Fifteen years of irregular warfare took a toll on the capabilities needed to defeat a peer competitor. So, when a recent RAND Corp. study prompted stunning headlines, it was nothing that the Army didn’t already know. Through war games and studies, the Army has sought to identify how best to align resources to address the current threat landscape.
by Lt. Gen. Michael E. Williamson, Lt. Gen. Joseph Anderson and Lt. Gen. John M. Murray
Gen. Mark A. Milley, the Army chief of staff, is famously blunt about his priorities—and the tension between them. Today readiness is indisputably his No. 1, but in a constrained fiscal environment it crowds out resourcing for end strength, infrastructure and modernization. In Milley’s words, “We are mortgaging future readiness for current readiness,” even as numerous studies and war games show that potential future conflicts with nation-states pose the gravest threats to our forces.
Strategic acquisition is especially challenging in this landscape. After 15 years of irregular warfare and a prolonged period of budget uncertainty, Army modernization accounts are down and resources are spread thin across equipment portfolios. Over this period, increasingly tenuous assumptions about the likelihood of certain contingencies, and an assumed reliance on air, sea, space and cyber superiority, guided choices to accept risk in investment accounts. Risk was also taken in future force development to pay for the readiness required to meet current demand for Army forces from our combatant commanders.
Yet new challenges from rapidly modernizing peer competitors have emerged that threaten our current forces and capabilities, even as demand for Army forces for combat operations, deterrence and global engagement continues unabated. These operational conditions pose concrete modernization questions: Which programs to increase or sustain? Which to reduce or cancel? What are the consequences to Soldiers, the industrial base, the other services? Should we stick to safe precedent or take a chance on sweeping technological change? How do we sustain and improve interoperability with allies and key partners?
To frame and address these decisions, the Army has acknowledged the need to better prioritize current and emerging threats, define the capabilities required to confront these threats, and direct its limited modernization resources accordingly. Luckily, much of the necessary work in all three areas is ongoing. Some of these efforts have already borne fruit, and the remainder offer promising new approaches or methodologies that could substantially improve our ability to modernize for the most demanding challenges the future force could face. While we don’t control our ultimate bottom line, we now have the means to better target modernization to achieve readiness today and tomorrow.
The headlines were jarring: “If Russia Started a War in the Baltics, NATO Would Lose—Quickly,” said one. “Russian Invasion Could Overrun NATO in 60 hours,” read another. The stories went on to report the results of a RAND Corp. study, released in February 2016, which revealed the vulnerabilities of the United States military and its allies if Russian forces were to invade the neighboring NATO member states of Estonia, Latvia or Lithuania: outnumbered troops, blocked and contested airspace, cyber interruptions and heavy casualties. While Russia could not sustain a protracted conventional war with NATO, the study concluded, it could achieve a rapid, localized victory that would force the alliance into an array of bad options.
While RAND sounded the alarm in public, the Army was already working behind the scenes to assess and adjust to the new global realities. Russia’s aggression in Ukraine in 2014 and 2015 prompted the Army to form the European Strategic Assessment Team, a cross-functional task force including experts from across HQDA staff and other Army elements that studied Russia’s actions and capabilities and offered initial recommendations. In 2016, the U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command (TRADOC) conducted the Russian New Generation Warfare study, which offered a deeper analysis of the strategic, operational and tactical challenges posed by Russia’s approach to hybrid conflict that mixes subversive and direct political and military tactics.
As new gaps in U.S. manpower, tactics and technology became apparent, senior leaders in the Pentagon ramped up troop levels and training in Europe to boost readiness and reassure our allies. But on the modernization side, the Army—having focused its modernization on the irregular wars of the past 15 years—faces a shortfall in critical capability areas like short-range air defense, long-range precision fires, counter-fire, electronic warfare and active protection systems for main battle tanks.
The challenge is not limited to Russia, though its annexation of Crimea and intervention in Ukraine and Syria have attracted the most attention. A series of studies, reports and war games conducted by the Army G-2, TRADOC G-2, Center for Army Analysis (CAA), TRADOC Analysis Center (TRAC), RAND and others have examined various scenarios involving China, North Korea, Iran, the Islamic State group and other terrorist groups. Each employed its own methodology, but all highlighted current and emerging capability gaps the U.S. could encounter if confronted with aggression on land, over water, with weapons of mass destruction (WMD) or through hybrid warfare.
The common thread—in the research findings as well as intelligence updates and observations on the ground—is the urgent need to adapt our modernization efforts to a different, and in many ways more challenging, environment. Societal, geopolitical, economic and technological forces are changing the character of war. The next 25 years will not be like the last. All forms of warfare are becoming faster, deadlier and more ambiguous, and they are expanding into new physical and virtual fields that will challenge our forces in all domains of warfare—air, land, sea, space and cyberspace.
After a decade and a half of developing the Army to deter regional powers like North Korea, fight insurgents in Iraq and Afghanistan, and conduct global counterterrorism missions, it is time to prioritize the capabilities necessary to deter and defeat technologically sophisticated peer military powers like Russia. Even if we do not fight a military peer competitor, we can expect to encounter their advanced equipment in the hands of their surrogates or customers. This will require big changes in how we build our force, and having the right analytic underpinnings will be important to prioritizing the necessary changes.
PRIORITIZING CAPABILITIES AND RESOURCES
To inform these decisions, we need objective answers to a few big questions: Do Army investment priorities match the highest-priority gaps and opportunities? How should the Army change its investments to address peer competitors? Are we building the right force for the future?
The most overarching of the Army’s recent efforts to focus modernization to deter and defeat peer adversaries is known as the strategic portfolio analysis review (SPAR). Consolidating several previously separate modernization forums, SPAR is a new annual review process that examines Army capabilities over a 30-year period, assesses cross-portfolio priorities and identifies investment and divestment opportunities. It divides programs into four “buckets” for recommendations to senior leadership: accelerate, sustain, reduce or divest. This information enables the Army to invest in the capabilities most critical for meeting our toughest threats, while taking risk or divesting in other areas that—while still important—are less threatening to the security of our citizens and our national interests.
A number of ongoing studies and efforts underpin this effort to better align our capabilities and resources against the prioritized challenges discussed above. For example, TRADOC’s Russian New Generation Warfare study identified modernization proposals based on deep analysis of a specific threat, and its annual capabilities needs assessment produces a detailed, prioritized list of capability gaps derived from analyzing a broad array of potential adversaries and conditions.
Analytical war games conducted by TRAC and CAA simulate prioritized threats, run multiple combat iterations under various conditions to identify critical capability gaps that impede the Army’s performance, and test the relative promise of proposed capabilities or technologies. CAA also conducts the annual Total Army Analysis, which informs demand for capabilities through a scenario-informed look at required Army structure. This year, the Army G-3/5/7 developed a prioritized list of capability shortfalls, gaps and opportunities that synthesizes the outputs of these and other efforts based on an analysis of operational demand and risk against a military peer like Russia.
A particularly interesting example is the strategy-to-resource prioritization (SRP) framework, a new tool developed in partnership between the Army and the RAND Arroyo Center. By combining realistic RAND war games with Army data and analysis, the SRP effort aims to explicitly link Army acquisition decisions to operational risk and likely strategic outcomes—and in the process, help focus resources on our most critical gaps and promising opportunities.
For example, in the event of a crisis in Europe, knowing how a certain electronic warfare technology could boost U.S. ground troops’ chances of survival against robust Russian artillery strikes would strongly argue for fully resourcing and even accelerating that program. Knowing how specific armored vehicle upgrades could protect commanders’ maneuver options in a European scenario would inform resource trades, such as how to scope and stagger those improvements for maximum impact.
To link outcomes to programs and vice versa, the Army and RAND team devised the SRP methodology, which breaks down strategy into operational tasks (e.g., command, strike, defeat, protect, sustain); then into critical capabilities (e.g., suppressing enemy air defense, managing electronic signatures). Within each capability, it identifies gaps and their severity: Could we lose a battle or campaign, suffer casualties, be functionally impaired? Then, to see what would close the gaps, an assessment of programs is produced that factors in performance, cost and risk, as well as current and future investments.
This framework is at the heart of an ongoing RAND study, “Prioritizing Army Programs,” which is currently delivering initial analysis to inform the program objective memorandum (POM) for FY19 through FY23. Initially organized by theater scenarios (such as a Russian invasion of the Baltics or a North Korean WMD threat), the analysis also incorporates informed assumptions on adversaries’ force posture and capabilities; the roles of U.S. services and allied partners; treaty obligations; posture and policy constraints; and other key variables in order to predict likely options and outcomes.
After receiving initial results in late 2016, the study team will add more scenarios, programs, capability gaps and analytic depth to inform POM decisions and longer-term strategic planning. Although we expect to have most of the results in hand by August, once the SRP analytical framework is fully established we can continue to refresh the data and undertake the right kinds of analyses to reflect new operational, fiscal and programmatic developments. The intent is not a static study but a “living” framework and way of thinking that the Army can leverage for years to come. The Army Rapid Capabilities Office, which reports directly to the secretary and chief of staff of the Army to expedite the fielding of critical combat capabilities, can also take advantage of the framework as it prioritizes opportunities to accelerate systems based on emerging threats and critical capability gaps.
For the first time in decades, the Army faces peer adversaries whose capabilities rival our own—and in some areas, simply exceed our capacity. We are well aware that we must make hard choices to close critical capability gaps in order to deter—and, if necessary, to win—the wars of the future. Given budget constraints, we must do this while balancing current readiness and end strength.
To protect our Soldiers and U.S. interests around the globe, it is our responsibility to make sure we apply our limited resources toward those areas where we have the most to lose—and therefore the most to gain. That’s why all of our Armywide prioritization efforts are so important. They allow us to better match resources to strategy and real-world operational risk, leading to more informed and defensible decisions on where to “place our bets” as we strengthen our Army’s readiness, today and into the future.
For more information, go to http://www.rand.org/ard.html.
LT. GEN. MICHAEL E. WILLIAMSON is the principal military deputy to the assistant secretary of the Army for acquisition, logistics and technology (ASA(ALT)) and director of acquisition career management. He has served in the Army for more than three decades. He holds a Ph.D. in business administration from Madison University, an M.S. in systems management from the Naval Postgraduate School and a B.S. in business administration from Husson College. He is Level III certified in program management and information technology.
LT. GEN. JOSEPH ANDERSON is the deputy chief of staff, HQDA G-3/5/7. He has served in the Army for more than three decades. He received his commission in the Infantry Branch from the U.S. Military Academy at West Point and holds master’s degrees in administration from Central Michigan University and in national security and strategic studies from the Naval War College.
LT. GEN. JOHN M. MURRAY is the deputy chief of staff, HQDA G-8. He has served in the Army for more than three decades. He received his commission in the Infantry Branch upon graduation from the Ohio State University and holds a master’s degree in national security and strategic studies from the Army War College.
This article was originally published in the January – March 2017 issue of Army AL&T Magazine.
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