The Pentagon wants to increase the number of rapid response forces throughout the globe to strengthen an expeditionary posture and ensure immediate readiness in the event that circumstances call for U.S. military activity.
Speaking at the Heritage Foundation, Defense Secretary Mark Esper said the Pentagon is adding larger numbers of “highly ready” Immediate Response Forces and follow-on Contingency Response Force units. He also stressed that greater central authority would be added so that they can be used quickly.
Deployment speed, mobilization, maneuver, and expeditionary war are taking on added urgency with U.S. war planners in the light of the well-known reality that the pace and intensity of attacks are likely to be much greater in future conflicts. The rapid flow of information, coupled with faster computer processing speeds and longer-range sensors and weapons means war response time will need to be massively shortened in the event of crisis. This calls for mobile vehicles, lighter, deployable platforms and “ready” forces forward deployed in vital areas throughout the world.
Esper pointed to an example in the Middle East last year as an indicator that rapid response is possible, citing violent protests out the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad following U.S. airstrikes against Iranian-backed militia sites.
“This triggered the requirement to deploy an Immediate Response Force, which was successfully accomplished within 19 hours of the incident. Over the next three days, an entire Infantry Brigade Combat Team consisting of more than 3,000 soldiers and equipment was deployed halfway around the world to secure American lives and property in Iraq,” Esper told Heritage.
Several of the military services are moving quickly to increase readiness and expeditionary warfare capability, much of which includes a need to maintain operational war assets such as stealth bombers, F-35s and even armored vehicles in strategically vital locations.
The Air Force, for example, has its “Rapid Raptor” program designed to fast-track four F-22s to war - anywhere in the world - within 24 hours, on a moment's notice, should there be an immediate need for attacks in today’s pressured, fast-moving global threat environment.
The program, in existence for several years, prepares four F-22s with the requisite crew members, C-17 support, fuel, maintenance and weapons necessary to execute a fast-attack “first-strike” ability in remote or austere parts of the world, Air Force officials say.
An increase in Bomber Tasks Forces wherein B-52s and B-2 conduct safety patrols in Asia to maintain readiness have been on the rise as well, given the recognition that conflict, or even some kinds of wars, could erupt with little notice. This is one reason why the Air Force has been up ticking its patrol and training operations out of Guam and other areas throughout the Pacific, as the U.S. wants to be nearby in the event that it has to deter Chinese provocations or even move quickly to defend Taiwan.
The Navy has also in recent months been increasing its forward training operations as part of a decided move to prioritize readiness. There have been multiple Carrier Strike Group patrols in the Pacific as well as “dual-carrier” strike training operations to sharpen operational attack abilities in the event that maritime power projection is needed quickly.
Improving expeditionary warfare abilities, and rapid deployability is naturally of great relevance to the Army as it contributes to the service’s rationale for engineering faster, lighter more mobile, air-transportable combat vehicles such as its emerging Next-Generation Combat Vehicles and Mobile Protected Firepower vehicle.
Kris Osborn is the new Defense Editor for the National Interest. Osborn previously served at the Pentagon as a Highly Qualified Expert with the Office of the Assistant Secretary of the Army—Acquisition, Logistics & Technology. Osborn has also worked as an anchor and on-air military specialist at national TV networks. He has appeared as a guest military expert on Fox News, MSNBC, The Military Channel, and The History Channel. He also has a Masters Degree in Comparative Literature from Columbia University.