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Transforming the Military: No Magic Trick

By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, June 21, 2001 – "Transforming the military" is an amorphous phrase. What it means depends on what you do, where you sit or how you currently do your job.

"Transforming" sounds like magic: Say a couple of words over a top hat and pull out a rabbit. It looks easy.

But transforming the military is not magic and it won't be easy.

Why is transforming the military even necessary? After all, the U.S. armed forces are the strongest and best equipped in the world. If there is any doubt about the effectiveness of the U.S. military, then ask Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein or former Serb president Slobodan Milosevic.

The military needs to transform because the times have changed, DoD officials said. The end of the Cold War signified a change in the world environment. Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld calls the period we are in "the era of Globalization." New threats face the United States and its allies. Terrorism, cyberattacks, nuclear, chemical and biological attacks and other asymmetric threats are growing. America must prepare to meet them.

Upon his confirmation, Rumsfeld initiated a strategic review of the U.S. military. "This review will be aimed at making certain that we have a sound understanding of the state of the U.S. forces and their readiness to meet the 21st century security environment," he said during his January confirmation hearings. "We need to ensure that we will be able to develop and deploy and operate and support a highly effective force capable of deterring and defending against new threats. This will require a refashioning of deterrence and defense capabilities."

But even before the Rumsfeld Review, the transformation of the U.S. military had begun. Right now, it is based upon Joint Vision 2020. This is the handbook for what the U.S. military should look like in 2020, according to the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Army Gen. Henry Shelton.

All the services are actively working on transformation. The hub of DoD transformation efforts is U.S. Joint Forces Command in Norfolk, Va. "Regardless of the mission, tomorrow's U.S. armed forces have to get there quicker, dominate the situation, and win decisively," said Army Gen. William F. Kernan, commander-in-chief of Joint Forces Command. "It will require agility, versatility, and highly trained, competent forces and leaders. Joint forces that get there quickly and possess the capability to fight their way in will be relevant to the future fight."

The folks at Joint Forces Command look at transformation from many different angles, and officials realize that transformation is not just one thing. The command looks at immediate transformation needs.

"We currently have some immediate shortfalls that we need to make up -- conceptually, doctrinally, equipment," said Dave Ozolek, deputy director of the command's Joint Futures Laboratory in Suffolk, Va. These are threats confronting the United States that need to be addressed soonest, he noted.

The second level of transformation is about looking into the next decade. "We started with Joint Vision 2010, now it's Joint Vision 2020," Ozolek said. "It's really taking an evolutionary approach."

He said there are others who argue that transformation should not be evolutionary, but a complete break with current doctrine and practice.

"Some people propose maybe we just ought to skip a generation and go to a complete and radical rework of how we want to operate in the future, so we've been kind of caught up in that debate for the time we've been in operation," he said. "Our work has told us that there's no simple answer. Unfortunately, too many people are looking for simple answers."

The fact is that no single approach may be correct, and JFCOM's mission is to get to the best answer through a series of challenging experiments. "We really do have requirements across those three dimensions in transformation," Ozolek said. "And that's how we're orienting our program."

How does the U.S. military maintain the qualitative edge it has today? How does DoD sharpen that edge en route to the accomplishment of the Joint Vision? "And then, how do we go beyond Joint Vision and get to the real fundamentals of the revolution in military affairs over the next several decades?" Ozolek said.

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Related Sites:
Transformation Study
Transformation Study executive summary


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