North Korea’s nuclear provocations in 2017 cemented an ongoing shift from building Army readiness for counterinsurgency and counterterrorism to preparing for large-scale combat operations. Army senior leaders implemented the Focused Readiness model soon after, which produced the highest levels of readiness in years. They prioritized building the immense levels of tactical readiness across all three components required for large-scale combat. However, Focused Readiness also revealed critical Army operational gaps and strategic readiness shortfalls that complicated our ability to meet wartime demands on the Korean Peninsula.
Focused Readiness has ended, but strategic guidance endures. Our strategic documents stress our central challenge: long-term strategic competition with Russia and China. But as recent events between the U.S. and Iran have exposed, this challenge requires an Army that is ready to deploy, fight and win in more than a single region and is ready at each level to operate anywhere around the globe. Leaders must adopt a holistic view of readiness that allows the Army to meet the demands of global simultaneity in great-power competition and, if necessary, great-power conflict.
Secretary of the Army Ryan McCarthy and Chief of Staff Gen. James McConville are advancing a holistic approach to Army readiness by recalibrating our gains in tactical readiness to enhance the Army’s operational and strategic readiness. Holistic Army readiness is the Army’s ability to generate highly trained, disciplined and fit tactical units; preserve the capacity and capability to meet operational demands of the joint force; and achieve the strategic role of rapidly providing Army forces to the combatant commanders. Leaders must also view Army readiness across multiple time horizons by evaluating the Army’s ability to meet both current and future operational demands. Deploying our Immediate Response Force in January to the Middle East underscores how the Army will require both capacity and capability to meet any emergent demand on top of extensive steady-state commitments. This will stress our efforts to modernize over the course of the new decade, leading to tough but necessary trade-offs between current readiness and future readiness investments.
Holistic Army readiness highlights a connection between three echelons of warfare (tactical, operational and strategic) and three military force operations (force generation, force employment and force projection).
The Army owns force generation activities, which produce ready units across all components at the tactical level. Under the direction of combatant commanders, the Army conducts force employment of these ready units at the tactical and operational (corps) levels to meet operational demand in an environment of either competition or contingency. The Army conducts force projection, supported by the joint community, to fulfill its strategic role of providing ready tactical units in time and space to meet the joint force’s operational demands. Title 10 codifies the Army’s statutory requirements throughout these three echelons and within the three military force operations.
Meeting Mission Demands
Tactical readiness is the ability of Army forces to fight and meet the demands of their assigned missions. The U.S. Army Forces Command and unit commanders own the responsibility to build the tactical readiness of their units. Tactical readiness is a force generation function, but the Army’s institutional force generation activities begin at the U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command and with the chief of staff of the Army’s No. 1 priority—people. Institutional functions like Initial Entry Training, leader development and professional military education produce individuals who are highly trained, disciplined and fit. Army senior leaders have created initiatives to boost soldier and family readiness including the Army Combat Fitness Test, talent management reforms and housing improvements. The Army is also investing in soldier lethality to improve how soldiers will overmatch future adversaries. Unit command teams promote soldier training, discipline and fitness to generate cohesive teams capable of accomplishing assigned missions.
The Army’s force generation model is the Sustainable Readiness Process. A critical output of this is the Unit Readiness Cycle, which serves as the template for tactical unit training cycles (currently a two-year cycle for active units and a five-year cycle for the reserve component). New Unit Readiness Cycles—Prepare, Ready, Mission—evolved from the previous unit force pools of Army Force Generation. Tactical readiness assessments highlight a unit commander’s assessment of their unit’s mission-essential tasks. Unit commanders assess resource availability and serviceability against documented requirements with training assessments. The Army assesses tactical readiness through a commander’s monthly unit status report.
Operational readiness is the Army’s ability to meet the joint force’s global operational demands in either a competition or contingency environment, not both simultaneously. Demand reflects Army capacity and capability required to conduct the joint force’s military operations. While the combatant commanders primarily own force employment operations, operational readiness—the collective ability of our tactical units to fight and win—is the corps commander’s responsibility. Others, like Training and Doctrine Command and the U.S. Army Futures Command, play key roles by establishing warfighting doctrine and developing the Multi-Domain Operations concept, respectively. The Army assesses operational readiness by comparing what units are available to supply (ready forces) against the operational needs of combatant commands (force demand), as prioritized by national strategic guidance.
Operational demand is different during periods of competition and contingency. In competition, the global campaign plans describe how the services support the joint force. The Global Force Management Implementation Guidance and the Global Force Management Allocation Plan then express the Army’s operational requirements in terms of unit types either assigned or allocated to combatant commands. In a contingency, particularly a large-scale contingency, the joint force expresses operational demand through the Globally Integrated Base Plans, which combine multiple numbered war plans and their associated time-phased force and deployment data.
Enabling Force Projection
Strategic readiness is the Army’s ability, through time and space, to provide combatant commanders with trained and ready tactical units that can meet the joint force’s operational demands. The Army enables force projection of ready units to meet demands in competition or contingency. The Army measures strategic readiness by assessing seven strategic readiness tenets: manning, training, equipping, sustaining, installations, capacities and capabilities. Installations, for example, serve as strategic platforms to enable reserve component mobilization and deployment of all components. Equipping of Army pre-positioned stocks, manning of forward-based units, industrial base capacity to produce munitions, and capabilities with allies and partners characterize aspects of the Army’s global posture necessary to support the joint force in competition, as well as project and sustain our units in wartime.
The Army, as part of the joint force, seeks to achieve military end states that accomplish national objectives. In coordination with the U.S. Transportation Command, the Army is building strategic readiness to rapidly mobilize and deploy forces anywhere in the world and to sustain them for the duration of a crisis. The U.S. Army Materiel Command owns a large share of responsibility for strategic readiness, and all Army commands have equities, but Headquarters, Department of the Army, is ultimately responsible.
The Army is adjusting its posture across the globe and throughout all domains, including cyber and space. The service is advancing relationships with allies and partners through foreign military sales and by fostering defense and security agreements, with forces deployed in 140 countries worldwide. Strategic readiness is crucial in an era of great-power competition because the Army must possess the access, presence and influence paired with interoperability among allies and partners. The Army will drive considerable gains in strategic readiness through large-scale exercises like the Defender series.
Current and Future Readiness
The Army will continue to build and sustain readiness for the spectrum of military operations amid the changing strategic and operational environments. Tactical readiness alone is necessary but insufficient to meet the demands of great-power competition or great-power conflict. While the Army may have units at their highest level of readiness to accomplish their assigned missions, it must be able to rapidly provide those forces to combatant commands, which will likely occur in a contested environment.
The Army has one force generation process, and that model is Sustainable Readiness. Focused Readiness, Objective-T and Army Force Generation have ended. Headquarters, Department of the Army, is driving improvements to Sustainable Readiness that clearly define the Army’s operational demand; program and assess the readiness of all components and at all echelons to meet that demand; provide the field with one clear message on readiness; and open decision space for our senior leaders to modernize the force. The Army deputy chief of staff for operations, plans and training serves as the integrator of the Army’s readiness efforts through the Army Campaign Plan to drive critical decisions for senior leaders across multiple time horizons.
The Army has entered a period of fiscal tension that requires funding modernization priorities while simultaneously building readiness to meet current demands. We must identify and preserve sufficient levels of current readiness while balancing future readiness trade-offs. This is essential to allow our senior leaders to understand and accept prudent risk during modernization activities. Army modernization is future readiness and has impacts beyond the six priorities and 31 signature programs. New service concepts, like Multi-Domain Operations, will emerge throughout a period of rapid change for the Army, and will link to a new joint operating concept on the horizon for the next fiscal year. Establishing Futures Command has allowed senior leaders to explore some of the trade-offs between current and future readiness.
The Army is more prepared for the fundamental changes to come and is better able to synchronize our modernization activities, but ongoing and emergent demands will challenge us. Army readiness at the tactical, operational and strategic levels forms the nexus of how the Army is and will remain the preeminent land power to meet the joint force’s operational demand.
Maj. Tim Devine and Maj. Sarah Starr contributed to this article.