How do we define Army Core Competencies for the 21st Century?

Written by on July 7, 2011 in Frontier 6 Sends - 3 Comments

We are now beginning the final phase of our transition from Iraq, and the first phase of the drawdown of forces in Afghanistan.  As we refocus on the future, we face a rapidly evolving and increasingly competitive strategic security environment.  World economic, political, and social conditions have given rise to multiple hybrid threats – combinations of decentralized and syndicated irregular, terrorist, and criminal groups that possess capabilities once considered the sole purview of nation states.  As the distinction between legitimate and illegitimate combatants fades, our understanding of, and ability to master, full spectrum operations will remain central to our future success.

Recently, The Army Operating Concept introduced the idea that success in the future security environment requires Army forces capable of defeating enemies and establishing conditions necessary to achieve national objectives using combined arms maneuver and wide-area security to seize, retain, and exploit the initiative as part of full spectrum operations.  As we translate this idea from concept to doctrine, we are focusing our efforts on our Army’s ability to successfully conduct both combined arms maneuver and wide area security, both independently and simultaneously.  They are neither separate nor separable, but intrinsically linked within the context of joint, interagency, intergovernmental, and multinational efforts.

Establishing a shared understanding of Combined Arms Maneuver (CAM) and Wide Area Security (WAS) is essential to us as we move forward.  Combined arms maneuver is the application of the elements of combat power to achieve a position of physical, temporal, or psychological advantage over the enemy.  Wide area security is the application of the elements of combat power to maintain a position of physical, temporal, or psychological advantage over the enemy, or deny such a position to the enemy.  CAM leverages decisive combat power against an enemy to seize the initiative, while setting and dictating the terms of action and degrading the enemy’s ability to mount a coherent response.  WAS leverages the coercive and constructive capabilities of the force to consolidate gains and establish conditions on the ground to reestablish a stable and secure environment, address immediate humanitarian concerns, and prepare for the transition of responsibility to a legitimate civil authority.

Together, CAM and WAS are underpinned by mission command, essential to operational adaptability.  Mission command drives initiative and fosters our ability to decentralize authority, allowing our forces to consistently and coherently act faster than the enemy, or the situation.  In a complex and uncertain operating environment, mission command allows the force to combine the two core competencies to conduct successful, decisive full spectrum operations.

The critical linkages that underpin CAM and WAS are initiative, risk, and opportunity.  They are inherently linked within the context of full spectrum operations, and fundamental to their successful execution.  In CAM, they spur the spirit of the offense and drive audacity.  In WAS, they inform distributed and decentralized operations and form the nexus of trust and candor between leaders and their subordinates.

As we work to reinforce our commitment to full spectrum operations, we share a mutual obligation to discuss the future of our Army, and where CAM and WAS fit into the complex equation of the strategic environment.  I encourage each of you to read the article, Beyond the Horizon, and take the time to consider  the article as well as the thoughts written above, and to share your own here.  This is an essential discussion, and one that your contribution will only make more important. I look forward to your feedback.

LTG Robert L. Caslen, Jr.


3 Comments on "How do we define Army Core Competencies for the 21st Century?"

  1. lprescott2012 February 13, 2012 at 7:53 pm ·


    I’m glad we are taking the time to look ahead and examine these issues instead of limiting ourselves to just what happened. The emphasis on increasing our education is a refreshing approach and one that I think will help break us out of a model reliant on a POTUS election centric cycle. We must commit to a much longer timeline and deeper views in our approach. I’m not sure how it can be done but we collectively have to foster throughout the military how to learn faster and adjust faster than the threat. The whole of government approach to how we conduct military operations needs the buy-in of the other US branches and their subordinate organizations. One of the biggest internal challenges we face is how we effectively communicate with each other. Is it to be NIPR, SIPR, or other? The non-universal method of how we communicate with the other organizations is a barrier and reduces our collective speed of decisions and actions.
    The other competency we must devote time to and polish is our ability at all levels to influence and how measure our success. We’ve shown that we can have effects on an area of operations. However this often happens only after a lot of time and precious resources have been. It would be of tremendous service if we had our metrics stateside prior to deployment so that there would be less tendency to develop them in country. The agreed upon metrics could also serve as a forcing function up and down all levels on the method of reporting, and the reporting criteria that answers the boss’ question of is our mission being successful.
    What if we dedicated ourselves more to knowing and tracking what is going on in other regions? All the talent and resources at the different US branches and organizations should be able to help paint the picture. If we are not identifying and defining how we measure our success before we march to battle, we’re setting ourselves up for a long march because we won’t know if we are there yet….
    My two cents,



  2. jimwherry1 August 28, 2011 at 5:22 pm ·

    Stabilization Operations

    To follow up to my earlier post:

    We define an act as a “core competency” of the Army – or a particular core of the Army – by determining whether we have the KSA’s – the Knowledge, Skills and Abilities – to accomplish the mission. If we do not, then it is truly not our mission.

    As we get more into “stability operations,” we have to consider how our mission overlaps with that of the State Department or even the Department of Justice (anti-terrorism and anti-drug trafficking). From my own experience, unfortunately this sometimes leads to turf wars. Once in a while, we in the military are guilty of this, but more frequently, other Departments of the U.S. government are either “surprised” or “highly offended” that we would need to know what they do, and how to do it, ourselves.

    But if we are to work with them, and be an extra set of hands working out an embassy in Africa, through the MILGROUP, for example, or as First Responders in a military action, we have to be aware of what these other Departments do, and have some capacity to do it, ourselves. Take, for example, the Governance mission of Civil Affairs: the U.S. Institute of Peace and the State Department have spent years, working on methodologies of making peace between warring factions during civil wars and in post-conflict stabilization operations. If the Army is to precede State into an armed conflict, we have to begin to do that mission, “before State arrives” and we have to know how to set the conditions on the ground for State, so that they do not have to start over and re-invent the wheel.


    - Jim Wherry
    448th Civil Affairs Battalion

  3. jimwherry1 August 27, 2011 at 12:28 am ·

    Rule of Law is identified in JP 3-57 and FM 3-57 as a “core competency” of the Civil Affairs Corps. In the article, Beyond the Horizon, it is referred to as part of Wide Area Security.

    QUESTION #1: Is is common to consider Wide Area Security as a function of Civil Affairs?

    QUESTION #2: What aspects of WAS allow us to identify the core competencies necesssary to conduct Rule of Law operations?

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