Walker: Study the future so we can adapt once the future happens
Where do we invest to ensure that today’s fifth-grader, who in the decade of 2030-2040 will be a battalion commander, will have the tools they need to adapt once the nation commits the Army?"
That was the question posed by Lt. Gen. Keith Walker, deputy commanding general, futures director, Army Capabilities Integration Center, Army Training and Doctrine Command, to attendees of the Association of the United States Army’s 2014 Winter Symposium and Exposition in Huntsville, Ala.
"The Operational Environment in 2025," the topic of his talk, was very appropriate for the professional development forum, with its theme: "America’s Army: Sustaining, Training and Equipping for the Future."
"We study the future not because we wish to get it exactly right, but in order to make sure that we do not get it 100 percent wrong, and so we can adapt once the future happens," Walker said.
While there is no crystal ball to predict exactly what that operational environment will look like over the next decade and beyond, Walker offered some insight on the likely players and challenges facing the military and nation as a whole in the years to come.
"Force 2025 and beyond is about more than the year 2025," Walker said.
Adding, "It’s about one, what must we do to improve the Army 2020 force, it’s about maintaining operational overmatch with leaner formations that have greater than or equal capability than we have today by 2025, and it’s about fundamentally changing the force in 2030-40.
"While the operating environment of 2025 makes for good table discussions, its importance is in what it means to the Army today. What do we have to do today?
"Clearly it means while we may not be able to afford new programs today, we can adjust our investments in science and technology in order to ensure our soldiers and their formations have the capability of what they need in the future."
Looking toward the future operating environment here at home, the Army is not only seeing a decline in the dollars and cents needed to meet the mission, but is also grappling with a shrinking recruitment pool of young men and women "who meet the physical, moral and intellectual standards" to wear the uniform.
As those resources decline, Walker anticipates an increase in conflicts and new alliances due to competition for limited resources, such as energy and water; as well as political uprisings occurring at an accelerated pace, and an "exponential increase in the momentum of human interaction."
That human interaction, which includes the nation’s adversaries, is only further fueled by an increased access to technology, which not only allows adversaries to communicate wherever and whenever with their allies, but also provides them with the capability to inexpensively obtain weapons.
Walker also made note of adversaries seeking weapons of mass destruction to not only deter the U.S., but also influence their neighbors.
"Our adversaries know how we as a nation prefer to fight," Walker said.
He added, "We prefer to conduct long-range precision strike operations that have low risk for U.S. casualties, and if we can make those unmanned strikes, even better. Accordingly, our adversaries have absolutely no intention of allowing us to fight the way we want to."
But it’s not just the enemy that’s changing; it’s the evolution of the world as a whole that will determine how the Army needs to adapt to thrive in the future.
By 2020, the world’s internet users are expected to reach 4 billion. The population as a whole is expected to grow by more than a billion people between now and 2030, Walker said, with a significant trend in individuals and families choosing to reside in cities with populations greater than 1 million.
What does that mean for the Army? It must learn to operate in urban environments, and be prepared for instant communication all across the globe.
"The effect of globalization, the internet, communications – not just in quality, but in quantity, high definition – you have almost immediate regional and later worldwide impact," Walker said.
Adding, "This exponential increase in the momentum of human interaction means that we as an Army, or we as a joint force, will have to have the ability to employ operationally significant force, which is enough force to address that conflict, with greater and greater speed if we want our strategic leaders to have options.
"To meet these future challenges we will have to adjust our research, development and investments into lighter, leaner, more mobile forces that are easier to operate in urban environments with the appropriate protection."