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“The first half of the 21st century will feature a strategic environment completely unlike that of the last half of the 20th,” Mr. Maginnis and Gen. Donnelly wrote. “To defend against the extremist groups that seek to ignite persistent conflict into perpetual war, the capacity of other nations’ security forces, their directing institutions, and their governing institutions are the first line of defense.”

The Army is absorbing the largest troop cut of the four services over the next five years, shrinking from 570,000 soldiers to 490,000. The Washington Times reported last spring that the military is overhauling war planning to fit Mr. Obama’s strategy. The plans call for fewer Army troops in a war and more reliance on allied forces.

With former Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates saying anyone would “have to have your head examined” to fight another big land war in the Middle East, and the new U.S. strategy focusing on Asia, the Army is tying more of its future to demands of combatant commands.

Specialized brigade teams

Gen. Raymond T. Odierno, Army chief of staff and formerly the top commander in Iraq, is beginning a pilot program next year that would lead to aligning its 40-plus brigade combat teams to combatant commands. They would train for specific threats in those regions, as well as learn how to help individual foreign security forces meet specific threats.

The first pilot program of the “regionally aligned forces concept” will be to tie a brigade combat team from the 10th Mountain Division to U.S. Africa Command. It is helping countries, especially in North Africa, deal with al Qaeda franchise groups.

Gen. Odierno met with reporters last month to talk about the impending marriages, saying the teams will, in effect, become specialists on a region’s unique security needs.

“What this does for us is it enables us to focus those units in these areas so they become more understanding of the tasks that they’ll have to work,” he said. “In [Africa], we want them to do small-unit training. Now they will reach a certain level of capability, combined arms training, and then we’ll use them to help train and assist units in other nations in Africa in order to continue to build partner capacity.”

He said some combatant commands might ask for as many as six brigade combat teams to be aligned.

Gen. Scales, a former commandant of the Army War College, agrees with both initiatives.

“I think this is long overdue,” he said. “This illustrates this painfully slow and steady progress between converging the roles of Special Forces and those of American infantry. It’s been going on for a while, and it’s accelerating because of Odierno’s initiatives to close the cap between the two. That’s one of the key lessons that come out of these wars.

“Where a lot of people get it wrong is saying, ‘All you’re trying to do is replace Special Forces,’ ” Gen. Scales said. “No, that’s not correct. It really comes to the issue of how quickly can you become effective in a region.

“For an intervening ground force, the first 72 hours, and then the next 60 to 90 days, are absolutely key to being effective in this type of operation. What Odierno is trying to do is make this regional fit something that occurs much more quickly and efficiently.”