Gates: Army Faces ‘Daunting, Diverse’ Challenges

WASHINGTON, Feb. 25, 2011 — Dur­ing what he called his last appear­ance there as defense sec­re­tary, Robert M. Gates spoke to cadets at the U.S. Mil­i­tary Acad­e­my at West Point, N.Y., today about the Army’s future in fac­ing chal­lenges he termed “daunt­ing and diverse.”

Gates focused on three issues he termed inter­re­lat­ed: future con­flict and its impli­ca­tion for the Army; how to insti­tu­tion­al­ize required capa­bil­i­ties; and how the ser­vice must adapt to retain the kinds of offi­cers it will need this cen­tu­ry.

A decade ago, the Army was “a force main­ly orga­nized, trained, and equipped to defeat anoth­er large mod­ern army,” Gates said.

The lessons and orga­ni­za­tion­al adap­ta­tions result­ing from com­bat in Iraq and Afghanistan, he said, must be “not mere­ly ‘observed’ but tru­ly ‘learned’ – incor­po­rat­ed into the service’s DNA and insti­tu­tion­al mem­o­ry.”

But the ser­vice must also pre­pare for a “com­plex, unpre­dictable, and … unstruc­tured” range of mis­sions, the sec­re­tary said, cit­ing as exam­ples “ter­ror­ists in search of weapons of mass destruc­tion, Iran, North Korea, mil­i­tary mod­ern­iza­tion pro­grams in Rus­sia and Chi­na, failed and fail­ing states, rev­o­lu­tion in the Mid­dle East, cyber, pira­cy, pro­lif­er­a­tion, nat­ur­al and man-made dis­as­ters, and more.”

As forces return from Iraq, one ben­e­fit is the oppor­tu­ni­ty to con­duct full-spec­trum train­ing that was neglect­ed to meet the demands of the cur­rent wars, Gates said.

The Army must also retain uncon­ven­tion­al capa­bil­i­ties, Gates said, “most crit­i­cal­ly, to pre­vent fes­ter­ing prob­lems from grow­ing into full-blown crises which require cost­ly – and con­tro­ver­sial – large-scale Amer­i­can mil­i­tary inter­ven­tion.”

U.S. Depart­ment of Defense
Office of the Assis­tant Sec­re­tary of Defense (Pub­lic Affairs)

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