Army on a mission to defrost from Cold War
- By Dan Verton
- Mar 19, 2000
The Army has a problem: The world and the nature of military operationshave changed radically, but the Army hasn't.
A comprehensive plan for change is in the works, according to Army leaders,who this month started a campaign on Capitol Hill to convince Congress thattheir "transformation" plan will indeed shift the Army from a Cold War footingto an Information Age posture that promises to enable the Army to get tothe fight faster, operate more efficiently, know what's happening on thebattlefield in more detail and become more lethal.
With a few exceptions, Army units remain organized and equipped to fightmassive land battles on the plains of Europe, where they once faced a formidableopponent in the tank-heavy forces of the Warsaw Pact. But with the WarsawPact now defunct and new threats popping up in places such as Somalia, Bosniaand Kosovo, the Army has realized that to remain relevant it must becomelighter, leaner, smarter and able to respond to crises more quickly.
However, the Army faces formidable budget hurdles before it can fundthe research and development that is critical to the plan's success. Likewise,with $4.5 billion in unfunded modernization requirements sprinkled throughoutits fiscal 2001 budget proposal, the Army also faces a daunting challengeon Capitol Hill.
At a March 9 hearing of the House Military Research and DevelopmentSubcommittee, Rep. Curt Weldon (R-Pa.) said although he is "encouraged"by the Army's "bold new transformation," he is "disturbed" by the fact thatthe Pentagon has earmarked only 16 percent of its $98 billion modernizationbudget to the Army.
Observers are asking if the Army can re-engineer itself to be able todeploy a brigade within 96 hours. When asked if it was possible given allof the plans' challenges, Army Lt. Gen. William Campbell, director of informationsystems for command, control, communications and computers, said emphatically,"Yes."
"Not only can we do it, we must do it," said Campbell, who last weekgave the keynote speech at the 2000 Army Directors of Information ManagementConference in Houston, Texas.
Information technology is a "fun-damental piece" of the Army's transformationplan, said Campbell, adding that a "vibrant reach-back capability" and asmaller logistics footprint will be hallmarks of the new force. And thatnew force is coming soon, with the first digitized division, the 4th InfantryDivision, scheduled to be fielded by year's end, followed by one brigadecombat team of the 1st Cavalry Division annually between 2001 and 2003.
But during congressional testimony this month, Lt. Gen. Paul Kern, themilitary deputy to the assistant secretary of the Army, submitted a moredetailed outline of the Army's transformation.
From a tactical standpoint, Kern said, transformation means digitizingthe existing fleet of combat vehicles and developing a new wheeled variantfor greater mobility. He said it means devising ways to incorporate unmannedaerial vehicles for imagery and reconnaissance. Transformation also meansdeveloping and fielding a tactical Internet that soldiers will link to throughthe next generation of digital combat radios and satellites, Kern added.
The Army also wants to enhance its ability to get to the fight quicklyand sustain itself, he said. The Navy and Marines have perfected this modeof operation with the Amphibious Ready Group and Marine Expeditionary Unit,which can operate ashore without resupply for 30 days or more. But for theArmy, a small footprint will require enhanced logistics command and controlsystems with real-time asset tracking, more robust communications equipmentat U.S.-based installations and highly trained soldiers, according to Kern.
The Army is hard at work trying to identify solutions to those challenges,including using modeling and simulation technology to test the new conceptsand lay the groundwork for future training systems. It also is installingGigabit Ethernet and other forms of high-speed communications links, aswell as new routers, switches and telephone lines at its installations worldwideto better support forward-deployed forces.
Distance and computer-based learning have also taken center stage inthe transformation effort. More than 300,000 soldiers per year are now ableto take part in the Army's Distance Learning Program through the World WideWeb or via CD-ROM.
"Rapid development and delivery of training is a crucial part of thisnew Army," said David Kriegman, vice president and director of Defense InformationSystems for SRA International Inc. "IT can help the Army manage a modular-basedapproach to training that will allow training to be assembled from existingcomponents based upon mission needs."
Despite the pace at which the Army is moving ahead on its computer-basedtraining, Campbell said, IT is still treated as an expense and not as aninvestment — a mind-set that must be changed, he added. "Battlefield digitizationhas to be a reality," Campbell said. "We need to be joint, and we need tobe network-centric. Being on par with our adversaries isn't good enough."