Change always has been very difficult for military institutions, especially those that have been as highly successful as ours. One major problem is that we very rarely get feedback on the success of our efforts toward change. In the fast-changing, highly competitive business world, corporations get a reading on their effectiveness when they look at their bottom line once a quarter. In the military arena, the only true measure of how well we are doing is victory in war. Fortunately, conflicts testing the full strength of our armed forces are rare. Absent a major success or failure in war, it is difficult to convince minds accustomed to doing things in ways that always worked in the past to "buy into" a new, potentially much better but unproven approach for the future.
For this reason, armed forces often have turned to experimentation to guide and gauge their efforts toward change and to provide convincing arguments for new approaches. The U.S. Navy's interwar experimentation with naval aviation and the Marines' efforts in amphibious warfare that helped set the course for victory in World War II are noteworthy examples of how to do it right. Our Army's experimentation with helicopter-borne air assault forces in the early 1960s is also an excellent model for using a dedicated experimental force to demonstrate the value of new equipment and new tactics.
Experimentation is terribly important to our armed forces today because we are at the cusp of a true revolution in military affairs (RMA), a revolution that will change warfighting as much as mechanization changed land warfare and aviation changed naval warfare during World War II. By seizing the potential advantages of the scientific and technological leaps of the unfolding information age, we can create U.S. armed forces with unprecedented capabilities—capabilities almost unimaginable today but ones we will need to meet the emerging challenges of the 21st century.
We need to keep in mind constraints on achieving a real RMA in our armed forces. First, it takes time to get it right. History is full of examples of misguided change that has gone awry, leading to rejection of new ideas—or worse, a force that is defeated in battle. Second, we live in a very dangerous world, where the demand for instantly available, trained, and ready forces is a constant reality. Thus, we have to balance the need to resource change and modernization with the need to maintain the readiness of the current force.
When we are dealing with something as serious as the future security of the United States, we owe it to the U.S. people and our Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen, and Marines to get it right. We cannot break our current force by piling too many missions on too few people or by forcing change at an rate that is not sustainable. Nor can we say that change is too hard, an unnecessary demand on dwindling resources.
For these reasons, creating new RMA-type armed forces is a daunting challenge. As noted historian Stephen Ambrose wrote of General George C. Marshall's incredible efforts to create a new U.S. Army to fight World War II, a force must first be imagined, then willed into being.
We have to begin with the imagining. We have to put ourselves mentally in the year 2020 and visualize the threats, challenges, and opportunities. We then have to determine what types of military capabilities will be required for the future and what it might be possible to create. This first step is important because it sets the objective, the ultimate destination toward which we want to steer.
The next step is to lay out the process that ties the physical to the mental. We need to "connect the dots" leading to our objective—establish the waypoints that will set the course from where we are today to our ultimate destination. Experimentation is a vital part of this effort because it is the means by which we can explore potential alternative paths toward the objective and select the best possible one.
RMAs Must Be Joint
The nature of the information-age RMA clearly indicates that all of this must be done jointly. In past RMAs—such as the Blitzkrieg , carrier warfare, amphibious warfare, or strategic bombing-most of the capabilities to achieve the RMA potential were resident in individual services. Today, we already fight as a joint team, as we have for decades. But in the RMA, we truly will require a "system of systems" that integrates the capabilities of all the armed services at lower and lower levels in order to achieve the full potential of the new technologies and operational concepts. Thus, successfully determining our final RMA destination and charting the course to get us there demands an unprecedented degree of cooperation among the services.
Joint experimentation offers a mechanism to cross fertilize ideas and achieve essential mutual understanding without constraining the energy and innovation of the individual services. It must bring to life the joint concepts and capabilities visualized in Joint Vision 2010 . From that experimentation we must will into being the follow-on joint operational concepts and capabilities that our forces will require in the 21st century. Most importantly, we must use experimentation to achieve "buy-in" for new ideas and new ways.
The steps to joint experimentation efforts can be very straightforward, following the methodology successfully used by our services for many years. First, we must develop candidate capabilities and concepts for experimentation. Second, we can use modeling and simulations to identify the best of these candidates for field experimentation. Third, we can use live and virtual experimentation to select the best capabilities and operational concepts to pursue.
Joint seminar wargames, patterned after the Navy's Global and the Army's Army After Next wargame series, can provide a powerful tool for focusing our best minds on developing candidate capabilities and operational concepts. We must pull our brightest and best active and reserve component leaders from their demanding day-to-day duties to dedicate their efforts for the required amount of time on this critical effort. We also need to match them with experts from other federal agencies, industry, and academia to bring the full breadth of viewpoints and expertise to bear on the problem.
Modeling and simulation are powerful information-age tools for changing the way we change. By creating "silicon testing grounds"—virtual battlefields—we can "build" new weapons systems and "fight" them with new operational concepts under the most strenuous and realistic conditions time and again—without actually bending any metal or putting personnel at risk. Most significantly, once the initial investments in hardware and software are made, additional iterations of experiments are relatively inexpensive. Consequently, we can afford to evaluate many new candidate systems and operational concepts under many different conditions before selecting the best for further testing. In addition, simulations allow us to develop "virtual veterans" with tremendous experience in future warfighting before we go into actual field testing.
The third step is to try out promising joint doctrine, tactics, techniques, and procedures developed and evaluated on the virtual battlefield through joint field exercises and maneuvers in the dirt, in the air, and on the water using real personnel under tough, realistic operational conditions. Here in the harsh demanding operational environment, we must validate the best capabilities and concepts under the critical eyes of our Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen, and Marines.
Simulation will play a key role in actual field testing. Because of expense, safety requirements, and limited exercise areas, many of our new capabilities can be tested only a few times under strict firing-range conditions. Therefore, to evaluate their contribution on the battlefield, it is essential to link in-the-dirt or at-sea exercises with simultaneous virtual simulations that replicate the effects of these capabilities in both the "real" and "virtual" worlds.
People Are the Greatest Asset
Our high-quality personnel add the greatest value to our joint field experimentation. Bringing them on board from the field or from the fleet to participate full-time contributes enormously to the worth of the effort. Adding their critical eyes and new ideas creates a tremendous "serendipity" effect when they are exposed to new capabilities and concepts and then see new approaches overlooked by those who already are involved in the experimentation effort full time.
Most important, field testing provides the best available argument to convince our people of the value of new ideas and new systems. Short of combat, seeing real personnel achieve amazing results in new ways under arduous real world conditions is the best way to get the support of all members of our great institutions.
Many of the resources required by the three-step process described above are already pretty much in place. We could start by linking the service training and experimentation centers in the Southwest United States so that they can share information and link training and experimentation in real time. Service battle laboratories and simulations available today can link the services virtually on a "synthetic battlefield" and create virtual veterans of joint future warfare. As we progress, we eventually might want to create a standing joint task force for joint experimentation that can serve as a ready testbed for new ideas and concepts.
As we do all this, we need to bear in mind that the ultimate purpose of joint experimentation is to help our senior leaders chart the course for the future. Like great explorers of the past, we will be sailing in uncharted waters full of dangers and opportunities. Therefore, we need to craft our experimental process carefully to ensure that it supports both Joint Staff and services critical information requirements as we make the difficult decisions needed to carry us safely to our desired destination.
We must also ensure that our experiments show us how to create war-winning synergy by bringing joint capabilities together rather than putting service capabilities in competition with each other. We are already doing some of this in the joint Army-Marine urban warfare experimentation and the joint Army-Air Force warfighting experiment. We need to make this joint experimentation the rule, not the exception. This will require the trust, confidence, energy, and commitment of all the services to make it work.
Today, despite the unrelenting pace of day-to-day requirements, we have a unique window of opportunity to fundamentally reshape our armed forces for the 21st century. To do so, we must master and control change, not respond reactively and too late. We must change the way we change to be consistent with our national strategy, the realities of the geostrategic environment, and the opportunities and challenges of the scientific and technological revolution. This requires that we chart an alternative course, that we leap ahead—not creep ahead—through joint experimentation to a truly effective, revolutionary joint force for the 21st century. This must be the legacy that we leave to our Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen, and Marines of the coming century.
Since 20 June 1995, General Reimer has served as the Army’s 33rd Chief of Staff. Colonel Davis served as his Staff Group director from June 1995 until July 1997.