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FRONTLINE 1904K1 "The Future of War"
Air date: October 24, 2000

The Future of War

Produced by
Michael Chandler and William Kistner

Written and Directed by
Michael Chandler

ANNOUNCER: The United States Army is getting ready for the next war.

RALPH PETERS, Author, "Fighting for the Future": We're dealing with cavalry and Indians again.

Maj. Gen. JAMES DUBIK, Dpty. Cmd. General of Transformation: What the next war needs is a force that can go anywhere and be combat-ready upon arrival.

ANNOUNCER: But when the next war comes, will America be ready?

JOHN HILLEN, Commission on Nat'l Security '99-'00: The real question is, ready for what?

ANNOUNCER: Tonight on FRONTLINE, The Future of War.

FREDERICK W. KAGAN, Co-Author, "While America Sleeps": There is no nation to bail us out if we get this wrong.

[Opening Titles]

NARRATOR: For decades, the United States Army has believed that its mission was to fight a war that looks like this.

Created in the 1980s, the National Training Center at Fort Irwin, California, is the envy of armies around the world- over 100,000 acres in the Mojave Desert where commanders see if they have what it takes to win the big one. If Waterloo was won on the playing fields of Eton, then Desert Storm was won here, on the playing fields of Fort Irwin.

Col. JOHN ROSENBERGER, 11th Armored Cavalry Reg: Now, in order to shape this battlefield, here's what he's done. He wants to compel the enemy to move into this portion of the battlefield, where he wants to kill them. He wants to decisively defeat the brigade one battalion task force at a time.

NARRATOR: Colonel John Rosenberger is commander of the opposition force, the Red Team, at Fort Irwin, which lives here year-round and has home-field advantage.

Col. JOHN ROSENBERGER: We want an opposing force that will make this brigade pay for every mistake they make.

    BLUE TEAM OFFICER: [to trainees] Hey, remember the last time that we had a mission like this and we lost our infantry squad? Look at that terrain right there.

NARRATOR: Visiting Blue Teams come from U.S. Army bases across the country to attend Fort Irwin in two-week rotations. The war games rely on a sophisticated laser tracking system to keep an exact count of men killed or wounded and equipment destroyed.

    BLUE TEAM OFFICER: Where's RTO at?

    TRAINEE: He's dead.

    BLUE TEAM OFFICER: He's dead?

NARRATOR: Today Red Team snipers pick off squad after squad of Blue engineers, who fail to breach Red's perimeter.

    BLUE TEAM OFFICER: All right, when you [unintelligible], 23's dead.

    TRAINEE: 23's dead?

    BLUE TEAM OFFICER: 23's dead.

NARRATOR: The Red Team at the National Training Center has been called the best Soviet regiment in the world. But is it an anachronism? Is such a force, and the training it provides, relevant to a post-cold war world?

JOHN HILLEN, Commission on Nat'l Security '99-'00: The National Training Center in the year 2000 trains for the same sorts of scenarios it trained to 20 years ago. You're fighting the big battalions of the Soviet army.

So you're really seeing, in many ways, the best battles of the mid-'80s still being fought out there today, the big battle on the plains of Germany between the Soviet mechanized forces and the American mechanized forces.

NARRATOR: Ironically, the army which had trained to fight the Soviets in Europe enjoyed its finest moment instead in Desert Storm.

Maj. Gen. ROBERT SCALES (Ret.), Commandant, U.S. Army War College '97-'00: The Gulf War was the last of the great Machine-Age wars. It was a war fought with large, linear, armored formations. And the prospects in the Precision Age of that happening again are no more likely than to see the long lines of linear infantry formations that we saw in the Civil War ever happening again.

[at Gettysburg] As you, as you look out over this killing field, you have to wonder how a general with the genius of Robert E. Lee could have thought that he could succeed by marching, what, 13,500 men across that field. And the answer is that Lee, like all of the other generals on this field, were prisoners of their past.

NARRATOR: At Gettysburg, Army officers draw lessons about the nature of future conflicts by studying the past.

Maj. Gen. ROBERT SCALES: [at Gettysburg] -muzzle-loading rifle. Instead of having a maximum range of 50 meters, this rifle can shoot accurately against groups of- a group target out to about 500, maybe 600 yards. So the result was the terrible slaughter that we witness out on this battlefield because the generals of the era just didn't get it.

NARRATOR: On the tour today is the Army's new chief of staff, General Eric Shinseki, a Vietnam veteran who helped rebuild the Army from its shattered state in the 1970s.

Gen. ERIC SHINSEKI, Army Chief of Staff: Six divisions and three corps up here for this piece of ground.

NARRATOR: Shinseki was wounded twice in two tours in Vietnam. In his last fight, he lost most of his right foot, but petitioned to stay in the Army. Today he is leading what he hopes will be a new Army transformation.

Gen. ERIC SHINSEKI: As I arrived at the position of chief of staff, I looked back because I understood I was going to be the chief that would walk through the door of this century. And I looked back historically to see what the last chief and the last secretary were thinking about as they moved from 1899 to the year 1900 and tried to understand what they thought about the century that they were going to serve in. I'm not sure they saw the First World War, and that was only 15 years away.

And so I asked myself in the year 1999, "How well do you see 15 or 20 years down the road." We think we see better, but I'm not so sure.

NARRATOR: This is the new face of war Shinseki must confront today, 18 U.S. soldiers dead on the streets of Mogadishu, Somalia, a battle in which civilians and soldiers often became indistinguishable.

With the end of the cold war, the world has seen an explosion of lesser conflicts across the globe, some 56 small-scale wars in less than 10 years. U.S. Army deployments in the last decade have skyrocketed from one every four years to one every fourteen weeks.

Gen. ERIC SHINSEKI: And as we look forward to the next century, we've seen a bit of what that next century is going to look like in the kinds of deployments we've had in the last 10 years. And yes, it is Desert Storm, but it's also Somalia and Haiti and Panama, Bosnia, Kosovo, East Timor.

JOHN HILLEN: So the Army's going to have to come to some kind of compromise with itself, and that's going to require a real churning identity crisis. It's going to have to say, "In order for me to be relevant, I need to specialize in the messy conflicts of the post-cold war era."

NARRATOR: At the Joint Readiness Training Center in Fort Polk, Louisiana, the Army tries to replicate those messy conflicts.

    BLUE TEAM OFFICER: I want these windows secured now!

    BLUE TEAM MEMBER: I'm going across! I'm going across!

NARRATOR: The 82nd Airborne Division has been the Blue Team at Fort Polk for the past 12 days. The climax of its rotation is a night assault on the Shughart-Gordon urban complex, named for two American soldiers killed in the battle of Mogadishu. Colonel Jeff Jarkowsky is the Red Team commander.

Col. JEFF JARKOWSKY: We're not a cookie-cutter enemy. We're not the old Soviets of 15 years ago with the- with what was believed to be a rigid doctrine and tactics. The key centerpiece for our defense is to use the inherent strengths of an urban setting to our advantage.

NARRATOR: The Army increasingly sees urban terrain as the battlefield of the future, sought out by enemies who hope to neutralize America's might by getting its forces into a close fight.

    BLUE TEAM OFFICER: You're wasting your ammo. You're not hitting them. Think about it, man! You've only got so much!

NARRATOR: As the battle takes shape, the 82nd finds itself bogged down in house-to-house street fighting and taking heavy casualties.

Maj. CASEY GRIFFITH, 2nd Battalion, 505th Infantry Airborne: Snipers were a problem, and the other problem that we had was our armor force didn't make it down. They never got there. We were able to get into the first building and then the second building really without much contact, but after that we needed that suppressor fire from our armored force to allow us to continue on down our objective.

NARRATOR: The exercise underscores the dilemma faced by today's Army: heavy armor that cannot move quickly enough, light infantry that cannot sustain the fight.

Gen. ERIC SHINSEKI: Light force, the best light infantry in the world, but if it goes hot, they lack the lethality and the survivability that our heavy forces have. And frankly, we need to do something about that.

NARRATOR: In 1999, on the day Shinseki was inducted as the new chief, he announced his intention to change, to move the Army from the current legacy force to what it calls the "objective force," a streamlined future Army, 15 years away.

    Gen. ERIC SHINSEKI: [induction speech] Today our heavy forces are too heavy and our light forces lack the staying power we need. We will address those mismatches. Heavy forces must be more strategically deployable and more agile with a smaller logistical footprint, and light forces must be more lethal, survivable and more tactically mobile.

Gen. ERIC SHINSEKI: The magnificent army that fought in Desert Storm is a great army, and it still is a magnificent army today. But it was one we designed for the cold war. And the cold war has been over for 10 years now.

NARRATOR: Within a few months of taking office, Shinseki had elaborated on his vision and began taking it to the troops, citing a weak link in the Army's fighting force.

    Gen. ERIC SHINSEKI: [Armor Conference speech] When Saddam crossed and rolled over Kuwait City and headed for the border, our reaction was to take a great brigade out of the 82nd division, an airborne brigade, and put them into the desert. And the equation wasn't the one we would have defined: heavy mech forces against light infantry, in the ground, on the desert, dug in, but unable to move tactically.

NARRATOR: In the early stages of the Gulf war, the 82nd Airborne Division was sent to Saudi Arabia to hold the line against Iraqi armored forces, but it was without tanks or anti-tank weapons. And had Saddam Hussein launched a heavy attack, it is likely the 82nd would have been slaughtered.

Gen. ERIC SHINSEKI: We held our breath. To this day, we are not quite sure why he stopped. But he did. And the six months that he chose to do nothing allowed us to get heavy force in. It is a situation that we have not rectified in the last 10 years.

NARRATOR: Shinseki's impetus to change comes not just from a 10-year-old war but from a far more recent conflict, one which would end in acute embarrassment for the Army. In 1999, Serbian ethnic cleansing against Muslim civilians in Kosovo prompted the U.S. and NATO to respond with an air war against Yugoslavia, hoping to cripple Serb forces without the use of ground troops. But from the start, bad weather and complex terrain hampered the bombing campaign.

Allied commander Wesley Clark urged use of the Army's most fearsome attack weapon, the Apache helicopter, in a mission called Task Force Hawk. To protect the Apaches, the Army began a build-up many saw as too conscious of risk and too methodical.

Denied airfields in Macedonia, the Army built its own in Albania, moving in 26,000 tons of equipment, 6,000 support troops and tanks that would be too heavy for local roads.

Gen. ERIC SHINSEKI, Army Chief of Staff: Everything was under mud. It's not unusual to see soldiers up to their thighs and hips wading around, setting up that station.

JOHN HILLEN, Commission on Nat'l Security '99-'00: The Army made it very hard on itself because it couldn't get there very quickly. Once it got there, it was disorganized. It couldn't project relevant power in a way in which the Kosovo conflict demanded it.

NARRATOR: In Hawk's first training missions, two Apaches crashed into a hillside and two pilots died.

RALPH PETERS, Author, "Fighting for the Future?": We found that the Army's attack helicopters, its premiere weapons system, couldn't get there, couldn't sustain itself, couldn't protect itself. And oh, by the way, the aviators weren't properly trained for that kind of fight. It was a sad day for the Army. [ Examine the lessons of Task Force Hawk]

JOHN HILLEN: General Shinseki seized on that, and I think it's an astute move to say Task Force Hawk shows why we must change. And it's become a kind of rallying cry for why we must change.

NARRATOR: Spurred by the nagging lessons of Task Force Hawk and the Gulf war, Shinseki planted his flag at Fort Lewis, Washington, where he wants to start building toward the future objective force by mounting an interim force now. Shinseki wants to deploy these interim brigade combat teams of 5,000 men anywhere in the world in 96 hours, a division of 12,000 in 120 hours, and 5 divisions in 30 days.

Maj. Gen. JAMES DUBIK, Dpty. Cmd. General of Transformation: We will not have six months in the future. Let's not fool ourselves. Our potential enemies have studied the way we deploy. And what the next war needs is a force that can go into anywhere very quickly, doesn't need a big logistics tail, doesn't need a main airport, and can plunk themselves down and be combat-ready upon arrival. That is what this brigade does, and that's what the future objective force will do, as well.

NARRATOR: But what equipment will the future objective force need? Twenty years from now, there will probably be no tankers like these at Fort Irwin's training center and no M-1 tanks for them to ride in- hard to imagine, considering the M-1 is currently the 70-ton pride of the U.S. Armored Corps and the key to victory in the Gulf war. But for many it is becoming a relic, built for a war that will never be fought again.

RALPH PETERS: The M-1 is the best tank in the world. If you can get it to the war in time, if you have a Saddam Hussein who'll give you seven months to move your forces in. If the Mexicans ever cross the Rio Grande, Fort Hood is ready for them. It's a great tank. It's lethal. But clearly velocity matters.

Maj. Gen. JAMES DUBIK: The M-1 is not a dinosaur yet, but it will be a dinosaur.

NARRATOR: The Army has begun work on the M-1's replacement, called the Future Combat System, which will weigh one third as much as an M-1. These design concepts give only a glimpse of its radical new form, which the Army sees as a system of separate weapons, relying on technological breakthroughs in armor protection and robotics, advances which are at least 10 years away.

CHUCK SPINNEY, Pentagon Analyst: Well, the Future Combat System doesn't exist yet. We don't know what it will look like. They have certain goals that they're trying to meet. Whether it meets them or not remains to be seen.

    NARRATOR: [promotional video] These vehicles will be easily transported by air, rail or ship.

NARRATOR: In the meantime, the Army has been looking at existing light armored vehicles, called L-A-V, or LAVs, as an interim solution for the new brigades. The big question is whether they will be tracked or wheeled. Until final selection is made later this year, Shinseki has opted for wheels, which are lighter than tracks, require less logistical support and represent a clean break with the past.

Gen. ERIC SHINSEKI, Army Chief of Staff: Wheel technology has come a long ways, primarily because of our own recreational habits- four-wheel-drive vehicles, all-terrain vehicles, tires that run flat. I'm not sure that the same kind of energy has gone into track technology.

NARRATOR: But wheeled vehicles are generally less heavily armored than tracked vehicles, leading critics to contend that they put the force at risk.

CHUCK SPINNEY: Well, the traditional Army views ground warfare as a massive clash between heavy conventional forces dominated by tanks. These interim brigades, essentially, will have wheeled vehicles. They may have tracked vehicles. They'll be lightly armored. And people are concerned that if they go up against a heavy force, a heavy conventional force, they'll get blown away.

NARRATOR: The change to the new vehicle hit tankers at Fort Lewis hard when they turned in the keys to their M-1s earlier this year.

Lt. Col. DANA PITTARD, 1st Squadron, 14th Cavalry Reg: Well, turning in tanks- having spent 18 years in the military as an armored cavalry officer, tanks is just kind of why I stayed in the Army. So turning in tanks for us was like an emotional event. It was pretty tough. It was like the end of an era.

NARRATOR: But these soldiers argue that the vehicles offer new protection to soldiers who previously had none.

Lt. Col. MICK NICHOLSON, 1st Battalion, 23rd Infantry Reg: I had an interesting conversation with a brother of mine in the armor- in an armored unit who said we should never put a tanker on the battlefield with anything less than an M-1 tank. And I said, "Well, why should we put a light infantryman on the battlefield without any armor support?"

NARRATOR: The wheels/tracks controversy has raged for months, and it threatened to alter the course of the transformation when the U.S. Senate and a military contractor joined the debate.

    NARRATOR: [United Defense promotional video] United Defense has been meeting the Army's challenge to develop a rapidly deployable-

NARRATOR: United Defense is one of the largest Army contractors and primary the manufacturer of medium-weight tracked vehicles. It currently makes two light-armored tracked vehicles it wants the Army to buy, a contract that could be worth billions, but not if the Army goes with wheels.

Frank Finelli works for The Carlyle Group, the corporate parent of United Defense. He's opposed to the new brigades becoming a wheeled force.

FRANK FINELLI, The Carlyle Group: I would like to see the Army field different structures. Perhaps they field a medium brigade based on wheeled combat vehicles that have been proposed. At the same time, I think they ought to field a structure with tracked combat vehicles. Employ a mix of wheeled and tracked vehicles, and then see what works and what doesn't work.

NARRATOR: Early this year, United Defense began an intense lobbying and public relations campaign to influence the debate on Capitol Hill.

    Sen. RICK SANTORUM (R), Pennsylvania: [committee hearing] Your idea of transforming the Army into a more lethal, more survivable and tactically mobile force is-

NARRATOR: Senator Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania is chairman of the committee in charge of Army transformation. United gave him its largest congressional contribution this election year and runs a large tracked-vehicle plant in his state. Santorum has been pushing Shinseki to take a second look at tracks.

    Sen. RICK SANTORUM: [committee hearing] But what I had been hearing was that you had put a challenge out to see if we could be an all-wheeled force, and that doesn't make any sense in light of what you just answered me.

    Gen. ERIC SHINSEKI: Well, I'm prepared to let the research and development process answer that question.

NARRATOR: Santorum insists he was acting only out of concern for the Army, and there were others with no connections to United who felt Shinseki was moving too fast.

    Sen. JOSEPH LIEBERMAN, (D) Connecticut: [committee hearing] First, are we comfortable that the initial brigades would provide a comparison of alternative vehicles that will lead to the optimum selection for the interim brigades? Secondly-

Sen. JOSEPH LIEBERMAN, (D) Connecticut: I almost feel apologetic about this because it's not my nature or norm to be saying to folks in the military "Slow up." But you know, we've got some medium-weight vehicles in the inventory. Maybe we could use them instead of rushing ahead to buy or lease new equipment. So I'm not trying to- Lord knows, we shouldn't try to stop General Shinseki. We should encourage him. But we should say, you know, "Let's go 90 miles an hour instead of 125."

    Sen. RICK SANTORUM: I support what you're doing, but I've got some major concerns about-

NARRATOR: United's efforts seemed to be bearing fruit. Attached to the Senate authorization bill this year was a requirement to mount a competition between wheeled and tracked brigades, the kind of experiment that United Defense had lobbied for.

    Sen. JOSEPH LIEBERMAN: As the old joke goes, we're from the federal government, and we're here to help you, General.

    Gen. ERIC SHINSEKI, Army Chief of Staff: Can you get these nine guys in there?

    OFFICER: Yes, sir. I'll load them up right now for you, sir.

    Gen. ERIC SHINSEKI: Let's do it.

NARRATOR: Shinseki believed a side-by-side experiment would delay him up to 18 months, almost certainly killing the momentum he needed for transformation, and would leave light units like the 82nd airborne still vulnerable.

Gen. ERIC SHINSEKI: I am not sure what we gain out of experimentation. We had our experiment in the desert 10 years ago, and we didn't like it.

Gen. ERIC SHINSEKI: [to troops] What- what have you heard about the LAV?

    SOLDIER: It practically thinks for itself, sir.

    Gen. ERIC SHINSEKI: Practically thinks for itself?

    SOLDIER: It thinks for itself.

    Gen. ERIC SHINSEKI: You're sure your excitement is not just being able to have a new toy here?

NARRATOR: In the end, Shinseki would prevail. Congress softened the language in the Senate bill to field a side-by side experiment on a much smaller scale, allowing Shinseki to proceed as planned.

RALPH PETERS, Author, "Fighting for the Future": The medium-weight force is clearly the force of the future. It's a cavalry-type force. And clearly, the Indians are out there. That's politically incorrect, but we're dealing with cavalry and Indians again, and the cavalry is what we need.

NARRATOR: In this exercise at Fort Lewis, a 44-man U.S. platoon enters a mock village where three snipers are aiding rival factions hostile to the local government and the United States. The platoon's mission is to take out the snipers without taking casualties or hurting civilians.

The way these units use reconnaissance and intelligence to avoid taking fire is an experiment for the Army. It has already begun to generate deep divisions within the service over the real purpose of the brigades.

CHUCK SPINNEY, Pentagon Analyst: Some Army officers I know believe sincerely that the Army transformation is a smokescreen for building a peacekeeping force that would be incapable of fighting combat with organized military force. They're concerned that this force will just not have the hitting power and the defensive power to deal with a heavy force in what we would consider a conventional armored battle.

Maj. Gen. ROBERT SCALES (Ret.), Commandant, U.S. Army War College '97-'00: If the medium brigades were only intended for peacekeeping, then they wouldn't be armed, they wouldn't be equipped, and they wouldn't be trained as they're being trained right now. I disagree with that completely. These are combat units, and they're trained for close combat.

Maj. Gen. JAMES DUBIK, Dpty. Cmd. General of Transformation: Come out and watch the training - watch us fight, watch us go into the urban combat and bullets fly within five feet of one another as you're going into a city - and tell me I'm not doing combat.

ANDREW KREPINEVICH, Center for Strategic & Budgetary Assessments: The challenge the Army faces is one that's an internal challenge. The dominant cultures within the Army over the last 40 or 50 years have been the heavy mechanized forces, the armor, the mechanized infantry, the tube artillery. And what you're saying here is, "Perhaps you folks are, are not going to be unimportant, but you're going to be relatively less important." That's some pretty bitter medicine to have to swallow.

What transformation really involves, in terms of getting started, is a redefinition of what we want our military to do.

NARRATOR: At the heart of the Army's internal debate over transformation lies the question of its true mission: What will the next war look like, and how should we prepare for it?

For the last decade, the cornerstone of U.S. defense strategy has been the requirement that the military be prepared to fight two major wars like Desert Storm simultaneously, known as the "two major theater war," or two-MTW, policy.

The list of potential future threats includes states like Russia, China, Iran, Iraq and North Korea. The Defense Department believes that none of these countries could win a conventional war with the U.S. today, but advocates of the "two major theater war" policy believe that it is our best guarantee for preeminence.

FREDERICK W. KAGAN, Co-Author, "While America Sleeps": [to class] The lesson we have today is a very, very important lesson. In some sense, it's probably one of the most important lesson that we have.

NARRATOR: Fred Kagan teaches military history at West Point. He believes America is making the same mistake as Great Britain in the 1920s, when it failed to back up its standing with adequate force and allowed regional threats to become global powers.

FREDERICK W. KAGAN: What makes the analogy even more chilling, when you think about it, is that, of course, the English do get it wrong, and they're not prepared for War in 1939, and they're not prepared for war in 1940. And the only reason why English is still spoken in England is because there was a United States of America to bail them out. There is no nation to bail us out if we get this wrong.

    FREDERICK W. KAGAN: [in class] What's the best army in the world in 1914? And don't say the Germans. The British expeditionary force is the best force in the world in 1914.

NARRATOR: Kagan argues that deterrence should be the key to U.S. policy, to carry a big stick and be prepared for every contingency.

    FREDERICK W. KAGAN: And what did the British have after it? Nothing. And that's why-

FREDERICK W. KAGAN: The two-MTW strategy, the aggressive engagement, focuses on making it clear to potential aggressors that not only do we oppose them in spirit, but that we can and will oppose them with force if they try anything. As my father likes to say, the strategy needs to be not just "Don't park here," but "Don't even think of parking here."

    LAWRENCE KORB, Asst Secy of Defense, '81-'85: [defense policy seminar] So the first question we want to think about is who is the enemy? Who are we worried about, from the military point of view? Who's the Pentagon say we're going to fight?

NARRATOR: Lawrence Korb is a former assistant secretary of defense in the Reagan administration. Unlike Fred Kagan, he believes America remains too expensively ready for war. He leads defense policy seminars for government officials.

LAWRENCE KORB: All right, North Korea. Where else?

    STUDENTS: Iraq. Iran.


LAWRENCE KORB: I think people that want to hang onto the two major regional contingencies or major theater wars occurring simultaneously is because they want to keep basically the same type of force that we had in the cold war. They want to continually develop new generations of weapon systems, like we did when we were in an arms race with the Soviet Union, rather than trying to take a look at the way the world is.

LAWRENCE KORB: [in class] Donald, what would you do?

    STUDENT: I would think you would have to plan for two fronts.

    LAWRENCE KORB: OK. You have to plan for the two. All right. Now, there's one thing you want to consider here. How much money do you get?

LAWRENCE KORB: The down sides of keeping the two-MTWs are you spend too much and you spend it on the wrong things. Right now what you have is this situation where the United States spends about three times more than any other country in the world on defense.

    LAWRENCE KORB: [in class] Ah, there you go! So this force is expensive. And it's expensive to operate because you're busy doing all these things, plus trying to train for two major theater wars. So now, does anybody want to rethink the two wars?

    STUDENT: Go for one and a half.

    LAWRENCE KORB: Go for one and a half? All right. OK.

FREDERICK W. KAGAN: I love the statistics about how much we spend compared to our other competitors. Again, that ignores the single most important thing that we're trying to get across. America is not just another state. America is a state with the capability and the interest in maintaining the current peaceful world order. France doesn't have that. Germany doesn't have that. Russia doesn't have that. That's only us.

    Maj. Gen. JAMES CAMPBELL: [Army classroom session] It will not work for me to get a call from the Corps Commander in the middle of the night saying, "Hey, 10th Mountain's got to move." And I say, "Well, you know, we're not quite ready. Can you give us a couple of weeks?"

NARRATOR: The debate over two major wars and the military budget came to a head last year, when Major General James Campbell declared his 10th Mountain Division as C-4, or unready for war. At the time Campbell made his report, 10th Mountain officers told of ammunition, equipment and manpower shortages, stress from over-deployments and lack of training. It sparked an outrage in Congress and became a political football in the presidential elections.

    Gov. GEORGE W. BUSH (R-TX), Presidential Nominee: [GOP convention address] Our military is low on parts, pay and morale. If called on by the commander-in-chief today, two entire divisions of the Army would have to report "Not ready for duty, sir."

RICHARD CHENEY, Republican V.P. Nominee: Readiness has declined significantly. It's affecting everything. It's affecting morale and spare parts and training and our ability in the future to conduct future conflicts because we won't be able to retain the kinds of people we have to have if we're going to have a really first-grade military. And that counts for more than money. That counts for more than weapons systems. It goes to the heart of how we defend ourselves as a democracy.

    Vice Pres. AL GORE (D), Presidential Nominee: [Democratic convention address] I will keep America's defenses strong. I will make sure our armed forces continue to be the best equipped, best trained and best led in the entire world.

MARC GINSBERG, Gore Foreign Policy Adviser: During this administration, the president and Al Gore have led an effort to increase the defense spending, which has provided the largest increase in defense spending since the Reagan administration and arrested the decline that began during the years that Dick Cheney was secretary of defense. The sky is not falling on the U.S. military, notwithstanding whatever Dick Cheney and George Bush would like America to believe.

NARRATOR: Then why was the 10th Mountain declared unready for war? The answer lies in the two-war requirement. Campbell's light division is one of the most highly deployed units in the Army. The general based his assessment on the fact that half his troops were in peacekeeping duties in Bosnia and would not have been ready for the second of two major wars within the time limit required by Pentagon plans.

LAWRENCE KORB, Asst Secy of Defense, '81-'85: The 10th Mountain Division, I think that is a metaphor for the problems that we're having. The 10th Mountain Division is the Army's only light division. It's the only one really capable of going to these small-scale contingencies. So what happens is they go every place, while a lot of the other divisions, which are too heavy to go anyplace, don't do anything because they're preparing for the last war.

JOHN HILLEN, Fmr Commission On Nat'l Security: The primary question, the question of first principles, is what will the very serious conflicts of the future look like? And there's a lot of things we don't know about the future. But one of the things we do know is that a diminishing rogue power, North Korea, and an emasculated dictator, Iraq, are not going to be the big threats of the future. I'm not saying the two-MTW concept has no relevance, but I'd like to carve out a portion of our energies and of our resources and move them towards the threats of the future.

NARRATOR: General Shinseki, faced with the growing demands of small-scale contingencies, feels the Army may be stretched too thin to meet the two-war standard.

    Gen. ERIC SHINSEKI, Army Chief of Staff: [committee hearing] We are currently capable of meeting that strategy requirement. But I would tell you that the Army's ability to handle that second MTW is one that would be done at high risk.

JOHN HILLEN: If the question is, "Are we ready to meet the two major theater war standard, to fight two cold war conflicts again," we are not ready. We don't have enough forces to get there. But the real question is not that. The real question is, ready for what?

NARRATOR: The arguments over America's readiness for war are as old as the republic. The stained glass windows that look down on West Point's cadets illustrate famous American battles. But many of the scenes are first battles, which America lost because it was unprepared.

JOHN HILLEN: In almost every American war, we lost the first battle- Pearl Harbor, Kasserine pass, Task Force Smith in Korea, the first battles of World War One, the battle of Manassas in 1861. [ Study the chronology]

We tend to lose the first battle. Only then we realize the new shape of the environment and then change, and in a very American way, change with great industrial and technological vigor and then conquer this new market. We can't afford that pattern anymore. To lose the first battle of the next war might be to lose the war.

NARRATOR: But how does General Shinseki prepare for a war to be fought years into the future? How does he test an objective force that is a decade and a half away from completion? The answer is virtual war, run at the Army War College in an elaborate computer-assisted simulation. It is a week-long exercise played by hundreds of high-ranking officers, who will see if Shinseki's future force can deliver a victory in a major future war.

FRONTLINE's cameras are the first to film the Army's highest-level strategic war game.

    "NEWSCASTER": During the period from 25 August until late November, 2014, the NIR began their clandestine pre-positioning of supplies and equipment-

NARRATOR: The year is 2014, and a new Middle Eastern power called the NIR threatens war when a neighboring U.S. ally begins controlling the waters of a new dam it has built on the Euphrates River, jeopardizing NIR's vital water supply. The incident precipitates an international crisis.

In the early morning hours of February 10, 2015, NIR's special forces move to head off U.S. intervention by destroying the ports and airfields the U.S. and NATO would need to deploy their forces.

    Col. GREG FONTENOT (Ret.), Red Force Commander: What I'd like you guys to do is determine, if you can, where is the central vulnerability of U.S. in the coalition forces in the Gulf.

NARRATOR: Colonel Greg Fontenot, a former director of the Army's elite School for Advanced Military Studies, plays the NIRs' commanding general.

    Col. GREG FONTENOT: The logic of no sanctuary for Blue is inherent in our planning. You allow the United States no free ride.

    Gen. PAUL VAN RIPER (USMC Ret.), Blue Force Commander: This is not going to be any sort of a hasty attack. We're trying to feel them out.

NARRATOR: Across the hall, Marine General Paul Van Riper prepares the Blue Team, representing the United States and NATO forces.

    Gen. PAUL VAN RIPER: Once you've interdicted him to the point that he no longer can continue his move to link up with the 5th-

NARRATOR: Both he and Fontenot will enter their operational decisions into the gaming computer, and a team of observers will judge which forces will win.

Gen. PAUL VAN RIPER: There's a thinking enemy in another location in this building that's trying to counter everything we're doing. So it's not- it- we're talking about putting it into the computer, but on the other side of the computer is a real human being trying to win just as hard as we're trying to win.

    Col. GREG FONTENOT: Is there an opportunity to embarrass them by causing large casualties in one of their units, that may weaken the national will of the United States?

NARRATOR: Fontenot begins waging psychological warfare on U.S. public opinion, striking at carefully selected targets in order to inflict maximum casualties and weaken America's will to fight.

    Col. GREG FONTENOT: The strategic benefit would be many body bags being loaded and sent to Dover, OK?

NARRATOR: He decides to sink the Lincoln, a U.S. aircraft carrier with a 5,000-person crew.

    Col. GREG FONTENOT: In any case, I want you to look at the Lincoln battle group. If we can have the Lincoln seen on CNN listing and sinking in the Gulf, that would be a great and wonderful thing.

NARRATOR: Although the Lincoln does not sink, she is severely damaged. NIR also takes the war to the U.S. homeland. Noticing that the Army contracts out its shipping needs, Fontenot targets a private air express company, hoping to deny spare parts to the army fighting abroad.

When the U.S. refuses to heed Fontenot's threats against the company's delivery men, his commandos attack its U.S. headquarters.

    Gen. PAUL VAN RIPER: And to me, that offers advantages because you're coming from an unexpected direction-

NARRATOR: General Van Riper ignores NIR's attacks on American soil. But time is running short if the U.S. commander is to prevent NIR's forces in theater from linking up.

    BLUE TEAM MEMBER: Sir, I still think that we need to start talking in terms of the extended time this is going to take to pull off and the number of casualties to do this.

NARRATOR: Van Riper acts decisively, quickly sending in the future objective force. U.S. troops arrive on the battlefield a full week before Fontenot had expected them, throwing off his timetable.

    RED FORCE OFFICER: We're facing the objective force, which we know is a very capable force, so there shouldn't be too much hand-wringing going on, going, "Gee, they are going deep fast." We knew they were going to go deep fast. Now, can they sustain it? That's the strategic issue-

NARRATOR: Van Riper does sustain the fight, and the judges determine that after 120 days of fighting, NIR's forces will be defeated.

Shinseki was encouraged by the results, which showed that the force of the future gave the U.S. an advantage of speed and staying power.

    Gen. ERIC SHINSEKI, Army Chief of Staff: Are there things you would adjust now, if you were to run that vignette again?

    Col. GREG FONTENOT: I wouldn't go. I mean, my lesson learned was if you can't achieve operational strategic surprise, don't go.

Gen. ERIC SHINSEKI: Certainly, it's Greg's admission that his plan came apart when he saw the speed with which our units arrived. And it's that speed that created for him conditions that he was not willing to accept to go the next step.

NARRATOR: But critics point out that the victorious objective force was equipped with weapons like the Future Combat System, which is unbuildable with today's technology.

CHUCK SPINNEY, Pentagon Analyst: And what we see now is this increasing tendency in the Pentagon to project 15, 20, even 30 years into the future, making very specific predictions about weapons that will exist, threats that will exist, and then constructing these war games and saying, "That proves our point." It's a fantasy.

NARRATOR: Critics also fear that in Shinseki's quest for a rapid response, the general himself might be looking to fight the last war, not the next one.

ANDREW KREPINEVICH, Center for Strategic & Budgetary Assessments: The Army is focused overwhelmingly on resolving the Task Force Hawk problem. When you hear the army talk about the interim brigade formation, the phrase you keep hearing is, "We're going to deploy that brigade 96 hours after wheels up." To a certain extent, if you look at the risk, the growing risk to forward bases, that's almost akin to the Army saying, "We're going to get to the 21st century ambush point more quickly." It's like Custer saying, "I want to get into the valley faster."

RALPH PETERS, Author, "Fighting for the Future?": I have tremendous respect for Andy Krepinevich, and I think he's right, in the sense that it's not a permanent solution. But I see it as a critical transition to the force of the future. And what I think General Shinseki, God bless him, has realized is that the Army's obese.

What we, the Army, has is a 20th century Industrial Age force- a fine Industrial Age force, but nonetheless a 20th century army. We need to start building a 21st century Army, and we are running late. [ Explore analyses by military experts]

NARRATOR: But where are the places America's 21st century Army should fight? And can the nation come to a consensus on the conflicts it should prepare for? Are the medium brigades the new American cavalry, and are the world's back alleys the frontier they should secure?

Is this the price we pay for preeminence, or a strain on our forces we cannot afford?

FREDERICK W. KAGAN, Co-Author, "While America Sleeps": You do have a choice. You can either decide, "We don't do windows. We're not going to do peacekeeping operations. We don't do stuff like that," let these things go where they're going to go, and then go fight the large-scale war when it breaks out because you have interests in that region.

Or you can decide that we're going to make a down payment on preventing future conflict in the form of peacekeeping missions and keep this from erupting into something that is, in fact, going to be very painful and difficult to deal with if we let it get out of hand.

NARRATOR: This is the gray area known in the military as "operations other than war." It has become so much a part of Army life that places like Fort Lewis have incorporated civilian encounters into their training exercises. This is the first time this squad will have to deal with the ambiguities of a local ethnic conflict.

Gen. ERIC SHINSEKI: And the challenge to you is to understand how do you organize your forces, your limited forces, to do all of those things, when the conditions change very quickly, as they can in places like Kosovo in 20 minutes, from what was a peacekeeping mission into war fighting.

    "CIVILIANS": Why do you do this to us? I say we beat them! You must do something or they get very mad, very angry.

    SERGEANT: Hey, Daley, lower your weapon a little bit.

NARRATOR: The danger some see with Shinseki's force is that if he builds it, presidents will use it, ordering it to places half a world away, where it may stay forever. Sending troops abroad has become one of the biggest foreign policy differences between the presidential candidates.

    Gov. GEORGE W. BUSH (R-TX), Presidential Nominee: [presidential debate] I would take the use of force very seriously. I would be guarded in my approach. I don't think we can be all things to all people in the world. I think we've got to be very careful when we commit our troops.

DICK CHENEY, Republican VP Nominee: There are consequences of committing U.S. forces as the world's policemen if they're going to have to stay there forever.

I guess I've learned as I've gotten older that I'm more skeptical about whether or not we always know what's best for everybody else. And there's a bit of a temptation for us to come in and want to think the rest of the world wants to live like we do and they're willing to trust us to make decisions for them, and that's clearly not the case. And sometimes people have to be allowed to make their own mistakes.

And it's a very difficult thing for a president to resist the cries to go to Bosnia, to deal with the crisis in Bosnia, Rwanda or wherever it might be. Sometimes you end up with the debate being driven by who's got videotape. I think one of the most difficult things that any president has to do is to resist the temptation to operate as though we are the world's policemen.

    Vice Pres. AL GORE (D), Presidential Nominee: [presidential debate] Now just because we can't, don't want to get involved everywhere doesn't mean we should back off anywhere it comes up. And I disagree with the proposal that maybe only when oil supplies are at stake that our national security is at risk. I think that there are situations, like in Bosnia or Kosovo, where there's genocide, where our national security is at stake there.

MARC GINSBERG, Gore Foreign Policy Adviser: Does George Bush want to pull those troops out of Bosnia and Kosovo? Indeed, he and Dick Cheney are suggesting that all our deployments are up for review. We think that's a mistake.

This is what this campaign is all about, this debate, whether or not we should be engaged abroad. The United States should not be the world's global policeman. On the other hand, when our national interests are at stake and our allies need our help, they should not get a busy signal from the United States.

NARRATOR: The Army of the future is already being formed, for better or worse, by decisions we make today. But have we given our soldiers an impossible task, demanding they be ready to fight wars we are unwilling to define? History tells us that if we continue to avoid hard choices in peace, they will confront us in far more troubling times.

    Maj. Gen. ROBERT SCALES (Ret.), Commandant, U.S. Army War College '97-'00: [at Gettysburg] Artillery is firing canister rounds and blowing holes into this formation. The soldiers are just falling over like ten pins as the bullets slam into this formation.

Gen. ERIC SHINSEKI, Army Chief of Staff: There is a great parallel here, and for us it is to understand the lessons of the past but not be shackled by our experiences there.

And I don't think the Army would have asked me to take this position and maintain the status quo. And so we will address all the questions that the critics may have, but transformation of this Army is the right thing to do. It is the right thing for those young soldiers who count on us to make those right decisions, and we're going to do it. We are going to do it.

Otherwise we will go through transformation at some later date, when the risk is much higher. And if our history of first battles is any suggestion, it may come on the eve of the next war, and that would be unfortunate.

The Future of War

Michael Chandler

Michael Chandler and William Kistner

Michael Chandler

Saidah Said

Will Lyman

David Dellaria
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Peter Pearce
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Sound Techniques, Jim Sullivan

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A FRONTLINE coproduction with the Center for Investigative Reporting, Inc.
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ANNOUNCER: The Future of War is up for more scrutiny at FRONTLINE's Web site. Study top experts debating how ready is our military, and what is it ready for, compare the military agendas of candidates Gore and Bush, explore a chronology of past Army transformations, read the interviews and take an Army quiz at or America Online Keyword PBS .

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