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Transforming the US Military: A 21st Century Challenge Essay

It used to be that military combat is predictable in at least two ways. The first one is the assurance that wars will be fought in the plains and if not in flat lands then at least in wide-open areas and far away from the villages.

The second thing that one can be assured of in ancient forms of warfare is the reliance on a tried and proven strategy – strength in numbers. Most often than not, the side who has the most number of combatants win.

In today’s world, both of the two rules do not apply anymore. Wars and major conflicts occur in city streets and also in villages. The term “CQB” or close quarter battle is becoming popular and is familiar to many especially those who are part of the military lifestyle.

There are two major reasons for these changes. The end of the Cold War between the United States and the former Union Soviet Socialist Republic changed the history of the Western world and radically altered the political landscape of the world.

The second major reason for these changes is the rise of terrorism. Although religious zealots are a major part of this new breed of combatants, one cannot discount the rising tide of militia and various forms of guerilla forces that are sprouting from many troubled spots in the world.

This paper will ascertain the direction the US military is heading in an effort to strategically respond to the changing times. The study will also attempt to find out how the said organization and the hundreds of thousands of soldiers who serve under it respond to whatever is in the works. The soldiers will have to be prepared to a paradigm shift and other major changes that will be put into play by the powers that be.

The End of the Cold War

Before going into a more detailed description of the plan to transform the US military, it is imperative to first understand why the most powerful armed forces in the world are in a situation that needed transforming.

The US military need to change because it was designed, trained, and equipped to fight an enemy that is there no more. Williamson Murray in his work about army transformation gave the following insight as to the after effects of a long drawn out psychological war with the USSR that abruptly ended and he wrote:

The adjustment to that reality is still going on […] the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 had removed the great power threat to the security of the United States. The presence of that threat had provided the American military […] with a stable strategic and operational framework (p.2, 2001).

Murray added that with only the seven year exception that is the Vietnam War, the US was “…focused almost single-mindedly on how to deter and, if deterrence failed, fight a war in Central Europe” (2001).

The above-mentioned information would have explained the presence of gigantic aircraft carriers, expensive nuclear submarines, and equally huge air transporters that could carry more large equipment. But when the second major policy changer came into the scene – religious fanatics – the US had no choice but to change or perish.

Excess Baggage

As mentioned earlier, the old formula for battle success is to meet force with force, personnel with personnel and equipment with more equipment. The US is ready to shed the excess poundage because the gigantic enemy is nowhere to be seen and what the military is facing is an annoying small enemy that could not be suppressed with atomic bombs. This is because like cockroaches they can hide between crevices, caves, and even deep into the jungles.

The enemy is impossible to see unless the military will be willing to deploy foot soldiers that can match human intelligence that no machine or a robot’s artificial intelligence can emulate. Therefore the transformation plan of the army is bent on becoming quick on its feet and with the mind. Bogdan Savych provided a sketch of the future when he wrote that:

Efforts are under way to transform the US military into more agile and easily deployable forces with capabilities to react to a range of contingencies […] a transformed Army will be built around smaller, lighter, faster, highly networked units that are quicker to get into the fight (p. 1, 2005).

In the literature of the Transformation Campaign Plan of the military, James Shufelt, Jr. quoted the following:

The current heavy forces lack strategic responsiveness and deployability. They also have a large logistical footprint and have significant support requirements. On the other hand, the Army’s current light forces can strike quickly but lack survivability, lethality, and tactical mobility (2001).


In any change to take place, the people involved in the transformation must be given a reason to change the status quo. The importance of incentives could not be stressed enough since changing requires a lot of effort, especially in this kind of change the military is thinking about.

There can be at least two major incentives that could be used to encourage present military professionals to go with new policies and tactics. The first one addresses the safety issue of the men that will be put in harm’s way. Danger and risk is part of the martial lifestyle but there are ways to mitigate said risks and to provide a highly trained medical staff that can increase the confidence of soldiers to go into the fray.

Johnson and Ceccine in the Medical Risk in the Future Force Unit of Action, made the following remarks:

The Army’s transformation to the Future Force not only posits dramatically different equipment, it also envisions radically new ways of fighting […] the employment of widely dispersed units moving rapidly around the battlefield […] potentially pose significant challenges for the units that support the combat elements (p. 2, 2005).

The second major incentive involves money and other privileges. Aside from monetary incentives, the perceived rewards that can easily fire up an employee to climb the corporate ladder, the same can inspire military personnel to climb ladder to success in a heavily hierarchical organization such as the US military. These perceived rewards are privileges that come with rank.

Although in theory it is possible to create these types of incentives, in practice there are major obstacles to the path of change, Savych pointed out one of the roadblocks up ahead:

The current military compensation and personnel system […] lacks flexibility. For example, it creates senior careers that may be too short, as service members are induced to separate after 20 years of service (2005).

Savych added that an “…up-or-out promotion rule may induce good performers to leave the military early if they perceive little chance of promotion” (2005). Both aspects of the compensation and personnel system discourage the younger generation to make a serious career out of military service.

If that is not enough there is another burden that is added to those leading the fight against unresponsiveness and resistance to change and it was put succinctly by M.J. McMahon in the following statement. “The challenge for the Army, however, is that no one will relive it of the responsibility to defend the nation’s interests while undergoing transformation” (McMahon, 2001).


The need for transformation in the military is long overdue. Ever since the end of the Cold War, there was already an urgency to retool and rewrite the operational manual of the world’s most powerful military force.

The hindrance to change is human nature’s aversion to changes. A more determined leadership can remedy this problem. With regards to the second major hindrance man’s instinct for self-preservation, a more determined policy change is the answer. Changes should come from the compensation and personnel management department of the US armed forces. A more attractive compensation package that involves rapid promotion for great performing soldiers can be the key.

Finally, if the US is not determined to undergo transformation, to meet head-on the challenges posted by radical extremists – who does not hold there life so dearly when it comes to fighting for their cause – then this is the beginning of the end for the once mighty US Armed forces.


Johnson, D. & Cecchine, G. (2005). Medical risk in the Future Force Unite of Action: Results of

the Army Medical Department Workshop. Washington, D.C.: Rand Corporation.

McMahon, M.J. (2001). Adaptive Transformation Model: A Branch to the Army Transformation Campaign. In W. Murray (Ed.). Army Transformation: A View From the U.s. Army War

College. Pennsylvania: Strategic Studies Institute.

Murray, W. (2001). Army Transformation: A View From the U.s. Army War College.

Pennsylvania: Strategic Studies Institute.

Savych, B. (2005). Washington, D.C.: Rand Corporation.

Shufelt, J.W. (2001). Improving the Strategic Responsiveness of the Transforming Force. In W.

Murray (Ed.). Army Transformation: A View From the U.s. Army War College. Pennsylvania: Strategic Studies Institute.

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