WASHINGTON: Hey, you want Special Forces? The Army’s got your back. Want air defense Missile defense? Communications? Intelligence? Logistical support? Joint Task Force headquarters? Go Army!
Just — just please, don’t cut our budget any more, okay?
That was the subtext when Army Chief of Staff Gen. Ray Odierno spoke this morning at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, DC. But Odierno wasn’t playing defense: He also announced that the Army was standing up a new partnership with the Special Operations Command and the Marine Corps, tentatively named the Office of Strategic Landpower. Odierno didn’t divulge details, but the initiative is almost certainly about arguing the strategic relevance as ground forces in a counter-offensive, albeit a belated one, against the budgetary momentum of Air Force and Navy-led AirSea Battle Office.
“We have to implement the new DoD [Department of Defense] strategic guidance, in which the Army in my mind plays a critical role,” Odierno said, rebutting the idea that the “pivot to Asia” sidelines land-based forces. “I know there’s a lot of water out there in the Pacific, but they’re still land-centric [in most Asian countries]; the most politically influential service tends to be the Army,” Odierno went on. As for AirSea Battle‘s driving threat, China’s construction of layered defenses to keep US forces out of the region — what’s known as “anti-access/area denial” — “it requires a joint force,” he said. “You can’t achieve, in my opinion, A2AD with just air and sea.”
“Those who want to assume away the need for ground force capbility, I don’t agree with that,” Odierno said, “and I think that’s a dangerous road for us to go down.”
Certainly the Army has to “fight and win our nation’s wars,” Odierno said, repeating the service’s mantra of the 1990s. But America’s largest uniformed service has to do more than that, he emphasized, rattling off a long list of missions the Army performs for the benefit of all the U.S military before adding: “You have to look at it from a joint force perspective and not from a parochial perspective. As we reduce capabilities in one area, those capabilities have to be picked up by someone else.”
Above all else, what distinguishes the Army from the other services is that “the Army’s strength is operating amongst populations,” he said. The future force, he said, must “understand relationships between cyber and the human dimension and the land domain.”
How far the Army has come from the grumpy post-Cold War days of the 1990s, when the service seemed so nostalgic for big tank battles that its attitude to what it considered peripheral missions was summed up in the line, “we don’t do windows.” That hard line cracked in Afghanistan and Iraq, where counterinsurgency rose from a neglected sideline to the level of a major war. Today, having already taken 58 percent of the 2013 Pentagon’s budget cuts, the Army is now eager to make itself useful however it can.
“I want an Army that is capable of many missions, at many speeds, in many sizes, under many different conditions, and the capability to operate in any environment,” Odierno said at CSIS, a callback to his more detailed discussion of “tailored” forces at the Association of the US Army conference last week.
Asked about the traditional practice of sizing the force to handle worst-case conflicts, as in the long-cherished “two-war standard,” Odierno replied, “I could come up with a scenario that makes us build a million-man army, or I could come up with a scenario that makes us build a 100,000-man army.” Scenarios are just “a guideline,” the general said. “It’s about having the right capabilities to [do] what I call ‘prevent, shape, and win.'”
Odierno touched on a wide range of topics today, from the Army’s recruitment successes in a soft economy — “We’ve already recruited 30,000 for next year, which is half of our requirement,” he said — to the integration of homosexuals into the service since last year’s repeal of “don’t ask, don’t tell” — “It couldn’t have gone any better than it’s gone.” But his overwhelming emphasis was on reshaping the Army and its personnel to adapt nimbly to a post-Afghanistan world, where the largest service will have to justify itself as a jack of all trades.
People tend to measure the Army’s strength in terms of its brigade combat teams Odierno said, and “that’s fundamental to what we do, but people tend to forget about other parts of the Army that are so critical to how we support the joint force.” Consider satellite-based communications, for example: “We’re responsible for everything from the satellite on down to the ground station,” he said. “A lot of people don’t know that.”
“We also, in my mind, provide something that all the services can do, but we’ve had a lot of experience in it, and that’s providing JTF [Joint Task Force]-capable headquarters,” Odierno said. In other words, the Army may not be the frontline force in a trans-Pacific fight, but it can provide the vital infrastructure without which wars cannot be fought, from command and control to missile defenses to supply.
Odierno did not neglect the Army’s close-combat capabilities. His service needs to retain a balance of heavy armored forces, medium Stryker units, and light infantry, he said, implicitly dismissing proposals to slash the heavy brigades, which are best suited to major war. “There’s a baseline of combined arms readiness that we have to sustain, and that we have to get back to, frankly,” he said, acknowledging the post-9/11 erosion of the Army’s skills in force on force warfare after a decade of engaging in counterinsurgency operations. “That doesn’t mean we’re just going to train for the big war.”
But even Odierno’s plan for combined arms training sounds less like the Cold War’s Fulda Gap scenario than the “hybrid war” model advanced by one of his top advisors, retired Army colonel David Johnston. “It’s a joint, inter-[agency], multi-national environment,” he said of new training scenarios being set up at Fort Irwin, Calif. and Fort Hood, Texas, “[that] might require some combined arms maneuver but also has a touch of terrorism and criminality.”
“We don’t know how much that’s going to cost because we haven’t done it in so long,” he added, noting the Army’s long focus on preparing for counterinsurgency, but he expects that new simulation technology can help the Army get more training out of a smaller budget.
Such economies are essential, because Odierno emphasized over and over he wanted to avoid a “hollow force” and preserve “readiness,” i.e. training, in balance with “end strength” (Pentagonese for raw numbers) and “modernization” (research, development, and procurement of new weapons).
The downsizing is probably not over, noted CSIS moderator David Berteau.
“We don’t know; we’re all waiting for that,” Odierno answered, and nervous chuckles ran around the room. As everyone who scuttles around inside the Pentagon knows, the 2014 budget is being built as Odierno spoke.