on November 3, 2003
In recent internal memorandum to the top brass of the Pentagon, Secretary of Defense, Donald Rumsfeld, expressed deep reservations about our progress in the war on terrorism. He challenged the uniformed leadership to speed up transformation, writing "It is not possible to change DOD [Department of Defense] fast enough to successfully fight the global war on terror." Of all the branches of the military, the Army has been the most reluctant to restructure itself to meet the post cold war security environment's demands.
In Transformation Under Fire: Revolutionizing How America Fights, Colonel Douglas MacGregor examines the Army's failure to transform itself and forge a truly effective force to carry its burden in the war on terror. Instead of delaying transformation, he argues, the war on terror makes structural reform all the more urgent. MacGregor maintains that recent Army attempts at transformation, relying on the Stryker and a distant Future Combat System, fail to address the heart of the Army's problem: its anachronistic and cumbersome organization on the tactical and operational levels. MacGregor, however, spends the majority of his book proposing a solution to the problem: an immediate re-organization of the Army's combat units; and the fielding of currently available technology that will quickly address its tactical and operational needs.
MacGregor's ideas are not new. A Gulf war veteran who fought in the battle of 73 Easting, Colonel MacGregor went on to command 1-4 Cavalry at Ft. Riley. While serving there, he recognized the need to re-structure the Army to meet the post cold war demands. He likened the new world order to the American frontier in the late 1800s, which required not the mass infantry formations of the Civil War, but a flexible, expeditionary force based easily deployable, mounted formations. MacGregor's first book on transformation, Breaking the Phalanx: A New Design for Landpower in the 21st Century, laid out in detail his path to structural reform of the Army, emphasizing truly independent, self-contained Brigade sized units; elimination of the Army Divisions, and the formation of Joint Task Forces (roughly the size of a Corps) which integrate all services under a single command structure. Although his ideas received a lot critical acclaim, they went nowhere with the conservative Army leadership.
In Transformation Under Fire: Revoluationizing How America Fights, MacGregor argues that the "war transforms armies." Now, more than ever, the Army must finally shed its industrialized warfare skeleton, and adapt to the realities of Information Age warfare. The Army's essential structure has remained unchanged since the end of WWII, while the end of the cold war necessitates that the Army transform into "an irresistible offensive-maneuver force against a fleeting, mobile enemy." While the Army has recently recognized the need for transformation, he points out, it has sought technological solutions at the expense of addressing the fundamental question of organization for joint warfare.
Rather than transforming to meet the nation's needs, the Army is trying to "do what it wants to do." MacGregor explores the global trends that require a radically different approach to national security issues by the military. Globalization has severely disrupted social structures in much of the developing world, and brought America plenty of new enemies in all corners of the earth. The complete dominance we enjoy in world power has forced our new enemies to resort to unconventional attacks to inflict harm on United States interests. This requires a radically different approach from our Armed Forces. The current administration has developed pre-emption as the national security strategy to deal with emerging threats; such a strategy requires early decision in a crisis. The Pentagon has switched to an "Effects-based" strategy, that emphasizes rapid victory in conflicts by rapidly striking the enemy's strategic center of gravity. The Army's current attrition warfare structure does not position it to conduct rapid, decisive operations in support of the "Effects-based" strategy.
MacGregor goes on to sketch out an operational re-organization into Joint Force Headquarters, which integrate Army maneuver capabilities with strike capabilities of the Air Force and Navy. The Army would re-organize its core service capabilities into specialized modules that would support the Joint Task Force mission. By cutting out the Divisional structure and merging all branches of service at the Joint Task Force level under a three star General, the armed forces would have an organization capable of executing operations in a truly joint fashion with much reduced command decision cycles. MacGregor argues that army must create "network centric" organizations immediately. Combat Groups (roughly a brigade sized unit with all of its support assets organic) would be capable of independent, dispersed mobile warfare, rather than tightly scripted, coordinated mass maneuvers favored by divisions and corps. To forge truly effective combat groups, MacGregor urges training cycles based on unit manning concepts currently under consideration by Army leadership.
MacGregor reserves his last chapters for the upper echelons of the Army and what must change to effect true change. He calls for re-alignment of our combat power, shifting troops away from cold war bases to forward bases that enable power projection and expeditionary warfare. He calls for returning units to the United States and rotating them through forward bases to provide forward capabilities to the national leadership. Additionally, he argues for significant stream-lining of the Army's command structures in Europe and Korea. MacGregor goes on to advocate a new, stream-lined Army command structure to equip the new force, eliminating such headquarters as TRADOC and merging others. Bureaucracy and entrenched interests are the main impediments to effective, rapid transformation. MacGregor goes on to lambaste the Army promotion system that rewards officers who are "yes-men," while punishing officers with bold, forward-thinking ideas. As an example, he points out that selection for General requires the unanimous consent of all 17 General Officers on the board; essentially, a Colonel who aspires to serve at the higher ranks must keep his nose clean and not upset anyone with bold thinking. Finally, he takes the Army to task for remodeling existing Brigades, divisions, corps, and armies with new systems, while passively waiting for technology that is ten years in the future; instead, they should be restructuring now, using existing technology to carry the Army through the battles of the next fifteen years.
MacGregor's book is in the best tradition of military theorists, whose ideas transformed armies to meet the challenges of WWII: Hans von Seckt, Liddel Hart, Charles De Gaulle, and Heinz Guderian. MacGregor presented the first coherent view of how the information age should transform the way we organize for war. The question now remains whether the U.S. Army will heed his calls for true reform, or continue to cede more and more of its missions to the Marine Corps, which has embraced expeditionary warfare. MacGregor takes to task the leadership culture that stifles change; but more importantly, he sketches out a realistic, immediate path to true transformation that will vault the Army out of exile at the Pentagon and back into the forefront of the nation's struggles in the ongoing war on terrorism.