Facing cuts to end strength and modernization programs, the Army is following instructions from Defense Department leaders to carry out any reductions with an eye toward undoing them quickly if world events demand it, according to officials.
The philosophy, which goes under the name "expansibility," is being fleshed out by Training and Doctrine Command, where it is used synonymously with "reversibility," officials said. "We have been asked to figure out all the different elements of how we would reverse a drawdown, how we would create and retain these expansibility characteristics within the force," Col. Mark Elfendahl, chief of TRADOC's Joint and Army Concepts Division, told Inside the Army in a Dec. 8 interview on the sidelines of the service's Unified Quest seminar in Washington.
According to a working definition distributed to reporters at the event, the idea is to "generate needed capabilities and capacities quickly in response to operational demands in defense of our nation and its vital national interests."
The growing U.S. debt burden is forcing spending cuts on all government agencies. The Pentagon's future budget plans stand to be cut by $450 billion or so in the next decade, in accordance with the Budget Control Act crafted this summer. The law requires further defense cuts of $600 billion to begin taking effect in fiscal year 2013 because a bipartisan congressional "supercommittee" failed to agree on a package of additional debt-reduction measures last month.
The expansibility policy would lead to a smaller, less costly Army, the thinking goes. Yet, it would allow for a mechanism by which personnel levels and equipment could be ramped up to meet national security goals, Elfendahl said. Planning for such a ramp-up also aims to include domains outside the Army's direct control, like industrial capacity, he said.
"How do the systems that produce equipment for us get turned on and off?" Elfendahl said. In addition, implications for training and leader development must be considered, he added. "It needs to be a broad-based thing, not just 'How does [Army Forces Command] stand up another unit?'"
Gen. Martin Dempsey, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, began postulating the expansibility principle during his tenure as TRADOC commander and, later, during his brief stint as Army chief of staff, according to a service official close to the issue. The idea has since gained traction in senior-level guidance and deliberations among DOD policy-makers, officials said.
Pentagon spokesman Army Lt. Col. James Gregory declined to comment. "[T]he process is ongoing, and nothing has been decided upon, so it would be inappropriate to offer any details," he wrote in an email.
Dempsey mentioned "reversibility" in a Nov. 7 speech to the National Guard joint senior leadership conference in National Harbor, MD. "[I]f you get it wrong, how do you reverse-field and get it right?" he asked. Wrapped up in the idea, he said, is a new definition of the relationship between the active and reserve components.
Meanwhile, results from the Army seminar last week are slated to shape a new capstone concept for the ground service. The document sets strategic priorities for the Army. An upcoming Unified Quest in January will discuss the revision of the service's operating concept.
Under the heading "What the Army must do," Unified Quest participants sought to answer questions arising from the fact that two major land operations are winding down, and projected defense budgets are shrinking. "We are going to be in not an era of persistent conflict, but an era of constrained resources," Col. Kevin Felix, chief of the future warfare division at TRADOC's Army Capabilities Integration Center, told ITA at the event. "And we see that continuing really through 2020."
Persistent conflict, or the thought that the United States is in a constant battle against various sorts of terrorists with no chance of winning anytime soon, has dominated DOD thinking for years.
Thinking about what the Army must do inevitably leads to the question of what the Army should no longer do and cannot anymore afford to do, Felix said. Officials differentiate between missions that the Army might drop altogether, or missions that the Army will no longer be able to do to the same extent it did when money was plentiful.
Army stations abroad are a case in point for the latter category. "We're going to be a less-forward deployed organization," Felix predicted. That has led to discussions within the service about other ways of assuring allies of America's backing, he added. It also means the Army will have to be selective in its relationships with foreign partners, and that it must prioritize security-cooperation efforts to "where the return on our investment is going to be greatest," Elfendahl said.
As for shedding an entire mission area, Joint Staff analysts ran excursions earlier this year assuming the Army would no longer partake in large-scale stability operations and nation-building missions, as seen in Iraq and Afghanistan. While there is no explicit policy codifying that idea, there is an "implication" to that effect included in recent planning documents, according to Elfendahl.
The Army's task is to make clear to senior leaders the risks involved in stripping the service of certain capabilities. In the case of a move away from stability operations, the result may have to be a greater acceptance of so-called ungoverned spaces around the globe.
Defense officials under former President George W. Bush crafted a defense doctrine closely linked to the goal of eradicating ungoverned spaces worldwide out of fear that anti-Americanism could fester there and spawn attacks on U.S. targets.
In current debates, leaders are leaning more toward saving money by curtailing the capacity for doing certain missions, essentially contracting the military on a quantitative level, but leaving core capabilities intact.
"As part of the strategy review undertaken to inform the budget cuts necessary, [Dempsey] has spoken about reductions in force size that will likely result in reduced capacity rather than capability," according to Marine Corps Col. David Lapan, who is Dempsey's spokesman. "This concept does not apply only to the Army, and it will be developed over time," he wrote in an email to ITA. -- Sebastian Sprenger