Broadening the Army’s focus and skill sets is a priority as the Army looks past the recent wars and trains soldiers for what comes next, the commander of Training and Doctrine Command told Army Times.
Here are excerpts from an interview with Gen. Robert W. Cone in mid-October.
Q. What are some of the most critical skill sets that soldiers will need to fight and succeed in the coming years, and how is the Army prioritizing training and retaining soldiers in the postwar years?
A. We’re going to focus on the skills to put steel on target, and maneuver, but the challenge, I think, is the sophistication to understand the environment which we’re going to operate in. Just because you take away one set of capabilities from an enemy doesn’t mean that they’re going to capitulate. We’ve achieved a level of [cultural and historical] understanding in two areas of the world in which we’ve been fighting for the last 12 years, but we have to capture the methodologies by which we did that, and then prepare a force that if you were to go to Syria, if you were to go to Iran, if you were to go to Korea, [they could operate effectively]. It’s really about regional alignment. It’s about lining units up against parts of the world that we have to study.
Q. Can small units, who have spent a few weeks a year in a particular country or region, have that sort of effect?
A. You’re never going to get it all right, but if I can get the first four brigades on the ground in any of these places who have an understanding of language and culture, we’re not going to make the mistakes that we perhaps made in Iraq and Afghanistan in the opening phases of those wars. We have probably the most proficient counterinsurgency force that we’ve had in decades, and the first thing I think most of these youngsters would tell you — particularly those who have been through some of our Combat Training Center rotations — [is] that we are creating environments they would face in some of these countries that would require combined-arms maneuver. We’ve sort of specialized in a very narrow skill set these last 12 years and [we’re] broadening that focus and those competencies and exercising those full range of problems that a leader is likely to see on future battlefields.
Q. The Army has been working on a Strategic Landpower concept along with Special Forces Command and the Marine Corps, outlining ways that ground forces can coordinate training and maneuvers in the future. How are the discussions going?
A. [On Oct. 16] we had a meeting with [Marine Corps Commandant] Gen. Jim Amos, [Army Chief of Staff] Gen. Ray Odierno, and [Special Operations Command commander] Adm. William McRaven, where we sort of laid out the progress of the program and re-baselined where we are in terms of the way ahead. Now our work is really about assigning and discussing the specific roles of each of the services and SOCOM.
Q. The Army’s concept of the “human dimension” — understanding the human factors that go into an enemy’s decision-making about whether or not to fight, and how to fight, plays a major role in the Strategic Landpower concept.
A. Clearly, [war] is about a clash of wills between combatants, and understanding that ultimately you have to influence the human dimension. We have to make investments in the future to allow us that capability, and those are going to be expensive. I’m an armor cavalryman and, I’ll tell you, in my community, we didn’t put a lot of stock in that until the last 12 years.
But too often, we become mesmerized by technology. Let’s take this recent Syria discussion. We’re going to degrade someone’s capability to do something by applying technology. But then what? What happens next? How does that actor adapt? What does he do differently? One can make the argument that we certainly degraded Saddam Hussein’s capabilities in every way we intended to. The air defense system, the command and control, logistics, completely degraded his formations, and yet the clash of wills persists. They came back at us within months.
Q. There has been a lot of discussion about the exploding urban centers along the world’s coastlines, and the problem these tightly packed cities will pose to military operations. Similar to the fights in Mogadishu, Fallujah, and Grozny, but against an enemy with access to the latest communications technology.
A. One of the main focuses of our next war game will be to look at that environment and see what challenges it has for our current technologies and things we may want to invest in. Using an environment where technological advantage is essentially taken away because of the density of the human population, and the terrain requires a fundamental understanding of what we’re really trying to get after, which is the intent of a decision-maker.
Q. As the Army begins to look at the future operating environment, what sorts of lessons are the service’s leadership taking from the past 12 years of war in Iraq and Afghanistan?
A. The first thing is the importance of leader development. When we got into Iraq and found a situation that was very much different than what we had war-gamed, we basically had the ability — largely through our young leaders — to adapt to the environment. So what we must do [in the postwar years] is reinvest in leader development at all levels, but particularly junior officers, with an emphasis of education. As you know, we train for certainty, but we educate for uncertainty.
Q. After more than a decade of constant deployments where young leaders were given responsibility for everything from war fighting to managing local governance and relationships with local leaders, how can the Army offer them incentives to stay in as the force rotates home?
A. Once you’ve done this for real — interacted with another country’s army, achieved objectives in against the enemy — there’s another level of realism that our young officers and noncommissioned officers expect. Let’s talk about using regionally aligned forces to forge a closer relationship between our divisions, corps and brigades in areas of the world they’re likely to fight. Let’s make an intellectual commitment to say we’re going to study that area and dedicate our assets to develop knowledge and intelligence on a specific region in support of a combatant commander so they keep their head in the game.
Q. As threats around the world change, as technology advances and as society becomes more networked, how must the Army prioritize its skill sets to meet these challenges?
A. We think that [social media and communications technology] will increase the intensity and the magnitude of human interaction and we saw that in the Arab Spring, where a relatively isolated event was capable of having a tremendous effect. Is that going to be something that a handful of specialists can handle? We believe that it’s much more inclusive and, therefore, I think the exciting part will be TRADOC’s involvement with Army Cyber Command to better define the relationship between cyber and the other war-fighting functions by which we accomplish our goals. Do we believe that we’re going to see cyber capabilities on the ground to take advantage of smaller decision cycles in time and space? And do we need those resources in battalions and brigades? And how do we control those?