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Army Planning for Last War?

The incoming commander of the famous 10th Mountain Division, Maj. Gen. James Terry, sat down with defense reporters to talk about the future of Army modernization. Terry, a very personable commander with a refreshingly candid approach, wouldn't offer specific answers about what the Army's Brigade Combat Team Modernization would look like. After all, it's one of the biggest acquisition decisions the service will make for years and it's not unreasonable for him to go slow. But there is a larger issue that a major general dares not address in public -- are the Pentagon and Army moving in the right direction when it comes to redesigning the force? The answer we got from a respected analyst is a resounding "No!"

Terry knows a great deal about the past and future of Army modernization from his job as director of TRADOC's Future Force Integration Directorate, known fondly as FFID. But he is also an officer in the chain of command and the Army is in the midst of deciding just what the successor to FCS will be, so he couldn't say much during his Friday talk.

Terry did say that the Army is probably going to do more of taking Operational Needs Statements from commanders in the field and turning them into programs of record, those wonderful budgeting tools that allow the service to build a program into its regular annual funding plan. At the end of the session, I asked him if the Army was moving from a force bent on fundamental change -- which the service declared was the case with the development of FCS -- to a more incremental approach. Terry said he thought the service was probably headed to something much closer to a step by step approach.

Eager to get some perspective on whether the service is generally headed in the right direction since the demise of the Manned ground Vehicle program, I called one of the best outside analysts who follows the Army, Dan Goure of the Lexington Institute. Goure was adamant. The Army has, under enormous pressure from Defense Secretary Robert Gates, begun to turn into an institution planning for the last war -- one of the greatest sins of which a military can be accused.

The Army's current course "almost guarantees surprise, technical and operational surprise" in our next conflict because the service is rebuilding to cope with the wars it has most recently fought -- Iraq and Afghanistan. Gates has declared repeatedly that he is acting to rebalance the US military in light of the lessons he has learned since coming to the Pentagon.

"Why would you think you are going to get yourself in the same situation in five years"" Goure asked. On top of that, Army officials have said repeatedly they are planning for uncertainty and for the long war. "The Army uses the term uncertainty --- that's not a plan for the future," he said. Instead that leads the service, Goure opined, to operating without "a greater vision, a greater purpose than the immediate fight." And that takes us back to his initial premise, that the current course of the Army will place the country in peril because it will be vulnerable to an enemy able to target our technology that has been developed with the current fight in mind. "You don't have a core purpose for the Army," whether it might be developing the capability to read and react to an enemy attack, mobilize quickly and stop the enemy in its tracks almost anywhere in the world, pacify the Indians or stop the Soviets at the Fulda Gap.

Defense Secretary Gates has said several times he thinks MRAPs may become a part of the son of FCS. But Goure, Army officials and others say MRAPs can't be networked and lack the generating power to handle anything like the sort of sensor and communication capabilities the Army will need in the future. "Building a vehicle just designed to protect your own force" just won't cut it Goure said. "Try using MRAPs in a jungle," he said for effect, noting the likelihood of conflict somewhere in Asia.

And the Army's rush to redo requirements for its main modernization effort will result in "bastard child," Goure said, arguing the incremental approach will result in something that isn't heavy enough to be useful in places like Fallujah or to throw enough kinetics to stop an enemy dead in its tracks.

Broadly speaking, Goure said the real problem lies with the defense secretary, who wants to rebalance the US military to fight the kinds of wars we are currently engaged in. And the Army will find it very difficult to say no to someone who has killed more programs -- successfully -- than any civilian leader in memory.

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