On May 31, the Scowcroft Center’s Forward Defense (FD) practice hosted a public event featuring US Secretary of the Army Christine Wormuth as part of its Commanders Series, generously supported by Saab.
In advance of the forthcoming National Defense Strategy (NDS), Secretary Wormuth joined the Wall Street Journal’s National Security Reporter Vivian Salama to answer pressing questions on the Army’s role in implementing the NDS, particularly amid the intensifying war in Ukraine and the sustained China threat in the Indo-Pacific theater.
The bottom line? The Army has a crucial role to play in meeting US President Joseph R. Biden’s near-term strategic priorities. The service is orienting its activities around the three core pillars introduced in the recent NDS Fact Sheet: campaigning, integrated deterrence, and building enduring advantages. In doing so, the Army remains focused on its top three priorities—people, modernization, and readiness—to meet the demands of today while also preparing for the future.
The Army plans to play a central role in implementing the NDS.
Secretary Wormuth posits that the Army will plug into all three NDS lines of effort:
Campaigning. Strengthening deterrence will allow the United States to prevail against the full range of competitors’ coercive actions. When it comes to campaigning, Secretary Wormuth explains that the Army’s core role lies in using operating forces, synchronizing them, and aligning US government activities with non-military instruments of national power to undermine acute forms of competitor coercion. The ultimate aim is to complicate adversaries’ military preparations as the United States develops its warfighting capabilities jointly with allies and partners. Secretary Wormuth argued that the Army meets these objectives by being present every single day—not only in Europe and the Indo Pacific, but all around the world. The service does so by building up infrastructure throughout NATO territory and undertaking considerable training with its allies, such as its large-scale training exercise with the Joint Pacific Multinational Readiness Center.
Integrated deterrence. Integrated deterrence—which entails working together across services and the US interagency, in all theaters of warfare, and together with allies and partners—is closely linked to campaigning. Secretary Wormuth argues the Army must develop and build the forces needed for the future to fit into the administration’s vision for integrated deterrence. To do so, the Secretary outlined the force’s modernization strategy. When it comes to developing new systems, the Army is focused on five different portfolios: 1. Long-range precision fires; 2. Next-generation combat vehicles; 3. Future vertical lift; 4. Air and missile defense, and 5. US soldier lethality systems. Providing an update on the Army’s modernization efforts, Secretary Wormuth shared that prototypes— most notably, its four long-range precision systems—are now ready to be used by soldiers in the field. However, the Army is not just developing new weapon systems—it is also developing new formations, including a multi-domain task force, which will allow the Army to combine kinetic effects, as well as to conduct non-kinetic types of attacks, for example, using cyber capabilities, electronic warfare, and space capabilities.
Building enduring advantages. This final pillar of the NDS lies in undertaking reforms to accelerate force development, getting the technology needed more quickly, and making investments in the people of the Department. To build enduring advantages, Secretary Wormuth argues that the Army must be able to innovate and experiment with novel concepts and technologies, determining “how it can build a joint force that can work together, not just within the US military, but also in collaboration with allies and partners.” Project Convergence is the Army’s important source for experimenting with the future of joint operations. Project Convergence 22 targets Army coordination with all of the sister services. In addition, Secretary Wormuth highlighted the importance of people, arguing that “our people really is our best asset, our best weapon system.” To best capitalize on people, the Army is “trying to transition to a Digital Age approach”, where it is recognizing the individual capabilities and talents of individual soldiers, non-commissioned officers, and officers and thinking about how the Army can have a talent-based approach to its workforce.
Looking toward the Indo Pacific.
Secretary Wormuth also noted the increasingly important role of the Indo Pacific in today’s geopolitical competition. So far in fiscal year 2023, the Army has invested over a billion dollars in the Pacific Deterrence Initiative, which captures the Department’s efforts and investments to strengthen regional deterrence. The marquee event in the Indo-Pacific is called Operation Pathways, which encompasses about seven major exercises in the region. Secretary Wormuth highlighted the different roles of the Army depending on the region it is operating in, stating that “the Army would really be the center of gravity in a NATO fight, whereas in the Indo-Pacific I see the Army as more being the supporting service.”
Learning from Russia’s war in Ukraine.
Secretary Wormuth outlines a number of lessons learned from the Ukraine war, ranging from leadership to logistics. Firstly, much can be learned from looking at the Russian military’s failures, which, in Secretary Wormuth’s opinion, underscores the importance of leadership training and discipline. Secondly, she highlighted the importance of delegating responsibilities down to lower echelons, closely followed by a third lesson that boils down to logistics. Secure communications and the consequences of when soldiers use their cellphones, making them accessible targets, is another lesson that can be drawn from the ongoing war in Europe. The last two lessons the Secretary emphasized were the growing drone threat (confirming the importance of modernizing air and missile defense systems) and the necessity of maintaining the US industrial base and munition stockpiles, especially in the event of a protracted conflict.
You can watch “The national security implications of small satellites” here and you can Missed the event? You can watch “A conversation with Secretary Christine Wormuth on the Army’s role in the National Defense Strategy” here. To watch other events in the Commanders Series, visit the webpage here. For more information about the Atlantic Council’s Forward Defense practice, please visit the website here and subscribe for more.
Juliette Renaut is a Young Global Professional for Forward Defense in the Atlantic Council’s Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security.
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