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McMaster Rewrites Army Vision

Big news out of Army Training and Doctrine Command: Brig. Gen. H.R. McMaster is rewriting the service’s Capstone Concept, a document laying out the service’s vision of how it intends to fight future wars. The capstone concept document is important because it guides future Army force development including modernization.

Most readers are likely familiar with McMaster from his 2005 exploits in Tal Afar, Iraq, considered one of the first, large scale, applications of counterinsurgency best practices there. Those readers who are a bit older, like myself, better know McMaster as commander of the cavalry troop at the Battle of 73 Easting during Desert Storm (for a time, the most scrutinized battle in American history, though that may no longer be the case).*

The previous Army Capstone Concept was written in 2005 by now retired Maj. Gen. David Fastabend, who was a strategic adviser to Gen. David Petraeus during the 2007 surge in Iraq. Fastabend is an extremely smart guy. The 2005 document suffered, however, by giving irregular warfare short shrift and emphasizing the “aerial blitzkrieg” forcible entry concept and the “see-first, shoot-first” idea of perfect situational awareness. Both theoretical concepts were tied closely to the FCS program.

FCS was to provide the Army with a better protected and more lethal forcible entry option than the 82nd Airborne; the “vertical mounted maneuver” idea runs throughout the 2005 document. So too does the “information dominance” notion. It says advances in sensors and networks will “enable transition to a force protection and survivability model no longer as dependant on the heavy armor and passive protection that characterizes modern mechanized forces.” The past eight years of combat in Iraq and Afghanistan have challenged both notions.

“We’re recognizing some of the limitations in technologies that were designed to improve situational understanding and situational awareness,” McMaster says, in a TRADOC press release, “we understand now how enemy countermeasures can place what we need to know about the enemy and what we need to know about the situation outside the reach of technology.”

Fighting in urban and other complex terrain, an enemy that fights dispersed and often hides among the people, a degraded network, all erode the ability to see first and hit first. No matter how many drones or electronic eyes fill the skies, the enemy will continue doing everything possible to avoid being picked up by overhead sensors. The complexity of warfare stems from the action-reaction dynamic: an enemy being targeted for killing will do everything possible to avoid being killed.

McMaster was never a big fan of the “advanced ISR=information dominance” idea that ran rampant during the heyday of the Revolution in Military Affairs (RMA). The RMA idea “evoked a sense of control” over the uncertainty of war, wrote then Lt. Col. H.R. McMaster in a 2003 paper while a fellow at Stanford University, it “swept the imagination off the battlefield and into the computer room and command center.”

To get a good idea of how McMaster sees future warfare, read his paper, titled “Crack in the Foundation: Defense Transformation and the Underlying Assumption of Dominant Knowledge in Future War.” It’s a well thought out, and devastating, critique of the idea of information dominance on the battlefield.

I heard McMaster speak at a Washington DC event recently where he said the ongoing debate within the Army between those who say the service must prepare for major combat operations and those who argue irregular wars are the future is a false one. Future opponents will not allow the U.S. military to define wars as it sees fit. All wars are different, so too are the lessons, and rapid adaptation is the key. He said the U.S. military takes an engineer's approach to developing solutions to warfare, but the enemy typically does not; war is art not science.

McMaster is looking at the current wars, as well as “hybrid threats” to shape the Army’s vision of how it will fight future wars. He leads a 20 member team in the task to rewrite the concept and the new document is expected in December, according to TRADOC. We hope to bring you further updates on that effort.

* Noted Army analyst Doug MacGregor has a new book out on the 1991 battle at 73 Easting. I'm awaiting a copy and will post a review here once I read it.

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