Asymmetric Warfare-I

Restructuring for strategic uncertainties

The Statesman | Mar 11, 2002

Simultaneously, work had commenced on the early 21st century army force to be called Force XXI, to be fully operational by 2010. Force XXI would be followed by a still more modernised new force that would be designed to meet future challenges likely to confront the US army around 2020-25.

Even though the “peace dividend” expected to accrue at the end of the Cold War did not materialise and inter-state and intra-state conflict continued to rage across the world, it made sense for most Western militaries to progressively “downsize” and reduce defence expenditures because of the break up of the Soviet Union and the diminished threat from the erstwhile Warsaw Pact. Developments leading up to the much vaunted revolution in military affairs, comprising a synergistic combination of enhanced intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance capabilities (ISR), advances in computer based command, control and communications systems and, developments in pointkill precision guidance munitions technologies and information warfare, also enabled defence planners to think in terms of downsizing force levels.

The wars of the future

At the end of the Cold War, the United States became the pre-eminent military power with a global reach. It assumed that it had global responsibilities. Hence, its army was naturally at the forefront of the re-structuring and reorganising exercises. The lessons of the Gulf War of 1990-91 and the Kosovo conflict of 1999 reinforced the conventional wisdom that the focus must shift from close-combat forces such as Infantry and tanks to deep-strike systems like cruise and ballistic missiles and air strikes that held the prospect of increased lethality and damage to the enemy from stand-off distances and, consequently, low risk of casualties to own forces.

However, the calamitous events of 11 September turned conventional wisdom on its head and asymmetric warfare has now gained currency as the new paradigm. It is being increasingly realised that while deep strike weapon systems work fairly well against massed forces in the open, they are relatively less effective against irregular forces dispersed in mountains, caves, forests and cities. Therefore, armies of the future must be light, easily deployable and capable of conducting simultaneous small-unit operations across the entire frontage and depth of a hostile country and against a terrorist network spread across many countries.

By the time that the showdown with the Taliban and Osama bin Laden’s Al Qaeda got under way, the US army had already begun a restructuring exercise to face asymmetric threats. In the mid-1990s, the US Joint Chiefs of Staff conceptual document entitled “Joint Vision 2010” had proposed evolutionary changes in the US Army’s organisational structure, doctrine and tactics, techniques and procedures. These are linked closely with attempts to attain information superiority and the technological advances that will “transform traditional warfighting via new operational concepts, organisational arrangements and weapon systems”. The document focused on four new operational concepts: dominant manoeuvre, precision engagement, full-dimension protection and focussed logistics. Joint Vision 2010 concepts laid the foundation for a broader effort to exploit the ongoing RMA.

In pursuance of the implementation of Joint Vision 2010, the US army has initiated the “Force XXI” and the “Army After Next” processes to identify and execute new concepts of land warfare. Lighter, more durable war fighting equipment is expected to enhance deployability and sustainability. Advanced information technologies will help the army to conduct decisive operations. Superior, multifarious sensors will protect the field force. Advances in data processing technologies are likely to enable better decision-making. Improved war fighting systems will ensure freedom of strategic and operational level manoeuvre.

Small is lethal

While the Force XXI project (sanctioned by the 1996 Quadrennial Defence Review) aims to enhance the capabilities of today’s soldiers and combat systems with information technologies and other developments, the army after next project seeks to begin long-term research and development and is a comprehensive initiative designed to better understand the probable nature of warfare a few decades into the future.

During a lecture at the United Service Institute, New Delhi, in 1998, General Dennis Reimer, the US Army Chief of Staff, sketched out his vision of the future US Army. He explained the strategic uncertainties were forcing a shift in organisational structure from the traditional threat-based structure to one that is capabilities-based as future threats were becoming more and more difficult to define accurately. He pointed out that there had been a 39% reduction in and only another eight divisions would form the reserve component of the army.

Simultaneously, work had commenced on the early 21st century army force to be called Force XXI, to be fully operational by 2010. Force XXI would be followed by a still more modernised new force that would be designed to meet future challenges likely to confront the US army around 2020-25. This new force, expected to be much more mobile, extremely lethal and based on small combat elements rather than large, division-sized forces, was given the catchy name the army after next.

The key concepts elucidated in the vision statement bear repeating: “Responsiveness has the quality of time, distance and sustained momentum. Our threat of the use of force, if it deters miscalculation by adversaries, provides a quality of responsiveness all its own. We will provide strategic responsiveness through forward deployed forces and forward positioned capabilities. When called for, these force projection capabilities will be provided from the CONUS (Continental United States) and any other location where these capabilities reside… We will develop the capabilities to put combat force anywhere in the world in 96 hours after lift off in brigade combat teams for both stability and support operations and for warfighting. We will build that capability into a momentum that generates a war fighting division on the ground in 120 hours and five divisions in 30 days.

Agile and decisive

“We will attain the mental and physical ability operationally to move forces for stability and support operations to warfighting and back again, just as we have demonstrated the tactical warfighting agility to task, organise on the move and transit from the defensive to the offensive and back again. We will develop leaders at all levels and in all components who can prosecute war decisively and who can negotiate and leverage effectively in those situations requiring engagement skills… We will design into our organisation structures forces, which will, with minimal adjustment and minimum time, generate formations, which can dominate at any point on the spectrum of operations. We will also equip and train those organisations for effectiveness in any of the missions that the army has been asked to perform. These commitments will keep our components capable, affordable and indispensable to the nation.

“The elements of lethal combat remain fires (firepower), manoeuvres, leadership and protection. We will retain today’s light force deployability while providing it the lethality and mobility for decisive outcomes that our heavy forces currently enjoy. We intend to get to trouble spots faster than our adversaries can complicate the crisis, encourage de-escalation through our formidable presence and, if deterrence fails, prosecute war with an intensity that wins at least cost to us and our allies and sends clear messages to all who threaten America… We will devise the technologies that provide maximum protection to our forces at the individual soldier level… We will progressively reduce our logistics footprint and replenishment needs. This will require us to control the numbers of vehicles we deploy, leverage reach back capabilities, invest in a systems approach to the weapons and equipment we design and revolutionise the manner in which we transport and sustain our people and material”. Some of these capabilities have already been developed and were displayed during the conflict in Afghanistan. Some others will be showcased as the mopping up phase of the war against terrorism drags on; and, yet others will need more time and resources to mature fully before being declared operationally usable.”