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Evolutionary Technology in the Current Revolution in Military Affairs: The Army Tactical Command and Control System

| March 1998

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But is ATCCS an innovation? Has ABCS successfully implemented the Revolution in Military Affairs? According to Sullivan in 1995, the answer to these questions is yes:

The U.S. Army is responding to the ongoing revolution in military affairs. Force XXI is the Army's vehicle to create a paradigm for building a 21st Century Army which anticipates and leverages the changes inherent in this revolution. The name ?Force 21" represents . . . three things: (1) a new conceptual construct about creating and fielding the entire force, (2) a process for implementing this fundamentally new concept, and (3) an open-ended series of successively improved versions of the Army. . . . The Army's Force XXI strategic objective captures the essence of the required changes described above: to transform itself from an industrial-age Army to a knowledge and capabilities-based, power projection Army which can achieve land force dominance across the full continuum of 21st Century military operations.139

In Sullivan's view, Force XXI is an innovation because it changes not only the structure of the organization but also the process by which the organization will continue to change in the future. For that reason?applying Sullivan's own definition to the case?I disagree. As this paper has suggested, the intellectual concepts behind ABCS and the ?new evolutionary approach? to developing automated systems have been around since TACFIRE and TOS. Moreover, the tension between the user community and the developmental/testing communities has not abated, and the tug-of-war between proponents of the waterfall and spiral development methods continues. The Army is aware of these problems. In congressional testimony in 1992, then-Assistant Secretary of the Army for Research, Development, and Acquisition Stephen K. Conver explained to lawmakers in an insightful statement:

If we are to have successful programs, we believe we must resolve requirements issues between the users and developers before we start any program. We have observed that when our acquisition programs run into problems, the cause has often been a disconnect between the user's requirement and the acquisition strategy that was adopted (or the technology that was available) to meet that requirement. These problems take three forms: (1) overreaching?expectingthe acquisition system to deliver results that are not achievable; (2) overspecing?burdeningthe acquisition strategy and the contractor with too much emphasis on ?how? to meet the requirement and not allowing some flexibility; and (3) push/pull?thereluctance of some users to accept new technology that must be ?pushed? or sold to them, in contrast to the familiar technology, which they willingly ?pull? into their organization. (emphasis in original)140

Yet as Salisbury said in his TACFIRE study, ?Many ?lessons learned' have come out of the TACFIRE program. Unfortunately, lessons learned too often become lessons forgotten. The Army falls short in its ability to retain a corporate memory and is frequently doomed to repeat its past mistakes.?141

Sullivan's Force XXI, ABCS, and Battle Labs are new ways of putting together ideas that have been extant for several decades. ATCCS had the potential to be a successful innovation when it was originally conceived as Sigma Star in 1978, had technology been able to support the concept and had it not become mired in the bureaucratic tension between the user and developmental/testing communities. At its core, Sigma Star, ATCCS, and ABCS shared a dream?to minimize the ?fog of war,? or in the jargon of the current RMA, to maximize the friendly OODA cycle. Yet 20years after its conception, implementation and execution are still flawed. In this regard, Starry and Sullivan shared an organizational savvy?both leaders were able to articulate the practitioners' frustration with a deliberate developmental process that fielded systems several technological generations late. Both leaders were able to engage the user community, shift resources and responsibility to it, and thereby neutralize the developmental bureaucracy. As this case suggests, the military is not a unitary actor, and one individual alone cannot override a large bureaucracy. To his credit, Sullivan may have realized that he could accomplish only so much during his term as Army Chief of Staff. To ensure a Force XXI ?legacy,? Sullivan needed to structure the debate so that it would outlive his tenure?he needed to raise questions and begin experiments that could not be easily undone in the future by his successors or the organization as a whole.

Nonetheless, neither Starry nor Sullivan enacted a ?military innovation? as defined in the first section of this paper. Despite the attempts at digitizing the battlefield, the Army has not yet altered its core tasks nor displaced any of its combat platforms. While AirLand Battle in 1978 and Force XXI in 1994 required highly sophisticated C4I systems and weapons platforms, at a deeper level, very little has changed. On the contrary, the technology is literally being ?applied? into the current weapons platforms. As Cohen correctly points out,

When the Clinton administration formulated its defense policy in 1993, it came up with the Bottom-Up Review, which provided for a force capable of fighting simultaneously two regional wars assumed to resemble the Gulf War of 1991. By structuring its analysis around enemy forces similar to those of Iraq in that year?armor-heavy, with a relatively large conventional but third-rate air force?it guaranteed a conservatism in military thought. . . . For this reason, among others, the revolution will take far longer to consummate.142

Combat arms officers support the technology because it provides information dominance ?sensor to shooter? 143?the fused information passes almost simultaneously from the collection platforms to the weapons platforms, virtually bypassing the staff.

In this regard, Force XXI is helping the Army to leverage new technology to improve its current way of doing business. Force XXI and the C4I systems which comprise ABCS focus on conventional regional aggressors. How the ?digitized? Army expects to fight in the 21st century seems suspiciously like armored combat against the Warsaw Pact with new technology grafted on. As one AWE participant noted, ?We don't do a good job of automating processes. We automate tasks. For example, we automate the task of producing an overlay, but not the process of producing a course of action. Consequently, machines are never used to the full extent of their capabilities.?144

Therefore, in my view, ATCCS, its predecessors, and its successors belong to a ?military technological revolution? in which technology is employed in an evolutionary manner, without causing major doctrinal or organizational change. We have witnessed the impact of information technology on warfare, but we have not yet seen the subsequent transformation of operations and organization. Without significant organizational or doctrinal change, these battlefield C4I systems cannot embody the postulated RMA. As Mazarr warns in his most recent article about the RMA:

This incrementalist notion of the RMA is ultimately self-defeating. It violates the common strategic principle that a period of rapid change is the time to think comprehensively rather than narrowly. It indefinitely postpones the day when the U.S. military will depart from deeply entrenched evolutionary doctrines and routines and embrace the truly revolutionary elements of the new era in warfare.145

The information revolution as conceived in the 4th Infantry Division exists?in Sullivan's own words??to apply power? with the old weapons to a high-intensity predominantly-armored threat.

Given that ATCCS and ABCS do not embody the currently postulated RMA, perhaps it is valid to ask whether the RMA is actually capable of being accomplished?especially given the bureaucratic, political, and budgetary constraints in which the U.S. armed forces have to operate. I am not sure. In the current civil-military environment?where every ?revolutionary? idea faces organizational pressures from within the government, military services, and their supporting contractor communities?an RMA which simultaneously synthesizes technological and doctrinal innovation is unlikely to occur. Perhaps military theorists have set the bar too high for service decisionmakers, program heads, and budget officers. Perhaps the RMA is an idealized construct rather than a feasible goal.

Nonetheless, to think about the information revolution in a comprehensive way would be to ask with what and against what should the Army be applying power? The Army still has the potential to capitalize on the postulated RMA, albeit not on its current developmental path. There are three possible ways in which the Army could embrace the new technology and radically alter its doctrine and core tasks.

First, the Army could seriously restructure its organization. The civilian analogue to this period was the large down-sizing and hierarchical flattening about 8 years after the information technology revolution in the corporate workplace. Similarly, TRADOC is conducting a ?Joint Venture? force structure review, which could be the precursor to a parallel change in hierarchy. Several officers have postulated the way the post-Cold War Army should look; perhaps best known is LTC(P) Douglas MacGregor, who argues that the Army needs to move to smaller, more mobile organizations?similar to the combat commands used during World War II.146 Blaker promulgates another vision, in which the total force structure would reflect the new RMA technologies. In Blaker's view, the active component, downsized and equipped with new capabilities, would focus exclusively on the mid- to high-level intensity warfighting missions. The reserve component, which would retain most of today's heavy equipment and conventional capabilities, would take direct responsibility for all other missions, including peace operations. 147

This debate parallels a similar force structure review in the 1950s, when the Army developed its pentomic army concept and eliminated battalion commands?and hence the functional purpose of lieutenant colonels. As with most structural changes, the pentomic army's effects were not immediately apparent; it was only later that the Army understood the organizational challenges created by officers having no troop contact between the ranks of major to colonel. Similarly, when corporate America down-sized middle management, its effects were also not immediately obvious. It was only after the organization was flattened that the implications were fully understood?eliminating middle management degraded organizational memory and effectively destroyed the mentori ng and maturation process of leaders.

Second, the Army could seriously address the question of what future enemies will look like. Some RMA proponents argue that the future ?battlefield? will be empty, with reconnaisance sensors and long-range precision strike weapons keeping opponents far apart. In this scenario close combatants would be rarely used, brought in at the end forthe final ?coup de grace.? But I believe that future warfare will most likely be what we used to characterize as ?low intensity conflict? against committed, manpower intensive, low-tech opponents. Such decentralized threats could increase if the United States pursues its current national security strategy of engagement and preventive defense. A highly decentralized threat, such as we faced in Somalia and Haiti, mitigates the capabilities of Force XXI technology.

A future opponent, conversant with the lessons of the Gulf War and Vietnam, might choose to challenge MTR technology by presenting an assymetrical low-tech strategy, perhaps one not energy based and therefore not vulnerable to most of our sensors. Such a strategy would minimize communications and electronic indicators so severely that there would be very little to ?read.? Such a response would effectively deny the ability to employ many offensive MTR capabilities . . . Our own love affair with decisive maneuver, precision strike and the ability to synchronize actions in time and space thus may not be relevant, possible or even desirable for all future opponents.148

As we pursue technology to advance our capabilities, we must be aware that there are limits to what technology can do, especially in preventive defense missions and peace operations.

Third, the Army could radically redefine its understanding of information warfare. This would require seriously addressing the capabilities that information technology can provide?from a fresh perspective. Some analysts argue the information revolution is far more likely to equalize power between the have and have-not countries than to concentrate it still further in the developed countries. Unlike nuclear weapons, commercial off-the shelf technology is not prohibitively expensive to develop and maintain. Technology could disrupt in two ways? either through the information networks themselves or through physical attacks on key nodes. As the world's most advanced consumer and producer of information technology, the United States is also the most vulnerable. 149

On the one hand, small states or terrorist organizations could go after our C2 infrastructure or the international currency markets by propagating computer viruses or hacking their way into networks. On the other hand, such organizations could plan physical attacks on key nodes. For example, the entire East Coast railroad network could be paralyzed by crippling the two computers which control it.150

This third line of reasoning presents another danger as well. Simply put, other nations with a clearer strategic purpose and less sunk capital at risk could become leaders in the current RMA. Despite notable progress, when we look back, we may see the 1980-90s as a period of unrealized potential, roughly comparable to the 1920-30s, when cavalry and infantry stubbornly resisted the internal combustion engine for motorized warfare. In this regard, the currently postulated RMA is eerily similar to the British interwar mechanization experience.

Anyone looking at European military thinking between the world wars would have assumed that the British or French would have been the masters of the new forms of warfare. The conceptual writings of people like Charles DeGaulle, B. H. Liddell Hart, and J. F. C. Fuller outshone those of their German counterparts. But the Germans, unlike the British, empowered their visionaries and allowed them to restructure doctrine, tactics, training, and all the other elements of military art.151

The U.S. Army is dangerously close to the same trap. Another country might capitalize on an RMA first because it could start with a clean slate and think strategically, while the United States will be updating an outdated system incrementally.

With this comparison in mind, I argue that military innovation is caused by a challenge to the military's existing conventional hierarchy. This challenge can originate from many sources?defeat in battle, extreme budget cuts, organizational irrelevance in light of new technology. Sucha fundamental challenge to the hierarchy is necessary to create the conditions in which the organization will willingly alter its core tasks?and even then, it alters these tasks only because it has no other choice. After World War I, in victorious Britain the military hierarchy remained in charge and thus used technology to update its existing system of waging war. In contrast, the defeated German military had its hierarchy threatened and thus was willing to develop a new system.

Even ATCCS?while not an innovation as defined in this paper?had potential to be an innovative program: first as Sigma Star under Starry and then as ABCS under Sullivan. In both periods, the hierarchy was significantly challenged, which caused a shift in the innovative balance of power between the user and developmental/testing communities. Under Starry, there was a renewed awareness that the smaller, professional Army was not capable of successfully defending against the larger Soviet threat. This challenge gave rise to Sigma Star and AirLand Battle. Under Sullivan, the end of the Cold War effectively eliminated the external enemy and threatened to make the Army irrelevant. This challenge gave rise to ABCS and Force XXI. In neither case, however, was the hierarchy so challenged as to force the organization to embrace a new system of waging war. I argue that without this factor, military innovation does not occur.


139. Testimony by General Sullivan to the Committee on Armed Services, United States Senate, Department of Defense Authorization for Appropriations for FY 1996 and the Future Years Defense Program, Part 1, February 9, 14, 16, 23, March 2, 7, 9, April 4, May 4, 1995, p. 652.

140. Testimony by Stephen K. Conver, Assistant Secretary of the Army for Research, Development and Acquisition, to the Committee on Armed Services, United States House of Representatives, National Defense Authorization Act: Procurement of Aircraft, Missiles, Weapons and Tracked Combat Vehicles, Ammunition and Other Procurement, March 25-26, April 128, 129, 130, and May 1, 1992, pp. 16-17.

141. Salisbury, ?TACFIRE,? p. 155.

142. Eliot A. Cohen, ?A Revolution in Warfare,? Foreign Affairs, March/April 1996, p. 52.

143. Interview with Graves.

144. Leaphart, email update on March 19, 1997.

145. Mazarr, ?Assessing 'Byte City': An Insightful or Misleading Vision?,? The Washington Quarterly, Vol. 20, No. 2, Spring 1997, p. 83.

146. Douglas A. MacGregor, Breaking the Phalanx: A New Design for Landpower in the 2lst Century, London: Praeger, 1997, pp. 60-89.

147. James R. B laker, Understanding the Revolution in Military Affairs: A Guide to America's 2lst Century Defense, Progressive Policy Institute Defense Working Paper No. 3, January 1997, pp. 17-18.

148. Major Kenneth F. McKenzie, Jr., USM C, ?Beyond Luddites and Magicians: Examining MTR,? Parameters, Vol. 25, Summer 1995, p.18.

149. For example, there is evidence that Russia has been developing electromagnetic pulse weapons designed to render ineffective electronics equipment, such as computers, telephones, radios, and even the electronic systems in planes, cars, and missiles. See George I.

150. Seffers, ?Commercial Gear Raises EM P Risk,? Defense News, Vol.12, No. 29, July 21-27, 1997, p. 48.

151. Interview with Sachs.

152. Metz and Kievit, Strategy and the Revolution in Military Affairs, pp. 30-31.