade from now, our formations must be robust, agile and lethal. A decade from now, we must have overmatch in all battlefield operating systems, including EW and cyber.”
Unsurprisingly, Esper called for a larger Army than is currently authorized. The Army in its fiscal 2019 budget request called for an active force of 487,500 and a total service roster of more than a million soldier on active and reserve duty. Esper wants more.
“To meet the challenges of 2028 and beyond, the total Army must grow,” Esper said. “A decade from now, we need an active component above 500,000 soldiers with associated growth in the Guard and Reserve. We must focus on recruiting and retaining high-quality, physically fit, mentally tough soldiers who will deploy and fight and win decisively on any future battlefield.”
Soldiers must train for the high-casualty, lethal urban conflicts leaders expect them to encounter in future wars without breaking the service’s bank with expensive real-world practice, Esper said. Simulation, virtual reality and other “synthetic training environments” will never completely replace live-fire exercises at national training centers, but initial practice and routine proficiency work must be done to make the most of those high-dollar events, he said.
“The hallmarks of quality training have been consistent since the dawn of conflict,” Esper said. “It must be tough, realistic and dynamic and it must be frequent with sufficient repetition to ensure the Army of 2028 will be ready for the battlefields of the future.”
Training will renew a focus on high-intensity conflict with an emphasis on urban operations in electronically austere environments with no or limited communications and data, he said. That calls for the rapid expansion of the service’s synthetic training capabilities and deeper distribution of simulation capabilities down to battalions and companies, for which Chief of Staff Gen. Mark Milley made an empassioned plea at AUSA’s annual marquis conference in Washington, D.C., in October.
“It also demands that we stop doing things at home station, much of this non-statutory mandatory training directed from above that inhibits our readiness and lethality,” Esper said. Not online training and outside experts.”
Soldiers should expect to see more guidance on training from senior service officials in the “near future,” Esper said.
Of most interest in Huntsville is the announcement of Futures Command, which will take over the work of identifying, developing and purchasing new weapons, gear, vehicles and systems for the future Army. For an Army that has fought a relatively routine, low-casualty conflict against a relatively unsophisticated enemy over the past decade and a half but now finds itself at odds with China and Russia, modernization is a major priority.
“A modern Army must be well-equipped with the most advanced, capable and survivable combat systems industry can provide quickly,” Esper said. “A decade from now, preferably sooner, we will see our formations begin to field a variety of manned and unmanned combat vehicles, aircraft, sustainment systems and weapons.”
Future wars will require greater use of autonomous systems, robotics and artificial intelligence, technologies that promise greater capacity and capability at lower cost, more soldier protection and better survivability for individuals and platforms, Esper said.
Parallel to establishing Futures Command, Esper is hell-bent on reforming the traditional acquisition bureaucracy, optimizing it for speed and results instead of adherence to overly risk-averse regulations. That includes working more closely with industry, where much of the technological wizardry that used to happen inside the Defense Department is currently occurring, he said.
Esper listed nearly a dozen mantras by which the Army modernization and acquisition communities will begin to operate, including: “Cross-funcitonal teaming, unchanging priorities, best value, prototype to learn and refine, demonstrate to prove, fail early fail cheap, buy and adapt, product over process, preserve competition to drive innovation, incremental development and speed, speed, speed as imperative.”
“We will be looking to the private sector for solutions, not just a series of requirements to meet or [key performance parameters] to check off a list. We must not allow the perfect to be the enemy of the better.
“We view industry as partners,” he added. “We seek to do much more with the commercial sector and we are more than willing to buy and adapt equipment used by our sister services and allies. We view foreign military sales as a way to build partnerships and enhance interoperability with our allies, as a way to lower our own unit costs … but it also means we expect our vendors to deliver quality products on time and on budget.”