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Army to evaluate advise, assist brigades as tools of rapid force expansion

By C. Todd Lopez

HUNTSVILLE, Ala. (March 15, 2016) -- As the Army draws down in size to just 980K across the total force, one consideration must be how the service can re-expand quickly, if need be, in the face of a conflict.

But growing a capable brigade combat team from scratch, said Maj. Gen. William C. Hix, director of strategy, plans and policy with the Army's G-3/5/7, can take two or three years to do if the Army wants to have a quality unit.

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While speaking here, March 15, the general said the Army is looking at an idea proposed by the Army's chief of staff that promises to more quickly grow the Army if need be.

"We have been looking at both expansion and regeneration as requirements for the last several years," Hix said. "And one of the concepts that Gen. Mark A. Milley has talked about is taking or constituting an advise and assist brigade -- which is effectively a cadre for a new unit ... so you have a cadre of officers -- and NCOs -- effectively a brigade chain of command, that can rapidly absorb troops, trained in a 'COHORT' fashion, to add to the combat power of the Army. We are going to be running pilots on that this year and next year as we go forward, and I think that will help us begin to get after this problem."

In the 1980s, the Army experimented with "COHORT" units, which stood for "cohesion, operational readiness, training," that stayed together longer and were made up mostly of Soldiers who had come into the Army together and gone through basic training together.

Hix said the concept makes sense because the assumption is that the Army will not anytime soon be walking away from its current mission to provide advise and assist capabilities to partner nations. It also makes sense, he said, because in a time of crisis, the Army will expand -- "we always have," he said. And finally, "It builds off our experience with COHORT units in the 1980s, in particular."


Lt. Gen. H. R. McMaster Jr., deputy commanding general of U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command, said there is increasing risk to national security because the Army may now be too small to do its mission, and may also lack the capabilities it needs to overmatch future enemies on the battlefield.

"Our nation needs ready land forces, capable of operating in sufficient scale, and for ample duration, to accomplish the mission as part of joint, inter-organizational, multi-national teams," McMaster said. "Our Army needs capabilities, and also needs capacity."

McMaster said capabilities are what are needed to create certain effects on the battlefield. They are the ability to achieve the desired effect under certain standards. Capacity is that capability "with sufficient scale and endurance to accomplish the mission."

In years past, as far back as World War I, McMaster said, capacity could be traded for capability. Then, he said, technology "allowed smaller and smaller combat forces to have greater and greater effects on the battlefield." He cited mechanization, airpower, and radio as examples of that technology.

But today, technology easily transfers to America's enemies. The enemy also has increased access to "disruptive capabilities" that challenge American "differential advantages in close combat and in combat as a joint force."

Examples of that include sophisticated air defense, anti-tank systems, unmanned aerial systems and the potential to "swarm" UAS capability, long-range fires, advanced combat vehicles, and cyber and electronic warfare capabilities.

"A lot of our advantage had been our ability to share information, the network strike capability," he said. "But what we are seeing now is those capabilities are under threat from cyber warfare, from electronic warfare, and also from counter-satellite capabilities."

What this means, he said, is that the relationship between capability and capacity seen in the past, the one that allowed the Army to trade off capacity for a "narrow range" of capability, has changed. "I think it's bottomed out, and is now turning up, where capacity is very important."

What the Army needs now, McMaster said, is well trained troops -- and enough of them. Technology alone is not enough now to overmatch the enemy and achieve a win.

"We'd better be ready. We'd better have well-trained, competent, cohesive teams who know how to operate all their systems, all of their weapons, under all conditions of combat," he said.

And "the size of the Army is important. The size of the Army is important because we have to not only fight ... we also have to consolidate gains to get sustainable outcomes."

Finally, he said, the Army needs to develop capabilities to cope with enemy disruptive capabilities, and to also develop its own capabilities to maintain overmatch. "We don't want a fair fight," he said.

Hix said that in Washington, "capability" and "capacity" are often presented as a choice -- that success can be had with ample amounts of one or the other. That's a falsehood, he said.

"We must have adequate amounts of both, to deter, defend the homeland, defeat and deny and support current and future readiness," Hix said.

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