Army battles irrelevancy
- By Dan Verton
- Nov 14, 1999
Atlantic City, N.J.—Although the Army's latest plan to build lighter, leaner and more mobile forces relies heavily on information technology, the effort has nothing to do with breaking free of hulking tanks or creating a more lethal force out of an already lethal Army.
What the strategy really is about is reorganizing the Army so it can respond quickly to the types of crises that the Pentagon has found itself dealing with in places such as Somalia, Haiti, Bosnia and Kosovo. Because Kosovo demonstrated that the Army is not properly organized or equipped to be a "911 force"—like the role the Marines and the Air Force play—officials are betting on this lighter, more flexible IT-based force to help the Army escape the creep of irrelevancy.
When the Army's chief of staff, Gen. Eric Shinseki, first announced his new vision for reinventing the Army last month, he identified IT as a key component in the transformation. Shinseki is betting on a new generation of command, control, communications and intelligence systems to produce a more agile force out of a World War II-vintage Army that has been organized and equipped to fight land battles on the plains of Europe.
"The military instrument must be responsive," said Gen. John Keane, the Army's vice chief of staff, during the recent Military Communications Conference (Milcom) '99 conference here. The window of opportunity for decision-makers in Washington, D.C., to react to global crises is closing. Keane said the vision of the new Army must rest on the principle of being able to deploy anywhere in the world in 96 hours.
Keane said the Army plans to accelerate research and development programs in reach-back technologies, particularly in communications and logistics.
Commercial off-the-shelf technologies will enable "organizational conversions," Keane said, adding that by standardizing headquarters facilities, the Army will "make certain that they are capable of conducting split-based operations." Split-based operations describes the ability to command, control and sustain units remotely from a headquarters facility in the United States or aboard a ship.
Communications and logistics must be carried out correctly or "you're destined to fail" in any military operation, Keane said.
To enhance the Army's mobility through robust communications, the service plans to beef up its reliance on the Milstar constellation of communications satellites. Milstar satellites use sophisticated on-board computer processing capabilities and radio signal processing tools that provide jam-resistant communications for nuclear and tactical ground forces.
"The history of warfare is the history of technology," said Army Gen. John Coburn, commander of the Army Materiel Command. The Army, Coburn said, is working on IT-based "fort-to-port improvements" that will provide enhanced visibility of supplies and troops as they traverse the globe.
The goal of the Army's $1 billion logistics modernization program is "to make it so simple that you can use the same software that your home computer uses," Coburn said.
Anthony Valletta, vice president of C3I systems for SRA Federal Systems and former acting assistant secretary of Defense for C3I, said that the Army faces a balancing act when it comes to resources and modernization requirements.
"The Army has taken the deepest cuts out of all of the services over the years," Valletta said. "IT plays a critical element in order to make this whole thing work. That doesn't say that you want to run the Army from behind a PC, but it doesn't come cheap."
Shinseki is "more than a little discomforted that the Army didn't get to play in Kosovo," said Martin Libicki, a defense analyst with Rand Corp., referring to the Army's inability to get equipment to the fight when it was needed. "We really should be digitizing down to the PalmPilot. That's where you want to digitize the Army," he said.
John Pike, a defense analyst with the Federation of American Scientists, said that the Army's new vision is a battle to become relevant. "A country that has an air force that can deploy in days and win a war in weeks may not have too much need for an army that needs months to deploy."