U.S. Ascendancy Hinges on Ingenuity, Clear Focus
By Steven T. Hara
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, June 27, 1997 America's continued military supremacy will hinge on ingenious ideas and technology and a clear focus on the future, Defense Secretary William S. Cohen said June 23.
Speaking at the National Defense University, Fort McNair, here, Cohen discussed the importance of service experiments in light of the recently finished Quadrennial Defense Review. He told of a recent visit to Fort Irwin, Calif., where the Army is testing new battle concepts and hardware -- satellite communications and navigation gear, lasers, sensors, computers.
"It was clear to me ... we are now witnessing the triumph of the microchip in warfare, transforming it in ways we are only beginning to comprehend," he said. "I sensed an urgency to get this technology into the force, to experiment with it so we understand its implications, and to develop the operational concepts, doctrine and tactics to take full advantage of it. I also recognized it is going to be difficult to seize that future I saw at Fort Irwin."
The Quadrennial Defense Review, he said, gives the Defense Department a realistic plan to accomplish assigned missions while modernizing the force in the near and long terms. It stokes a "Revolution in Military Affairs" in a focused, balanced and realistic way, he said, to buy the new hardware and capabilities the United States needs in the near and mid-term.
It also "takes us beyond the mid-term, where the true revolution lies," he said. "It challenges our best minds to look beyond the horizon to imagine new ways of doing things. It challenges our department to slim down and shape up, and it challenges our nation to move seamlessly from being the dominant power in one era and one century, to being the dominant power in a new era and a new century."
Cohen said Joint Vision 2010 is the future force template for now. A 'system of systems' integrating the laptop, the microchip, the microwave, the videocam, the satellite and the sensor will give this force total battlespace awareness and the ability to maneuver and engage at will, he said.
"They will be supported by focused logistics -- the ability to deliver the right supplies at the right time and place on the battlefield," he said. "They will have full dimension protection" -- multiple defensive layers against a spectrum of threats from ballistic missiles to germ warfare -- "giving them greater freedom of action in all phases of combat.
"Our forces will deploy lighter. They will need fewer weapon platforms and fewer munitions. There will be less collateral damage, less friendly fire and fewer U.S. and allied casualties," Cohen said. "Right now, soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines are conducting research, experiments and exercises to make this a reality. It's not just the Army and Force XXI. It's also Air Force Battlelabs exploring operational concepts in cyberspace and outer space. And it's the Navy and Marine's Fleet Battle and Sea Dragon experiments.
"These are not merely ideas," he said. Cohen told the defense university audience he's already making decisions based upon the services' plans to adjust force structure as their capabilities grow.
"Earlier this month, I approved the Army off-site plan which proposed restructuring that will markedly reduce men and equipment in some Guard divisions as they acquire greater capabilities," Cohen said. "During the QDR, the chief of naval operations proposed -- and I accepted -- his plans to reduce the number of ships in battle groups to reflect the enhanced capabilities being introduced into the fleet."
He spoke of recent Marine Hunter Warrior tests and the Navy's Fleet Battle Experiment Alpha in California. In combat, Marine units would land deep in enemy territory in assault aircraft and fan out. By using hand-held computers, they would wrest control of large coastal areas by directing long-range precision firepower from naval ships, helicopters, fighters and other military assets.
The Navy is starting to link its ships together with Cooperative Engagement Capability, or CEC, Cohen said. The system gives all battle group elements a common, tactical, real-time picture of the battlespace. If an enemy aircraft or missile threatens any of them, they can all see it and track it. Whoever is in the best position can knock it down. The system also allows ships to spread out, presenting a more difficult target.
He said today's experiments, technologies and concepts mark the start of the revolution and point the way to forces that will have much greater capabilities in five to 10 years. He said this will have important implications for the force structure: Heavy army divisions are going to be leaner; carrier battlegroups are going to be smaller; Air Force tactical fighters can be reduced as the service acquires better, more capable platforms.
Cohen said the Army is still devising Force XXI, but is already developing a vision of the "Army After Next" through war games at the Army War College in Carlisle, Pa. "It is looking at a lean, versatile, lethal and deployable force that will operate so fast and so far inside enemy lines that the term 'front line' will become an anachronism," he said.
"The Air Force is committed to reshaping into an air-and-space force and -- someday -- to a space-and-air force," he continued. "It is also talking about adding an unmanned version of the Joint Strike Fighter to the drawing board."
We do not and cannot know the end-state of the revolution, or even the course it will follow, he said. "We have to reach out to the future with open eyes and open minds, daring to experiment and ready to switch courses based on what we discover. The technology, weapon or doctrine that looks like the sure-fire path today may be obsolete in five, 10 or 15 years as the revolution unfolds.
"History shows the most critical aspect of profound military innovation is not technology, but understanding what we can do with it," Cohen said. Because technology is increasingly available to anyone with the money, he said, success will go to the one whose plan best exploits it.
"This argues for a focused modernization plan that provides us the flexibility to pursue different paths in the future rather than committing too far, too early -- leaping before we look," he said. "This focused plan also gives us the time to conduct our warfighting experiments the right way, which recognizes that success depends upon the freedom to fail -- to test many revolutionary concepts knowing that some will be busts while others will succeed."