The Association of the U.S. Army 2023 Warfighter Summit and Exposition in Fayetteville, North Carolina, will be a rally point for thousands of soldiers, Army civilians, military families and partners seeking a glimpse of the future. Throughout the two-day event in late July, attendees will explore cutting-edge technology, next-generation tactics, and leadership and readiness trends that will directly impact soldiers in our formations.
This year’s Warfighter Summit will highlight how the U.S. Army is training to fight and win the nation’s wars. The event’s speakers and exhibits will undoubtedly address the U.S. military’s threats, pacing challenges, partnerships and responsibilities across the globe. However, one of the most crucial questions will remain unanswered: Where and when will the next fight come?
Today’s midgrade and senior Army leaders, including me, spent most of the past two decades knowing the date and location of the next deployment to Iraq or Afghanistan. We also knew the mission, the human and physical terrain, the threat and the enemy capabilities. We knew what to pack, which equipment was waiting for us in theater, which units were ahead of us and who would take our place. Families generally knew when their loved ones were scheduled to return home.
The future does not offer such certainties. Perhaps more than any time since the 2003 invasion of Saddam Hussein’s Iraq, the Army’s future is not written. Unlike many times through the past 20 years, today’s formations do not know if, where or when the next battle will begin.
However, one certainty remains: The U.S. Army will fight where it is told, and it will win where it fights.
In my keynote address at last year’s inaugural Warfighter Summit, I quoted one of the Army’s signature lines of cadence: “Mission uncertain, destination unknown.” Perhaps no phrase is more compelling to warfighters who crave challenge, adventure and impact.
But first, we must be ready—and that is where the U.S. Army Forces Command’s (FORSCOM’s) focus remains today. For a global security environment as complex and dynamic as today’s, the Army cannot afford to wait until future requirements become clear. Our formations are driving the readiness we need to deter, fight and win tomorrow’s wars wherever we’re called to do so. And because those future requirements are still uncertain, we must be even more ready, more capable and more flexible than ever.
Readiness—the degree to which our collective warfighting formations are manned, trained and equipped to win in combat—takes strategic discipline, careful planning and consistent effort.
FORSCOM’s corps, divisions and brigades are building readiness during multi-echelon tactical exercises, stressing their ability to build situational understanding, conduct and assess operations and synchronize warfighting functions—while simultaneously allowing platoons and companies to spend time and resources building foundational tactical skills.
However, the Total Army’s 20 divisions, 58 brigade combat teams and countless enablers cannot achieve the height of readiness at the same time. Combat training center rotations are finite, personnel assignments naturally ebb and flow, and competing demands from missions and modernization create a healthy friction over time.
To account for these factors, the Army’s readiness experts and professionals synchronize training milestones, manning cycles and deployment windows. Most of all, they ensure that the readiness our formations build is employed and consumed, meeting validated requirements where soldiers advance the nation’s interest.
Large-scale combat operations will demand particularly high, sustainable levels of readiness to potentially face a formally trained, funded and supported near-peer adversary.
In June, I walked the hallowed fields and beaches of Normandy, Carentan and northern France where, in 1944, more than 2 million Allied service members killed, wounded or captured almost a half-million Axis fighters while suffering almost a quarter-million casualties of their own. As many as 9,386 Americans were laid to rest in Normandy American Cemetery. These are the stakes in large-scale combat.
Modern battlefields will drive these stakes even higher. Our warfighters must be ready to face, defeat and survive against a deadlier and more technologically advanced force than the Army ever has before.
The Army is building stronger capabilities for intense, large-scale combat. This includes a renewed focus on warfighting functions like sustainment, fires and protection in our combat training centers; using data to make smarter and faster targeting decisions; planning and executing combined battlefield tactics at the battalion and brigade levels; and synchronizing land, air, sea, space and cyber capabilities for cross-domain effects.
Formations are building these competencies now so they will be well-positioned to accept and integrate next-generation equipment and systems in coming years.
Some of these upgrades, like the modernized M1A2 SEPv3 Abrams tank, have already begun to be fielded to combat formations. Others, such as the Next-Generation Squad Weapon, are being rapidly tested and developed through soldier and industry partnerships.
Altogether, 24 major modernization initiatives will make FORSCOM’s warfighters faster, more versatile and more lethal in combat. These efforts are part of the secretary of the Army’s operational imperatives for good reason; today’s window of opportunity to build a more capable force may not stay open forever.
If we fail to invest in weapons, technology and infrastructure today, future soldiers could find themselves going to war against an advanced enemy with the same equipment our formations used in the Middle East—albeit with even more years and miles on them.
Beyond weapons and equipment, FORSCOM formations also are exploring the systems and processes our warfighters will employ in battle. Advancements in targeting, distributed command and control, and predictive logistics—fueled by U.S. Army Futures Command modernization projects, corps-level warfighter exercises and academic partnerships—demonstrate the Army’s institutional commitment to winning the future fight.
Our major modernization portfolios are complemented by grassroots initiatives developed by soldiers, for soldiers. Across FORSCOM’s corps and divisions, leaders are harnessing individual teammates’ practical ideas and ground-level perspectives to drive change at scale. Army National Guard and U.S. Army Reserve citizen-soldiers are particularly well-positioned to share civilian expertise and partner with innovative local industries.
The Army’s call for improved capabilities is not only an imperative for the operational force; it also makes today an exciting time to be a soldier. Today’s warfighters are transforming the Army before our eyes. This is a testament to the creativity, empowerment and flexibility our formations require.
We are a globally responsive Army—demonstrating strength, reassuring allies and deterring war across the world.
The next fight—or fights—could involve a broad range of scenarios. FORSCOM must remain prepared for the most likely and most dangerous potential conflicts but stand ready to adapt when new threats emerge.
As I prepared for this past spring’s semiannual Army Synchronization and Readiness Conference, hosted at FORSCOM headquarters, I asked planners to consider the unexpected ways the geopolitical and operational environments have changed between each of the conference’s past few iterations. While training strategies and readiness guidance could not predict all future requirements, the Army was then—and remains—well-prepared to adapt in real time.
DoD’s strategic environment is shifting rapidly. China, identified in the 2022 National Defense Strategy as the “pacing challenge,” and Russia as the “acute threat,” are dynamic. So, too, are the North Korean and Iranian regimes, as well as violent extremist organizations and others that compete or conflict with American interests.
Thus, critical flexibility is built into the Army’s plans and culture. Our readiness and capabilities are only as strong as our ability to build and sustain formations for a fight. Fort Liberty, the informal co-host of this year’s AUSA Warfighter Summit, embodies America’s ability to project power and put warfighters on the ground anywhere in the world.
Today, our adversaries are becoming bolder and more advanced as they seek to undermine America’s influence, global access and warfighting advantage. Meanwhile, the physical spaces and strategic conditions in which our forces may serve are becoming increasingly complex.
Throughout FORSCOM, commanders and senior NCOs are preparing warfighters for this new paradigm by balancing priorities and applying the art of leadership within their formations. The Army’s requirements are relative to the adversaries and environments we may face, and today, those relative requirements are demanding more readiness, more capability and more flexibility.
The next mission is uncertain, our next destination is unknown, and our work is never complete. We are warfighters, and America will always depend on us to fight and win the nation’s wars.
Let’s make sure we’re ready for the next one.
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6 Ways to Win
The Army is transforming for a future battlefield that will be more lethal and contested than ever. To meet this challenge, Army Secretary Christine Wormuth said the Army of 2030 must be able to meet these six operational imperatives:
1. See and sense more, farther and more persistently at every echelon than our enemies.
2. Concentrate highly lethal, low-signature combat forces rapidly from dispersed locations.
3. Win the fires fight by delivering precise, longer-range fires as part of the joint force.
4. Protect forces from air, missile and drone attacks.
5. Rapidly and reliably communicate and share data with ourselves, our sister services and our allies and partners.
6. Sustain the fight across contested terrain for short, sharp operations and protracted conflict.
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Gen. Andrew Poppas became the 24th commander of the U.S. Army Forces Command, Fort Bragg, now Fort Liberty, North Carolina, in July 2022. Previously, he served more than three years as a senior leader on the Joint Staff, first as director for operations, then as director of the Joint Staff. Before that, he commanded the 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault). He deployed once to Iraq and three times to Afghanistan. He graduated from the U.S. Military Academy, West Point, New York, in 1988.