The Future is Now. Is the Army Ready?

December 10, 2015

The year is 2025.

With his Iron Lion Brigade, Maj. Gen. Lukas Grigas watched news reports of a growing “Russian separatist movement” in the eastern districts of his home country. Just days into the weeks-old unrest, “little green men” had appeared, aiding the separatists in seizing key facilities in the region. These were clearly Russian Spetsnaz, but Moscow’s multimedia propaganda machine denied Russian involvement and obscured the world’s understanding of events. Russian cyber-attacks against websites, power stations, and water facilities had proved especially effective in forcing local government leaders to focus on providing basic services, rather than addressing the growing security threat from the east. The Russians had effectively confused NATO allies about the situation, stifled the government and media response, and thrown the country into general disorder. Gen. Grigas, doubtful that local district governors could resolve the situation, intently reviewed his brigade’s readiness status in preparation for operations.

A local infantry battalion marched into the contested region, attempting to support the beleaguered police forces. Expecting to face only lightly armed separatists and Spetsnaz, the infantrymen found their adversaries supported by a tank-reinforced Russian mechanized company. Hard-pressed to hold their ground, the soldiers employed their limited inventory of anti-tank missiles. The result again surprised the local fighting force, as Russian vehicles with the latest protective systems proved immune to the missiles. The infantrymen retreated in disorder, and the Russians expanded their control westward. Partial reports of events in the contested districts arrived at Gen. Grigas’ Iron Lion Brigade. As he, his staff, and commanders developed tentative plans around a map, the phone rang. It was their commander-in-chief, President Milov. “Lukas, the nation needs you,” he said. “The Russians are on the march once again, and only you and your men can save us. All the money and effort we have invested to give you the very best training and equipment is about to pay off. Godspeed and good luck.”

The pride of the country’s land forces assembled on the plains outside of the capital, in final preparation to drive out the Russian invader. Morale was high as the soldiers of the Iron Lion Brigade made final weapons checks and loaded fuel and ammunition for the upcoming fight. Above, a faint hum was barely audible as unmanned drones circled the brigade’s assembly areas. Within moments, a relentless rain of rocket, cannon, and missile fire shattered the tanks, equipment, and soldiers of the brigade. Gen. Grigas’ modern command post met a similar fate. Hours after establishing their tactical command network, the Russians located and attacked the headquarters with a rocket barrage. No coherent element of the brigade remained to stand against the advancing Russians. Lukas Grigas, once the proud commander of his country’s best-trained and equipped fighting force, stood among the ruins of the Iron Lion Brigade. He sat on the trunk of a fallen tree and contemplated the destruction of his unit, his army, and his country — how could this have happened?

As Gen. Grigas lamented his failure, a surviving aide approached. “Sir, a messenger from the capitol brings news: An American brigade will arrive by nightfall. The President directs that you return and bring them into the fight.” Lukas’ hopes soared. The Americans are coming. All is not lost! Lukas knew these Americans. They had recently arrived from the United States as a regionally aligned force and drawn prepositioned equipment, and had maneuvered with his brigade last month as part of a NATO exercise. His optimism was immediately tempered, however, with the thought that his own brigade, armed with the most advanced American technology and doctrine, had been swept away by the Russians. How could the U.S. Army fare any better in this fight?

The year is 2015.

How will the U.S. Army fare in future conflict? Many, if not all, of the Russian capabilities described above currently exist. They are well documented from Russian operations in eastern Ukraine. We can reasonably expect the Russians will refine and improve their capabilities in the coming years, and we can expect other adversaries to do the same. Similarly, the invaded nation’s capabilities mirror current and projected U.S. equipment and doctrine. Will our Army adapt?

The Army Operating Concept, Win in a Complex World, proposes solutions to the scenario above. Current Russian operations indicate priorities for the Army, particularly in terms of capabilities it needs to be prepared for such a fight. Among these are cyberspace capabilities that now need to be incorporated at the lowest levels, better defensive capabilities for Army aviation, and the ability to counter enemy drone activity as well as massed rocket, missile, and artillery fires. The Army must also improve the survivability and lethality of its tanks and fighting vehicles, as well as their associated ammunition and missile systems. All of these measures, and many more, support the secretary of the Army and the Army chief of staff’s request to Congress for funding and implementation to ensure soldiers retain a decisive advantage against enemies on future battlefields. These capabilities are on the way, but they must come faster — the future is now. To do less risks the fate of America’s military effectiveness and our allies.

While the Army Operating Concept outlines capabilities required to address the current and future threat, no military ever won because it had a better concept than its enemies. The Army, necessarily engaged in a wide variety of operations around the globe, and continually resource-challenged, must simultaneously implement a full set of solutions to the threat, and rapidly get them into the hands of Army leaders and soldiers. The future is not certain, but the current operations of potential adversaries portend a future that requires our immediate attention. Failure to act now places us, our allies, and our partners into a story line that is neither difficult to describe nor to predict.


Brigadier General Lee Quintas currently serves as the Director for Concept Development and Learning, Army Capabilities Center, U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command. The views expressed here are those of the author, and do not necessarily reflect positions held by the U.S. Army, Department of Defense, or the U.S. Government.


Photo credit: Sgt. Richard Wrigley, U.S. Army