Early next year, soldiers from the 1st Infantry Division will shelve their combat experience from the Middle East to become training advisors to African forces.
In January, the 2nd Heavy Brigade Combat Team out of Fort Riley, Kan., will become the Army’s first “regionally-aligned” brigade assigned to U.S. Africa Command, or AFRICOM. The Dagger Brigade will likely be broken into a collection of small, security force assistance units that will be tasked with improving the quality of African military forces.
This is the beginning of the Army’s plan to adapt its forces to exist in a future that doesn’t revolve around preparing for year-long combat rotations to Afghanistan.
When combat forces withdraw from Afghanistan in 2014, large portions of the active and Reserve components may end up moving away from their traditional mission set that ranges from high-intensity combat to peacekeeping and stability operations. Many will assume the role of building strategic partnerships around the globe, Army planners said.
“There are some units that will remain as the global-response force to go out the door rapidly,” said Rickey Smith, director of Army Capabilities Integration Center Forward. “But if you are not that type of unit, and you are not going to Afghanistan on your next rotation, what are you focused on?”
For many months, the Army’s senior leadership has been intensely focused on mapping out how brigades, divisions and corps will adapt their force structure over the next five years as the size of the force drops to 490,000 in 2017.
Part of the discussion has centered on how brigade combat teams will be structured to add a third maneuver battalion. But the major shift will be in how units operate after major combat operations.
“The biggest change isn’t in structure; it is in how we are going to use the units … it’s how we manage the force in a post-Afghanistan world,” Smith said.
In 2014 the plan is to have at least two regionally-aligned BCTs, one in AFRICOM and another added to U.S. Pacific Command.
These year-long regional assignments will give brigade level units “a lot of focus for training and leader development,” Army officials have said.
“You are doing real-world intel, you are learning other languages, you are learning another culture,” Smith said. “So it doesn’t really matter where I send you to operate after that. At least you are not stuck on just knowing your own culture.”
But it won’t be just BCTs that are likely to become regionally aligned in the future. Leaders also want to apply the concept to corps and division headquarters.
The Army doesn’t have enough corps headquarters to assign one with every combatant command, but the service could align one corps to each of the two priority combatant commands – U.S. Central Command and U.S. Pacific Command. The remaining corps would keep the ability to go wherever it’s needed around the globe, Smith said.
The Army’s 10 active- and eight Reserve-component division headquarters may end up being tied to specific regions for a longer-term basis.
“They could get deep into the intelligence and stay connected and use real world information even when they are not deployed,” Smith said, explaining that this would lead to more realistic training exercises at home station.
“It’s better than saying ‘today we are going to fight red land or green land or blue land.’ That really doesn’t motivate people. Let’s use real-world as much as we can, so this alignment allows them to do it,” he said.