Between now and the Feb. 5 "Super Duper Tuesday," America will get serious about scrutinizing its presidential candidates to ascertain where they stand on the most important issues. Regarding defense policy, virtually all the focus has thus far understandably been on how and when to end the war in Iraq and bring the troops home. This is an important issue, to be sure. But there is another defense topic that is ultimately of much greater importance that must now share some of the attention.
The next administration will be responsible for making some critical decisions regarding the future of America's armed forces in general and for the Army in particular; get Army modernization wrong and we could unwittingly lay the foundation for our defeat on a future battlefield.
In the years between World War I and II, France was at the forefront of technological development and force modernization. It was recognized as the victor over Germany in the Great War and was universally recognized as the most dominant military power in Europe. It had every advantage imaginable and access to all the cutting-edge technology then available. And yet, as is now well known, in May 1940 the vaunted French army was thoroughly routed by the German Wehrmacht.
What is less known, however, is that Germany possessed neither a quantitative nor qualitative technological advantage over France. Germany did, however, combine the best utility of technology with organizational and doctrinal reform that enabled it to win over what should have been a superior force. In short, Germany got 20th-century modernization right and France got it wrong. America is today at a 21st-century modernization crossroad.
Since shortly after Desert Storm, some of America's senior military leaders have been seeking to modernize and transform the Department of Defense into a force capable of dominating all challengers in any future battle. At its core, this transformation seeks to exploit technology and link dispersed warfighting platforms and soldiers with a vast array of intelligence assets and sensors to enable friendly forces to maneuver to positions of advantage and rain devastating firepower down on the enemy. While some components of the Defense Department's efforts are outstanding and promise significant advantage to future American forces, other elements are so far off the mark that if remedial actions are not taken, American forces could suffer a significant battlefield defeat in future war — a defeat that might otherwise be avoidable.
Suggesting the United States could lose a future battle would seem to be out of place in relation to America's known military prowess, which is commonly described as being the most powerful military power in the history of the world. Beginning with Desert Storm in 1991 and reinforced so convincingly in the initial stages of Operation Iraqi Freedom in 2003, the military's conventional domination over all potential enemies seems beyond question. What, then, is the factual basis for such concern?
To date, our modernization efforts have: led some among us to exaggerate what technology can do and to underestimate what the enemy can do; of our own volition we have reduced the combat power of current organizations in the as-yet-unproven promise of what technology will someday be able to do; in the belief our air- and space-based intelligence platforms will always give us sufficient critical information about the enemy to offset this decrease in mass, we have dissolved the most powerful reconnaissance formation in our nation's history and replaced it with an organization that cannot operate in sub-optimal conditions; we plan to replace what has been proven in combat as the world's best main battle tank with a lightly armored vehicle which may not be able to survive head-to-head engagements with enemy tanks; and despite numerous, high-level Defense Department and governmental studies explicitly quantifying the threat China's military poses to future American forces, the Army has made no effort to design a future force capable of defending against such a threat (for a detailed analysis see my essay, "Heavy and Agile," at www.armedforcesjournal.com).
The next administration will have the responsibility for setting Army modernization policy. It is therefore crucial to ascertain where each candidate stands on defense modernization because the decisions the eventual winner makes in the first 100 days in office will establish the type of Army we have for the next several decades. Though economic, social and foreign policy are of great importance, we must press each candidate to articulate their vision of Army modernization and how they'll correct the deficiencies that currently plague our efforts.
The lives of our soldiers and success or failure on future battlefields depends on getting this right.
Maj. Daniel L. Davis is a cavalry officer who fought in Desert Storm in 1991 and served in Afghanistan in 2005. The opinions expressed are his own and do not reflect the official position of the Department of Defense or the Army.