Fires | The Army of 2025: A Four Tier Approach to Operational Readiness

The Army of 2025: A Four Tier Approach to Operational Readiness

by SFC Alex H. Joy


Fort Carson HIRAIN exercise
U.S. Army Soldiers from the 1st Battalion, 14 Field Artillery, 214th Fires Brigade, fire a rocket from a M142 High Mobility Artillery Rocket System, Fort Carson, Colo., March 6, 2015. Twelve rockets were fired in total during a joint exercise training, with the Air Force and Army to stay proficient in transporting, setting up and firing a HIMAR for real-world situations. Photo by Airman 1st Class Nathan Clark, U.S. Air Force

The United States Army of 2025 must be capable of conducting both unified land operations, as well as remain fluent in counterinsurgency theory. The operational threat of 2025 is an unknown variable, and it is paramount that the Army maintains the capability to conduct operations on multiple fronts, utilizing both conventional and non-conventional tactics. To remain relevant in the ever changing global environment, the Army must sustain proficiency in rapid deployment, sustain the strength and effectiveness of special operations forces, and place emphasis on small unit expeditionary warfare while fostering joint-force mission command. Developing and maintaining this capability during a time of fiscal constraint, pending reductions to the force, and the looming political stigma due to the end to operations in Afghanistan and Iraq will be difficult. This can be accomplished over a short period of time by implementing a four-tier strategy; recruiting and reallocating the force, leader development and training, small unit expeditionary tactics, and foreign military sales.

Recruiting and Reallocating the Force

The Army of 2025 will be unable to financially field a standing active force capable of conducting unified land operations on the scale necessary to remain the relevant fighting force that it is today. The current financial situation and pending force reduction are evident of that. The probable solution to the problem is to increase the size of the Army Reserves and Army National Guard, while reducing the size of the Active Component. This action will relieve a majority of the financial burden of providing full-time pay, medical care, and housing of a large active force. The critical component to this is recruiting and reallocating the force. Recruiting an all volunteer Army from a population that consists of the new military aged generation presents a new set of unique challenges. Primarily this generation, or pool of potential service members, has witnessed the operations in Iraq and Afghanistan from start to finish and has grown leery of military service. Secondly, nearly 0.5 percent of this generation has already served and deployed in support of the Global War on Terrorism and are either still actively serving, are medically retired, or are in some way ineligible for future service. The remaining 99.5 percent of the American population that did not serve in support of the Global War on Terrorism have been sheltered and have chosen other paths besides military service due to the uniqueness of the conflict. This conflict did not call for war bonds or rationing, and had almost no economic or social affect on the home front to drive them to service as historical conflicts of the previous century had. These factors, coupled with a dwindling recruiting budget to entice the young men and women of this generation to serve is a difficult problem to overcome. During the beginning stages of the Global War on Terrorism, the ranks of the Army swelled due in part to generous enlistment incentives that are unavailable today. It is unlikely to see recruiting budgets and incentives at that level again due to budget constraints. The silver lining in this situation is that a number of the current military aged generation who are inclined to serve are already trained, have combat experience, and may be willing to continue service in a Reserve Component. In order to effectively recruit and reallocate the force, supposed monetary gains from the reduction of the Active Component must be applied immediately to the budget of recruiting for and retaining the services within the Reserve Components of those who are transitioning from the Active Component. This action must happen nearly simultaneously to avoid any gaps in service that may render the transitioning Army population ineligible from military service, such as disability, failure to meet body fat standards, criminal history, or deciding on a separate career option. Without this effort, the United States Army risks generating an untrained Reserve Component at the cost of hundreds of millions of dollars, and leaving a crucial experienced leadership gap at the non-commissioned officer and officer levels. If appropriate assets are allotted to this effort in the near term, the dividends include funds saved by avoiding training and housing new recruits, as well as assist in addressing the gap of combat experienced leadership caused by a rapid drawdown of the Active Component.

Leader Development and Training

The Active Component of the United States Army has the greatest task in the transition period; developing leaders at all levels in the execution and theory of unified land operations, and training the force under a strict monetary budget. As it stands, a generation of leaders in the Army rotates at around seven years; meaning a group of leaders either promotes themselves out of their current position, or leaves the Army every seven years. We are at a crucial turning point where the successors in this generational rotation have no combat experience, but have institutional training experience in a non-conventional type of warfare. The predecessors have combat experience, and institutional training experience in non-conventional warfare, not unified land operations or linear warfare. The conflicts of the last decade have forced a huge doctrinal shift in the United States Army, focusing on Counterinsurgency, Counterterrorism, the defeat of improvised explosive device and non-confrontational enemy tactics. This has created a critical shortfall in both training and experience at the non-commissioned officer, Company Grade officer, and field grade officer levels. This shortfall in leadership experience potentially leads to undisciplined and incapable units Army wide in the near future. To remedy this, unit mission essential task lists and the Army Force Generation Cycle (ARGEN) must be modified to rapidly correct this training and leadership gap. Both non-commissioned officer and Officer Education Systems must expand unified land operation curriculum, and the requirement to attend these courses must be mandatory upon achieving the next rank, and for consideration for the next higher rank. The current scope of curriculum is insufficient, especially at the junior and senior non-commissioned officer level. Distance learning under the current Structured Self Development model is inadequate, and encourages laziness and cheating. Institutional training must be conducted in a controlled environment, much like a resident college course. Instructors must be of the highest caliber in their particular fields, and the coursework must be challenging. Practical exercises in planning and executing tactical operations should be the ultimate qualifying factor of Army institutional training. The days of 100 percent graduation rates and open book testing have passed. Junior non-commissioned officers in the Army of 2025 must be on par with, and capable of executing tasks at the same efficiency level as their junior officer counterparts. This is necessary because the retention rates of junior non-commissioned officers at the small unit, or company level, are arguably much higher than the retention rates of junior commissioned officers. This ensures tactical continuity and mission execution capability during the next inevitable generational leadership rotation; as the junior officer progresses in his or her career cycle he or she will likely be elevated to a staff or command position, where junior non-commissioned officers will be elevated within the small unit organization.

Mission essential task lists at the small-unit level must be stripped to the essential tasks, or at least be prioritized to meet the minimum combat efficiency level deemed appropriate by the individual commander; commanders must have reasonable expectations, and count on adjacent units for specialized support, such as transportation, reconnaissance, and supply to reduce tasks to ones that are an absolute necessity for the combat mission. During the last decade, units were expected to be self sufficient in many aspects; they would prepare to deploy, deploy, execute many of their own logistical operations, conduct targeting, stability operations, and combat operations. This concept detracts from the proposed small unit expeditionary warfare model. Unparalleled proficiency in the basic war fighting tasks versus a limited proficiency in a host of supporting tasks is preferred. Training on these tasks at the small unit level cannot be limited to one day per week ‘sergeant’s time training’ events either. The timeframe to address this gap in training requires constant effort be placed on mastering the individual, collective, and supporting tasks of unified land operations. Far too often Soldiers are underutilized in a garrison environment. Noncommissioned officers and junior officers must develop and conduct challenging training events as often as possible to establish combat readiness.

In the latter stages of the Global War on Terrorism, the operational Army has faced a lack of funding for collective training events. Budget constraints have restricted the use of fuel, food, ammunition, and other necessities for training the force. In this area we must be able to adopt new training techniques, as the variable of budget constraints will certainly be constant in the immediate and foreseeable future. One method to overcome this variable is virtual constructive training. Virtual training should not be substituted for hands on training with individual equipment or unit certification, but it can serve as a crucial cost saving enabler when small scale training events cannot be funded. Tools, such as the Engagement Skills Trainer, Advanced Aircraft Virtual Simulator, Fire Control Panel Trainer, and Advanced Field Artillery Tactical Data System coupled with a few radios and some behind the scenes planning bring a training exercise from the field into the classroom. For example, a platoon of the 1st Battalion, 94th Field Artillery conducted a virtual live-fire certification exercise, and multiple virtual expeditionary precision Fires raid exercises, all from a single networked classroom utilizing the Fire Control Panel Trainer software. These exercises saved money, fuel, and ammunition that would then be able to support an even more elaborate practical training scenario utilizing actual equipment. These virtual training tools can be used individually at the small unit level, or potentially as a combined-arms exercise encompassing an entire battalion, brigade, or division sized element. With some research and development, large scale exercises that would be conducted at the National Training Center or the Joint Readiness Training Center, could be rehearsed virtually prior to real time execution, thus allowing commanders at all levels to shape their upcoming training events based on a virtual assessment of their unit’s capabilities. This can enhance training value and reduce costs at all levels. To address doctrinal gaps created by operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, the Army must modify current doctrine to address the need for small unit expeditionary capability and proficiency, as well as develop the potential of joint-force mission command in support of expeditionary warfare.

Development of Small Unit Expeditionary Tactics

The conflicts of the last 14 years, while necessary, proved costly in both financial and political terms. Prolonged counterinsurgency and stability operations, along with wasteful spending by all branches of the Armed Forces have caused distaste in the American public. The political fallout caused by this distaste will likely linger for the foreseeable future, and continue to affect the likelihood of any similar long term stability operation occurring again by or immediately after 2025. While there will be inevitable civil and political situations around the globe that must be addressed by military force, the chances of another multi-year operation that requires a significant troop level increase or extended occupation are practically non-existent. Wars between nation states have been on the decline since the middle of the 20th Century. In today’s economic environment, governments do not confront single threats at a time – there are far too many complex relationships in the global economy that we live in today to assume such. In the current global economy, relationships are not only between nation states, but consist of groups of nation states, social groups, trading networks, and militarized non-nation state groups; all competing for control over population centers, money, and territory. The ‘long wars’ of the future will be on an economic battlefield first, as evidenced by recent political confrontations with Iran and Russia. Economic sanctions are literally a weapon of mass destruction in current terms. With a global economy so intertwined and reliant upon the support of the international community, the chances of escalation to large scale armed conflict are extremely reduced. The immediate variable that cannot be addressed, but merely war-gamed is, which theater will the next civil or political situation arise that requires military action? The short term answer to this question is to address the only practical assumption; the United States Army will not be required in the near term to engage in large scale stability operations that require a large ground force, and will be expected to conduct decisive military operations that require short term lethal engagements followed by small-scale civil support. These decisive military operations are in the scope of work of small units that are rapidly deployable and are specialized in one of four fields; precision Fires, special operations, psychological operations, and civil affairs. Each of these fields of expertise, or a combination of the four may be employed to neutralize immediate threats of a military nature, and address any civil or political fallout that perceivably threatens theater stability. In order to establish and control a military capability of this nature, the United States Army must be at the forefront of a joint-force command comprised of elements of all services, to include supporting enablers from the clandestine agencies. Preparation for rapid deployment, joint-force training exercises, and the development of a universally accepted doctrine are key things that the United States Army can influence in the development and employment of this capability. With the largest, most immediately capable service for this type of mission, the Army most logically should exercise mission command of the proposed task force, establishing operational control of any elements that are deemed critical. Additional concerns that need to be addressed are the modernization of the force with weapons and equipment that are relevant to this type of mission, and the reallocation and sale of equipment that is rendered non-usable or impractical.

Expansion of International Military Influence, Foreign Military Sales and the Update of Organizational Equipment

The technical and tactical shift that has occurred over the last 14 years to answer the improvised explosive device threat and other factors of the Global War on Terror operating environment has left the Army with a vast amount of equipment that is impractically employable in the operational sphere of 2025. The Army and other services have spent billions of dollars developing and purchasing vehicles and equipment that were designed specifically for operations in both Iraq and Afghanistan. While they were necessary to repel the threat of improvised explosive device, and most certainly warranted in their development and purchase, they are not suitable for unified land operations in the future. Mine Resistant Ambush Protected vehicles are tall, heavy, and slow. They are unsuitable as a weapons platform in any operation outside their current theater, and would prove to be easily destroyed targets if employed against a standing ground force. It would be impractical to keep these vehicles as a part of any unit’s organizational equipment, but may prove suitable for foreign military sales. The Active and Reserve Components of the Army are plagued by antiquated and surplus individual weaponry as well. The M16 rifle variants have served their purpose since adoption during the Vietnam War, but the necessity to conduct urban operations in more recent conflicts have required the procurement of the M4 series rifle. With the drawdown of the Active Component, the Army will undoubtedly have a surplus of both weapon systems. Additionally, communications equipment, maintenance equipment, and logistical support equipment will also be in surplus. The opportunity to either gift or sell this equipment provides both a strategic and financial advantage for the Army of 2025. Financially, the sale of this equipment makes sense to address immediate budgetary constraints caused in part by their original purchase. Strategically, the sale or gifting of this equipment provides a unique opportunity to shape the forces of allied or neutral countries. By equipping foreign militaries with Mine Resistant Ambush Protected vehicles, U.S. designed weaponry, and other associated equipment procured for stability operations, the United States Army gains additional enablers in the event of an unexpected long term or short term conflict. Additionally, the Army gains a critical technical influence and potentially lucrative contracts and comprehensive training opportunities with foreign militaries that may have been impractical or unachievable in the past. Using the proposed model of a small unit expeditionary force, the advantages gained by having an allied foreign military equipped, trained, and deployable for stability operations is invaluable. This operational idea, while unlikely as a nation to nation agreement, is likely as a coalition of multiple nations. For example, if a civil-political situation arises in Africa, the United States Army deploys a small-unit expeditionary force to immediately suppress the threat and prepares the operating environment for civil relief and stability operations. Then a trained and equipped allied force, preferably indigenous to the area, assumes the role of conducting stability operations with pseudo mission command under the United States Army. Organizations like the African Union, European Union, North Atlantic Treaty Organization, and the countries of OPEC are prime candidates for foreign military sales of this equipment. These countries and organizations are located in strategically important global locations, and would be looked upon favorably by the international community for active involvement in civil-political stability operations within their own sphere of influence. This, in turn, could relieve the political stressors in the United States associated with long term conflict involvement.

With the drawdown of the Active Component already underway, and the pending withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan, the precursory phases of this plan must be implemented immediately if measurable success is expected. The four individual tiers to the operation are extremely dependent on the success of the other tiers; funding and resources gained or lost during the execution of each tier must be reallocated towards the efforts of another tier. Any lapse of applied effort toward any one tier of this plan would detract from the success of the other three tiers.

The ability of the Army to fight and win the nation’s wars in the coming years depends on the innovation, adaptability, and resiliency of the men and women who are serving today, and those we enlist tomorrow. That being said, the groundwork for success must be paved now by modifying our current training models, empowering junior leaders, reallocating and upgrading our equipment, and expanding our global military influence.


Sergeant First Class Alex Joy is currently assigned to the Syracuse Army Recruiting Company as an Army recruiter. During his career he has served with the 1st Battalion, 94th Field Artillery as a Fires platoon sergeant, HIMARS launcher section chief, and ammunition section chief. He has also deployed in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom as the Iraqi Security Forces Cell noncommissioned officer in charge for Multi-National Division Baghdad, in support of Operation New Dawn as a motorized infantry squad leader, and in support of Joint Task Force-East.