A Lighter, More Agile Force
|Training excersises, Fort Lewis Washington (Photo:
Under a light rain and a cold wind, Captain Jerome Morrison is one
player in the U.S. Army's effort to reinvent itself. Dressed in camouflaged
fatigues, with mountain green and brown paint smeared across his cheeks,
he directs a mortar team at the edge of a firing range at Fort Lewis,
Washington, south of Seattle.
To the sounds of orders bellowed and explosions all around, Morrison
is leading a routine practice, part of a plan to transform the Army
from a heavy, cumbersome force that spent a half century preparing to
fight a massive land battle in Europe against the Soviets, to a lighter
force able to deploy quickly to fight the next war anywhere in the world.
Brigadier General John Brown is Deputy Commanding General for Transformation
at Fort Lewis. He says that through the end of the Cold War, the U.S.
focused on ground capability. The force was built up to confront "huge
masses of armor on the plains of Europe and win a battle against a threat
that had been identified and that we had trained against for decades."
It's a different concept from today's Army he says. From conflicts
in Bosnia, Kosovo, and Somalia, "we've come up with a concept now
that gives us a full spectrum force," that will allow the U.S.
to shape conflicts "rather than be more reactive."
Despite the success in Afghanistan, the U.S. Army is unsuited for its
post-Cold War mission. Even the decisive Desert Storm victory against
Iraq shows why. When Iraqi tanks thundered into Kuwait, the U.S. Army
dispatched the lightly armed 82nd Airborne Division to the Desert, then
spent six months building up its heavy armored forces before eventually
routing the Iraqi army.
|General Eric Shinseki (Photo: DoD)
But Lt. Colonel Mike Negard at Fort Lewis says that slow, cumbersome
build-up represented a huge risk. "It was by good luck and the
grace of God that Saddam Hussein did not attack, because had he attacked
with armor against a static, not well-protected, not mobile defense,
we're not quite sure what that result would have been," he says.
Another case in point came in 1999. The Army tried to deploy its deadliest
attack weapon, the Apache helicopter, to Albania to fight the Serbs.
With too much heavy equipment and too little training, Task Force Hawk
bogged down in the mud and proved futile. That same year, General Eric
Shinseki was inducted as the Army's new chief and pledged to streamline
the Army as it moves from the current "Legacy Force" to the
so-called "Objective Force" of the future.
"Today our heavy forces are too heavy and our light forces lack
the staying power we need," says Shinseki. "We will address
those mismatches. Heavy forces must be more strategically deployable
and more agile and with a smaller logistical footprint. Light forces
must be more lethal, survivable, and more tactically mobile."
|Light Armored Vehicle
(Photo: Joe Barrentine)
At Fort Lewis, soldiers are leading Shinseki's effort to build a force
that combines the agility of light infantry with the punch of heavy
armor. It's called the Interim Brigade Combat Team, or in a military
that loves acronyms the "IBCT."
One of the keys to the IBCTs will be the light
armored vehicle, or LAV, replacing much heavier 70 ton M-1 A-1 tanks.
LAVs ride on wheels instead of treads, and are faster, easier to transport,
and can go places tanks can't.
Captain John Kiriazis commands an exercise that involves unmanned reconnaissance.
Aircraft fly overhead, as counterintelligence officers work alongside
infantry soldiers from Charlie Company.
This raid is a standard military exercise, but the speed of the LAVs,
the advantage of superior technology and intelligence, and the surgical
use of force are supposed to make a difference.
Some of those participating in the exercises express sentiments of
skepticism, but officers here say this is the biggest change to hit
the Army since the helicopter.
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