Asymmetric Warfare-II

Future armies will be light, lethal and wired

The Statesman | Mar 12, 2002

The aim will be to make the few remaining heavy forces more mobile and easily deployable and the light forces more lethal. The moves towards Force XXII and the Army After Next are a reflection of the Pentagon's latest assessment of US strategy and the force structure required to defend vital national interests in the 21st century.

The new, information age army will be based on knowledge, speed and power. The aim will be to make the few remaining heavy forces more mobile and easily deployable and the light forces more lethal. The United States army is planning to initially create three new “strike brigades” as part of the Force XXI architecture and then upgrade them incrementally to Army After Next standards. These rapid reaction strike forces will comprise 5,000 to 8,000 soldiers, with both physical and mental agility and a potent firepower punch. The operational characteristics of the AAN will include offensive action at the operational level and defensive action at the tactical level. AAN forces will seek to strike directly at strategic and operational centres of gravity with speed, reach and overwhelming tempo that will result in physical and psychological domination.

Future combat systems

Heavy and light capabilities will be merged and air and ground capabilities will be combined at the lowest levels. The AAN forces will have long-term sustained staying power and will be capable of independent operations for weeks. All Operating systems will be resident within the battle force but the fighting formations will “reach out” for additional! firepower and logistics support. All data will be centrally ‘“warehoused” for easy access and self-protection will be ensured through movement, organic weapons, state-of-the-art surveillance technologies and enhanced situational! awareness. The strike force will be capable of engaging the enemy with information, organic and Inorganic weapons.

For the AAN force, the US army is developing a family of what may be all-wheeled future combat vehicles that are “smaller, lighter, more lethal, yet more reliable, fuel efficient and more survivable”. These vehicles will serve an array of missions, including anti-tank operations, troop and cargo carrying and air defence. In addition, the development of the future combat system will be undertaken simultaneously, including a lighter, more mobile replacement for the Abrams main battle tank.

The FCV will weigh 10 to 20 tons, possess stealth technology, a fully electric or hybrid-electric engine, have all-terrain mobility and a cruising range of 300 to 500 km. It will be capable of carrying an infantry section and will be suitable for Strategic airlift on C-130 transport aircraft.

The US Defence Advanced Research Projects Agency has teamed with the US army to create a FCS system. The programme will develop a “system of systems” design that will separate manned command and control vehicles from the sensors and will rely to a large extent on robotic firing platforms. According to a report in Jane’s Defence weekly. “Research and development will focus on enabling technologies such as robotics, networked sensors, active armour protection, advanced lightweight materials, improved propulsion and modelling and simulation tools… Among the systems explored to provide triple the present lethality that the army expects are the electromagnetic gun system, (improved) conventional cannons, hypervelocity compact kinetic energy missile and directed energy weapons using lasers, particular beams or high-powered pulsed weapons.” The army is planning to equip 10 brigades with the FCS and fielding may begin as early as 2010.

Since the collapse of the Soviet Union, US national security planners had envisioned a two-major theatre wars strategy, one with Iraq and the other nearly simultaneously with North Korea. Continuing commitments of the US armed forces, first in the Balkans and now in Afghanistan, have considerably degraded US capabilities for engaging in two simultaneous MTWs. Many analysts have tended to believe that “the two-MTW strategy is less military in nature than political; aiming, for example, to tell Iraq, North Korea and others to think twice before taking aggressive action when the US is involved militarily elsewhere as well as assure allies such as Kuwait and South Korea”.

Decisive victory

On the other hand, defence experts in the US government had convinced themselves that a two-MTW capability is the sine qua non of a superpower and was essential to the credibility of the US national security strategy. They believed that if the US were to forego its ability to defeat aggression in more than one theatre at a time, its standing as a global power, as the security partner of choice and the leader of the international community would be called into question.

Not only was the two-MTW strategy rather ambitious and also unlikely to be ever required to be implemented, its continuation militated against the application of deep enough cuts in the force structure to enable the Pentagon to make the US forces genuinely “lean and mean”. Apparently, that was the reason why the 1996-97 Quadrennial Defence Review did not go far enough in making really tough choices to cut the force structure. The 2001 QDR has opted to replace the two MTW strategy with four new policy goals: assuring allies and friends, dissuading future military competition, deterring threats to US interests and defeating aggression if deterrence fails. The US military strategy will now be to maintain a capability to “decisively defeat an adversary in one of the two theatres”. However, despite some last minute post-11 September revamping before its release on 1 October 2001, the latest QDR does not provide a genuine blueprint for reshaping defence priorities to meet the asymmetric threats of the future, including cell based international terrorism by networked organisations, the violent collapse of failing states, international piracy, organised smuggling and narcotics trafficking.

The moves towards Force XXII and the Army After Next are a reflection of the Pentagon’s latest assessment of US strategy and the force structure required to defend vital national interests in the 21st century. It is important to understand that a force structure can be evolved only to meet the goals of a given strategy. If fiscal prudence demands that defence spending be reduced, then the strategic goals must be suitably downscaled and the force structure will have to follow suit. However, the leaders of Asian countries must realise that efforts to reduce the government’s budget deficit and increase expenditure on development, cannot be undertaken at the expense of the nation’s long-term defence requirements.

India, for one, has long, unsettled and disputed borders with its neighbours to the north and west. While the recent rapprochement with China by way of the Border Peace and Tranquillity Agreement may enable the army to eventually reduce the quantum of regular troops deployed on border guarding duties, the continuing tension along the LoC with Pakistan and its involvement in a “proxy war” with India, preclude any reductions in the present force levels being employed to defend the LoC and to prevent infiltration of Pakistan sponsored Islamist mercenary terrorists, including Al Qaeda and Taliban militiamen. Counter-terrorist operations to defeat the Pakistan-sponsored proxy war in Jammu and Kashmir and the militant organisations active in the north-eastern states have stretched the commitments of the Indian army. The internal security situation in many other parts of the country is also relatively unstable and there are frequent calls for the deployment of the army to quell communal riots and other disturbances.

Lessons for India

The fundamental national security issue is the need to maintain a force structure capable of dealing with today’s realities and still generate sufficient resources to invest in modernisation and technologies crucial to tomorrow’s battlefield. A comprehensive examination of the threats being faced by the country Is necessary. From that will flow the grand strategy and the military strategy necessary to meet those threats adequately. Only then can the force structure, organisations, weapons and equipment necessary to implement the approved strategy be decided.

It is imperative that an inter-services approach is adopted so that the combat potential of the three services can be synergised in the national interest. The National Security Advisory Board has carried out a Strategic Defence Review. Like the Kargil Review Committee report and the draft Nuclear Doctrine formulated by the NSAB, broad details of this SDR must be disclosed to the public to encourage wider debate for better consensus-based decision-making.

The US Force XXI and the Army After Next processes, designed to make the army light, lethal and wired, will generate many lessons for all modern armies and need to be watched closely. The emerging operational concepts of land warfare will have radical implications for the army’s organisation, force structure, combat firepower, engineer and signals communication support and battlefield logistics. Advanced information technologies will enable the army to conduct decisive offensive and defensive operations.

The evolutionary changes now under way in the US are likely to enable modem armies to sharpen the teeth by cutting the tail. Lighter, more manoeuvrable, capabilities-based forces will be able to exploit the leverages provided by increased lethality, better intelligence and other emerging capabilities to operate at higher operational tempos for longer duration to create favourable asymmetries and thus win battles at least cost. Gale-force winds of change are sweeping across the military landscape. Those who merely stand around to watch from the sidelines will be quickly blown away.