The New Security Force Assistance Units May Be The Vanguard We Were Looking For…
Chris Budihas, Kyle Trottier and Steve Deuble
No other service in the Department of Defense, except the US Army can project national power to influence the human dimension that directly influence conflict variables and present options to senior leaders. It is through significant pre-hostility investments the Army is capable of shaping the security environment, dissuading conflict, or better position the US to achieve its national objectives when conflict occurs. The October 2014 Army Operating Concept (AOC), “Win in a Complex World,” marked a major shift in the way the Army perceives itself conducting unified land operations. It boldly declares the Army must regionally engage to shape and prevent, and when required, respond globally to win. This AOC evolved the service from focusing on only two major core competencies, combined arms maneuver and wide area security, in the 2010 version to increasing the number of competencies to a total of seven. The additional five competencies codifies that the Army has an active role in pre- and post-conflict activities, and that it cannot regress back to a pre-9/11 mindset when it defined itself as only conducting offense, defense, and stability operations.
Therefore, about two years ago under the direction of the Commanding General, we formed a futures planning team at Fort Benning to explore, “How does a regionally aligned Army operate across the range of military operations in conjunction with JIM (joint, interorganizational, multinational) partners, to enable situational understanding. A situational understanding that shapes the security environment; sets the theater; prevents conflict; and when required, responds globally to achieve national security objectives?” At the time, many strategic leaders, historians, and armchair generals stated there were two ways to fight the United States Army, “asymmetric or stupid.” If this assumption is true, it guarantees that future operating environments will remain characterized as uncertain, decentralized, and most likely urban with a variety of threats to US Soldiers that operate there.
Both General (R) Odierno and General Milley have stated that the Army must train and be ready to fight both near-peer nation-states, as well as asymmetrical hybrid threats that look to avoid our strengths while exploiting our weaknesses. GEN Milley continues to reinforce that readiness is our #1 priority and that the Army must first-and-foremost be ready to fight existential threats, and those that significantly destabilize our vital and national interests abroad.
The continuities of war (war is an extension of politics, a human endeavor, uncertain, a contest of wills) guided the Team’s assessment of the future operating environment and indicate that multiple nation-states will challenge US interests, while non-state actors will have ever-increasing regional and worldwide influence. Increased urbanization, youth bulges, proliferation of technology, and the inability of governments to provide security, essential services, and unemployment will tip the scales of regional instability resulting in Army forces deploying. The changing nature of the world requires Army leaders to adapt to meet these challenges or be intellectually short-sighted. A lack of innovative thought will produce irrelevant or antiquated concepts that do not meet the projected complexities of future warfare. Therefore, Army leaders must adapt training, formation designs, and systems to ensure the Total Army force cannot only conduct Decisive Action (DA), but also shapes the security environment and appropriately set the theaters to enable power projection.
Over the last five years to the Army’s credit the Regional Alignment of Forces (RAFs) concept, which assigns Corps and Division Headquarters and below to Geographical Combatant Commanders (GCCs), has somewhat permitted the service to be regionally engaged. However, the RAF mission has created a number of challenges. Some of these include Brigade Combat Teams (BCTs), the exception being those units assigned to the PACOM/USARPAC Area of Responsibility (AOR), are held within a Forces Command (FORSCOM) rotational force pool and not necessarily being consistently aligned to the same Combatant Command (CCMD) to build long-term continuity and understanding of the operational environment (OE). Also, as directed by the Chief of Staff of the Army (CSA), BCTs must achieve a C1 DA readiness-level, then RAF designated units must rapidly transition for a mission set which may or may not match with the CCMD they are regionally aligned to support. Additionally, due to the amount of time devoted to preparing for a DA Combat Training Center (CTC) rotation, many units don’t have the optimum amount of time to execute Language, Regional Expertise, and Culture (LREC) training for their GCC. Lastly, many BCTs at the end of their Army readiness cycle or upon redeployment lose regional knowledge, skills, and experience when they are sequentially assigned to another CCMD in their next cycle and large manpower turnovers occur.
To overcome many of these challenges, the Benning Team developed a proposed concept to permit the Army to operate in a synchronous manner with JIM partners, effectively increasing situational understanding to generate and preserve options for senior leaders. The Team’s proposed solution was a Vanguard Force directly assigned to CCMDs or Army Service Component Commands (ASCCs). Such a Vanguard, while conducting security cooperation with foreign partners, would institutionalize regional engagement activities and overtime inculcate a desired Army competency that understands cultures and regional nuances to inform senior leader decision-making. This force not only analyzes mission variables (METT-TC), but also operational variables (PMESII-PT) through their regional engagement and assessment processes to better allow CCMDs and ASCCs to ultimately shape and prevent conflict. However, if armed conflict occurs, this force’s efforts would prevent a cold start when globally responsive forces deployed into theater to conduct combat operations. The Vanguard would enhance regional situational understanding, so CCMDs and ASCCs can more effectively conduct security cooperation activities. It is unlikely that a fielding of a Vanguard Force will occur, but the Army’s current initiative to build permanently standing Security Force Assistance Brigades (SFABs), two SFA Divisions and a Corps Headquarters may address many of the issues and operational gaps the Benning Team identified with current cannibalization of modular BCTs and the RAF concept. These SFA units can effectively allow CCMDs and ASCCs to proactively shape security, build trust and develop relationships to gain access with foreign partners through multilateral exercise, military-to-military engagements, coalition training, and other opportunities.
Prior to diving into these issues, it is critical to understand how the October 2014 Army Operating Concept and the newest release of Army Doctrine Publication (ADP) 3-0 (Operations) make an intellectual shift from previous ways in which the Army perceives itself conducting unified land operations. Organizationally the Army must collectively learn from our past to inform future understanding of how the AOC’s seven core competencies nest to influence the joint operations across the full range of military operations. The seven Army Core Competencies of AOC 2014 are the following:
(1) Set the Theater
(2) Shape the Security Environment
(3) Project National Power
(4) Combined Arms Maneuver
(5) Wide Area Security
(6) Cyber Operations
(7) Special Operations
Through this framework, it declares the Army does more than conduct war. The Army provides many unique capabilities, as a member of the joint team, to achieve national security objectives by synchronizing effects across space, cyber, air, sea, and onto the land domain to achieve decisive effects. These collective actions present senior leaders and policymakers with feasible options that lead to favorable long-term sustainable outcomes.
Some officers have mistakenly thought when setting the theater and shaping the security environment that logisticians do the former and BCTs are responsible for the later. This assumption is wrong, as all forces across the joint phasing model have a responsibility to support these activities. Setting the theater includes actions to establish and maintain the conditions necessary to retain force freedom of action. The Army combines forward deployed forces and rotational forces to develop, maintain, and operate the theater structure. Joint forces depend on the Army to provide essential capabilities, including logistics, communications, intelligence, long range fires, and air & missile defense. The service’s ability to set the theater is essential in preventing conflict. However if deterrence fails, as the bedrock of a joint force response, the Army then seizes the initiative, protects the force, and restricts the enemy’s options.
In shaping the security environment, “Army forces provide unique capabilities that allow Combatant Commanders to reassure allies, deter adversaries, build interoperability, increasing military capacity of U.S. and multinational partners, thereby strengthening relationships between civil and military leaders while simultaneously establishing conditions that support the potential employment of joint forces.” Additionally, shaping the security environment is a core competency that occurs across the entire range of operations, not just prior to or after conflict. Shaping the environment occurs simultaneously with setting the theater (see Figure 1) and it ultimately involves a comprehensive approach that includes the application of Special Operation Forces (SOF), U.S. Army National Guard (ARNG), U.S. Army Reserve (USAR), and Regionally Aligned Forces (RAF).
Figure 1. The Linkage Between Setting and Shaping Competencies
SOF continuously shapes the security environment through a combination of counter terrorism, counter insurgency, unconventional warfare (UW), Foreign Internal Defense (FID), Security Force Assistance (SFA), Foreign Humanitarian Assistance (FHA), Military Information, and/ or Civil Affairs operations. Complementary to these efforts, the U.S. Army Reserve and National Guard shape the environment through special skill-sets and programs that they are uniquely suited for executing. A prime example is the State Partnership Program that has contributed to security cooperation for over 20-years in 71 nations. Through these habitual engagements, ARNG units apply their unique civil-military expertise across military, government, economic, and social spheres to build long-term sustainable relationships.
RAF serves an essential role in shaping security because it engages to build partner countries’ capabilities and the global landpower network outlined in the AOC (See Figure 2). “Improving interoperability with future coalition partners is more complex and perhaps more expensive than teaching individual skills and small unit tactics, but remains a vital investment in our national security and ultimately provides significant and often overlooked cost savings.” The RAF also serves a role in shaping and deterring conflict. The RAF’s policy aim to provide CCMDs with tailored, trained, responsive, and consistently available Army forces, up to and including a Joint Task Force-capable headquarters. Thereby, regional alignment is a Total Army effort, consisting of the Active, Guard, and Reserve forces, ultimately making the US Army the most competent security cooperation partner of choice.
Figure 2. The Benning Team’s Interpretation of the “Global Landpower Network” to Create Shared Understanding
However, as stated there are many challenges with the current ad hoc nature of butchering modular BCTs to conduct security cooperation can be overcome with the future fielding of Security Force Assistance Brigades (SFABs). Due to boots-on-the-ground restrictions, BCTs were unfortunately pulled apart to support in-theater security cooperation requirements to build host-nation partner capacity in both Afghanistan and Iraq. These force-level limitations result in BCTs being gutted and only key leaders, staff, and enablers deploying, while as much as 55-70% of their formation remaining at home-station. Though such a methodology was necessary at the time, this fracturing of BCTs severely impacts the aggregate total force readiness posture GEN Milley is attempting to achieve. Creating permanent SFABs that are properly resourced, trained, and equipped, then are assigned to CCMDs or ASCCs can stop this cannibalization of BCTs while optimizing-to-maintain a high rate of readiness for the Total Army.
As mentioned previously, RAFs must train their DA mission essential tasks first and to a C1-level. With new SFA units fielded, CCMDs and ASCCs commanders will already have a LREC-trained force at their disposal, as well as other relevant security engagement skills to support their region. A BCT’s DA CTC rotation remains its capstone-training event, and for some Areas of Responsibility those skills do not necessarily focus on tasks the supported CCMD requires for their regional engagement strategy.
Next, the RAFs alignment of Corps and Division Headquarters from both the Active and Guard Components provides ASCCs continuity. However, not habitually aligning units at brigade-level and below may result in command relationship (COMREL) friction, while the lack of continuity prevents the leveraging of regional experience or established foreign partner relationships. A fictitious example of inducing potential COMREL friction is that of X Brigade, 33rd Infantry Division. While assigned as the RAF to CCMD Z, it will receive taskings and guidance from U.S. Army Y (ASCC), its RAF higher headquarters (34th ID - JTF assigned to COCOM Z), and more than likely its parent division 33rd ID at home-station. Such COMREL designs exponentially increase the risk of generating conflicting guidance, and competing demands for time and resources on the BCT. However, with assigned SFA units working directly for the CCMD or ASCC, these new organizations can concentration on security cooperation and preclude COMREL stress induced on the modular BCT in the current RAF process. Permanently assigned SFABs may absorb many of the CCMD’s or ASCC’s security cooperation tasks, which can reduce operational stress on RAF BCTs and allow them to operate more at the BCT and BN-level while deployed. At this time, depending on the GCC, many RAF are conducting distributed operations at the company and below-level. Depending the partnership tasks they are executing, this may or may not increase the readiness of the American unit.
The challenge with not habitually aligning brigade and below units to specific regions results in having to continually reinvest in LREC training and precludes institutional expertise (See Figure 3). For example, 1st Brigade, 1st Cavalry Division, conducted a successful RAF deployment to Europe. This involved a CTC rotation with multinational partners at Hohenfels, Germany, and execution of security cooperation activities in Latvia, Estonia, Lithuania, and Poland. However, that Brigade’s next deployment was not back to Europe, but to Korea. Unfortunately, the Army was not able to leverage their organizational knowledge, skills, experiences, and relationships garnered through its previous preparation and execution of its USAREUR RAF tour. By permanently assigning these new SFABs, the CCMDs will have a competent LREC trained force that overtime builds institutional expertise, creates and harnesses foreign relationships, while providing their higher headquarters, deployed RAF forces, joint and foreign partners useful information that shapes security and deters instability.
Figure 3. Tangible Gaps with the Regionally Aligned Force Concept
Permanent SFA units will be a powerful tool for regional commanders, as they will bring a mastery of skill sets that the current RAF concept does not. A functional application of regional engagement, these new SFABs will create and sustain regional expertise while feeding useful information and assessments to their higher headquarters. The Army’s current readiness model does not necessarily provide the optimal time required to build the expertise required to professionally train, certify, and assess a regionally engaging force that achieves long-term sustainable effects that CCMD and ASCC commanders need, but the new SFA units can once properly fielded.
Permanent SFABs can provide, borrowed from SOF with a slight twist, Intellectual and Operational Preparation of the Environment (IOPE). IOPE is defined as developing situational understanding of the operational variables across all domains of a particular region. These SFA units can enable an in-depth understanding of the environment to shape CCMD and ASCC decisions for planning, training, and deployment of forces to address regional drivers of stability or instability. These organizations can generate and preserve options for strategic leaders, thereby setting the conditions for a decisive action response if required. In addition, with the situational understanding derived from IOPE, SFA units can accurately recommend requisite training, education, and pre-deployment preparations required for RAFs prior to them entering theater. Lastly, the SFAB’s understanding of the operational variables while collaborating with JIM partners, Theater Intelligence Brigades, and other regional and national assets, can collectively provide a holistic understanding of regional drivers of stability and instability to inform senior leader decision-making.
There is much to be lauded by the proposed new SFA concept, where key leadership positions are considered broadening opportunities for officers and NCOs who have completed their key development assignments within their respective pay grade and military occupational specialty. As such, this is a powerful investment in these unit and the selected Soldiers. It will also be the nexus to the success or failure of these organizations. These Soldiers will conduct their assignment in the SFA units then return to regular Army formations. Theoretically, their return to regular Army will influence the entire force through their shared experience, understanding of, and lessons learned from executing security cooperation duties. Overtime, this cross-pollination may professionalize the institution to increase its capacity to competently conduct stability tasks that achieve enduring effects.
Figure 4 demonstrates a way the Benning Team proposed for the Vanguard Forces’ career timelines. Modeled after former GEN Creighton W. Abrams’ vision of the Ranger Regiment, it could be adopted for new SFA units to ensure officers and NCOs are not disadvantaged for promotion and command opportunities by serving in these new SFA formations. It is key the Army institutionally avoid the pitfalls associated with the Afghanistan-Pakistan (AF-PAK) Hand and Military Training Team (MiTT) advisor programs that resulted in jeopardizing the career advancement of many officers and NCOs that honorably served in these formations, yet were passed over for promotion. The Army’s leadership must be willing to fill these organizations with the requisite talent to meet the CSA’s vision of these units employment. These SFA units positions will be in direct competition with current broadening opportunities (e.g. Advance Civilian Schooling/ Fellowships, Small Group Leader, CTC, USMA, OCLL, General Officer Aides, etc.). Thus, the Army must follow through to recognize those serving in these units through appropriate levels of promotion, selection for command, and schooling opportunities. This will permit the new SFA units not to be viewed as career killers, but career opportunities.
Figure 4. Proposed Vanguard Officer and NCO Career Timelines for AABs
Success in complex environments is not for the intellectually short-sighted. Hybrid threats, whether in the form of a combination of near-peer nation-states and violent non-state actors, will use their advantages to mitigate our overmatch capabilities and exploit our weaknesses. The Army will remain the only organization in our nation’s national security arsenal that enables the competent projection of national power to directly influence human activity. Therefore, the Army’s fielding of these new SFA units may greatly enable our contributions in a joint effort that operates across the full range of military operations. If properly manned, trained, and equipped, these SFA units will allow the Army to adequately support CCMD security cooperation activities, while preventing the cannibalization of modular BCTs. The past 15-years of war has proven the analysis of mission and operational variables is only valuable if it is conducted through a lens that achieves situational understanding. Every GCC has unique challenges requiring unique solutions. Permanently assigned SFA units can be the critical link between the operating environment, the CCMDs and ASCCs, and those Divisions and BCTs preparing to conduct operations within that region.
 TRADOC Pamphlet 525-3-1, Army Operating Concept, Win in a Complex World, (October 31, 2014).
 Ibid, 17-18.
 Conrad C. Craine, “The Lure of Strike,” Parameter vol. 43, no. 2 (Summer 2013).
 TRADOC CIRCULAR (TC) 7-100, Hybrid Threat, (November 2010), pp.1-1. ‘A hybrid threat is the diverse and dynamic combination of regular forces, irregular forces, and/or criminal elements all unified to achieve mutually benefitting effects.”
 GEN Mark A. Milley, “Changing Nature of War Won’t Change Our Purpose,” AUSA Magazine, vol. 66, no. 10 (October 2016), pp. 12-16.
 TRADOC Pamphlet 525-3-1.
 TC 7-100, pp. vi.
 Chief of Staff of the Army’s Strategic Studies Group, Mega Cities and the United States Army, Preparing for a Complex and Uncertain Future, (June 2014).
 Army Doctrinal Reference Publication (ADRP) 3-0, Operations, (November 2016), pp. 3-1.
 Army Doctrinal Publication (ADP) 3-0, Operations, (November 2016), pp. 1.
 TRADOC Pamphlet 525-3-1.
 Ibid, 21.
 Ibid, 20.
 JP 3-05, Joint Special Operations, (July 16, 2014), pp. II-1
 LTC Hartmayer and LTC Hansen, “Security Cooperation in Support of Theater Strategy,” Military Review, (January-February 2013), pp. 24-29.
 MG Wayne Grigsby, COL Patrick Matlock, LTC Chris Norrie, and MAJ Karen Radka, “Mission Command in the Regionally Aligned Division Headquarters,” Military Review, (November-December 2013), pp. 5-6.
 Defense Institute of Security Assistance Management; http://www.disam.dsca.mil. Regional engagement encompasses two major activities: security cooperation and security assistance. Security Cooperation (Title 10) includes all Department of Defense (DOD) interactions with foreign defense and security establishments that build defense and security relationships to promote US security interests; encourage international partners to work with the U.S. to achieve strategic objectives; develop allied and friendly military capabilities for self-defense and multinational operations; and provide U.S. military members with peacetime and contingency access to host nations. Security Assistance (Title 22) is a group of programs authorized by law and under the general control of Department of State (DOS) that provide economic and military assistance to partner nations under DOS Authority; support the US government’s foreign policy and national security objectives; and allow transfer of military articles and services.
 Maj. Craig A. Daniel and Robin T. Dothager, “Resetting the theater to equip rotational forces in Europe,” as of December 30, 2016; https://www.army.mil/article/166114.
 Colonel Kent T. Woods, “Rangers Lead the Way: A Vision of General Creighton W. Abrams,” (Army War College, Carlisle, PA: July, 2003), as of December 27, 2016; http://www.google.com/url?sa=t&rct=j&q=&esrc=s&source=web&cd=3&ved=0ahUKEwiky8-0iInRAhVL3IMKHWmjCLAQFggoMAI&url=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.dtic.mil%2Fcgi-bin%2FGetTRDoc%3FAD%3DADA415822&usg=AFQjCNFQbP5Luyo2hxLu_HnkV9PTl9pSuA&sig2=EBIStEujLlotcI8KU-uUGg.