Strike force to be Army's 'futures' test bed

by Jim Caldwell

FORT MONROE, Va. (Army News Service, March 2, 1999) -- The Army leadership believes that potential enemies have "gone to school" on Desert Shield/Desert Storm. Future aggressors won't give the United States time to build up forces the way the Iraqis did in 1990, nor will they allow American forces to set the terms of the fight.

"Operation Desert Storm showed us we had to change," said Gen. Dennis J. Reimer, Army chief of staff. "And we have changed. In Operation Desert Storm, it took us 18 days to deploy a heavy brigade. Today we can do it in 96 hours."

That viewpoint was reemphasized by Defense and Army Science Boards reviews, Army After Next studies and lessons learned from Force XXI experimentation that created the new heavy division organization design.

Force XXI experimentation also demonstrated the power of battlefield situational awareness provided by information age technologies. Those technologies changed traditional command and control functions, as well as the way leaders are trained and developed.

"All that insight gave birth to the Strike Force concept," Reimer said. "We have been working this concept since 1996."

Creating a Strike Force headquarters is the Army's first step in building a rapidly deployable, lethal force able to be decisive and successful across the spectrum of military operations. The Strike Force main missions are intended to be early entry combat and stability operations. But it will also be highly trained and equipped for not only high-end offensive and defensive operations, but for support operations such as humanitarian assistance.

Strike Forces are expected to be relatively small forces with 3,000 to 5,000 soldiers, depending on the mission. They can be deployed to anyplace in the world from the United States with enough lethality to seize the battlefield initiative.

Describing it as a cost-effective means of change, Reimer said that Strike Force experimentation has three objectives: to develop and field an adaptable, rapidly deployable force to meet warfighting commanders' in chief needs; to act as a leader development lab and to be a prototype for Army After Next organizations. Reimer said the Joint Readiness Training Center at Fort Polk, La., is an "ideal place" to explore ideas with the Strike Force that can be integrated throughout the Army.

The Army will begin forming the Strike Force headquarters in 1999 from existing Army resources. The 2nd Armored Cavalry Regiment at Fort Polk will serve as the proof-of-principle organization for testing the Strike Force concept. It is planned to have the Strike Force operational by 2003.

After it becomes operational, the Strike Force will draw forces from across the Army, including the National Guard and U.S. Army Reserve, and will be able to tailor a response package after being given a mission.

Reimer assigned the responsibility for creating the Strike Force to Training and Doctrine Command.

A lot of experimentation and testing has already been done and the Army leadership knows how the Strike Force should operate. However, there are still many avenues to be explored to reach that goal, said Gen. John N. Abrams, TRADOC commander.

"We haven't completed all the analytical work in terms of wargames and in terms of models and simulations," Abrams said. "[But] we know what our long-term objectives are."

As wargaming and analysis progressed, developers realized the multitude of missions required different capabilities, said Maj. Gen. Daniel Zanini, TRADOC's deputy chief of staff for combat developments.

"On Christmas Eve 1998 we had forces deployed on contingencies to about eight different places around the world," Zanini said

He said each operation differed in the types of soldiers, combat capability, support elements and combat service support elements.

"What was common in every one of those was its world class headquarters that we had put together pulling pieces out of corps, out of divisions and out of the reserve."

Information technologies such as distance learning will allow Strike Force and mission unit leaders to train together, and to resolve command and control issues. Strike Force headquarters will train with designated units using scenarios that test the capabilities of the various force packages.

The leader laboratory aspect of the Strike Force will target "the most adaptable part of our Army - the soldiers, the leaders," Zanini said.

"What we want to do is be able to put the right kind of training and leader development together so we have given them the right set of skills and knowledge," he said. "It'll give us insights into how you grow those leaders."

Zanini used a sergeant manning a checkpoint in Bosnia as an example of why troops at all levels need extensive training.

"The decisions he or she makes are as important as the decisions I made as a brigade commander in Desert Storm in terms of the impact that they have in the political-military outcome," he said.

Tactical operations centers that exist in today's Army will be changed for Strike Force. They will also become "nodes" instead of TOCs, with fewer soldiers in the command node and the control node.

Strike Force will use "reach back" capabilities of information technology for support from agencies in the United States. Those agencies may replace many of the functions represented in TOCs, such as intelligence and mission planning.

"As a battalion commander, I'd look to my ... artillery officer when I was planning a fire mission," Zanini said. "I'd count on him to help me figure out numbers of rounds of artillery I was going to need, types of munitions, fuse settings ... in order to get the right kind of indirect fire in on the target to have an effect.

"Today I can do that with a young private ... and a computer."

The general said soldiers will still need to be proficient in basic skills, but developers need to identify which basic skills are absolutely essential in the event technology fails.

Strike Force experiments are complimentary to development efforts of other military services, Zanini said. It will not replace Marine Corps assault forces, which "is the best over-the-shore forced entry capability ... anywhere in the world.

"We can't go do this without the (Air Force) Air Expeditionary Force," Zanini said. He also said the reach-back concept was borrowed from the Air Force.

"At the core we do have some ideas of the kinds of things that might be very useful inside (Strike Force)," Abrams said. "We've got a lot of questions yet to answer and I think that's the beauty of experimentation."

(Editor's note: Caldwell is a writer with the Training and Doctrine Command's Public Affairs Office at Fort Monroe, Va.)