WASHINGTON (03/21/2000) - The U.S. Army has a problem: The world and the nature of military operations have changed radically, but the Army hasn't.
A comprehensive plan for change is in the works, according to Army leaders, who this month started a campaign on Capitol Hill to convince Congress that their "transformation" plan will indeed shift the Army from a Cold War footing to an Information Age posture that promises to enable the Army to get to the fight faster, operate more efficiently, know what's happening on the battlefield in more detail and become more lethal.
With a few exceptions, Army units remain organized and equipped to fight massive land battles on the plains of Europe, where they once faced a formidable opponent in the tank-heavy forces of the Warsaw Pact. But with the Warsaw Pact now defunct and new threats popping up in places such as Somalia, Bosnia and Kosovo, the Army has realized that to remain relevant it must become lighter, leaner, smarter and able to respond to crises more quickly.
However, the Army faces formidable budget hurdles before it can fund the research and development that is critical to the plan's success. Likewise, with $4.5 billion in unfunded modernization requirements sprinkled throughout its fiscal 2001 budget proposal, the Army also faces a daunting challenge on Capitol Hill.
At a March 9 hearing of the House Military Research and Development Subcommittee, Rep. Curt Weldon (Republican from Pennsylvania) said although he is "encouraged" by the Army's "bold new transformation," he is "disturbed" by the fact that the Pentagon has earmarked only 16 percent of its $98 billion modernization budget to the Army.
Observers are asking if the Army can re-engineer itself to be able to deploy a brigade within 96 hours. When asked if it was possible given all of the plans' challenges, Army Lt. Gen. William Campbell, director of information systems for command, control, communications and computers, said emphatically, "Yes."
"Not only can we do it, we must do it," said Campbell, who last week gave the keynote speech at the 2000 Army Directors of Information Management Conference in Houston, Texas.
Information technology is a "fundamental piece" of the Army's transformation plan, said Campbell, adding that a "vibrant reach-back capability" and a smaller logistics footprint will be hallmarks of the new force. And that new force is coming soon, with the first digitized division, the 4th Infantry Division, scheduled to be fielded by year's end, followed by one brigade combat team of the 1st Cavalry Division annually between 2001 and 2003.
But during congressional testimony this month, Lt. Gen. Paul Kern, the military deputy to the assistant secretary of the Army, submitted a more detailed outline of the Army's transformation.
From a tactical standpoint, Kern said, transformation means digitizing the existing fleet of combat vehicles and developing a new wheeled variant for greater mobility. He said it means devising ways to incorporate unmanned aerial vehicles for imagery and reconnaissance. Transformation also means developing and fielding a tactical Internet that soldiers will link to through the next generation of digital combat radios and satellites, Kern added.
The Army also wants to enhance its ability to get to the fight quickly and sustain itself, he said. The Navy and Marines have perfected this mode of operation with the Amphibious Ready Group and Marine Expeditionary Unit, which can operate ashore without resupply for 30 days or more. But for the Army, a small footprint will require enhanced logistics command and control systems with real-time asset tracking, more robust communications equipment at U.S.-based installations and highly trained soldiers, according to Kern.
The Army is hard at work trying to identify solutions to those challenges, including using modeling and simulation technology to test the new concepts and lay the groundwork for future training systems. It also is installing Gigabit Ethernet and other forms of high-speed communications links, as well as new routers, switches and telephone lines at its installations worldwide to better support forward-deployed forces.
Distance and computer-based learning have also taken center stage in the transformation effort. More than 300,000 soldiers per year are now able to take part in the Army's Distance Learning Program through the World Wide Web or via CD-ROM.
"Rapid development and delivery of training is a crucial part of this new Army," said David Kriegman, vice president and director of Defense Information Systems for SRA International Inc. "IT can help the Army manage a modular-based approach to training that will allow training to be assembled from existing components based upon mission needs." Despite the pace at which the Army is moving ahead on its computer-based training, Campbell said, IT is still treated as an expense and not as an investment -- a mind-set that must be changed, he added. "Battlefield digitization has to be a reality," Campbell said. "We need to be joint, and we need to be network-centric. Being on par with our adversaries isn't good enough."