Marco J. Lyons is a U.S. Army Lieutenant Colonel who has served in tactical and operational Army, Joint, and interagency organizations in the United States, Europe, the Middle East, Afghanistan, and in the Western Pacific. He is currently a national security fellow at Harvard Kennedy School where he is researching strategy and force planning for war in the Indo-Pacific. He may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org. Although the analysis presented here is the author’s alone, he has benefitted extensively from discussions with Dr. Ron Sega of U.S. Army Futures Command and Dr. Anthony “Tony” Tether a former Director of the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency. Divergent Options’ content does not contain information of an official nature, nor does the content represent the official position of any government, any organization, or any group.
National Security Situation: The U.S. Army has a modernization enterprise that is second-to-none but facing the highly capable militaries of China and Russia is an unprecedented challenge. The Chinese People’s Liberation Army planned to have a Taiwan invasion capability no later than the early 2020s. The Russian military will probably have substantially increased its missile-based stand-off capabilities by the mid-2020s. More alarmingly, Russia has succeeded in modernizing approximately 82 percent of its nuclear forces. Russian conventional and nuclear modernization have both been factors in Moscow’s recent three-pronged invasion of Ukraine.
Date Originally Written: April 5, 2022.
Date Originally Published: April 18, 2022.
Author and / or Article Point of View: The author has researched future operational concept development through the Army Science Board. The author believes that U.S. Army decision makers and analysts can more aggressively leverage past future force initiatives to address emerging threats from China and Russia.
Background: The ability to operate directly against adversary centers of gravity defines dominance. Dominant land power refers here to the ability of a land force to operate directly against the most decisive points that sustain an adversary force. In land operations, a final decision requires control – through seizure, occupation, or retention – of terrain, people and resources using actual or threatened destruction or presence, or both. America’s position as a global leader rests on its dominant land power.
Significance: The character of warfare, the increasing interaction between the levels of war, and a concomitant need for higher echelon commanders to exercise military art on a broader scale and wider scope than earlier in history, all demand the U.S. Army refocus on the operational level. The planning and command challenges at the operational level are more demanding than current doctrine would suggest. Moreover, the consequences of failure in major operations are difficult to overcome. What has been called the theater-strategic level of war, or higher operational art, is poorly understood. Three decades of post-Cold War stability and support operations, and two decades of counterinsurgency have helped the U.S. Army lose touch with the art of major operations.
In only a few years China will have a trained, equipped, and cohesive invasion force and Russia will have a combat-capable force with recent experience in cross-domain operations. U.S. Army strategic leaders are already pressing for force transformation against these large-scale threats. The Army can build on more than five years of modernization, the 2018 multi-domain operations concept, and a new global posture strategy to maintain the momentum needed to break the mold of the Brigade Combat Team-centric, Unified Land Operations-based force. Importantly, U.S. Army planners can rapidly harvest important work done since the end of the Vietnam era. In competition, crisis, and armed conflict – in war – the United States needs a ready land force to deter unwanted escalation, assure allies and key partners, and compel beneficial geostrategic outcomes through force, if necessary.
Option #1: The U.S. Army revives and updates AirLand Battle–Future (ALBF). ALBF was meant to be a follow-on doctrine to AirLand Battle but was interrupted by the end of the Cold War and breakup of the Soviet Union. ALBF took the fundamentals of AirLand Battle and applied them to nonlinear battlefields and to advanced-technology capabilities – the same dynamics seen in the emerging operational environment. Additionally, ALBF extended operational concepts to operations short of war – like the competition short of armed conflict idea today.
Risk: Major additions to the U.S. Army’s current doctrine development projects run the risk of delaying progress. Adding ALBF to the current Multi-Domain Operations (MDO) doctrine development may impose additional testing and validation demands.
Gain: An updated ALBF would provide a ready road map for the U.S. Army to move from the narrowly conceived 2018 Army in MDO concept to a published MDO doctrine which would replace Unified Land Operations. With the incorporation of a detailed view of multi-domain battle – still the heart of the MDO concept – an updated ALBF would provide the broad-based, low- to high-intensity doctrinal framework for the coming decades.
Option #2: The U.S. Army reinstitutes an updated Army of Excellence (AOE). The AOE was the last organization designed against a specified threat force – the Soviet Army and similarly-equipped enemy forces. The original rationale for the AOE was to reduce force “hollowness” by bringing personnel and materiel requirements within the limits of Army resources, enhance U.S. Army Corps-level capabilities to influence battle, and improve strategic mobility for immediate crisis response in regional conflicts. This rationale is still relevant. Building on this rationale and using the Chinese People’s Liberation Army as a specified threat force, the Army could update the AOE (Light) Division to a “hybrid warfare” force and the AOE (Heavy) Division to a “high-technology, cross-domain maneuver” force. Echelons above division, with a reinstitution of corps-directed battle, could focus on layering advanced technology with multi-domain operations capabilities to conduct nonlinear and deep operations.
Risk: AOE was resource-intensive and a new AOE might also demand resources that may not materialize when needed.
Gain: An updated AOE organization would provide a familiar blueprint for fielding the land force for a more fully developed MDO doctrine. A new AOE would quickly restore robust and more survivable formations.
Option #3: The U.S. Army restarts the Army After Next (AAN). AAN locked on to technological maturation timelines that turned out to be wildly optimistic. But many of the concepts, not least information dominance, precision fires, and focused logistics, were valid in the mid-1990s and remain so – the challenges are in testing, validation, and integration. Today, some of the early-envisioned AAN capabilities will soon be fielded. Various new fires systems, including Extended Range Cannon Artillery and Long-Range Precision Fire missiles, will provide the greatly extended range and higher accuracy needed to destroy enemy anti-access, area denial systems. As part of MDO, these new fires systems can be linked with forward operating F-35 multirole combat aircraft and ideally a constellation of low earth orbiting sensor platforms to achieve unprecedented responsiveness and lethality. The first battery of tactical directed energy weapons are in development, and even the combat cloud imagined by AAN planners, now called the Joint Enterprise Defense Infrastructure (or an alternative capability solution), is a near-term reality.
Risk: AAN may not have focused enough on lethality at the operational level of war, and so in reviving the effort, it is possible this same shortcoming could hamper MDO against near-peer enemy forces.
Gain: What AAN provided that is missing today is a comprehensive blueprint to channel the Army’s genuine and ‘unifying’ modernization campaign under Army Futures Command.
Other Comments: The U.S. Army’s strategy defines a land power dominant force by 2028. Under the current Army Chief of Staff, beginning in 2020, the U.S. Army is trying to more closely link readiness, modernization, posture, and force structure under a broad plan for “transformation”. To focus force transformation, the American Army could revive past work on nonlinear warfare, corps battle command, and technologically-enabled, globally integrated operations.
 Franz-Stefan Gady, “Interview: Ben Lowsen on Chinese PLA Ground Forces: Assessing the future trajectory of PLA ground forces development,” The Diplomat, April 8, 2020, https://thediplomat.com/2020/04/interview-ben-lowsen-on-chinese-pla-ground-forces/.
 Fredrik Westerlund and Susanne Oxenstierna, eds., Russian Military Capability in a Ten-Year Perspective – 2019 (Stockholm: Swedish Defence Research Agency, December 2019), https://www.researchgate.net/publication/337948965_Russian_Military_Capability_in_a_Ten-Year_Perspective_-_2019.
 Dakota L. Wood, ed., 2021 Index of U.S. Military Strength (Washington, DC: The Heritage Foundation, 2021), https://www.heritage.org/sites/default/files/2020-11/2021_IndexOfUSMilitaryStrength_WEB_0.pdf.
 Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Joint Vision 2020: America’s Military – Preparing for Tomorrow (Washington, DC: National Defense University, Institute for National Strategic Studies, 2000), https://apps.dtic.mil/dtic/tr/fulltext/u2/a526044.pdf.
 Michael A. Vane and Robert M. Toguchi, “The Enduring Relevance of Landpower: Flexibility and Adaptability for Joint Campaigns,” Association of the United States Army, October 7, 2003, https://www.ausa.org/publications/enduring-relevance-landpower-flexibility-and-adaptability-joint-campaigns.
 Williamson Murray, ed., Army Transformation: A View from the U.S. Army War College (Carlisle, PA: Strategic Studies Institute, 2001), https://publications.armywarcollege.edu/pubs/1560.pdf.
 David Jablonsky, “Strategy and the Operational Level of War: Part I,” Parameters 17, no. 1 (1987): 65-76, https://apps.dtic.mil/sti/pdfs/ADA516154.pdf.
 Milan Vego, “On Operational Leadership,” Joint Force Quarterly 77 (2nd Quarter 2015): 60-69, https://ndupress.ndu.edu/JFQ/Joint-Force-Quarterly-77/Article/581882/on-operational-leadership/.
 Michael R. Matheny, “The Fourth Level of War,” Joint Force Quarterly 80 (1st Quarter 2016): 62-66, https://ndupress.ndu.edu/JFQ/Joint-Force-Quarterly-80/Article/643103/the-fourth-level-of-war/.
 James C. McConville, Army Multi-Domain Transformation: Ready to Win in Competition and Conflict, Chief of Staff Paper #1, Unclassified Version (Washington, DC: Headquarters, Department of the Army, March 16, 2021), https://api.army.mil/e2/c/downloads/2021/03/23/eeac3d01/20210319-csa-paper-1-signed-print-version.pdf.
 Billy Fabian, “Back to the Future: Transforming the U.S. Army for High-Intensity Warfare in the 21st Century,” Center for a New American Security, November 19, 2020, https://www.cnas.org/publications/commentary/back-to-the-future-transforming-the-u-s-army-for-high-intensity-warfare-in-the-21st-century. One recent study concluded that Unified Land Operations does not sufficiently focus on large-scale war against an enemy force. See Alan P. Hastings, Coping with Complexity: Analyzing Unified Land Operations Through the Lens of Complex Adaptive Systems Theory (Fort Leavenworth, KS: School of Advanced Military Studies, United States Army Command and General Staff College, 2019), https://cgsc.contentdm.oclc.org/digital/api/collection/p4013coll3/id/3894/download.
 Terry M. Peck, AirLand Battle Imperatives: Do They Apply to Future Contingency Operations? (Fort Leavenworth, KS: School of Advanced Military Studies, United States Army Command and General Staff College, 1990), https://apps.dtic.mil/dtic/tr/fulltext/u2/a234151.pdf.
 Pat Ford, Edwin H. Burba, Jr., and Richard E. Christ, Review of Division Structure Initiatives, Research Product 95-02 (Alexandria, VA: Human Resources Research Organization, 1994), https://apps.dtic.mil/sti/citations/ADA297578.
 Robert H. Scales, “Forecasting the Future of Warfare,” War on the Rocks, April 9, 2018, https://warontherocks.com/2018/04/forecasting-the-future-of-warfare/.
 Dan Gouré, “Creating the Army After Next, Again,” RealClearDefense, August 16, 2019, https://www.realcleardefense.com/articles/2019/08/16/creating_the_army_after_next_again_114670.html.
 U.S. Army, 2019 Army Modernization Strategy: Investing in the Future (Fort Eustis, VA: Army Futures Command, 2019), 1, https://www.army.mil/e2/downloads/rv7/2019_army_modernization_strategy_final.pdf.
 The United States Army, “The Army’s Vision and Strategy,” Army.mil, no date, https://www.army.mil/about/. The Army’s “WayPoint 2028” focused on concepts and modernization. The United States Army, “Gen. Michael Garrett Visit,” U.S. Army Combined Arms Center, August 18, 2020, https://usacac.army.mil/node/2739. The Army’s “AimPoint Force” structure plan was meant to revive capable warfighting echelons above brigade. Andrew Feickert, “In Focus: The Army’s AimPoint Force Structure Initiative,” Congressional Research Service, May 8, 2020, https://fas.org/sgp/crs/natsec/IF11542.pdf. The “AimPoint Force” was about designing networked capabilities for overmatch. Devon Suits, “Futures and Concepts Center evaluates new force structure,” Army.mil, April 22, 2020, https://www.army.mil/article/234845/futures_and_concepts_center_evaluates_new_force_structure.
 Association of the United States Army, “McConville Advocates for Aggressive Transformation,” Association of the United States Army, October 14, 2020, https://www.ausa.org/news/mcconville-advocates-aggressive-transformation.