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Why Concepts Matter?
Strategic pitfalls are commonplace in warfare. History is with replete with former armies that prepared for the wrong type of conflict and received the unflattering result of becoming failed military systems. The Prussian Army of 1806, the Russian Army of 1914, and the French Army of 1940, are just a few of the well-known examples that did not escape the outcome of strategic failure. When war came, they ceased to exist. Whether a disparity in tactical weaponry was unveiled, absence of proper training or doctrine was prevalent, or a lack of decisive leadership persisted; the strategic outcome of pitting well-prepared forces against deficient military organizations have been catastrophic. With this realization, the U.S. Army must continue to invest in the purposeful development of operational concepts to ensure the long term viability of the military system. This month in December 2012, the Army will publish a new version of the Army Capstone Concept. To support this effort, this article will provide insights on the value of operational concepts, dangers associated with flawed concepts, and the key ideas within the Army Capstone Concept to guide developments and activities for the next several years.
The Role of Concepts
Since the U.S. military today is in a period of transition, concepts can help the U.S. Army identify the next big idea or key trend in the conduct of warfare. What is different? The global international security environment is in the midst of fundamental change. The U.S. economic downturn which began in 2008 continues today and has created security implications for competing military systems around the globe. The economic environment will likely have a lasting impact on investments in military modernization and transformation – not just for the U.S. and its allies and partners, but for competitors and adversaries as well. Not only will friendly militaries be shrinking in size, but they will experience a growing gap between their capabilities and those of U.S. forces as their research and development budgets shrink along with their ability to modernize equipment and facilities. The resulting lack of interoperability will present a greater challenge for the U.S. to build military partnerships and coalitions. The effect on potential adversaries may not be as severe. As adversaries are able to focus investment and procurement of specific capabilities to address or avoid U.S. military overmatch, the potential for an increasingly level technological playing field will increase over time. Concepts help to prepare the Army for today’s and tomorrow’s transitions.
Concepts provide a visual depiction of how the future military force will operate. Military systems of the 21st Century are extremely complex with literally thousands of independent moving pieces and essential components. The mere orchestration of such a complex entity can easily grind to a halt if not for a cohesive unifying concept. The Army’s future operational concept serves such a role. With the appropriate future operational concept, the Army’s future maneuver forces, technical branches, and supporting agencies can find their proper roles, responsibilities, and functions to bring together pieces of the whole. In this regard, the operational concept can serve as the first level of integration by providing all organizations with the unifying framework by which to guide future developments and actions.
Concepts describe the capabilities required to carry out a range of military operations against adversaries in the expected operational environment, and illustrate how a commander might employ those capabilities to achieve the desired effects and objectives. Through rigorous experimentation, modeling, and simulation; concept developers are able to identify future military requirements which cannot be met by incremental changes to doctrine, training, or equipment. Some required capabilities may require long term investment to mitigate or close the deficiency. For example, self-healing cyber systems may emerge as a future warfighting requirement during experimentation, but not have a readily available solution in the near term. By identifying and capturing those capability requirements, concept developers set the stage for future military investment.
Concepts provide capability descriptions for future military operations beyond the programming and budget cycle. Each concept describes problems, the components of potential solutions, and how those components work together to achieve operational success. Additionally, concepts provide the basis for conducting capabilities-based assessments which are the first analytic step of the Joint Capabilities Integration Development System process.
What are the future threats?
Threats to U.S. national security will appear in many forms. Although near-peer competitors will continue to expand and modernize their militaries, it is unlikely that any great power will seek overt conventional confrontation with the U.S. in the next decade. Rather, future enemies will oppose American interests using adaptive forces that operate in a decentralized manner to frustrate America’s traditional advantages in firepower and mobility. Future adversaries have learned from recent years of conflict and will continue to adapt to exploit the vulnerabilities we create as we downsize the military. We are in a cycle of adaptation-counter adaption with all our adversaries from peer competitors to suicide bombers. Our challenge as a Nation and an Army is to ensure that an adaptation against one adversary does not leave us too vulnerable to another adversary. In the next ten years, we must change while “not getting it too wrong.”
From non-combatant evacuations in failing states, to coercive peace operations against warring factions to protect threatened populations from atrocities, to humanitarian relief on a regional scale at home and abroad, to forcible entry operations in an anti-access and area denial environment, to deny sanctuary to a regional threat, to major combat operations against an aggressor, the Army will require both the capabilities and capacities to ensure success in a world that will remain dangerous and unpredictable. The U.S. Army must retain its primary role as a credible deterrent to intolerable aggression and the Nation’s force of decisive action should deterrence fail.
The ability to deter potential adversaries has long been a cornerstone of American policy. Paradoxically, deterrence requires an unquestioned capability to compel an adversary or if needed, destroy that adversary. Most of the likely future conflicts and contingencies in the next decade will require the United States to use significant ground forces to protect and defend American interests. To support the requirements of both DoD and Army planning guidance, the U.S. Army must provide forces capable of defeating adversaries ranging from insurgents, to hybrid threats, to state actors. These potential opponents have understood U.S. advantages in airpower, seapower, surveillance, and targeting, and have adapted to avoid these strengths.
Purpose of the Army Capstone Concept (ACC)
The purpose of the ACC is to describe the anticipated future operational environment, what the future Army must do based on that environment, and the broad capabilities the Army will require to successfully accomplish it enduring missions in the near to mid-term future. The ACC establishes the foundation for subordinate concepts that will describe how the future Army must fight and identify the required warfighting capabilities essential to ensuring combat effectiveness against the full spectrum of threats the Nation is likely to confront in the future.
The ACC also describes what the U.S. Army must do to retain its ability to win decisively, to protect U.S. national interests, and to successfully execute the primary missions outlined in defense planning guidance in an era of fiscal austerity. The ACC is consistent with the Capstone Concepts for Joint Operations: Joint Force 2020. Similarly, the capabilities the ACC describes Army 2020, the Army’s contribution to Joint Force 2020.
ACC central idea
The focus for the new ACC is to provide decisive landpower through a credible, robust capacity to win and the depth and resilience to support combatant commanders across the range of military operations in the homeland and abroad. Army forces are uniquely capable of exerting enduring changes in behaviors of populations to attain decision for combatant commanders. Ready, robust, responsive, and regionally engaged Army forces give pause to adversaries, reassure allies, and, when called upon, deliver the punch that defeats enemies and exerts control to prevent and end chaos and conflict. The fundamental characteristic of the Army necessary to provide decisive landpower is operational adaptability - the ability of Army leaders, Soldiers, and civilians to shape conditions and respond effectively to a broad range of missions and changing threats and situations with appropriate, flexible, and responsive capabilities. Operational adaptability requires flexible organizations and institutions to support a wide variety of missions and adjust focus rapidly to prevent conflict, shape the operational environment, and win the Nation’s wars.
How to implement the central idea
The ACC central idea is implemented through three principal and interconnected roles: prevent conflict, shape the operational environment, and win the Nation’s wars. By building a force that is able to engage in these three roles, the Army will achieve a level of operational adaptability that makes it a relevant and preferred choice for combatant commanders to meet the demands of national strategy and defend America’s interest, both and home and abroad. Even when required to shift focus between these roles, the Army will always retain the ability to conduct its primary mission to fight and win the Nation’s wars.
The Army will remain America’s principle land force, organized, trained, and equipped for the prompt and sustained combat operations to defeat enemy land forces, to seize, hold, and defend land areas, and to control terrain, populations, and natural resources. To this end, the Nation requires an expeditionary Army, able to operate effectively land domain while fully accounting for the human aspects of conflict and war.
The Army prevents conflict by providing a credible land force that can fight and win to deter adversaries and avert miscalculations. The Army provides a force that is prepared and modernized with the capability and capacity to execute the full range of military operations in support of combatant commands.
The Army shapes the operational environment by providing a sustained and stabilizing presence to gain access and understand the situation. Additionally, Army forces build partners and capacity to develop mutual trust and set conditions future operations. The Army projects forces worldwide into any operational setting and conducts operations immediately upon arrival. These expeditionary operations require the Army to deploy quickly to austere areas and shape conditions to seize and maintain the initiative. The Army leverages the breadth and depth of its means to rapidly meet joint commander’s mission requirements with scalable, tailored expeditionary force packages that complement other service capabilities.
The Army wins the Nation’s wars as part of the joint force and contributes to the defense of the homeland by providing a credible, robust capacity that is responsive to combatant commanders and has the depth and resilience needed to deliver decision in any operation.
The U.S. Army is constantly evolving and adapting. Confronted with a wide variety of potential hotspots around the globe, the Army will not have the luxury in the future to focus on only one potential high-end, asymmetric threat to the detriment of other preparations. Without doubt, the need for agile, lean, adaptable Army forces and capabilities will be in high demand to a far greater degree that in the past. With these conditions in mind, placing proper emphasis on credible, decisive landpower and operational adaptability will enable Army commanders to provide the most effective forces to meet the needs of future joint force commanders whether it involves humanitarian assistance, disaster relief, deterrence, consequence management, or major combat operations. The Army’s global execution of these activities contributes to stability, ensuring equilibrium and balancing risk to our Nation’s interests. Only by ensuring that Army forces are capable of fulfilling the pressing demands of combatant commanders, can we ensure that forces are properly postured, equipped, maintained, trained, and ready to deal with the pressing challenges associated with the full range of military operations. Last, the generating force must exhibit the same expeditionary mindset as the operating force, blurring the distinction between both and producing a more effective total Army that can prevent, shape, and win.
 “Challenges to the Capabilities of the U.S. Army in 2020.” Unpublished paper. U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command, Deputy Chief of Staff, G2, 17 January 2011, p. 3.
 Michael Howard, "Military Science in the Age of Peace," pp. 3-9.
 Sustaining U.S. Global Leadership: Priorities for 21st Century Defense, Department of Defense, January 2012; 2012 Army Strategic Planning Guidance, Department of the Army, April 2012.