Inside The Pentagon
by Elaine Grossman
July 8, 2004
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Army To Create 'Asymmetric Warfare Group’ To Prepare For New Threats
The Army is creating an “Asymmetric Warfare Group” to assess new tactics adversaries may use to take advantage of U.S. military vulnerabilities, according to service officials and documents. The group is expected to train forces up and down the ranks in countering such threats, with the first priority being those troops deployed in Iraq and Afghanistan, officials say.
As it stands, the Pentagon “has no single organization to effectively coordinate, train, integrate, deploy for, or manage” its response to asymmetric threats “within the global war on terrorism,” states the Army’s “operational and organizational concept” for the new unit.
Dubbed AWG, the unit will evolve from an existing task force on improvised explosive devices the Army formed late last year, Army officials say. In January, the IED task force began training Army and Marine Corps units in tactics and technologies available to counter the makeshift bombs, which have claimed hundreds of U.S. and Iraqi lives and limbs since the insurgency began last year (Inside the Pentagon, April 22, p9).
Potential countermeasures to IEDs include a variety of electronic jammers and robotic bulldozers, though the Army has kept many details secret in a bid to avoid enemy work-arounds, officials say. But to date, no “silver bullet” has been found to defeat the devices, which are detonated remotely by an array of mechanisms using different frequencies (ITP, Feb. 12, p9).
The asymmetric warfare specialists—to number nearly 200 soldiers, civilians and contractors by next January—will operate much like the IED task force, but with a broadened mandate. The unit is expected to be capable of planning and training for emerging threats in both conventional weapons and weapons of mass destruction. The AWG specialists will prepare to counter high- and low-technology weapons, to include even such futuristic concepts as “ray guns,” according to a task force contractor.
“The technology gap between destructive devices with limited local effects” and so-called “dirty bombs” is “decreasing,” states the AWG operational and organizational concept, developed in April.
As the fledgling AWG matures, the IED task force will gradually disband, the contractor said this week. By the time the AWG reaches “full operational capability” in 2007, it may expand to 277 personnel, the contractor said.
Operating tactics may be as important as—or more important than—materiel solutions in countering asymmetric threats like IEDs or other weapons aimed at “soft targets” like unprotected troops or civilians, according to military officials.
“People equate [a solution] to materiel solutions, but unfortunately that has not been [enough],” said one retired Army officer. “It takes a soldier or a leader to make a smart decision.”
Citing the late military thinker Air Force Col. John Boyd, one officer similarly urges the Army not to overemphasize materiel in its approach to combating asymmetric threats.
It is “a mistake to throw [technology] and money at problems,” this officer said. “People and ideas come first, then things.”
The initial response of U.S. forces to the “growing IED threat was slow and uncoordinated,” according to a June 7 Army briefing on plans for the “Asymmetric Warfare Regiment,” the proposed unit’s former moniker. “We need a ‘Manhattan Project’ approach.”
“‘Asymmetric’ type threats continue to evolve in the GWOT,” or global war on terror, the briefing continues.
Obtained by ITP, the document notes the prevalence of “IED variations,” as well as mortars and rocket-propelled grenades, among U.S. adversaries in Iraq and Afghanistan.
The AWG will include field teams that would deploy to hotspots to assess emerging asymmetric threats and help devise solutions, according to the June briefing.
Under one notional scenario, an Army humvee is destroyed by an IED or other “emerging threat” in Iraq or Afghanistan. An “in-country field team rapidly deploys to location and reconstructs the attack events,”
the briefing states. The field team would “examine tracks, conduct forensics, question witnesses, discern red [enemy] force [tactics, techniques and procedures], and evaluate [the] effectiveness of blue [friendly] forces’” operating procedures and tactics, according to the Army briefing.
The field team would conduct a “hasty assessment and provide initial findings to the attacked unit” and other organizations, including those coordinating joint operations or compiling lessons learned.
Some critics already are lining up to complain that the unit is being formed solely within the Army, rather than as a joint enterprise that prepares air, sea and land forces to combat potential asymmetric threats.
The Army asserts in its AWG operational and organizational concept that “terrorism is predominantly a land-based threat, so an Army lead is appropriate with the Marine Corps and other services supporting as required.” The document says the AWG organization nonetheless “must be joint service, interagency and multinational.”
AWG proponents say the unit could not be created so quickly if it were a joint effort because including all the services would be too time-consuming. A “joint manning document” for such a joint unit is circulating through the Office of the Secretary of Defense, sources say. However, approval for a multi-service AWG will likely remain in development as the Army-only group materializes early next year, the contractor said.
In the future, a joint AWG could be put under the authority of U.S. Joint Forces Command, according to Army sources and documents.
As currently envisioned, the Army-only AWG will offer training to deployed Marine Corps units and those about to deploy, as the IED task force has done, the contractor said.
The Army initially planned for the AWG to operate as part of the service’s new Chemical, Biological, Radiological, Nuclear and High-yield Explosives Command, or CBRNE headquarters, slated to become operational in Edgewood, MD, in October. But because both organizations will be starting up in coming months, the Army has decided the AWG will report instead to the service headquarters’ G-3 directorate for operations, at least initially, said the contractor, interviewed on condition of anonymity.
The AWG will offer training on four levels, much like the IED task force, this official said. First, the task force has trained soldiers in tactics, techniques and procedures for recognizing IEDs. Second, it has advised battalion and brigade battle staffs on how to teach troops useful procedures for identifying and mitigating IED threats. Third, the group has given brigade-level staff and sergeant majors “big-picture” training on how to ready their combat, combat service and combat service support troops to counter the IED threat. Fourth, task force personnel have briefed division and corps commanders on how to influence training with the IED threat in mind, the contractor said.
The AWG will take this same four-level approach in a bid to make its relatively specialized training available to the wide swath of Army troops and commanders who may encounter asymmetric threats, the contractor said. The group will remain fairly small, seeking to avoid competition with the service’s larger and broader training institutions, this source said. Yet there is no other Army organization that brings disparate lessons of asymmetric warfare together for dissemination back into the service at large, according to the contractor.
“We don’t want to do someone else’s job,” the contractor said. The AWG will comprise simply “a nucleus of people with enough capabilities” to better prepare all four levels of Army uniformed personnel simultaneously, rather than sequentially at set points in their service obligations or careers, the contractor said.
One critic said the Army should set up a laboratory or a “red team” to assess future asymmetric threats and potential responses, rather than create an operating unit for this purpose.
“At the end of the day, we need an agile Army prepared for a range of contingencies, not a plethora of specialists ready only for the one block of the ‘three-block war’ they were designed for,” said one retired Marine, citing a concept of modern warfare articulated by former Marine Corps Commandant Gen. Charles Krulak, who retired in 1999.
Again modeling itself after the IED task force, the AWG will give first-priority training to forces fielded in Iraq and Afghanistan. The next priority will be those units about to deploy. After that, training will be provided at military training centers where troops prepare for deployment, service schools, and institutions like the Army’s Training and Doctrine Command, the contractor said.
“We wanted to make sure we hit the soldiers who needed it the most, first,” the contractor told ITP.
Field assessment and training are just two of five “key tasks” envisioned for the AWG, according to last month’s briefing. With a mission to conduct “operations in support of joint and Army force commanders to mitigate and defeat specified asymmetric threats,” the briefing says the AWG:
“Provides, deploys, integrates, coordinates and executes [command and control] of trained and ready forces;
“Observes, collects, develops, validates and disseminates emerging tactics, techniques and procedures;
“Assists in exploitation and analysis of asymmetric threats;
“Provides advisory training for in-theater or pre-deployment forces; [and]
“Provides identification, development and integration of countermeasure technologies.”
The AWG organization is envisioned as having a staff and four squadrons: one each for operations, support, training and technology evaluation, according to the briefing.
-- Elaine M. Grossman