Rainey: Fires to be decisive in future battles

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Fires will be the decisive element of future large-scale warfare, the Army's deputy chief of staff for operations, plans and training (G-3/5/7) said Sept. 1 during the service's Fires Conference at Ft. Sill, OK.

"I believe fires is going to decide the fight," Lt. Gen. James Rainey said. "That's big. I'm being a little provocative here -- you're not going to read this in doctrine."

Fights will begin with intelligence, including targeting information, he said. Then fires will provide the decisive element, and maneuver forces, the traditional centerpiece of the Army, will end battles.

"We've still got to end the fight with maneuver," Rainey said. "War, fights, they always have one thing in common: they always end on the ground. And usually at an intimate distance."

Changes to doctrine will increase the value of air defenses and field artillery, which will go from "very important to extremely important," he said. Both branches could grow as the Army adapts for future great-power competition against Russia and China.

Air defense and other force-protection functions will become even more important in the future, according to Rainey. Adversaries, particularly China, have more capable missiles than ever before, which will threaten maneuver operations.

"Going forward, if you're developing a maneuver plan, you've got to start with the protection warfighting function," he said. "I think that the biggest thing that's going to limit a commander's movement, and his or her ability to maneuver their formation, is going to be based on whether they can protect that or not."

It is possible that force protection will be the most important warfighting function in some situations, and it might also be the biggest weakness of the current Army, according to the general.

Air defense would have been the last part of the maneuver plan to come together when he was in command of the 3rd Infantry Division, he said. But the increased threat of long-range fires means air defense will have to be included earlier in the planning process

"If you're a young air defender, I think you've got to demand your seat at the table in the maneuver discussion," Rainey said. "Don't get pushed into the fires pile."

After air defense, intelligence and sensing will need to improve to support fires on the future battlefield, Rainey said. New systems can shoot, with precision, at ranges where the Army cannot always sense and identify targets.

"I think where we're going to struggle in the future is sensing," he said. "We've got stuff that can shoot and be decisive, but it is only relevant if you can sense that far."

Concentration of fires will have to provide lethality along with precision capabilities, according to Rainey. Massing fires requires skills and doctrine that the Army has not emphasized for decades, and that will have to be re-learned.

Artillery units will move up to divisions and higher echelons, as the service shifts away from the modular brigades, he said. Other officials described some of the possible changes to artillery force structure on the previous day of the conference.

The shift to fires will include cannon artillery, which will retain its relevance alongside new high-precision and long-range missiles, Rainey said.

"I don't want anybody growing up in artillery thinking the future is going to be in precision at the expense of cannon artillery," he said. "We are going to need to be really good and decisive with cannon artillery also."

Original article published to Inside Defense