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Army Field Manual a Blueprint for the Future of Fighting

Image has not been found. URL: /wp-content/uploads/2008/12/us-and-iraqi-soldiers.jpgU.S. soldier deployed in Iraq. (army.mil)

The Army has taken yet another step toward transforming itself for an era of irregular warfare. A new field manual, released Tuesday, provides a blueprint for training soldiers for “full-spectrum operations” — not just wars between two industrial states’ militaries, but also nation-building, peacekeeping and counterinsurgency operations.


Illustration by: Matt Mahurin

Known as FM 7-0, the field manual pivots heavily off of another recent field manual, FM 3-07, which elevated nontraditional missions known as “stability operations” — the panoply of activities to secure a government’s control over its populace and keep the peace — to core Army functions. Written over the course of two years and nine months by a drafting team of four Army civilian employees and contractors,the newer manual is an attempt to provide practical preparatory guidance as the Army moves to prepare soldiers for what it calls a future of “persistent conflict.” In Iraq and Afghanistan, the Army found itself confronting threats its soldiers were not traditionally trained to fight, and had to build competency against complex insurgencies largely on their own. FM 7-0 seeks to avoid such ad hoc training in the future.

“The fact of the matter is we have been a full-spectrum force since at least 2003 in Iraq and Afghanistan,” said Brig. Gen. Robert B. Abrams, the deputy commanding general for training at the Army’s Combined Arms Center at Ft. Leavenworth, Kans., who helped lead the redrafting of the manual. “What we’re not going back to is the strictly force-on-force” training model.

“Because the Army, the threats, and the Army’s operational concept have changed, thinking about Army missions and capabilities must also change,” the manual states. “All overseas Army operations combine simultaneous offensive, defensive, and stability operations. Operations within the United States and its territories simultaneously combine civil support, defense, and offense.” In what it calls a “major cultural change,” the manual urges Army leaders not to see the current counterinsurgency and stability operations in Iraq and Afghanistan “as temporary interruptions in preparing for major combat operations against a near-peer enemy.” To many in the Army, Iraq and Afghanistan — defined by asymmetric warfare waged by technologically inferior insurgencies — appear to be deviations from the norm, not harbingers of the wars of the future.

As for what it means to train for stability operations, the manual leaves much to the imagination and capability of individual commanders responsible for training. “This book’s not about the how-to,” Abrams said during a Wednesday conference call with reporters to unveil the manual. “This is the ‘what.’ It helps frame what the operational environment needs to look like.”

Since successful stability operations require working with civilian and foreign agencies, for example, the manual instructs commanders to be “aware of the institutional cultures of organizations making up or working with a joint force” — another small but significant shift for the Army — but does not define specifically what those cultures are. Abrams said that much of the “how-to” will appear on a new Army website for tactics, techniques and practices in full-spectrum operations. The website will be continually updated so as to prevent the procedures from becoming “outdated,” Abrams said. The website will be called the Army Training Network and is expected to go live on March 16, according to Lindy Kyzer, an Army spokeswoman.

The model for training should be to handle a variety of tasks not associated with traditional combat as well as traditional combat tasks. Dealing with the media; understanding the culture of a society in which soldiers are deployed; blending “lethal and nonlethal actions”; and liaising with allied foreign military and civilian partners are listed examples of activities for which commanders need to build proficiency within their soldiers.

The manual does not attempt to say that traditional army missions like offense and defense — defending the nation from foreign aggression and deterring conflict, for instance — are irrelevant. Nor does it say that conventional conflict is outdated. Much like Defense Secretary Bob Gates’ recent article in Foreign Affairs, the manual instead seeks to create a new balance of core Army priorities that gives greater weight to stability operations, and give practical guidelines for what that means for training the soldier of the future.

That soldier will be a more agile and autonomous one than in previous eras, able to operate “in any operational theme across the spectrum of conflict,” the manual contends. “Effective command and control focuses on commanders rather than staffs,” it continues. “Commanders must be able to mass fires at decisive points and times and effects over time. Decentralized rather than centralized operations are the norm today and will likely remain so.” A change in Army organizing, undertaken during the secretaryship of Donald Rumsfeld, called “modularity” — in which the Army organizes itself around its brigades, not its larger and traditional divisions or corps — is accordingly reaffirmed and embraced.

Similarly, the manual seeks to inculcate the need for “joint interagency, intergovernmental, multinational” partnerships, Abrams said, whereby the Army operates in consort both with allied foreign militaries, but also domestic and foreign civilian diplomats, political figures, nongovernmental organizations and even tribal leaders, as is the case in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Much as before — Abrams emphasized that not all of the instructions in previous iterations of the manual were outdated — commanders are instructed in the manual to encourage an “expeditionary mindset” in their subordinates, encouraging them to read after-action reports and lessons-learned to improve their operations in given situations. But given the complexities of stability operations, the manual emphasizes a need for the Army to train soldiers to “think critically and originally,” since complex operations to keep the peace or promote effective governance require more than the ability to fire artillery or execute a tank maneuver. “Expeditionary leaders understand that no single solution to a problem exists; what worked yesterday may not work today,” the manual advises.

Several of the Army’s longstanding concepts for training remain intact under the new manual, however. “The foundations of Army training are discipline, sound principles and tenets, and a responsive training support system,” it states. Commanders remain responsible for training their immediate subordinate units and evaluating the performance of the next level below. The Army’s system of standards for various exercises, maneuvers and capabilities will remain in place as the targets against which performance is judged. And training must approximate the operational environments that soldiers are expected to face to the degree possible. Non-commissioned officers like sergeants will remain the primary trainers for fellow enlisted soldiers and small groups.

In addition to the new manual and associated website, Abrams said that the Army’s major domestic training facilities, such as the National Training Center at Ft. Irwin, Calif., will change to better approximate conditions of full-spectrum conflict before units deploy. “Hundreds of role-players” will act out situations of both major combat and stability operations — as foreign civilian noncombatants, foreign adversaries, foreign militaries and allied civilians — in order to “put the most challenging conditions on our force that we might be able to find,” Abrams said. He anticipated that the training modules would be “somewhere between insurgency and major combat operations.”

The general conceded that the Army was “probably not” as proficient in traditional major combat operations as it was before Sept. 11, 2001. “But I’ll tell you we have a thousand times higher level of operational efficiency at full-spectrum operations” as the result of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, Abrams said. “Pre-9/11, we were offense and defense-only. Now we are walking the walk, with offense, defense and stability operations.”

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