CARLISLE BARRACKS, Pa. — After a decade-plus of fighting two wars with static “front lines” and mostly uncontested logistics and strategic airlift, U.S. Army war planners are trying to shock the system into thinking hard about other contingencies.
Specifically, the service’s Unified Quest war game that played out in February at the Army War College here posed the problem of intervening in a nuclear-armed state that had lost control of its nukes when the ruling regime collapsed.
The specifics of the game are classified, but the contours of the fight involved the intervention of U.S. ground forces in what one can categorize as a North Korea-like state. After fighting their way ashore, they must deal with a humanitarian crisis and a peer-caliber enemy once they get on the ground.
The game required “a degree of interoperability [among the services and civilian agencies] that pales in comparison to what we’ve undertaken over the past 12 years,” in Iraq and Afghanistan, U.S. Marine Corps Brig. Gen. Brian Beaudreault said.
“It was a much more contested environment across all domains than it is currently in Afghanistan,” Maj. Gen. Bill Hix, director of concept development at the Army Capabilities Integration Center (ARCIC) added.
One civilian working in the Global Force Management cell that was tasked with getting troops, their enablers and their equipment around the world said the key to establishing operations ashore was “strategic lift, prepositioned stocks and forward presence,” all of which are debated in Washington budget squabbles.
While the game is set in 2020 in order to simulate an environment in which the United States will have some of these capabilities available, Lt. Gen. Keith Walker, head of ARCIC, said the game is also envisioned as a way to flesh out what capabilities the Army will realistically need in the next fight.
Some of the keys to the fight, Walker said, will be precision fire that will allow soldiers to call in pinpoint strikes with little collateral damage, and a robust communications network. This aligns with current plans. Last fall, the Army networked the Paladin PIM mobile gun platform operating out of Yuma Proving Ground, Ariz., to the Network Integration Evaluation event at Fort Bliss, Texas, allowing soldiers to call in strikes from hundreds of miles away.
The Pentagon is “coming out of a period of adaptation” in Iraq and Afghanistan, where commanders and the defense industry were forced to react to the realities of the fight, Walker said. “Now, we’re entering a period of innovation” where the technological gains of the past decade will need to be refined.
The Unified Quest game also highlighted some capabilities the Army admits have recently been neglected. Specifically, the service is again preparing for a future in which its soldiers may have to fight through a chemical, biological or nuclear attack, or at least operate in a battlespace that has that capability.
“We’re in the same place with WMD [weapons of mass destruction] as we were in 2003 with counterinsurgency,” one participant in the Strategic Working Group discussion on Feb. 13 lamented. The service hasn’t spent much time thinking about the mission over the past decade of war, he said. (Defense News was invited to sit in on the proceedings, as long as participants were not identified to help ensure the unrestrained flow of ideas.)
The Strategic Working Group was a collection of high-ranking officers from the Army, Marine Corps, Navy and the State Department, complemented by a full roster of think tankers, strategists and representatives from Australia and the U.K.
The group spent most of a working day debating what the Army’s WMD mission should look like. Since it was their job to find as many nits to pick as possible, the proceedings were decidedly gloomy.
“The Army, much like counterinsurgency, has to own this,” another participant said, “because no one else has the capacity to do it other than the Army.”
Fundamental roles define the Army’s centrality to the WMD mission: It will be soldiers who will drive their Strykers up to the gates of a potential chemical or nuclear weapon site, and therefore they need the expertise to assess the situation and dispose of hazardous materials.
The problem is, the service has traditionally placed the WMD mission below other war-fighting jobs in terms of funding, prestige and importance.
“This is messy, expensive … and it’s time we deal with it,” one general said, asking rhetorically, “Is it time for us to adequately resource this mission?”
Given the priorities of fighting two decade-long wars, “we don’t have a culture of ownership for this mission set” another participant complained, since responsibilities reside under several commands.
While Strategic Command (STRATCOM) has been given authority to act as the lead combatant command for synchronizing the Pentagon’s global WMD efforts, another leader at the roundtable complained, “we don’t have a single point of contact” that can pull together all of the interagency partners to work on the issue. The Army doesn’t seem to embrace this sort of activity across its organization,” they said.
Army Chief Gen. Ray Odierno has actually emphasized the counter-WMD mission for some time, and has publicly stated that he wants to enhance the relationships between Special Operations Forces and Big Army that were developed in Iraq and Afghanistan in order to combine their WMD knowledge.
The Army and SOF have held a few joint training events over the past year, and Odierno said last year, “In the future I would foresee us doing a rotation that deals with WMD specifically and how we might deal with that and what the different scenarios might be.”