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Don't lose the big picture, a general warns

The Association of the United States Army's big trade show opens next week here in Washington, and just like last year, there'll be a big question for everyone to answer: What next? The Army still has work to finish in Iraq and Afghanistan, but under today's assumptions, the effective end for both conflicts is now in sight. So DoD and the Army must decide how much the the force should shrink, what it should do and what it should buy, all in this uncertain budget environment.

Army Lt. Gen. Mark Hertling, head of U.S. Army Europe, told reporters this week he got a good general recommendation from a close U.S. ally. Hertling described a conversation with Israeli Maj. Gen. Sami Turgeman, commander of the IDF's ground forces, in which Turgeman said Israel's recent military experience could be a cautionary tale for the U.S.

"He's experiencing some of things we're seeing, except he's got year's head start on us," Hertling told reporters, including our colleague Christian Lowe. "What he told me is, 'Y'know, we focused on the intifada for 15 years and because of that we ignored everything else. And then we got into another fight and we weren't prepared for it. We can learn a lot from each other."

Translation: Israel's planners and commanders focused too much on what we'd call irregular warfare or low-intensity operations, costing readiness, Turgeman believed, when it came time for the bigger-scale wars of 2006 and 2008. Hertling said the American version of this is the Army's focus on counterinsurgency, the famous COIN doctrine. The Army must be able to zoom out from COIN and resume training for all the other types of missions it knows how to do, but just hasn't done for the past decade.

"We've got a lot of work to do to get out of COIN and maybe understand some of the future threats, and that's the hardest thing we have on our plate right now," Hertling said.

Some of the possibilities here are predictable and some aren't. One thing Army leaders have said they miss are big, combined arms, force-on-force drills, in which a blue corps goes up against a red corps with tanks, artillery armored vehicles, helicopters -- the whole shootin' match. But "future threats" can be Penta-code for a lot of things, including China and cyber-warfare.

As the Army has been focused on fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan, the Navy and Air Force have been quietly brewing up their concept called "Air-Sea Battle," which got people around town very excited a few years ago. The doctrine, if it ever gets into the open, is supposed to blow us all away with its innovative treatment of  anti-access and area denial challenges in the Western Pacific. It's also said to call for new missions and cooperation between the light and navy blue services. Maybe, as part of the examination of "future threats," the Army will want to crash this party. As Galrahn has written, one of the (many) challenges to Air-Sea Battle is its apparent exclusion of ground forces, as summed up in this classic quotation he cites:

"Without ground forces and with limited magazine capacities, what happens once we get there? What now, lieutenant?"

As for cyber, the Army's own Cyber Command is a year old this month. With the coming drawdowns and broad refocusing, it has nowhere to go but up, given the broad interest in cyber attack and defense across the Pentagon.

What other recently neglected areas should the Army try to focus on going forward?

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