Regionally-Aligned Brigades: There's More to This Plan Than Meets the Eye

A recent announcement by the Army to begin regionally aligning brigades with each of the six combatant commands is certainly an innovative idea.  There is, however, more to this initiative than simply pairing up units with specific regions.  While each aligned unit will undoubtedly benefit from the language and cultural training gained to better execute their respective missions, issues of how enablers will be used, the lack of an adaptive personnel system to accompany the effort, the threat of recidivism towards "unit favoritism," and a distinct lack of training focus are all critical issues that require further thought if this concept is going to succeed in the future.

Background

This past March, the Army Chief of Staff, General Ray Odierno, announced a daring new initiative to begin aligning brigades with each of the six global combatant commands (GCC).  This plan will allow Army units from the total force − the active, Reserve, and National Guard components − to better support the needs of each combatant commander.  At the same time, it promises to generate individual soldiers and organizations who are better trained for specific regions of the world.  Wishing to maintain an expeditionary mindset gained throughout the past 10 years of war, leaders are looking to capitalize on the recent success of the Army Force Generation (ARFORGEN) cycle of reset, retrain, and deploy.  This sequence has proven critical to providing trained and ready forces to both Iraq and Afghanistan.  Aligning brigades on a regional basis is an option the Army is examining to see how the post-war service can better organize itself to deliver the "best capability it can to combatant commanders," said U.K. Colonel Andrew Dennis, an exchange officer assigned to the Army's G-3/5/7 office.

Driving this initiative is a combination of the newly published Department of Defense (DoD) Strategic Guidance - signed by President Obama in January - and the omnipresent budget cuts looming over every Pentagon planner's head these days. "Additional skills such as language and cultural studies would be added to a unit's normal training," Dennis said. Additionally, as General Odierno noted, "the regionally aligned forces concept will be especially important in the Asia-Pacific region as we move forward, home to seven of the world's 10 largest armies." In March of Fiscal Year 2013, a brigade from the Army's 1st Infantry Division will be the test bed to begin performing tasks in support of U.S. Africa Command (AFRICOM).  Two more brigades could be on the hook for regional alignment by Fiscal Year 2014.

Benefits of Regionalization

Few would argue that this inventive initiative is, in fact, a bad idea.  As General Odierno stated in a self-published article on Army Live, the official blog of the U.S. Army:

We have learned many lessons over the last 10 years, but one of the most compelling is that - whether you are working among citizens of a country, or working with their government or Armed Forces - nothing is as important to your long term success as understanding the prevailing culture and values.

Regionally aligning forces is a good approach for addressing the challenges of an uncertain global security environment.  Having such a focus at the brigade level will undoubtedly result in the identification and ongoing resourcing of the proper training to sustain language and cultural awareness proficiency.  This training, if properly resourced and learned, will become second nature to aligned units, thus improving operations, planning, and host nation partnering.  Furthermore, soldier proficiency in language and culture can be immense combat multipliers - some might argue that these skills have even more value than the latest weapon or vehicle platform.  Such specialization will allow for training that improves unit operational effectiveness beyond what their generic Mission Essential Task List (METL) can provide.  The criticality of maintaining these skills is probably the largest lesson learned in both Iraq and Afghanistan over the past 10 years.

Regionally aligned forces will also inevitably reduce the cost of forward deploying or basing soldiers and families overseas in support of security and partnership operations.  This will result in greater stability for troops at their home stations, a goal the Army has sought to achieve throughout the past 10 years of continuous combat operations.  A great example of this is the current plan to reduce the number of combat brigades in Europe from four to two, while at the same time using US-based units to rotate in and out of theatre to partner with host nation and foreign militaries.  While this benefit might result in more frequent short-duration deployments, Army families will enjoy greater stability, predictability, and quality of life in the long run.  Such a plan will also positively impact soldier retention, a significant concern for senior leaders as the Army begins to draw down over the next several years.

Finally, an initiative to align forces regionally will allow the Army to regain its pre-9/11 focus on areas of historical or anticipated instability and strategic significance.  At the same time, senior leaders will be able to leverage partner resources to extend U.S. operational and strategic reach across the globe.  AFRICOM's handling of security operations over the past few years is an excellent example of this.  The effective use of its own limited resources, while leveraging partner resources, to execute its operational objectives is a demonstrated model for future success.  This is proven especially true when one compares the amount of resources provided to the Central Command (CENTCOM) theatre of operations at same time.  Regionally aligned forces would undoubtedly assist both AFRICOM and Southern Command (SOUTHCOM), two of the less critical GCCs at the moment, to better execute their respective security cooperation missions.

Potential Problems

While the benefits of this plan are certainly numerous, there exist several potentially critical pitfalls that, if not addressed, could ruin the initiative over time.  The first of these problems is the integration of enablers from both modular support and functional brigades.  Due to their limited availability in the force structure, the capabilities in these units are pooled in order to enhance flexibility to meet "big-Army" requirements.  Modular support brigades (i.e. sustainment, fires, combat aviation, battlefield surveillance, and maneuver enhancement) with functional brigades (e.g. civil affairs, engineers, military police, signal, medical, etc.) are traditionally theatre capabilities assigned at corps and division level.  The problem is there simply aren't enough of these units to commit them regionally while at the same time satisfying ongoing contingency operation requirements.  While combat brigades can be regionally aligned without running out of units to cover the spectrum of demand, support and functional brigades would have to operate on a rotational basis, thus forfeiting the benefits offered by habitual relationships. 

As any combat leader can attest, these units can have a critical impact on security-specific mission outcomes.  Their unique capabilities tend to be very popular with local governments, and each unit typically conducts a wide range of missions over a vast geographic area, coming into contact with a large portion of the population regularly.  This is all the more reason such units should receive as much or even more region-specific training than the average combat brigade.  In essence, the nature of every region dictates a comprehensive review of the proper force mix.  Consider the differences needed in sustainment operations between Iraq and Afghanistan alone - two combat zones under the same GCC that require very specific capabilities.  To address this issue, support and functional brigades must either be scaled accordingly and made organic to corps and divisions, or additional capacity in each of these unit types must be built into the force structure to accommodate their inevitable increase in demand.

A second potential pitfall is the lack of an adaptive personnel system to accompany regional alignment.  Over time, it makes little sense to train a soldier in a specific language and culture, only to have him or her move to a new unit aligned to a different region shortly thereafter.  Prudent leaders understand that language training alone is costly, time consuming, and an extremely perishable skill.  These constraints beg the question: will the Army ever encourage home-steading within units to retain the regional expertise and personal relationships built by soldiers during their tours in aligned units?  With stark budget cuts on the horizon, one way to save funds might be to curtail soldier rotations between units of different alignments.  Assigning soldiers and rotating them among similarly aligned units could significantly diminish the training resources needed to sustain this type of force.  To achieve this, the Army must adjust the current personnel system to encourage retention within units and facilitate assignments of personnel based on individual language and cultural skills.  However, this change, which could also offer additional stability to families, must be accomplished in such a way as to not afflict a soldier's opportunities for promotion over the course of a normal, lengthy career.

A third problem is the possibility of reverting back to a tiered Army, as seen in the pre-9/11 days, where units that support Pacific Command (PACOM) or CENTCOM receive the bulk of available funding.  Those who served in the Army prior to the most recent conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan might remember this very vividly - select units received the majority of funding and new equipment, while other units were left with the vestiges of the defense budget.  The Army must ensure that all available funds, as well as the modernization of equipment, continue to be distributed evenly among all units.  This holds especially true since no one can predict exactly where the next major conflict will come from.  One possible solution is to use pre-staged theatre provided equipment (TPE) for each GCC, as is being done in EUCOM and CENTCOM today.  By doing this, aligned forces will already have modern and working equipment available for their use in the event of an emergency.  Using this method might also account for the difference in equipment sets required for each region.  For example, units aligned with a mountainous region covered by thick jungles might require a vastly different equipment set than a unit aligned with a region that is dominated by flat, open deserts. 

The final and possibly most important pitfall is the lack of a clearly defined mission and training focus to accompany each regional alignment.  There is a big debate among military scholars and practitioners today if units should be built with a specific Combined-arms Maneuver (CAM) (previously known as High Intensity Conflict [HIC]) or Counterinsurgency (COIN) training focus, or a more generic Full Spectrum Operations (FOS) training focus.  According to the most recent doctrine, the Army has officially adopted FOS as its operational concept.  This framework uses a determined balance of offensive, defensive, and stability operations, and is said to cover all aspects of conflict, including both CAM and COIN missions.  However, critics argue that units cannot train and conduct both well - at least not well enough to be successful in combat. 

To understand this argument, one must look no further than the mission-specific COIN training that units received prior to deploying to either Iraq or Afghanistan.  As FM 3-0 states, "For maximum effectiveness, stability and civil support tasks require dedicated training similar to training for offensive and defensive tasks.  Commanders adjust their emphasis by developing their core mission-essential task list." The problem is that, at least for some regions, the Army can expect all units to conduct each sub-set of FSO, but in reality peacetime readiness quickly hits a ceiling of effectiveness.  Units who take this approach to training will eventually require specialized pre-deployment training in order to increase their preparedness in either CAM or COIN operations prior to a deployment.  FM 3-34.2 notes, "Based on the mission, one type of operation may predominate.  Commanders must shift to the predominant type of operation based on the current situation." The drawback to such specific training is that regionally aligned CAM/COIN units essentially become extra-specialized, which is a plus for effectiveness but an obvious drawback for flexibility.  Most tacticians would agree, however, that CAM operations are less sensitive to regional differences when compared to COIN operations.  A CAM-focused combat brigade that can destroy a tank regiment in Korea can destroy a tank regiment in Southwest Asia.  Conversely, COIN operations are highly sensitive to cultural differences, so regional alignment is critical to success for a COIN-trained brigade.  As a result, focusing these types of units in both region and mission has a tremendous payoff in the event of an incident in that area.

So, just as was seen in the "enabler pitfall" above, a comprehensive review and definition of the mission and force mix for each region is critical to ensuring preparedness and future success.  If necessary, it is always possible to shift CAM-trained units to new regions since their mission type is less sensitive to cultural and linguistic differences.  Similarly, since COIN operations typically follow CAM operations, there will usually be a natural time buffer to transition CAM-trained units to a COIN-focus within a single region, especially given they will already have the necessary language and cultural training within their existing skill sets.

Conclusion

The decision to align brigades with each of the global combatant commands is inarguably a good one.  Benefits such as improved operations, planning, and partnering resulting from cultural and language proficiency, as well as decreased cost in overseas security operations, and a more refined focus on areas of strategic significance are just some of the bonuses of implementing such a plan.  However, the training and use of enablers, the lack of an adaptive personnel system, a threat toward "unit favoritism," and the lack of a clearly defined training focus are each potential pitfalls that, if not addressed, could result in the long term failure of an otherwise excellent idea.  The Army is on the right path to strategically align its units to best support combatant commanders, but it owes it to itself and its soldiers to make sure that this plan is well thought through prior to full implementation.

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Comments

The author brings up a few good points regarding the benefits of regional alignment in the article. However, here is another one to add to the discussion.

Regional alignment is another way for the United States to utilize the military means to build partnerships and reassure allies throughout the World. With the end of operations in Afghanistan rapidly approaching and the implementation of sequestration, the DOD is facing a dramatic decrease in budgets in the coming year. Additionally, as U.S. attention shifts to the Pacific the importance of the Air Force and Navy will increase as our military leaders develop and implement AirSea Battle to combat growing anti-access and area denial (A2/AD) capabilities. As a result the Army will likely receive a smaller part of the budget in order to increase and improve the capabilities of the Navy and Air Force. Regionally aligning the Army is a way to maintain relevance in the face of AirSea Battle and diminishing budgets. By conducting multi-national exercises with land force centric partners and allies in the Pacific, the Army can contribute to AirSea Battle by coordinating with allies for improved security and forward basing options that A2/AD capabilities would otherwise deny to the Air Force and Navy.

I agree strongly with the first sentence of your 2d paragraph.

"Regional alignment is another way for the United States to utilize the military means to build partnerships and reassure allies throughout the World."

Our efforts are directed at winning the peace or staying in Phase 0, and of course as all good militaries do preparing for crisis should that fail. It would be interesting to shift the conversation from justifying budgets by tying the Army to the Air-Sea battle concept (though the argument made is sound), to how the Army will help win the peace in Phase 0. Exercises are certainly a part of the answer, but more specifically what is the purpose of the exercises? What else can the Army do?

From the article: "A second potential pitfall is the lack of an adaptive personnel system to accompany regional alignment. Over time, it makes little sense to train a soldier in a specific language and culture, only to have him or her move to a new unit aligned to a different region shortly thereafter."

When he was the Army Chief of Staff, GEN Peter Schoomaker suggested an initiative to keep soldiers at duty stations for longer periods of time. The impetus behind that initiative was, in part, to reduce the number of soldiers at any given time who were unavailable for service because they were in a Permanent Change of Station (PCS) status. For a number of constraints or reasons Schoomaker’s initiative of reducing soldier moves and increasing time on station has never materialized.
Given the current budgetary constraints perhaps its time to revisit this concept of keeping soldiers at one station.

When is the brass going to stop toying with force structure? Good heavens if they can't, can we at least leave the names the same? Change is not always good, nor always bad, it is constant. But it has a time and place. We are in such a hurry to get back to Garrison Operations (ie wasting time) and full spectrum ops, even though my bookie in Vegas tells me the next one will probably be much like the last couple we have to train for the Fulda Gap instead of what we will spend 99% of our time really doing.

To follow the Army Special Operations model of aligning forces to specific geographic regions will be a costly and unnecessary undertaking for conventional force brigades. Instead, brigades should continue training individuals to fight their core competencies and be ready to conduct Full Spectrum Operations (FOS) in any particular region.

Within the SOF model, language selection and proficiency maintenance is a problem set which takes great care to manage. First, SOF personnel must take the Defense Language Aptitude Battery (DLAB) in order to identify which language, if any, a Soldier is capable of learning. Next, the Soldier attends one of the Defense Language Institute facilities from between five to eighteen months depending on the language. Students must pass their courses by taking the Defense Language Proficiency Test (DLPT) and score enough to reach a general proficiency level for the particular language. Soldiers must then maintain their languages and take the DLPT annually for the remainder of their careers. Is this a feasible undertaking for conventional forces? The DLAB already has a low pass rate. How can every Soldier in the army be trained and reach a proficient level in a language in a standard time if they don't have the aptitude? Too much money is required to develop and maintain language training for those who already have the aptitude for training. To believe that we could train every Soldier to a general working proficiency through their tour of duty in a particular assignment is a complete lack of judgment and will lead to wasting millions of dollars.

It should also be learned from recent SOF history, that if we are thrust into a long, protracted war, regional alignments will dissolve and retraining into the respective area of conflict will have to occur. Each SFG had to give up their respective language and culture comfort in order to relieve the primary SFG (3rd and 5th) as the Afghanistan and Iraq wars went past the SFG's ability to sustain itself. Conventional forces saw their fair share of this rotational double-up as well. Most of the active army brigade combat teams had multiple tours into the middle east. If a certain brigade's primary region is China and they deploy to Afghanistan multiple times within a short period, what will it cost to retrain these conventional Soldiers to their primary language/culture set? How will the new ARFORGEN model be able to ensure that all "allocated" (not assigned) units are trained in the particular area that they will be deployed in? It can't. There will be a point when un-aligned units will have to deploy to a theater where they have no language or culture proficiency.
Once a unit receives a certain mission set, they can begin regional specific training at their pre-deployment training center and be reinforced with cultural experts and linguists already in the army inventory. Let's leave the mission of building regional partnerships to the SOF experts and GCCs that are already performing the mission superbly.

***The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not reflect the official policy or position of the Department of the Army, Department of Defense, or the U.S. Government

MAJ Mason Moore
CGSOC 12-003

Regionally aligned brigades ARE more than meet the eye-- there is more than just language and culture. Also, the idea is not all that new.

When I was a brigade planner back when brigade planners were pre-command Captains and before the Army was committed in Iraq and Afghanistan, my brigade had the mission to "round-out" 2ID in Korea should hostilities resume. Our brigade and battalion staffs studied the Korean terrain, the OPLANS, and the North Korean order of battle. We joined 2ID in Korea for warfighter exercises. We held leader terrain-walks at the ports to plan RSOI. We deployed a battalion to South Korea to rehearse RSOI and conduct tank gunnery in Korean terrain. We did not study language and culture; we studied how to destroy the enemy.

The author and the commenters are correct-- challenges and costs exist. The concept and training opportunities will not be perfect. However, having units preparing their minds and plans for assigned areas is certainly better than NOT having units not doing so.

Yes, a regionally aligned brigade might very well operate outside its region. In such a case, the Army has not gained or lost from the program. However, should the Army receive the call to deploy, and regionally aligned brigades exist, it is likely at least one unit will have some baseline understanding of the enemy, terrain, OPLANs, language and culture. That is better than no units having such expertise.

Regionaly aligned BDEs could be a good and useful idea to a good extent, however really isn't, a workable idea, because the Army will not invest the needed money and resourses for it. To be useful the units are going to require training (and not just the barebones minimum) and equipment they don't currently possess (and though compartively a lot of it would in the long run be cheap, it is going to lack the "cool techno factor" like robotic exoskelton armor, that causes glazed, drooling looks among, the top brass, congressmen etc.) If this does go down, what will likely happen is they will be regionaly aligned in spirit only, and get a breif or two and thats it. This defeats the purpose. Kind of like 10th Mountain being a Mountain trained unit (I think they currently are, but for many years were mountain in name only.)

Lets just say the 101st ABN DIV alignes a BDE with Central/South America. This would probably be one of the easier ones to pull off. Problems I see:

1. Languages: English and Spanish, not a problem. However Brazil speaks Portaguese, not nearly as many speakers. Also a number of areas speak regional/tribal langueges... and nothing else. Conventional commanders fear sending troops to schools longer than two months or troops getting training they don't have.

2. Not a whole lot of Ft Campbell is Jungle (though it may at times feel like it), mountains etc. With no JOTB anymore or bases they could do a rotation to and no mountains nearby and little area for small boat operations, where are they going to get the needed mountain, jungle and riverine/anphibious training they need to operate in large, large areas of S/A?

3.Skill sets. Units operating in jungle and mountains need to be fast rope/stabo/spies qualified, trained in helo casting, experts in anphibious and over the beach operations, have very good mountain climbing skills and be trained in Jungle/mountain warfare as well as survival (and SERE 101 isn't going to cut it, they are going to have to go to a school and actually learn skills). And they are going to need more than one day PowerPoint refreshers, for this. Even if you concentrate this training to only the personnel who need it, the infantry and personnel in direct support of them,(medics, FO's, engineer squads etc and no staffs except the BN CDR, CSM,S-2/3 you are going to get a large price tag. Not to mention the equiping and maintance price tags.

4. The absolute total mental breakdown to Commanders at all levels, 1SG's and CSM's, caused by not being able to wear armor, helmets and the wearing of the dreaded "Boonie Hat" that causes panic and is an affront to uniformity and has been known to make the most highly disciplined units into little more than "mobs with guns". (This is absolutley true, but was intended to make you folks laugh.)

Here are a couple other ideas, that can be kicked around.

A. Assign all airborne, air-assault, light and mountain, infantry units to SOCOM. (Even though alot of the rest of the world considers such units to be bottom tier SOF units, the US dosn't. Still it could be an idea. I can already hear SOCOM screaming no,no,no as they don't want to foot the bill.

B. Every A-Team that deploys to a region, gets an infantry platoon attached. Seal Platoons get a Marine Infantry PLT etc. Again, I am pretty sure SOCOM would not like this idea, due to added costs.

I am all for increasing training and school opportunities. But just as soon as they master this, they will be sent to Norway. As I said I like the idea of getting out and training, seeing the world and doing the kind of stuff we all joined to do. But with assocated costs etc, I don't think we are going to see it as fiesable.

Big Army really needs to think worldwide and not region specific. Yes we need that training, but we need to BPT go anywhere, anytime against anyone.

I think the key question boils down to this: is the priority to tailor forces to the needs of the Combatant Commanders or to maximize flexibility in an unpredictable world?

I would argue that the current force structure and doctrine attempts to address the latter in lieu of the former in three key ways 1) Modularity, 2) ARFORGEN, and 3) Unified Land Operations.
1) Modularity, in theory, has led us to create a force in which a DIV HQ is a DIV HQ and an IBCT is an IBCT, period. If a Combatant Commander needs an IBCT, it doesn’t matter if it’s 1/82, 2/10, 3/101, or 4/4, they are all IBCTs and all created equal.
2) ARFORGEN, then, is the machine that stamps out these DIVs/IBCTs/HBCTs/FiBs/etc. It provides a fairly predictable composition of forces at a fairly predictable rate. If all IBCTs are the same, it only matters if “enough” are in the Available Pool at any given time, it doesn’t matter which ones. Once ARFORGEN got going, it answered the mail quite well, especially while the “rate of production” of combat ready units was predictable.
3) Unified Land Operations (like FSO before it) requires a balance of Offensive, Defensive, and Stability Ops because each must be executed in proper balance, respective of where you are on the spectrum of conflict. The Core Competencies through which those types of operations are executed are Combined Arms Maneuver (similar to Major Combat Operations (MCO) or High Intensity Conflict (HIC)) and Wide Area Security (similar to COIN and MOOTW). With all of the associated tasks of ULO that make up CAM/WAS, I think most units end up being “good enough” at the majority of these tasks and “excellent” at few or none. Let’s think about a generic Combined Arms Battalion in an HBCT, for instance. It is hard enough to be good in a MCO/HIC/CAM fight where you have to properly integrate maneuver with fires, execute good MDMP and orders process through mission command, and can do everything else necessary to attack a “conventional” enemy force, consolidate/reorganize/defend, and the resume the attack. That’s hard. Now tell them they have to be prepared to train/partner/professionalize local security forces, enhance/enable governance, support development, and other COIN/MOOTW tasks. Again, in a time and resource constrained environment, I think you’ll end up with a BN that’s good but not great at ULO as a whole. They end up falling into one of two traps: they assume risk either on CAM or on WAS, or everything is a priority (which makes nothing a priority) and you’re average at everything.

All of this has worked out moderately well for the past ten years. I take issue with the assertion that we “quickly” transitioned to COIN/Stability. The Surge and implementation of COIN was not politically popular at the time and almost didn’t happen. The fact that it did is not due to an inherent strength in our system, otherwise it should’ve happened sooner. As it was, this only happened after years of applying the wrong tools to the strategic, operational, and tactical problems in Iraq and Afghanistan and I think the jury is still out about whether the juice was worth the squeeze from a strategic ends/ways/means perspective.

There is some truth to the fact that we fought a ten year war in ten, separate but consecutive one-year iterations. It took us several years of wrecking Iraq before we finally figured out COIN and Stability Ops. Of course, as each unit really got into the swing of COIN/Stability it its AO (understood the local history, personalities, and dynamics), it was time to go home. At home station the unit was broken to pieces, rebuilt, trained some on their MCO/HIC mission before parking the tanks for two years to refocus on COIN. This is a bit oversimplified but this is what you are going to get from a system that emphasizes flexibility and agility over specialization. I’m not trying to be overly critically. The US military remains, without question, the most capable military in the world, Modularity/ARFORGEN/FSO did not diminish that fact but it did create a force that you could argue was sufficiently, though clearly not optimally, structured to meet the needs of the Combatant Commander.

There certainly is risk in regionally aligning units.

-If a unit specializes in partnering with and training foreign forces or in NEO, they’re not gonna be as good at fighting tank battles. My question is, how good are we now? I would argue that if the expectation is that your unit is prepared to operate and win anywhere along the spectrum of conflict, equally excellent at Combined Arms Maneuver and Wide Area Security, your unit will probably not meet those expectations. I was in an HBCT that redeployed from Iraq, retrained on tanks/Brads, and then deployed to Afghanistan. From my perspective, we were a pretty good WAS force in Iraq, we got pretty good at CAM tasks while in CONUS, and got pretty good at WAS again in time for deployment. However, I don’t think we were ever very good at both at the same time. In essence, we are already asking our forces to specialize, we’re just changing whether they specialize in CAM or WAS every 12 months or so.

-If we regionally align and specialize our units, doesn’t that undermine modularity and ARFORGEN? I think the answer is, yes, it undermines them as we currently understand them and would require that each be reconceptualized. ARFORGEN cannot generate plug-and-play forces if we regionally align and specialize forces. ARFORGEN would then have to focus on ensuring that our limited forces are properly distributed among COCOMs based on need and possibly maintaining some sort of strategic reserve. This would definitely reduce our flexibility. If we get into a big shootin’ war with a near-peer in the PACOM AOR, this AFRICOM-aligned BCT that’s been focusing on learning Swahili and French, training local security forces, and preparing for NEO contingencies may have to deploy in support of PACOM and it is gonna have a really hard time switching to a more CAM-centric mission to support PACOM. It is not impossible but it is obviously not ideal. Maybe a BCT is not the right size or shape of an organization to regionally align with AFRICOM. Maybe it still needs to maintain some basic level of CAM-proficiency (PLT-level certification, staff warfighters, etc). Maybe the task organization of regionally aligned forces has to be reviewed annually or ICW each QDR. These are the types of questions that ARFORGEN would have to address.

I’m not saying that regional alignment is the right answer or that it’s the wrong answer. I do think that the current force structure is not ideal and it is worth reconsidering. What I am saying is that, in a world where we will rely increasingly on more trained and capable allies to deter and fight if deterrence fails, in a world where we may have overly sacrificed excellence in a narrow mission set for mere adequacy in a broad mission set, some level of regional alignment and specialization beyond what we currently have is worth a good, hard look.

In a word, this is Ridiculous! Seems much more like a General's attempt to make his mark than address what needs to be done. After a decade of conflict in two theatres regional alignment is a valid initiative to focus our extremely limited resources at???

We don't have time to train to standard in our basic warfighting skills let alone building up to collective unit tasks. We've allowed our core and high OPTEMPO skills to atrophy. Don't believe me, surprise an Infantry company with preparing a deliberate defense in 24 hrs, a task any company might have to execute as a vanguard to a hot spot. (We could list the same type of mission sets for our Armor and Artillery units).

Do we want to really task units with language proficiency requirements and cultural training when they don't have their warfighting tasks to standard? I was fluent in three languages. It's incredibly time intensive if you aren't fully immersed. Then there's the issue of what language? N & S. America is easy (English/Spanish). The Middle East, Africa, Europe and Asia aren't.

This initiative stems from the age old phenomena of fighting the next war like the last one. Let's take a deep breath and look at how our Army was so quickly able to transition to COIN centric ops. It was by being thoroughly competent in conventional type ops that translate much easier to COIN than the other way around.

Don't get me wrong, we shouldn't forget hard learned lessons but we're nuts if we think we can take a COIN focused unit and throw him into a high OPTEMPO environment and expect success while the opposite, though not perfect, is a much more effective approach. Units can prepare for regional deployment with attention to the OPLANS they may be part of, E.G. at one time the 101st had contingency plans for Iran, S. America and Europe. Language skills were identified. Cultural training was done and leaders prepared.

Tasking units to a specific region with emphasis on language and cultural training is a mistake. First we aren't big enough right now to commit to a region by pulling units focused on other regions and we want to focus on regional deployment? In the event the Army is tasked to do nation building again there will be time to learn the necessary soft skills but if the N. Koreans start pouring across a border (or another high OPTEMPO contingency like Iran, yeah no one wants to go but ours is to be ready for the contingency) that's the wrong time to be learning one's priority of work in the defense.

Given that the role of military, police and intelligence forces -- ours and theirs -- in the 21st Century is likely to be:

To effectively deter -- and if necessary deal with -- those individuals, groups and other entities who do not wish to see their states and societies transformed and incorporated as the global economy requires.

Then should we see the concept for regional alignment of brigades -- and associated language and cultural training -- from this exact and specific perspective?

(Note: Regional alignment of brigades -- and the different and diverse language and cultural training associated with this concept -- would not seem to fit so well within, and/or be as adequately explained by, some other construct, for example: Air/Sea Battle and the pivot to the east.)

As an outsider I have a question and a comment.

Why start with a brigade? Surely a BCT would be better.

Secondly, starting with alignment to AFRICOM is hardly a fair chance for the initial brigade. Given the problems with AFRICOM, this brigade is unlikely even to deploy the smallest unit to Africa.

David, I believe the idea is to deploy small teams of leaders and troops (possibily up to a company-sized element) to execute the security cooperation/ assistance mission....kinda like we're currently doing with SFAATs going to Afghanistan.

Not sure what problems AFRICOM has but I think the small team idea (even with GPF) could work.

In the current era, arguably the purpose of military, police and intelligence forces -- "ours" and "theirs" -- is to effectively deter and, if necessary, deal with those individuals and groups who do not wish to see their states and societies transformed and incorporated so as to better service and support the global economy. (Often at the expense of all else, for example: stability, security, present culture, values and ways of life.)

Thus, we must ask: Does regional alignment of brigades -- and such things as the language and cultural training associated with this endeavor -- do these things serve to help the combatant commanders better do their 21st Century job (effectively deter, and if necessary deal with, those individuals and groups who do not wish to see their states and societies transformed, "modernized" and/or incorporated as I have described above)?

'The Army must ensure that all available funds, as well as the modernization of equipment, continue to be distributed evenly among all units'

Why?

Citations? Reasons?

Why continue the socialist model of economy for an army that clearly has uneven deployments and less-than-equal readiness rates? Are we still slaves to MDMP?

In my view, MDMP is just a means for the least-offensive COA to be adopted by the CDR. Funding units equally merely assures that high optempo DODAACs get less than they deserve and low-optempo ones get more than they need.

Not sure if I can buy into this part of the plan.

Not taking away from an otherwise inciteful piece on 'whither the force'. On the face of it I can see benefit to BCT alignment. But then there's the other issue (done to death) about the HR side and Pentagonal intransigence...........whew.
tom

'The Army must ensure that all available funds, as well as the modernization of equipment, continue to be distributed evenly among all units'

Why?

Citations? Reasons?

Tom, I suspect the reason can be found in the last decade of war where every BCT, no matter how "high speed" they were considered to be (or not be) prior to the war, was needed on the battlefield. If we're not going to grow the Army, the next time we get engaged in a long fight, we will likely start rotating units into the fight multiple times again. That's my take on it.

As for regionally aligned brigades, perhaps we ought to regionally align divisions so that the personnel in those BCTs can move from brigade to brigade in order to get their mandatory KD positions but remain within their their regionally aligned division and remain relevant in any BCT they go to. Kind of like the British regimental system but at division level.

Example: 101st AASLT is aligned to Central/ South Asia. No matter which BCT the personnel move to, the language and culture they study will be relevant given the connection of cultures and similarity of languages within that region. The BCTs within the division might be slated for one country (Tajikistan) but get diverted to another (Uzbekistan). Different country but similar language and culture. If he BCT needed more people for the new country (especially if diverted to someplace like India), div HQ need only reach down to other BCTs on-post instead of asking our friends at HRC to move folks from FT Whatever for those people.

Reply to comment
by Morgan | September 20, 2012 - 8:18pm

Tom, I suspect the reason can be found in the last decade of war where every BCT, no matter how "high speed" they were considered to be (or not be) prior to the war, was needed on the battlefield. If we're not going to grow the Army, the next time we get engaged in a long fight, we will likely start rotating units into the fight multiple times again.

I think your last sentence is a great justification of why the BCTs should NOT regionally align. If another long fight were to break out, practically every unit would have to fight outside their regional affiliations. You would end up with an Armor unit, regionally aligned with Africa and trained for a High Intensity Conflict, fighting an insurgency in Sri Lanka. Our BCTs would be too task saturated to be good at any one thing. I believe many people at the Pentagon have forgotten how difficult it is to train a unit to be proficient in just the basics, let alone maintaining proficiency in a foreign language.

If we learned anything from the last decade of conflict, it should be that flexibility and a strong foundation in the basics are the keys to success.

I received these detailed comments that I think are worth considering in this debate from a long time friend, colleague, military planner and strategist and one of the smartest officers with whom I have served:

Dave, we have looked at this issue this year – it is one of several interrelated “Army of 2020” initiatives that attempt to operationalize the new strategic guidance Mr. Griffin mentions, while keeping structure reduction in mind. I also believe it is an attempt to avoid the Madeline Albright "What’s the point of you saving this superb military … if we can't use it?” queries post Iraq and Afghanistan, that might suggest deeper cuts. A raison d’être for the Army in an Air-Sea Battle world, if you will. We were blessed yesterday with the CSA-approved definition of regionally-aligned forces, to wit:

Regionally Aligned Forces (RAF): Those Army units assigned to combatant commands, allocated to a combatant command, and apportioned for planning. Aligned forces maintain proficiency in wartime fundamentals, but also possess a regional mission and training focus that includes an understanding of the languages, cultures geography and militaries of the countries where they are most likely to be employed.

Among the issues (most you have already uncovered):
- Details of alignment are critical. If language, culture and regional expertise become required, implementation of regional alignment could have a profound impact on ARFORGEN. The idea of “how much” regional awareness language etc., has essentially received the high-level Heisman – bottom line is the primary skill set desired/required are (combat) METL tasks of the BCT. All else is less important.
- Languages, be they for units regionally aligned to PACOM or AFRICOM, span a range impossible to teach to rotational units, so, at least in AFRICOM’s case, will be focused on the two or three most prevalent – including in this case, French.
- Cultural awareness and sensitivity training will be limited and focused (think absolute minimum).
- General understanding is that a corps and selected habitually associated or subordinate units are expected to be aligned with a GCC, but not a specific country or group of countries, and that deployments would be rotational. This suggests that, for example, the pieces of a BCT that developed a modicum of proficiency in the languages and customs of East Timor during train-up and a rotation will most likely not go on the next one (unless of a low-density MOS/skill). We surmise that low-density military specialties that support engagement (space, cyber, information, EOD, linguists, etc.) will maintain high, potentially unsustainable, OPTEMPO once aligned. This is not a regimental solution.
- While regionally aligned forces can improve engagement capability within a theater of operations, this alignment could decrease global flexibility when regionally aligned forces are committed within GCC Areas of Operation (AOR). But, it would seem to support the CCJO’s goal of global agility.
- Command authorities must be clear between conventional forces, country teams (as appropriate) and special operations forces during security cooperation activities, security force assistance, and foreign internal defense operations. Regionally aligned forces must coordinate closely and regularly with DoS and ambassadors.
- Neighboring countries’ national interests (perceptions?) must be factored into the decision to exercise regionally-aligned forces and considered in the development of objectives and desired outcomes.
- Tracking qualifications in this regionally-aligned environment will be a nightmare for our current personnel system. Second order effect of regional alignment would necessarily be wholesale changes to personnel systems, or a Rumsfeld-esque “fungible” solution.
- Conceptually, the idea is NOT to deploy a BCT en toto, rather to work with requesting nations through the GCC (actual mechanism to be determined, perhaps the security cooperation section), to provide the tailored capabilities requested by, and acceptable to, the recipient. A larger unit might support a major exercise, as you note, but the routine use would be training packages for specific missions and limited duration.
- As to demand and integration, the understanding is that the world currently desires interoperating with US forces on a scale that exceeds the SOF capacity. These RA units would deploy to fill that delta. I have jokingly suggested that the TSOC would have the right of first refusal for missions it didn’t want. Again, this goes back to employment of units for employment’s sake – must be avoided at all costs.

Snide side notes:
- This is hardly a” daring” initiative, NG and SOF have been aligned forever.
- Probably wouldn’t rely on the UK exchange officer for G3/5/7 info
- RA could be seen as access on the cheap – no PCS or family costs, rotational units (specific capabilities), small footprint, etc. But virtual and some rotational presence is not the same as forward stationing. There are plusses and minuses for each.
- Hard to imagine general cultural appreciation would rise significantly or reach some magical band of excellence under this construct. Too many rotations, too little time to immerse in more than METL.
- Wouldn’t expect to see wholesale employment of functional or multifunctional brigades, but would anticipate calls for engineers, medical personnel, and communicators (given potentially wide dispersion and typically less capable mission command systems) – thus the low density comments above.
- I’ll leave alone all the apples and oranges in the CAM v COIN discussion. ADP 3-0 replaced FM 3-0 (and full spectrum operations) last October. CAM and Wide Area Security (WAS) are identified as core competencies. They overlap more than compete. I am not a big fan of the construct but it is not MCO v MOOTW or HIC v COIN. The theme of ADP 3-0, Unified Land Operations, is the Army’s warfighting doctrine. It includes offensive, defensive, stability and defense support to civil authority activities. RA forces’ METL will derive from ULO requirements. Regardless, one would suspect that the preponderance of training will be focused on offense and defense, then tailored to the mission for the people (small organizations) deploying for the RA rotation.
- Attempting to avoid the “are we doing COIN or supporting someone else doing it” debate, I would say that these are not intended to be long-term COIN deployments (which are contrary to the strategic guidance). Envision multinational exercises, communications, medical, civil engineering or marksmanship training or projects, or classes on MDMP. There could be patrolling or other activities in hotter areas, but (at least as being discussed in these circles) this is not envisioned as a BCT sent forward to keep the man down somewhere else.
Not sure if this missive helps.

Dave Maxwell:

While I respect your opinion and the testimonial for your friend, I have three thoughts on his comments:

Last item first: "- This is hardly a” daring” initiative, NG and SOF have been aligned forever." That's not correct with respect to the NG. For them, that's a recent, post Viet Nam condition and while it is true for SF, it is less true for SOF generally. In any of those cases applying that rationale to the GPF is questionable. That's my minor quibble The major quibble is that we tried it before with the GPF and it did more harm than good. Hopefully someone looked at the XVII Abn Corps and USSTRICOM alignments of the early 1960s.

Secondly, all that is written in his comment can indeed be done -- none of that answers the question of whether it should be done or not done. While it could be done, there's a caveat -- that "not intended to be COIN (etc.)..." will, if this is implemented, likely provide yet another example of unintended consequences

Lastly (and this a two parter) based on this:"... it is one of several interrelated “Army of 2020” initiatives that attempt to operationalize the new strategic guidance Mr. Griffin mentions, while keeping structure reduction in mind. I also believe it is an attempt to avoid the Madeline Albright "What’s the point of you saving this superb military … if we can't use it?” queries post Iraq and Afghanistan, that might suggest deeper cuts. A raison d’être for the Army in an Air-Sea Battle world, if you will." (emphasis added / kw)

Last item again first; After 45 years of buying, selling and being immersed in Snake Oil this is really all about the item I emphasized and that is a VERY poor reason to undertake this almost certain to be an expensive and wasteful debacle that will cost the Army when it has to undo it after the current crew of senior leaders goes off watch.

Finally -- if one is confronted with "structure reduction" then overly specializing the residual structure is unlikely to be effective. It's counter intuitive to say the least.

Both prior comments are accurate. Regionally aligning units has been done before -- the US Strike Command alignments of the early 1960s -- and it did not work at all well.

People and units nominally destined for Europe or the Middle East went to Viet Nam where their German and Arabic were less than useless and much of their other training for specific METT-TC factors was in fact actually detrimental in the vastly different conditions of Southeast Asia.

Aside from the fact that Dave Maxwell is quite correct in stating that as a rule the GPF should never be used in the 'COIN' or FID roles, there is the issue of cultural blend and mismatch. Those who served in both Afghanistan and Iraq will be the first to say that while there are many similarities and both are in the same geographic theater, the differences in culture are significant and can be confusing. That confusion will be particularly daunting to a marginally trained 19 year old GPF soldier. It certainly created problems among more senior and experienced leaders in those two nations.

Aligning the Brigade regionally is an idea to attain or maintain strategic (or budgetary...) relevance and it will almost certainly do more harm than good if implemented. Not least because such alignments will encourage the use -- misuse, actually -- of GPF elements in other nations for strange and probably counterproductive purposes. Build 'it' and pressure to use 'it' will rule...

We can 'fix' the personnel system to cope -- but we cannot 'fix' the world or the future to insure we will deploy forces only to the nation(s) or theater(s) for which valuable combat training time and money was wasted on culture and language.

I have a piece I hope to see published here in the coming weeks that will address this further...

But the regionalization of general purpose forces is not "inarguably" a good one. It is no more a bad thing to have general purpose forces than it is to be a generalist. We are constantly confronted with the fact that over-specialization becomes an impediment to adaptation and flexibility.

Beyond that is the larger issue - what has become the "a priori" belief that culture, language, and anything that we can hang the term "human terrain" on is The Answer. What quantitative analysis was to McNamara, sociology and anthropology have become to the current joint force.

But the fact of the matter is, you don't need much more culture and language sensitivity for most military missions than you do for tourism - that and the general politeness that should accompany anyone visiting a stranger's home.

And the key there is "most military missions." A survey of likely military missions reveals that the joint force is far more likely to spend its time conducting humanitarian and disaster relief, evacuating embassies, conducting shows-of-force, and sending small groups of service people on short-term theater security cooperation activities.

What the military is not likely to do, and therefore should not spend time and energy attempting to do, are decades of occupation duties in places like Haiti and the Philippines.

So, in a budget constrained environment do we really want to create a force where Japanese tsunami survivors need to sit on their roof-tops until the regionally appropriate force arrives?

If we do find ourselves sending the general purpose force to some long-term nation-building operations (never say never) then we can build the required language and culture capability when the time comes. Many of our friends on this board are fond of reminding us it is far easier and cheaper to build an infantry battalion than a DDG or bomber - so it is with language and culture.

In the interim - a joint force which considers itself nimble, adaptable, and expeditionary ought not over-specialize.

I will not repeat my comments about describing the demand from the Country Teams Mission Strategic Plans for the deployment of BCTs.

I do agree with Mr. Griffin's comments about the personnel system. It is the one thing that must be fixed because it drives all operations and impacts our ability to develop military strategy and long term planning (because we need the right people in the right jobs at the right time and the personnel system is not agile or forward leaning and flexible enough to give commanders what they need).

I will challenge the language and culture assumptions. Just take PACOM for example. What languages and cultures to the Soldiers of a BCT with a PACOM alignment focus on? Korean, Chinese (which dialects), Tagalog (and then which tribal languages in the Philippines) Thai, Lao, Khmer, Bahasa, Vietnamese, Hindi, Tamil, Malay and the list could go on. And of course back to the personnel system – how does a BCT protect the "investment" it makes in language and cultural education (requiring years of both education and in country immersion) from the whims of the personnel assignments people (who are ensuring there is no homesteading for Officers or NCOs, everyone has to PCS in 3 years in order to be fair to everyone else, and to support the officer promotion system to ensure that everyone has the opportunity to do the jobs that are key and developmental to keep them competitive for promotion – and then add in Goldwater Nichols and the joint requirements which of course is based on the assumption that every officer has the chance to become a general officer)? And then of course what war fighting skills of a combat brigade do we let atrophy to make the investment in language and culture?

The other thing that Mr. Griffin points out (and goes to my first comment on demand) is the integration of support and enablers. Although he does not say it in his article, he implies to me that these are large footprint expeditionary deployments to conduct Security Forces Assistance. Again, using the PACOM example where is the demand? We have always had a demand for large numbers of conventional forces to support JCS exercises in Korea, Thailand, and the Philippines and I hope we get back to sending troops there to train but other than those three countries where are we going to deploy BCTs in PACOM (Australia of course but that is now Marine country!)

Lastly, Mr. Griffin again postulates units conducting COIN. I will continue to beat the drum that we should not have large ground combat forces conducting COIN. If we are going to do Iraq and Afghanistan again perhaps we should call it what it really is – Pacification – because we are an external occupying force when we take down a regime and then try to build a new nation. We need to change the mindset from ourselves conducting COIN to helping a friend, partner, or ally in their internal defense and development programs to defend themselves against and counter lawless, subversion, insurgency, and terrorism (which we usually describe as Foreign Internal Defense). I think our BCTs can play an important role in conducting JCS exercises with allies and military to military engagement to support the Geographic Combatant Commands and Country Team requirements but I do not see large scale BCT size Security Force Assistance or expeditionary COIN operations. However, I think we absolutely need to invest in ground combat war fighting capabilities both for deterrence and defense but also because if we are going to conduct military to military engagement with friends, partners, and allies those are the types of capabilities with which host nation forces want to operate and train. And I would like to see our BCTs and Army enablers and support provide tailored (and mostly light footprint) support to FID operations in support of a Combatant Commander's Theater Campaign Plan and the Country Team's Mission Strategic Plan. We cannot make the BCT the hammer that looks at every problem as a nail.

With regard to Regionally-Aligned Brigades (RABs) I would caution everyone not to take a Cold War pre-age of complexity look at our operational environments. When it comes to languages and cultures in PACOM AOR, there are certain lines of efforts that PACOM will engage and specific countries to engage with (actually certain groups within those environments). The world is too complex and there is too much going on to worry about addressing everything and everybody. GCC's should only focus on those things and those areas that are at interest to the USG and the GCC. As the environment change, so should the GCC's Theater Campaign Plans. This would drive the direction the RAB's.

The key is by, with,and through. It is partnerships and interoperability.

To keep BCTs at their home stations training for large land tank battles will put us in a place we were in prior to 2001 and 2003, where we were not flexible enough to deal with the operational environments of OEF and OIF.

Most of your comments are devoid of historical fact.

Your counsel not to look at the world through a Cold War lens is more than a little dated. Most people haven't looked at the world through a Cold War lens since the mid 1990s. As for pre-complexity you really need to study history before pushing that concept. The world is no more complex than it was prior to WWI, just different.

Of course if you understand and buy into complexity science then you realize there is little that we can ignore because it all matters (it all influences the larger picture, that is the nature of complexity). A Cold War view would be for GCCs to focus on specific things as you suggested(which assumes the world is predictable, it isn't).

Our community as a whole over hypes the by, with, and through approach as the end all be all to strategy. First off we have always done this, other nations have always done it throughout history, so any attempt by anyone, to attempt to identify this as a novel approach is misleading. It is also misleading to assume other nations (even other U.S. Government agencies) will always embrace our interests and objectives. At the end of the day nations and organizations will cooperate when it is in their interest to do so and will not cooperate when it isn't. It is the same as it has ever been. That requires responsible leaders to be prepared to pursue critical interests unilaterally and not develop a strategy based on the hope that others will do it for us or with us. Partnerships and interoperability are as critical as ever, but they are not the be all, end all to our strategic approach.

You wrote, "To keep BCTs at their home stations training for large land tank battles will put us in a place we were in prior to 2001 and 2003, where we were not flexible enough to deal with the operational environments of OEF and OIF."

That comment doesn't nest with reality. First off the military did a superb job in Afghanistan and Iraq during the initial invasions and eventually transitioned to COIN approach subsequently. Read history, you'll find organizations encountered major problems during all combat operations, but the U.S. always adapted quickly. I'm not sure how BCTs conducting SFA around the globe prior to 9/11 would have enhanced their flexibility? Most of our major issues that preventing adapting quicker in Afghanistan and Iraq were at the policy level. Once policy decisions were made and the national leadership accepted there was an insurgency in Iraq the military adapted quickly (not over night, but quickly). Your claim that the military isn't flexible is an enduring myth pushed by the media that doesn't nest with reality. Prior to 9/11 the military adapted to Bosnia, Kosovo, Liberia, Panama, Haiti, the Tsunami in Japan and a host of other traditional and non-traditional missions. There is no other military in the world that could this period. We can engage in high end combat operations to low profile advisory missions and surge forces to support major disasters. We can do that because our forces are superbly trained, so we must have gotten a thing or two right in the past.