US Army Is Scrutinizing Itself, Must Change Swiftly to Face China, Secretary Says
“The future is a lot closer than some of us think,” Christine Wormuth said at AUSA.
The U.S. Army is analyzing its force structure, infrastructure, modernization programs, and readiness in a bid to figure out how it can best focus its limited resources to deter or if necessary fight China, its toughest near-peer challenger since the Cold War, the service secretary said Monday.
“We're going to have to look hard at everything we do and everything about how we do,” Army Secretary Christine Wormuth said during the opening ceremony of the Association of the United States Army’s 2021 annual meeting and exposition. “This work will not be easy, but it is needed. And given the challenges ahead, we may have to accept some risk now to avoid greater risk in the future.”
The data gathered during the analysis will help the Army figure out how it will fight and in what theatres, what capabilities to focus on, and also the performance of the new modernization programs, Wormuth said during a news conference Monday.
The service must also be more thoughtful about the types of warfare it could face and the biases it has about new ways of conducting its business, she said.
“I'm not convinced that we have fully thought our way through all of the challenges we may face on the future high-end battlefield if deterrence fails. We need to look harder at key cases, such as the Nagorno-Karabakh war between Armenia and Azerbaijan. We need to recognize that bureaucratic infighting, attachment to the way we've always done it, and reflexive skepticism of new ideas can be powerful roadblocks to progress. So we need to be focused. We need to be strategic. And we need to be bold,” she said.
Perhaps hardest of all, these changes must be made swiftly, Wormuth said.
“The future is a lot closer than some of us think,” she said. “The stakes are high, but we are up to the challenge if we move decisively.”
While the United States was conducting counterterrorism missions in Afghanistan and Iraq, China as well as Russia used the time to modernize their militaries and build up their capabilities in space, cyber and disinformation, she said.
If conflict does happen in the future with either country, the United States can no longer rely on having months to send troops overseas or even air superiority for air strikes. The homeland could also face attacks, she said.
Wormuth listed several projects that the Army has been working on to meet the challenges posed by China, from multi-domain task forces to hypersonics and precision fires. She highlighted the work of the Army’s Futures Command and its software factory where soldiers who can code are able to design applications for the service.
“Make no mistake: data and software will be as important as ammunition on the future battlefield,” she said.
To transform itself, the Army needs to ask hard questions and make hard decisions to meet these future challenges, Wormuth said. It needs to be innovative and adapt its existing technology and operational concepts to meet their needs.
The XVIII Airborne Corps at Fort Bragg, North Carolina, conducts a “shark tank” style competition called the Dragon’s Lair Program where soldiers can pitch creative ideas on various topics such as preventing suicides to management of land ranges. Wormuth said building upon initiatives like that “is a very smart thing for us to be doing.”
“I know the chief and I absolutely welcome input from the field, you know from soldiers, from [non-commissioned officers], we want good ideas,” she said.