LAND FORCES FOR FUTURE CONFLICTS
By John Reed
20 Aug 10. Battlespace contributor John Reed discusses the organisational structures that could be necessary for the hybrid conflicts that may lie in wait for tomorrow’s land forces.
The perfectly formed force package may be the land commander’s Holy Grail. Inevitably the assembly of a deployable package will necessitate some compromises. Whilst the overall intention will be that compromise should not impact operational effectiveness, recent experience suggests that there is a persistent risk that the package will in at least some respects be organised and equipped for ‘the previous conflict’ rather than that which it is more likely to face.
Land forces have become adept at adjusting constituent elements of packages to meet evolving rather than historical threats – in essence though this means going to war with the equipment that is on hand However, as was the case with the British Army’s ‘Snatch’ Land Rovers and inadequate helicopter resources deployed to Afghanistan, the risk of casualties arising from equipment inadequacies may have a negative effect on the conduct of operations. The causes for the retention of inappropriate ‘previous generation’ resources may reflect systemic inadequacies including lack of responsiveness in the procurement process, budgetary constraints or a failure to anticipate the extent of an evolving threat.
The ensuing capability gaps may be redressed by means of Urgent Operational (procurement) Requirements but such decision-making ‘on the hoof’ is unlikely to provide a satisfactory solution to the need to achieve a balance between the acquisition of off-the-shelf technology and evolving threats.
The Threat Spectrum
The fall-out from the recent economic crisis has added an additional dimension to the capability gap conundrum. It is likely that an increasing number of nations will be confronted by the circumstances that prompted the UK’s newly-appointed defence minister to tell a leading newspaper that his country would probably be unable to adequately defend itself a against the foreseeable threat spectrum.
* At one end of the spectrum near peer-on-peer conflicts may be remote in at least the near to mid term for the United States and the Western military powers. However there are long-standing tensions throughout the world that may ignite and require the Western nations to intervene either singly or in partnerships
* At the mid point there are the more likely protracted counterinsurgency situations similar to that currently in Afghanistan
* The ‘high end’ of the threat spectrum will comprise complex challenges posed by hybrid threats that meld conventional, irregular and terrorist capabilities. Moreover, hybrid threats are likely to become more complex as potential adversaries capitalise on evolving communications, IT and social networking technologies to narrow the C4ISR&T gap between non-state actors and the major military powers. In the process they will likely add cyber-warfare to their diverse capabilities.
The dominant characteristics of the adversaries likely to be encountered in ‘hybrid’ conflicts have been described by commander of the US Army’s TRADOC, Gen Martin L Dempsey, as decentralised and ‘starfish organisations’. Arguably such organisations are evolutionary developments of the traditional cellular structures, but the technologies available to them – and the environments in which they are likely to operate – provide a degree of fluidity that was historically not attainable by organisations like the Provisional IRA. General Dempsey’s reported view was that attacking decentralised organizations in a conventional way leads to further decentralisation. The preferred response was, in his view, attack in an unconventional way.
The Operational Environment
Although it may be invidious to single out specific high-risk situations, it is not unrealistic to expect that ‘starfish’ adversaries will flourish and