Experimental Force and Sea Dragon
An evolutionary step from current force design, the Army's Experimental Force is based on the application of digital C 4 I technology to existing armor, mechanized, and infantry battalions. The 4th Infantry Division based at Fort Hood, Texas, currently is serving as the ExFor. Within the division, one armored brigade with an attached light infantry battalion has been designated as Task Force XXI and refitted with the new equipment. During March 1997, it was tested in the field against a live opponent at the National Training Center at Fort Irwin, California.
Task Force XXI is equipped with 47 prototypes and 33 equipment platforms that represent the latest technology. The systems include the new Longbow Apache, unmanned aerial vehicles, and the M109A6 howitzer, but ExFor's most important feature may be its tactical internet.
The tactical internet enhances the situational awareness of every soldier in the brigade by providing a digital map in every vehicle that shows the vehicle's location, the location of other friendly elements, and the position of enemy units. Data acquired by one element are broadcast almost instantaneously across the brigade via a digital link. The results are a faster planning cycle, constantly updated synchronization, greater awareness (which reduces the chance of enemy surprise), and the virtual elimination of fratricide.
Another key innovation is the transportation-based logistics system. Digital links allow constant monitoring of key logistics information. In theory, the Army will be able to reap substantial benefits: enhanced asset visibility will substitute more responsive logistics for large stockpiles of supplies; just-in-time delivery will allow for leaner organizations; and combat battalions no longer will be burdened with large logistics trains.
The changes proposed for the ExFor are a major step forward, but the Marine Corps proposes to make a quantum leap. The Commandant's Warfighting Laboratory, better known as Sea Dragon, currently is testing a host of technological and doctrinal innovations. Sea Dragon is conducting three advanced warfighting experiments to test and evaluate potentially revolutionary improvements in the way Marine forces maneuver, fight, and sustain themselves on the battlefield.
The first, designated Hunter Warrior, also took place in March 1997. It tested the hypothesis that a force of small units, operating over extended maneuver space, can influence the battlefield decisively. The means of providing a smaller force the "teeth" needed to have an impact on war fighting on the operational (or campaign) level comes from a new concept known as infestation tactics.
Infestation tactics rely on a large number of small infantry teams, each designed to locate the enemy, direct fire support, and maneuver on the battlefield without being detected. The most revolutionary aspect of these teams is the means by which they engage and destroy the enemy. Rather than relying on their own organic weapons, the teams will be dependent on external fire support. Rather than a "shooter," the infantryman becomes a "spotter."
This change of identity for the infantryman stems from technological advances. With enhanced digital communications, more accurate smart munitions, and man portable guidance systems, fire support in Hunter Warrior is the king of the battlefield. In addition to traditional tube artillery, the individual team can call for and direct close air support, rocket fires, naval gunfire, and missile attacks.
Like Task Force XXI, the new organization envisioned in Hunter Warrior plans to operate and sustain itself in an entirely new fashion. Command and support for the unit will be located on board naval shipping more than a hundred miles from the actual maneuver units. Traditional agencies for planning, control, and operations have been radically restructured. The use of drones, the "virtual presence" of doctors via television links, and advanced logistics shipping will redefine the way a unit in the field is supported.
The proposed Marine task force of Hunter Warrior will alter fundamentally every aspect of the way Marines locate, close with, and destroy the enemy. This experiment, and the following evolutions in Sea Dragon, will wed advanced technology to new doctrine.
War and MOOTW
The ExFor is an attempt to maximize the performance of current Army organizations and weapon systems. Because it retains most of the size and structure of today's forces, the ExFor is well suited for coercion in conventional warfare. Clausewitz recognized that seizing the enemy's terrain is one of the principal requirements to coerce an enemy in war-and most military professionals today, whether in land- or sea-based services, still agree. The many tanks, fighting vehicles, and infantrymen of the ExFor have the capability to gain and hold terrain in a way that ships, bombers, and cruise missiles cannot duplicate.
Yet the ExFor's physical size also has strategic disadvantages. Because of the difficulties in deploying such forces over long distances, U.S. strategy must rely on forward deployment, prepositioning, or time for an unhindered force buildup. When forward deployment is not possible for political or other reasons, the ExFor may be limited in its ability to deter in a crisis situation short of war. An enemy may be willing to gamble that he could complete his conquests before U.S. forces could be brought to bear.
The ExFor's tactical advantages and disadvantages in conventional war also are related to its physical size. A strong organization, it is able to penetrate into enemy-held territory. Enhanced situational awareness provided by the tactical internet and other advancements should give it a marked advantage over other units of comparable or greater size.
The ExFor, because of its size and design, can absorb damage that smaller units cannot. Even if it suffers a major disruption in communications, the unit still can function and succeed in combat. Performance would be degraded, but a systems crash of the tactical internet would not prevent the unit from engaging and destroying the enemy. ExFor's design allows it to fight in the "old" style, should it be required.
Although physical mass could be an advantage, it also could become a tactical vulnerability for the ExFor. As weapons of mass destruction and precision-guided munitions proliferate, military forces based on the old principles of physical mass make large targets. The ExFor may be exceedingly vulnerable when in static positions such as during disembarkation at a port, or if employed in a battle position defense.
Strategically, the force proposed in the Sea Dragon/ Hunter Warrior experiment also has advantages and disadvantages. Foremost among its advantages is the ability of a Sea Dragon force to deploy rapidly and project power. Currently, a Marine expeditionary unit (MEU) stationed in the Persian Gulf can only be expected to engage in limited operations or to defend key installations in times of crisis. A MEU in such a situation is merely a delaying force until more substantial units arrive in theater. A Sea Dragon Marine air-ground task force (MAGTF) combined with new concepts such as the Navy's arsenal ship or the Air Force's air expeditionary force, along with familiar carrier battle groups and naval gunfire support vessels, will allow a small force of infestation teams on the ground to influence events across a large, operational battlefield. Setting up artillery ambushes and calling in strikes against enemy armored columns, a single MAGTF feasibly could defend an area the size of Kuwait against a massed assault.
The deployment of a small Sea Dragon MAGTF at the beginning of a crisis may have a significant deterrent effect because of its ability to call in enormous firepower, but if military force is required to coerce the enemy-as in Desert Storm-its effectiveness may be limited. Optimized for economy-of-force and defensive operations, a Sea Dragon MAGTF would have less capability to seize terrain. Conventional Marine forces, which played a major role in the liberation of Kuwait, would find themselves too specialized and too light to repeat their 1991 performance if completely reorganized under the Sea Dragon concept.
Tactically, the Sea Dragon force's advantages and disadvantages are opposite those of the ExFor. Loss of communications would be catastrophic, because the small team of Marines would lose the ability to call and direct fires to destroy larger forces. The decentralization and dispersion of a Sea Dragon MAGTF makes it a less vulnerable target for weapons of mass destruction or advanced weaponry. And if strategy requires a Sea Dragon unit to cross enemy lines in an offensive operation, it may be highly vulnerable, especially in close terrain. In this respect the Sea Dragon force may be like the Studies and Observations Group (SOG) commandos during the Vietnam War.
The SOG commandos operated in small teams in denied areas. They had access to overwhelming firepower from external sources such as helicopter gunships and jet fighter-bombers. Yet, when forced into close combat by restrictive jungle terrain, these teams were vulnerable to infantry with small arms. The SOG forces valiantly inflicted enormous casualties on the enemy, but suffered severe losses themselves.
Military operations other than war (MOOTW) pose very different challenges for both the ExFor and Sea Dragon. Every humanitarian relief effort, display of force, peacekeeping mission, or other operation requires a different set of capabilities, but during many missions, one old lesson still rings true: numbers count.
Advanced technology has yet to pay large dividends in reducing the size of forces for some other-than-war missions. As U.S. soldiers found in Bosnia and elsewhere, nonlethal or less-than-lethal weapons have not given small military or police units the ability to control crowds; in many MOOTW environments, the physical presence of a force is required. The ExFor can answer these concerns by establishing a large presence on the ground.
Because the ExFor retains its physical mass in terms of soldiers and equipment, it retains the advantages of today's forces for operating in operations other than war.
Sea Dragon has yet to address the requirements of MOOTW, but the infestation teams proposed in Hunter Warrior may be inadequate. By definition, they are small and lack mass. More important, they rely solely on the threat of massive retaliation with firepower for deterrent effect. When challenged, as our forces were in Somalia, a military force must be able to choose from a variety of responses. The small infestation team's firepower response will not be appropriate in most MOOTW situations.
Viewed separately, the ExFor and Sea Dragon have limitations that would restrict U.S. strategy options. Viewed together, they suffer few such constraints. A military that combines the ExFor's great coercive capability in war and significant presence in military operations other than war with the deterrence capabilities of the Sea Dragon force would cover all the bases-leaving few weaknesses for an adversary to exploit.
Operationally, these forces work better together than alone. A Sea Dragon force could be the holding force that secures a wide lodgment and allows Army heavy forces to land without danger. Once the ExFor is formed up, it could take over the main effort and conduct offensive operations to seize and control terrain. In this sense, Sea Dragon and ExFor are improvements that allow their respective services to better execute their historical missions: amphibious early entry operations for the Marines and sustained land combat for the Army.
Achieving this vision requires joint thought and effort now. Both forces are increasingly dependent on communications and computers. Without communications, the Army's tactical internet will crash, and the Marine infestation teams will lose access to external fire support. Protection of communications must be a priority. A joint effort that pools resources and expertise from all the services will be needed to counter threats ranging from electronic jamming to satellite destruction.
Computers also must be able to talk to one another. Unless we design jointness into the computer systems of our prototype forces now, we risk having one force of PCs and one of Macs. We need a common hardware and software standard that will allow command, control, and intelligence systems from all the services to share data, even down to the tactical level. An individual Army Longbow Apache helicopter should be able to directly talk to a Marine infestation team on the ground.
Unless advanced warfighting initiatives are pursued with joint cooperation from the beginning, we could end up in a situation worse than that of the combined armies of Britain and France at the beginning of World War I. Denied any meaningful sharing of intelligence, short on interpreters, and poorly integrated into the French battle plan, the six divisions of the British Expeditionary Force took a terrible beating at the hands of the German invaders. What a tragic irony it would be if Marine or Army forces failed in combat because they could not communicate, share information, or coordinate plans with another force of American fighting men.