America still needs us. That’s the fundamental message of the first top-level Army document to address the post-Afghanistan era. It’s a shot that will be heard round the Beltway in the coming budget wars.

“From Yorktown to Sadr City, the men and women of the Army demonstrated the ability to force terms upon our enemies when all other options failed,” writes Training and Doctrine Command (TRADOC) chief Gen. Robert Cone in the first paragraph of the first page of the new Army Capstone Concept, officially released today.

Actual and potential adversaries, a later passage warns, are learning “to frustrate America’s traditional advantages in firepower and mobility and more recent strengths in high-technology airborne systems for intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance, and strike.”

In other words, the Air Force and Navy may be great at long-range, high-tech attack; and in some cases — like Kosovo in 1999 — that may even be all you need; but when the going gets tough, you still need boots on the ground.

The Army also needs to get those boots there quicker, the Capstone Concept emphasizes. That’s a return to pre-Iraq War era’s emphasis on rapid deployment, which inspired the Army to create both its Stryker brigades and its since-cancelled Future Combat System, only to be back-burnered as the service struggled with counterinsurgency. Now the Army’s concepts and wargames increasingly examine “forced entry” and “early entry” operations, not just airborne infiltration by Special Forces and the 82nd Airborne Division but also operations from the sea — which makes some Marines uneasy.

[Click here to read the Army's rebuttal to the suggestion that it and the Marines are in competition]

The Capstone Concept only escalates this Army-Marine competition: “the joint force often has great difficulty getting capable Army forces to the point of employment in time to impact the joint fight,” it acknowledges, “[so] the Army will develop new formations trained for specific missions and contingencies and available as early entry forces for a variety of purposes.”
What exactly these new units will do, how they’ll do it, and where the money will come from is still very much up in the air. But what is clear is that the Army is not about to cede the rapid-deployment mission to the Marines.

This expeditionary emphasis makes the new Capstone Concept significantly different from the previous edition published in 2009, which was aimed mainly at an internal Army audience and emphasized intellectual and institutional “adaptability.” Besides the pledge to create new early entry forces, the new Concept also puts far greater emphasis on three important areas:

“cyber and electromagnetic warfare.” This emerging Army concept couples the brave new world of computer hacking and counter-hacking with a revival of the service’s atrophied Cold War competencies in radio jamming. It builds on new enlisted and officer career paths dedicated to electronic warfare, which were created in 2010 and rapidly growing ever since. The Army’s first-ever doctrinal manual specifically on “Cyber Electromagnetic Activities,” or CEMA, is now under review by senior officers.

“hybrid” wars against guerrillas, terrorists, and other non-state groups who acquire advanced weapons and combat skills once the monopoly of nation-states. This idea got a mention in the 2009 version of the Capstone Concept, but it has since become increasingly popular in the Army. Hybrid warfare it provides a plausible worst case scenario for ground conflict that simultaneously justifies not only preserving the service’s hard-won counterinsurgency skills but also reviving its traditional strengths in fast-moving armored warfare.

– “the human aspects of conflict and war.” While the 2009 Army Capstone Concept already emphasized human intelligence, cultural understanding, and skepticism about the ability of technology to transform the chaotic nature of war, the 2012 Concept takes it a step further.

The web and, especially, social media are accelerating “the tempo of human interactions,” it declares, while guerrilla and hybrid adversaries will hide from America firepower “in and around population centers.” Current Army thinking “does not fully account for many of the activities that build partners” abroad, a major emphasis of the administration’s new strategic guidance, and “current doctrine does not adequately address the moral, cognitive, social, and physical aspects of human populations in conflict.”

Finally, as Army thinkers have increasingly emphasized in the past year, the final purpose of military operations is not just to blow stuff up but to change how people act — ideally by reassuring allies and deterring adversaries without firing a shot, but if necessary by force. That, the Army emphasizes, is what it sometimes takes soldiers on the ground to accomplish when all the bombs and missiles have failed to change people’s minds, as they failed from the London Blitz to the US air raids on Hanoi.

So the 2012 Concept calls for the Army to elevate understanding and influencing human behavior to a “seventh warfighting function” alongside the currently codified six (mission command, intelligence, movement & maneuver, fires, sustainment, and protection). That’s more modest than an earlier idea to formalize a “human domain” as an arena of conflict co-equal with land, sea, air, space, and cyberspace, but it’s still a big step for the Army, which takes its written doctrine more seriously than any other service.

The new Capstone Concept hits a host of other issues, from institutionalizing the kind of “rapid acquisition” done during the last decade to emphasizing the Army’s relevance to Asia (a word that didn’t even appear in the 2009 document). The four key concepts, however, are cyber/electronic warfare, hybrid threats, influencing human behavior, and rapid deployment for early/forced entry operations.

The Army is still struggling to define its role in the post-Afghan War era, and it has not yet come up with a single coherent concept as powerful and succinct as counterinsurgency in the past decade or AirLand Battle against the Soviets in the 1980s. But the new Army Capstone Concept is, if not a great leap, at least a significant step forward.