The latest technology for soldiers –and some technologies that are still at best “under development” — were on display in the cavernous expo halls of the Washington Convention Center this week at the Association of the US Army Annual Meeting. Meanwhile, Army leaders discussed the future of the service, including force structure and modernization.
Secretary of Defense Gates spoke on the first day of the conference, praising the Army’s NCOs and outlining the challenge facing the Army going forward.
“The challenge I posed to the Army two years ago was to retain the lessons learned and capabilities gained in counterinsurgency and irregular warfare,” Gates said. “From all I’ve seen, heard, and witnessed, that certainly has taken place. In fact, today’s Army bears but a passing resemblance to that of eight years ago – a force mostly designed to repeat another Desert Storm. The Army we have is a supremely adaptable and flexible force – able to deploy rapidly, operate with more autonomy, and slide along the scale of the conflict spectrum to confront very different types of threats.”
Gates cited the technological changes in the Army. “There have been tremendous advances in our intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance capabilities – advances that have led to an unprecedented fusion of intelligence and ops on the ground. Other communications improvements have led to much greater command and control, and more tools to improve this further are getting out to the field. The Army has recognized that the most important part of its procurement strategy is the network as opposed to the platform. In coming years, there should be revolutionary breakthroughs in the ability of our troops to see themselves and other allied forces – even if the inevitable fog of war and resourceful enemies prevent us from ever achieving total
He also pointed to changes in operational concepts that have come from the field. “One of the most important is the Advise and Assist Brigade – the AAB – that has three main functions: traditional strike capabilities, advisory roles, and the enablers and command and control to support both functions. In July, I visited the first AAB deployed to Iraq. I was impressed with the ability to retool a standard brigade combat team in only a few months and with relatively small force augmentation. By the end of next year, we plan for the Iraq mission to be composed almost entirely of AABs, and the expectation is that, some time down the road, the same will be true in Afghanistan.”
Gates also said that the Army needed to institutionalize the view that advisory positions are not “second-tier jobs”. “The advisory, train, and equip mission is a key role for the Army going forward, given that America’s security will increasingly depend on our ability to build the capabilities of other nations. These capabilities are all the more necessary considering the steep human, political, and financial costs of direct U.S. military intervention.”