March 21, 2003 | WebMemo on National Security and Defense
The opening days of the war against Saddam Hussein's regime have already provided some lessons. Chief among them is that in the era of modern warfare, where timelines are extremely short, strategic agility cannot be undervalued thus demonstrating a need to accelerate Army transformation.
Events, such as Turkey's denial to grant coalition forces basing rights, its hesitancy to give over flight rights, and the emergence of a "target of opportunity" requiring an early strike on Baghdad, each required a response that deviated from Plan A.
An Early Start. Whether the conflict with Saddam was meant to begin with the much touted "shock and awe" strategy or with a rolling land attack as is currently unfolding, most believe that aggression began earlier then planned due to the emergence of a "target of opportunity." The result was that hostilities likely commenced before conditions were optimal -- such as enemy disposition and weather -- and perhaps before coalition forces were fully disembarked and in place.
This is significant. The likelihood of Iraqi response increases dramatically the moment hostilities commence. This places coalition forces at great risk due to Iraq's possession of weapons of mass destruction. Although U.S. forces are adequately prepared to deal with a chemical or biological attack while on the offensive, the danger increases substantially if that attack were to occur while forces are stationary. In such a circumstance, coalition forces would be forced to take on the arduous task of decontamination. This would be a period of extreme vulnerability during which Iraq could launch an aggressive counterattack.
To avoid this, American forces likely began to disperse and open their offensive before they were optimally prepared. This also meant that forces in the north and perhaps the west needed to move before being completely ready. Those forces were slowed by Turkish inaction.
Access Denied. An objective of America's future adversaries will be access denial. In other words, future adversaries will employ a variety of tactics that attempt to deny U.S. forces the ability to set up bases or to operate its aircraft carrier battle groups within striking distance of the theater of operations.
Unfortunately, Turkey's hesitancy to give full cooperation to coalition forces has achieved this mission. Essentially the pendulum of Turkish politics, which happened to be swinging in the wrong direction at the wrong time, effectively limited the options available to the coalition. Turkey's legislature has successfully done, albeit for vastly different reasons, what America's adversaries will attempt in the future: Deny American forces the access that it requires to achieve optimum advantage in times of conflict.
The result is that the attacking forces really have no significant strategic reserve or maneuver force. The 4th Infantry Division is floating around the Mediterranean instead of charging Baghdad, thus increasing risk by weakening the northern front of the offensive. The result was that available forces were likely put under undue strain when they were given the order to attack.
Luckily, Saddam did not take advantage of the situation and decide to launch an offensive before the United States was able to make some adjustments. Future adversaries will not be so amenable and that is why the Army must ask itself, is Turkey at fault that the 4th ID cannot get to the fight or is it the Army's fault for lacking flexibility?
Increased Strategic Agility.The bottom line is that in both cases a more agile Army would have been better prepared to minimize the risk associated with an evolving tactical environment. Army transformation will provide this increased flexibility.
The current Army asserts quick deployment times but reality is far different. For example, most Army units are supposed to be deployable within a few days of being put on notice. But as demonstrated by Task Force Hawk, the package of Apache attack helicopters requested by General Wesley Clark during Operation Allied Force in Kosovo, getting forces into theater takes much longer then advertised. In that case, the Pentagon said that it could get the entire package of requested Apache attack helicopters into theater within ten days. It took seventeen days for the first battalion of Apaches to arrive.
According to Army Chief of Staff, General Eric Shinseki, the Army is developing the capability to deploy brigade sized combat forces globally four days after liftoff, a division within one more day, and five divisions within thirty days. This Objective Force is not predicted to be ready until the 2010 time frame.
If this had been the case now, the 4th Infantry Division would not have been so reliant on Turkey for its deployment, and if Turkey did deny the U.S. access, different arrangements could have been made to ensure a strong northern front. Likewise, moving earlier from the south would have been less risky.
Since a transformed Army would require a far smaller logistical footprint, the increased logistical links required to support early action with today's force would not be at issue. Furthermore, because the forces would have been in place, field commanders could have chosen to attack in echelons, which it must do now, or to attack in a more methodical pace with what ever sized formations they deem appropriate.
Conclusion. The Army's future relevance will depend on its ability to achieve greater strategic agility. The expeditionary nature of the Navy and relative diversity of the Air Force have given those services a head start. Now, the Army must continue to develop force structure, equipment, and doctrine to achieve this central element of transformation. The reality is that access denial, evolving battlefield realities, and the multitude of missions that America's ground forces will need in the near future necessitates that the Army accelerate its own transformation.