May 23, 2005 | Commentary on Department of Homeland Security

The Unglamorous Path to True Transformation

When U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld first started talking about military "transformation," the generals and admirals fairly salivated at the thought of the new toys they'd be able to buy.

But it turns out Rumsfeld and President George W. Bush had something else in mind. They wanted to move past the Cold War methods of fighting against big armored divisions and the armies, navies and air forces of rival countries to meeting new challenges, such as fighting insurgencies, finding weapons of mass destruction and protecting the homeland.

There might be a few new toys, but the emphasis would be on transforming the organizations, and creating more realistic training and operational practices. These reforms wouldn't be quite as glamorous, but they'd be far more effective at preparing our armed forces for the challenges they're most likely to face.

Ever since the main military action ended in Iraq and Afghanistan, Rumsfeld has turned full-force to this transformation. As leaders prepared for the upcoming congressionally mandated Quadrennial Defense Review of missions, force structure and resources, he ordered them to come up with how they'd respond to a four-part "threat matrix" he wants the military to address:

  • Responding to conventional militaries. 
  • Meeting irregular challenges, such as terrorism and insurgent campaigns.
  • Taking on catastrophic dangers, such as weapons of mass destruction.
  • Repelling disruptive threats from military competitors who develop new or unexpected capabilities, such as computer warfare.

He wants to move troops away from areas where they're no longer needed and to set up training facilities and initiatives that address the threats in this matrix. Nowhere is this emerging line of thought more apparent than in U.S. military involvement in Europe.

Rumsfeld plans to cut in half the troop strength in Europe because, with the Soviet threat gone, we don't need as many troops there any more. And he wants to use the facilities already there to build up these capabilities we'll need in the future.

Already, the Army has established a global training facility in southern Germany designed to meet these emerging needs. The Army converted more than 60,000 square kilometers in and around its Combat Maneuver Training Center to look, sound and smell like war zones in Bosnia, Kosovo, Iraq and Afghanistan.

Urban training sites were outfitted as Iraqi towns and Bosnian villages, complete with streets filled with civilians and shopkeepers, reporters and rioters, as well as the improvised explosive devices so familiar to forces in Iraq. These mock villages even have buildings dressed out as Shia mosques or Kosovar churches, all designed to help prepare units for the real-world missions about to come their way. They've even added cave complexes that can be used to hide insurgents or material for weapons of mass destruction.

With every active theater from Kosovo to Afghanistan within easy reach, trainers frequently visit war zones to learn how the enemy is changing, as well as the current military, political, economic and social conditions. They then rush back to duplicate the new conditions, right down to bringing trunks full of Iraqi and Afghan clothes to outfit those whose job it is to mimic civilians and terrorists.

Finally, the Combat Maneuver Training Center has added technology that allows trainers to record the unit's every action, provide computer simulations to expand the kinds of missions and forces that can participate and even deploy the network so that it can be dispatched to other training areas in Europe.

In Rumsfeld's view, the remaining ground forces in Europe (about four brigades) must be able to fight anywhere in the world with all kinds of allies, old and new; to work with a variety of assets, from special forces to Air Force fighters; and to help the other units that come to Germany for training to experience the different geography, diverse cultures, allied militaries and unique training opportunities not readily available on U.S. soil.

The training center in Germany addresses every quadrant of his threat matrix and does so in a place that can be used to build strong bridges to new and old allies and that is within reach of some the world's most troubled trouble spots.

But more must be done. The capabilities of this training center must be duplicated in other hot spots, such as Asia and South America, to provide the global training base to match the global positioning of forces. This would enable America not just to send forces anywhere in the world but to provide the right training in the right location to suit any mission.

That wouldn't represent the wish lists Pentagon leaders probably dreamed of when Bush and Rumsfeld started talking about transformation. But it would represent actual transformation.

James Jay Carafano, Ph.D., is a senior research fellow for defense and homeland security at The Heritage Foundation ( and co-author of " Winning the Long War: Lessons from the Cold War for Defeating Terrorism and Preserving Liberty."

About the Author

James Jay Carafano, Ph.D. Vice President for the Kathryn and Shelby Cullom Davis Institute for National Security and Foreign Policy, and the E. W. Richardson Fellow

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