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Breaking the Saber: The Subtle Demise of Cavalry in the Future Force

June 8, 2004

The requirement for traditional Cavalry organizations in the Future Force (not the mechanized infantry and armor units bearing the name only, but those units that perform reconnaissance and security missions for their parent unit) is a subject of considerable debate across the United States Army. Some believe that, given the nature of the likely threats we will face, the migration of warfare into complex terrain and urban environments, the nature of nonlinear warfare, and the inherent limitations and vulnerabilities of joint sensor technology, Cavalry organizations, performing in their traditional, time-proven role, will continue to play a critical role on future battlefields. Moreover, they will serve as the fundamental means of transforming the warfighting concepts of the Future Force into an actual capability.

Others believe that, given the manned and unmanned air and ground sensor platforms we intend to embed throughout future combined-arms brigades (Units of Action or UAs) and future division corps (Units of Employment or UEs), and seamlessly linked within a joint communications network, we have little need for the form of reconnaissance and surveillance (R&S) operations heretofore performed by mounted Cavalry organizations. Future maneuver units can perform these operations for themselves. Furthermore, they firmly believe that this future integrated network of joint and service platform-based sensors will provide an omniscient view of any area of operations; therefore, there will be little need for organizations that are specially manned, equipped and trained to perform security operations for the main body of the future combined arms brigades, divisions and corps. In short, sensors and information organized into dynamic tactical information spheres will ably secure our force.

One glance at the current U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command (TRADOC) organizational designs for the Unit of Action and the Units of Employment indicates the technophiles are winning the argument. Moreover, this group, seemingly seduced by the siren call of sensor technology, is amply supported by ambiguous language in the original U.S. Army White Paper 2 Concepts for the Objective Force, dated 8 December 2002. This base-plate document does not specifically address a conceptual requirement for Cavalry organizations in the design of the UA or UE variants. The authors of the White Paper state:

The Objective Force possesses advanced ISR [Intelligence, Surveillance, and Reconnaissance] capabilities and networked sensors to see the enemy in complex, urban terrain through structures and below ground. Advanced technologies lead to an unprecedented common integrated operational picture enabling us to see the enemy in part and as a whole, as a complex adaptive organization. ISR enablers include combat identification systems; organic robotic multispectral, disposable sensors; UAVs (unmanned aerial vehicles), and UGVs (unmanned ground vehicles); embedded C4ISR [command, control, communications, computers, intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance]; SOF (special operations forces); long-range surveillance detachments; and air and ground reconnaissance operations

Getting to the point, the current organizational design and intellectual underpinning of our Future Force do nothing less than signal the demise of Cavalry within the conventional forces of the United States Army, assuring its placement on the ash heap of history along with coastal artillery. Granted, bold and innovative change is essential as we adapt to the current operating environment regarding our current force, the more the better but if we are going to do this, we had better be right and base our judgments on something more than a series of attrition-based, constructive computer simulation models and PowerPoint charts that we know inadequately replicate the expected conditions of conflict in the years ahead. If we ignore the rich body of historical and contemporary experience that justifies the critical importance of Cavalry organizations in our Current Force, and instead place our faith in the promise of unrealized technology, we may undermine the validity of the Future Force concept and our ability to develop our full combat potential in the 21st century. Furthermore, in the light of observations and lessons learned from our recent conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq, it is time for a penetrating assessment of the validity of our future concept of warfighting and the emerging organizational design of the Future Force before we get too far down the road.