FORT BENNING, Ga. — The Armor School commandant helped kick off the Marine Corps Detachment’s annual Tank Conference last week at Harmony Church.
Brig. Gen. Thomas James, also the Maneuver Center of Excellence’s chief of Armor and deputy commanding general for Armor, highlighted a variety of organizational issues with the Marine tank leadership during his Jan. 24 briefing. The three-day summit, staged previously at Fort Knox, Ky., took place on Fort Benning for the first time, a result of Base Realignment and Closure.
The conference was comprised of 45 senior officers and enlisted Marines from the branch’s tank community. They meet every year to discuss topics such as procurement, doctrine, leadership concerns and tactics, techniques and procedures.
“It’s great to have you here on Harmony Church — pretty neat digs, huh?” James said, referring to the Army’s $3.5 billion investment in building the Armor School at Fort Benning. “It’s a very special time to be here. We’re thinking about the future. We have to. The future is going to be unique and different.”
In many ways, he said, the MCoE serves all the armed forces. Its leaders visit installations around the world, sharing doctrine and concepts.
The conference panel included key representatives of the Marine tank community, along with members of the Marine Corps Tank Operational Advisory Group, which makes recommendations on tank-related matters to the director of Marine Corps Operations.
The Armor School operates under a “baseline assumption” — Soldiers and leaders emerging from its courses will go to units in combat or en route, James said. Therefore, all resources are aimed at preparing the force for that.
“We train for a certainty, educate for uncertainty,” he said.
James said the Armor School’s main mission is preparing Soldiers to fight as a combined-arms team in the last 5,000 meters, a patch of battlefield he calls the “red zone.” That requires becoming highly skilled in the art of mounted warfare, he said.
The Army and Marine Corps must build effective leaders for an evolving future environment, the general said. The focus is on creating agile, physically fit tankers who are intellectually capable of operating decisively under conditions of ambiguity.
“We’ve got to think faster than we walk,” he said. “I’m attacking it from the bottom grass-roots level, because we’re 4 percent of U.S. Army force, but we’re 40 percent of combat power in the ‘red zone.’”
The Armor chief is leading the Maneuver Center’s effort to shape the future force through Training and Doctrine Command’s Brigade Combat Team 2020 initiative. He said tank formations within the design framework must be centered on wide-area security, decisive action and a combined-arms training strategy.
The Army also is looking at fielding lighter vehicles and equipment that perform just as well in combat, he said.
“Heavy doesn’t work. Heavy is overweight, it costs too much, it’s slow, it’s ineffective,” he said. “It’s going to be armored brigade combat team.”
James said the future operating environment and how the enemy fights in it is littered with doubt and uncertainty.
“There are networks that fight and then go into the population,” he said. “They’re targeting public will in their fight. Bottom line, we have a hybrid threat, irregular forces (and) criminal activity — all loosely connected by common objectives.”
Filling gaps with required capabilities is a top priority as the military winds down operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, he said. The Army is striving to develop agile, versatile and flexible formations through training, leader development and materiel solutions that transcend the spectrum of conflict quicker than the enemy.
The commandant said the Armor School has a “Tank After Next” study group looking at how the main battle tank can shoot further, move faster and communicate more effectively in the future.
At Fort Benning, James said the MCoE is pursuing an Army Learning Concept idea called “taking command,” a training program designed to put young leaders on track for battalion and brigade leadership positions and keep them interested in military service after a decade of war. It could prove useful for the Army and Marine Corps, he said.
“We truly are brothers in arms,” he said. “We share a common bond that really lasts a lifetime. It’s not a job; it’s a profession, it’s a way of life.”