Even as the Army’s senior leaders, active and retired, are agonizing yet again over the question of what kind of Army the American people want, the nation is beginning to get the Army it needs.
What the United States needs is an Army of sufficient capacity and capability that can deter a resurgent Russian military, counter advanced threats in the hands of nations and non-state actors in the Middle East and support the Joint Force in countering expansionist efforts by China.
There will be time for the Army to develop a grand strategy for the world we are facing, one that includes advanced vehicles, helicopters and weapons.
The challenge for the Army is to maintain a credible force structure while rapidly and relatively cheaply deploying systems to counter the emerging threat.
Operations in Crimea and the Ukraine show that the Russian army is back. It is demonstrating improved capabilities in tactical mobility, operational communications and even logistics.
Ukrainian forces were confronted by an array of new Russian systems and tactics. These included extensive use of cyber weapons and electronic warfare against command and control, massed artillery and mortar barrages directed by targeting drones, airmobile operations involving new generations of helicopters, advanced armored fighting vehicles, highly lethal and mobile air defense systems and even improvised explosive devices (IEDs).
Unlike past transformations of the Army such as the Pentomic division or the “Big Five,” this one is not being driven by headquarters and the massive acquisition commands. Instead, it is being driven by urgent operational needs flowing out of the combatant commands.
The Army is applying the lessons learned from more than a decade of dealing with thousands of urgent operational needs. It is seeking to get new capabilities that provide some level of improved performance over existing systems – the so-called 80-percent solution – at low cost while working on something better in the future.
For example, assessing the new Russian threat, the US Army Europe asked for a way of enhancing the lethality of its Stryker Brigade. The first answer was a new 30mm cannon. Rather than a massive new start program that might take a decade to reach fruition, the Army plans to have the new cannons deployed by 2018.
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