U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command Pamphlet 525-3-6: The U.S. Army Functional Concept for Movement and Maneuver 2020–2040, dated February 2017, describes a lethal future battlefield. This battlefield will include fighting in multiple domains to include land, air, maritime, space and cyberspace. Robotics on the ground and in the air will be common. Use of artificial intelligence will be exploited by friendly and threat forces. Transitioning between operations against multiple threats will be common and frequent. Newer technologies, such as advanced body armor and munitions, which can degrade communications, will be available. When all these factors are considered, where does the U.S. Army start with modernizing its brigade combat teams?
The question is not if modernization is required. The question is, how does the Army do it?
Technological advancements will continue and will likely require specialized training. The Army has adapted to technological advancements and included them in its force modernization programs over the decades. A primary example of this was the integration of the Bradley Fighting Vehicle into the mechanized infantry in the 1980s. Adapting many strategies already in place for armor units, mechanized infantry battalions were reorganized; a new 11M MOS—Mechanized Infantryman—was instituted (it no longer exists); changes were made to initial entry training and officer and NCO education systems; gunnery proficiency was made a centerpiece of training; individual and collective training was updated; functional courses were instituted when infantrymen transitioned into mechanized infantry units; and new equipment training teams were developed to provide home-station training.
The main modernization challenges will come in the domains of organizations, training and leader development and will concentrate on modernization efforts for the infantry brigade combat team’s infantry rifle companies.
Pamphlet 525-3-6 describes what the Army must do to fight and win on the future battlefield. The following assumptions are extracted from that concept:
- Army forces must employ mutually supporting capabilities across the land, air, maritime, space and cyberspace domains to create conditions designed to generate overmatch and present multiple dilemmas to the enemy.
- Army forces must be designed, equipped and trained to think, access, combine and employ capabilities across all domains.
- Army forces will be required to conduct continuous cross-domain reconnaissance and security operations at all echelons of command through the entirety of the operational environment, to develop the situation through action while preserving combat power for the decisive operation.
- A cluttered and hyperactive operational environment requires decentralization of capabilities and decision-making authorities to the lowest practical echelon.
- Army forces must equip with appropriate mobility, protection, firepower, sustainment and Mission Command capabilities to generate overmatch.
- Echelon above brigade headquarters are required to direct reconnaissance and security efforts, conduct intelligence synchronization, organize and resource efforts to establish wide area security, coordinate sustainment efforts and consolidate gains for multiple brigades in linear and nonlinear operational frameworks.
Additionally, the outlook for the near future indicates that:
- Brigade combat teams (BCTs) will continue to be the primary fighting units of the Army, but efforts will continue to modernize divisions and corps.
- The infantry brigade combat team (IBCT) mission-essential task list will essentially be the same, but must incorporate elements of cross-domain maneuver, operate semi-independently, integrate reconnaissance and security operations, and realize Mission Command. Supporting collective tasks to enable cross-domain maneuver will be added.
- Advances in technology (small arms, precision munitions, robotics and artificial intelligence) will enhance lethality, reconnaissance and security, Mission Command, sustainment and protection.
- Commercial off-the-shelf robotics and autonomous systems will continue to evolve and BCTs may not necessarily be equipped with the same technologies.
“The combat mission of the infantry rifle company is to close with the enemy by means of fire and maneuver to destroy or capture him, repel his assault by fire, close combat, and counterattack,” according to Field Manual 3-21.10: The Infantry Rifle Company. Infantry rifle platoons execute this mission. Rifle platoons are physically and cognitively overburdened with equipment and tasks. Given the rapid development of technology innovations, robotic and autonomous systems (RASs) will provide critical capabilities to infantry rifle companies that will enhance the companies’ ability to accomplish their combat mission. RASs also will provide or augment lethality, reconnaissance and security, protection and sustainment capabilities within the company.
RAS efforts will require specialized training and personnel to operate them, as well as retraining and recertification processes to maintain proficiency, similar to training with close-combat missile systems, mortars and machine guns. The IBCT has a fires battalion, brigade engineer battalion and brigade support battalion to provide the necessary warfighting functions it requires for combined arms. Infantry battalions likewise have weapons companies and rifle platoons have weapons squads.
Currently, the infantry rifle company is the only infantry maneuver element within the IBCT that does not have the same support at the proper echelon, i.e., weapons platoon, to provide the necessary combat support structure. (Under previous tables of organization and equipment, infantry rifle companies had organic weapons platoons that included mortars.) Various drafts of the IBCT Operational and Organizational Concept 2026–2035 have called for such a bold organizational change. The 21st-century weapons platoon would be a multifunctional combat support organization that would provide indirect fire support, special weapons support, and RAS operators and support.
Realizing Robotics’ Advantage
To fully realize the advantages robotics can bring to the battlefield of the future, Army senior leaders must recognize that using robotics, similar to additional weapons, i.e. arms rooms’ concept, will not fully maximize the capabilities technologically advanced robotics can provide at the company level and below.
As previously stated, infantry rifle platoons and squads have reached a point of physical and cognitive overload. The weapons platoon concept provides a means to identify and train dedicated RAS operators who will have the skills to maximize these capabilities without removing riflemen from squads to act as “additional duty designated” RAS operators. This concept returns a weapons platoon to the rifle company and provides a multifunctional combat support multiplier. Experimentation would be required to determine the correct size of the sections as well as the leadership and equipment required.
Within the weapons platoon, all RAS sections would be subordinate to the platoon leader and sergeant for training and administrative supervision. During training exercises and deployments, the special weapons and common robotics system sections would be task-organized to rifle platoons or controlled at company level. The weapons platoon leader and sergeant could also provide the company commander an operations officer and NCO for operations/intelligence fusion at the company level, freeing the fire support team chief, executive officer and first sergeant to attend to their primary duties.
Training and Leader Development
The probability of creating distinct MOSs to accompany the RAS operators is remote. The likelihood is that the 11B Infantryman and 11C Indirect Fire Infantryman MOSs will remain intact for the foreseeable future. However, specialized training can be established in initial entry training and functional courses can be created to provide additional skill identifiers for personnel requiring specialized training. Likewise, specific training modules can be created in leader development courses that train the capabilities and limitations of the various systems that would be introduced into the weapons platoon.
As RASs evolve, units will likely not all be equipped with the same technologies. New equipment training teams can be stood up to fill the gap between institutional and home-station training as units train to gain proficiency with the RAS.
Obviously, thought must be, and is currently being, given to IBCT and echelon above brigade modernization across the domains of doctrine, organizations, training, materiel, leader development, personnel, facilities and policy. Start at the lowest command echelon within the most numerous and versatile of the BCTs—the IBCT infantry rifle company.