If the guiding principle of AirLand Battle was "fight outnumbered and win," the new Army operating concept being unveiled at the 2014 AUSA Annual Meeting is "win in a complex world."

Its development was led by Gen. David Perkins, who took over the Army's Training and Doctrine Command in March. Perkins brought to the job combat experience — he led the "thunder run" into Baghdad in 2003 — as well as high-level thinking about the kinds of leaders the future Army will need. At Chief of Staff Gen. Ray Odierno's request, he poured it into developing the new operating concept.

Q. What's an Army operating concept?

A. It determines how you're going to think about what the Army does. When you're writing an operating concept, the first thing you have to decide is what level of war am I going to write it about? Then the next thing you have to take into consideration is: Describe the environment that you think the Army's going to operate in. The environment starts dictating what capabilities you need and all that.

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AirLand Battle was very useful because it described the environment as Central Europe, the Fulda Gap, the clash of superpower coalitions and fairly large forces, and it focused on what one would envision as unfolding on the plains of Central Europe. It envisioned a clash between NATO and the Soviet Union, and not only did it define the enemy, where it was going to take place, but it also defined the coalition. It's probably the most well-defined coalition the world has ever seen.

Q. So what do you mean by "win in a complex world"?

A. Not only do the words have meaning, but the order has meaning. One of the things people say is, " 'Win'? That's not for the Army to decide. You don't win at the tactical level; you win at the strategic level."

This is really the first time we've written an Army operating concept that deals with the tactical and operational level of war as well as the strategic level of war. That's a huge decision.

The other thing we say is, "it's a complex world." It's unknown and unknowable. When I was a lieutenant in Germany, we never talked about "someday you might have to go to the Balkans, someday you might have to go to Africa." It was every quarter, "Perkins, you drive to this grid on the inter-German border, you walk it, you know it."

What we're saying is: not only is the world unknown, but it's impossible to know. Don't spend all your time to get exquisite amounts of time learning something that you think will be accurate. Now you may go to Africa, you may go to Korea, you may go to Europe, you may go to Afghanistan. It is multidomain, it is unknown, it is unknowable.

Q. So where does that lead you?

A. This [AirLand Battle] was an Army to deal with the known. We're going to build an Army to deal with the unknown. We're not focusing on just one problem set. We're building a capacity to deal with constant change.

Let's go back to "win." What we're saying here is if you focus on winning, you may not have to fight. If I can deter aggression, that might be the win for me. If I can deter adventurism, that might be the win for me. What's interesting is we beat the Soviet Union, but we never actually fought. We won the Cold War.

I need an Army that can bring together all elements of national power. When you build a division staff, if the State Department shows up ... [the UN High Commissioner for Refugees], Doctors without Borders, coalition folks, is your staff built so they can plug in?

Q. You're building a force designed to work with other forces?

A. What the Army does is we are the foundation of the joint force. We provide the foundation for joint operations – it's a joint fight, but the Army's got to build the capacity to bring all of it together, because generally the effects you're trying to get are on land.

We have to provide the foundation for the joint force. We have to integrate partners both physically and intellectually. For example, we're now greatly expanding fellowships, with the State Department, Department of Justice, other countries – we're not only focused on synchronizing firepower, but also national power. So our soldiers must not only know about artillery but national power.

Q. How does this change the way the Army fights?

A. One of the things we have to provide is multiple dilemmas to the enemy. What does that mean? If you look back at [AirLand Battle], you generally presented one dilemma to the enemy, and that was the main body. That was the dilemma, and what we've said was the problem was "fight outnumbered and win." So it becomes a targeting exercise in finding their vehicles and targeting their vehicles.

The problem is if that's the only dilemma you present them, they'll stop presenting themselves as targets. If you look at the first Gulf War, when Saddam invaded Kuwait, they used Soviet-type tactics. They presented a lot of targets and we targeted them very well. So what did the enemy say? "The US is very good at targeting, so I need to stop presenting targets. So maybe I won't wear uniforms. Maybe I'll blend in with the population. Maybe I won't aggregate in large formations. Maybe I'll use IEDs because they're hard to detect."

If you want to get somebody in checkmate, you're literally providing them with multiple dilemmas. That's strategy. Strategy is being able to parry every one of your moves and leaving you no alternatives but to do what I want you to do, which means I have to have multiple dilemmas. Maybe one of the dilemmas is I can cut off their finances. Maybe I can cut off your ability to travel internationally. Maybe I can isolate you politically. Maybe I can target you remotely, or I also have the ability to get on the ground and I can discern what's going on.

Q. What does this mean for the Army?

A. Back in the '70s and '80s, we had technological superiority and it was very hard to close the gap. The problem we have nowadays in this world, a very complex world, the most transferrable of all capabilities is technology.The world has become very flat, so almost any technology, to some degree, that we have, our enemy can get a hold of if they're willing to pay for it. I have to be more adaptive — I need to be more innovative with it.

It's not that my technology is going to be significantly different than yours. It's just that I'm much better at using my technology, and I can innovate and adapt quicker than you can with my technology than you can with yours. Which means you have to optimize soldier and team performance. We want leaders to be adaptive. And it's not just "I want Perkins to be adaptive." I want the institution that trains him to be adaptive.

Q. Does that have implications for force structure?

A. You can't be, "Hey, you get a division or you get nothing." We're sending 4,000 soldiers to Africa. Not many artillery pieces are going with them, but a lot of leadership, medical. We don't have an organization built like that. We don't have the Ebola brigade. So are you scalable and tailorable?

There's probably going to be a lot more Ebola-like problems. There are probably going to be a lot more problems that targeting doesn't solve. Acquiring and engaging targets is not going to solve them.

Q. How much did Afghanistan and Iraq influence this?

A. When you look at Iraq and Afghanistan, it was complex, always changing. Yesterday, the Sunnis were the enemy. Today, we have the Awakening and the Sons of Iraq. If we were very good at one thing, it would work for a while, but then they would figure it out.

We had to be proactive, not reactive. We found out in Iraq and Afghanistan [that] the Army couldn't do it by ourselves. Are you building up indigenous forces? Are you working with coalition members? ISAF? NATO? Are you working with the State Department? Firepower wasn't the issue. It was national power: American national power, Iraqi national power, Afghani national power.

Q. What's your rollout plan?

A. We'll roll this out at AUSA and we'll start doing the war-fighting challenges. We're going to do five of them every quarter. That's part of our learning process. This is going to be constant.

We're going to be doing this every year. It needs to be a constant process of innovation. How does the Army constantly change? How does the Army constantly innovate itself?

Part of this is: how do we update our decision-making process in the Pentagon, on the Army staff? How do we give guidance to the acquisition people? How do we give guidance to the science and technology people? We're not just looking at building a better tank. This is, in some ways, almost boundless.

I wish it was [only] complicated. I wish it was just a math problem. But it's complex, and in many ways it's very exciting. Everyone is getting engaged. If you talk to young officers and soldiers coming in, they grew up in a complex world. They're very comfortable with ambiguity.

Q. Anything else you want to add?

A. We've written this one [the new operating concept] from scratch. This is the nascent phase.

Big change starts from the top. I've briefed the Secretary of the Army [John McHugh] and the chief of staff. I've sent it to the four stars. If you want to drive change, you have to start from the top down. It's informed from the bottom up, but it has to come from the top. ■

By Michelle Tan in Washington.

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