American Forces Press Service

Demystifying 'Transformation'

By Linda D. Kozaryn
American Forces Press Service

SUFFOLK, Va., Aug. 14, 2002 -- When Thomas Edison's electric light replaced oil and gaslights, that was transformation. When Henry Ford's Model T replaced the horse and buggy as the common mode of transportation, that was transformation. When computers replaced typewriters and began talking to each other, that was transformation.

Simply put, transformation is broad, sweeping change. It's the kind of change that affects the way we live, how we think, work, play -- and even the way we fight. Such sweeping change has affected the military throughout history.

Red-coated troops no longer march shoulder-to-shoulder when they face a line of musket fire. Automatic weapons replaced single-shot rifles. Aircraft and armored vehicles replaced horses and wagons. Precision strike, rather than carpet- bombing, is now the rule.

Air Force Brig. Gen. Jim Smith, deputy commander at the Joint Warfighting Center at Suffolk, Va., is heavily involved in the military's current transformation. The center, part of U.S. Joint Forces Command, recently hosted Millennium Challenge 2002, a transformation experiment involving 13,500 troops fighting a virtual battle.

Millennium Challenge 2002 reflects the scope of the changes under way in today's military and those needed to meet future challenges, defense officials said. Military officials are now preparing an after-action report. "If you look at this experiment," Smith said, "we're looking at changes in doctrine, training, organization, leader development, personnel facilities."

Military officials looked at how they can better employ current equipment and resources. Future experiments will focus on what new weapon platforms and other resources are needed for the future.

"Everybody comes down here and they want us to show them a 'transformation,' like they're expecting to see something about the size of a desk with antennas and a gun that comes out of it, and you push a button, get an answer and shoot," Smith said. "That's not what transformation is all about."

The general's perspective on transformation goes beyond Millennium Challenge. He served two years as the Air Force chair at the National War College and is a military history buff. He said the past holds examples of military transformation.

"Throughout our history," Smith said, "the Army as an institution has been the leader in looking at the military to focus on the nation's powers." In 1802, he noted, West Point was the first and the best engineering school in the country. The military responsibility at the time was to shape Manifest Destiny and build the infrastructure of our nation.

"After the Civil War, you saw the military focused on the Indian challenge," he continued. "If you look at 1898, the Army redefined us to be expeditionary and then took a real hard look at our technology, our rifles and our logistics, so we could go expeditionary in World War I."

One of the major changes affecting the military today, according to Smith, is the need to blend the services into one fighting team. Joint operations in Afghanistan are a prime example of the transformation under way, he said.

In Afghanistan, U.S. special operations forces, air power and the Central Intelligence Agency worked with the Northern Alliance to eliminate Taliban and al Qaeda forces. "You notice I didn't say any service," the general said. "Service (branch) to me is irrelevant in this construct."

In a traditional scenario, he noted, the military going into Afghanistan would have had the Marines on the coast, the Army in another sector and the Air Force in another. "They'd be divided by lines on the map," he said. "There are no lines in Afghanistan."

"Classic Marine doctrine for an amphibious operation," he added, "is to control a 30-mile area for about 30 days, then pull out and let the Army take over. In Afghanistan, the Marines controlled an area 435 miles inland."

Afghanistan called for a whole new look at employing and integrating military forces, Smith said. "The Marines went in and connected with indigenous forces, agency officials and special operations forces. You never heard of any rift or any testosterone battles about who was in charge or who was most important."

Instead of advancing along a fixed front, he pointed out, U.S. forces struck targets throughout Afghanistan. The portions of the map under enemy control would shrink as coalition forces took over.

Smith said one problem that's emerged in such joint operations is in linking the services' command and control communications. As an example, he used the Army's Maneuver Control System and the Marines' Tactical Control Operations, both used at battalion level and higher.

"Do you think they talk to each other? No. In order to do operations, you had to draw lines saying, 'you stay on that side, and you stay on the other, because these two don't talk to each other," Smith said. Military officials developed a technical bridge between the two legacy systems, he noted. "The joint forces land component commander now has the technical ability to integrate the ground forces and that's exactly what he's doing. We never had that ability before."

In Afghanistan, Smith said, military officials had problems with the "seams" between service capabilities. Korean War- era communications procedures offset the advanced technical capabilities of B-1s, B-2s, B-52s and precision munitions.

"The problem is the two coming together," he said. "You're making a radio call to call out coordinates, which is what we did in Korea. Is there any reason at all you shouldn't have a laptop with a GPS grid so you've got a laser designator that designates the target, you hit a button and it goes up?"

Because the adversary in Afghanistan did not have a strong conventional warfighting capability, Smith said, U.S. and coalition forces had air superiority and were free to move about the country. Therefore, some defense officials say what worked in Afghanistan won't necessarily work anywhere else.

Military officials are looking at how the effort in Afghanistan came together, Smith said. "If we had to do it all over again, how would we shape that? How would we dissuade an adversary? How would we do it against an adversary who has a strong conventional capability?"

Overall, Smith said, the Afghanistan construct is a good starting point because it brought together all the tools we can use. "As we look back," he said, "I think we will see Afghanistan as a sea change of thinking. Now it's a question of whether we're going to move toward joint application of combat power or continue to fight in service lanes."

If you ask the services if they're joint, the general said, "they'll say, 'Sure I'm joint. I bleed purple.' What they mean is, 'I am joint so long as I'm the decisive element in a joint campaign and everybody comes and fits into my structure.' That doesn't help us very much in the modern world."

Over the last decade, the great debate has been over who controls the battle, the Army or the Air Force, he said. "As a joint guy, I don't care. Air power is the most dominant form of kinetic warfare today and probably for the foreseeable future," he said. "This does not mean the Air Force is the dominant service."

Focusing on airpower as the nation's "dominant instrument" would make the military one-dimensional, Smith said. "If you're an adversary and you've got a high-tech nation that is singularly focused on airpower, what do you do? You disperse. You disperse strategically and you disperse operationally".

During the air campaign over Kosovo, he said, defense officials learned they could clean the skies very quickly and hit key strategic operational targets. But, in the same vein, the enemy learned to hide his armor and not move it. "The only way to get them to mass is a ground force that threatens them," he said. "Once they mass, then air power can kill them."

In Afghanistan, al Qaeda also learned to disperse strategically.

"If an adversary figures out that they can avoid our air power and we don't have a ground capability anymore, we as a nation are hurting," Smith concluded. "I'm the strongest advocate for saying, 'Wait a minute. You have to have a ground capability.

"I'm also the first to criticize my Army friends who insist on corps-level maneuver operations as the centerpiece of the Army. They've spent an awful lot of their research and development budget in the last 15 years trying to compete with the Air Force over the deep battle. Why? The Army's job ought to be to seize and hold terrain in whatever form that is. If we lose that we're in trouble."

The nation's unified commanders, not the services, are responsible for integrating warfighting, logistics and joint training in theater, he stressed. "The services don't fight. The combatant commander fights," he said. "But most of what's driving his capability is service decisions. How do you integrate that?"

"Most of the processes we've got in place today are oriented toward (integrating) after everything gets over in the theater," he said. "What gets deployed and what form it is, (are left to) the services. So the unified commander has to do what he can with what the services deploy."

In the future, Smith predicted, Joint Forces Command is going to be the central advocate for the combatant commander and what he needs to be able to do his warfighting.