From roughly the 1900’s through the turn of this century, the US Army used the Army Division as the basis for force design, experimentation, organization and training. In the early 2000’s two things happened that caused the focus of those efforts to shift to “brigade based design”.[i] First, the RMA infatuation with flattening organizational hierarchies allegedly enabled by information empowered brigades,[ii] and second, the changing of US strategy in Iraq that dictated a steady generation of Army brigade combat teams to meet operational requirements. Today the Army is still focused on the brigade in general, and specifically the maneuver brigade combat team as the center of both Army force generation and force design. Even now, the Army is reorganizing its brigades and other brigade and below functional units to correct weaknesses revealed by the war. Risks and trades are often being shifted to higher echelons without full appreciation of the consequences to those echelons, or understanding of the associated opportunity costs. The last ten years of warfighting refute the information age promise of flatter organizations and near autonomous brigades,[iii] and highlight the changing role of echelons above brigade headquarters in achieving strategic and campaign outcomes. It is time to rebalance Army future force design by returning to the Division as the focal echelon for force design and experimentation.
I’m biased toward the division as the “unit of action” because that’s the Army I served in. For the past twelve years, the BCT has fulfilled this role. And in geographically dispersed operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, it’s worked well enough. The need to synchronize operations across the battlespace wasn’t quite as urgent as it would be in a more conventional force-on-force engagement.
One argument for the BCT was that most deployments would be brigade sized. And that’s somewhat true for non-combat contingencies, such as Kosovo. But for combat operations, it certainly hasn’t been the case.