The Stability Corps:  Organizational Change for Full-Spectrum Capability

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As coalition forces hand authority in Afghanistan to the Afghans, the U.S. Army returns home to consider what it has learned over the last 12 years of hybrid conflict. Despite the combined-arms maneuver (CAM) victories of Operation Desert Storm and the initial phases of Operation Iraqi Freedom, the recurring demands of wide-area security (WAS) have posed a much greater challenge to the post-Cold War Army. Although the U.S. government’s official policy is that the Department of State (DoS) should take the lead in stability operations, the Department of Defense (DoD) has the budget, manpower, mobility and capacity to use force that DoS simply does not.1 Therefore DoD can expect to continue to be the lead player in these types of operations as long as the allocation of resources remains fundamentally unchanged. After all, an essential piece of our job is “accomplishing all missions assigned by the president,”2 and recent calls for intervention in Syria demonstrate that Washington will likely continue to involve DoD in complex conflicts following our withdrawal from Iraq and Afghanistan.

Since WAS, stability operations and counterinsurgency (COIN) emerged as capability gaps in the late 1950s and 1960s, the Army has traditionally placed these missions as secondary considerations to its primary focus on large-scale conventional operations.3 In the wake of the last 12 years of conflict, the Army has adopted many changes in its doctrine, organization, training, materiel, leadership and education, personnel and facilities (DOTMLPF) to improve its WAS capabilities. However, these changes have not addressed the problem that the U.S. Army is poorly constructed to face the current threat. To succeed in the complex conflicts of the future, the Army needs to improve its organization and create a Stability Corps dedicated to executing WAS as its primary mission.

Outdated model

As of 2013, the structure of the U.S. Army is still fundamentally designed to fight the vast Soviet army on the fields of Europe. Following the end of the Cold War, the force kept this structure with the idea that the Army must be capable of fighting and winning two large ground conflicts on two fronts simultaneously against Soviet-style equipment – for example, against Iraq and China.4 However, large conventional conflicts between states have not been the norm for the post-Cold War world, and top experts believe this trend will continue and grow in the future.5 A capable conventional force is obviously important strategically in the same sense as a battleship: if necessary, the United States needs to be able to deliver decisive forces of destruction. However, it is much more likely that the future will require the Army to simultaneously conduct multiple WAS operations while also needing to maintain its ability to deliver a knockout blow against conventional threats.

While our Soldiers have gained invaluable experience in WAS over the last 12 years, many leaders fear they have also lost mastery of their core competencies, weakening our ability to conduct decisive CAM against the potential conventional enemies who very much still exist in this world. COL Gian Gentile, a vocal opponent of an Army obsessed with stability operations, offers that “we have eviscerated the Armor Corps to the point of its extinction.”6 He asks if an armored brigade combat team (BCT) deployed to conduct WAS could realistically “pick up and head east and do a movement-to-contact into a threatening country.”7

This is a valid question, especially as the combined-arms system faces degradation from other forces such as budget reduction. It is also important to consider the relative weight of a large-scale conventional threat. While stability operations are usually important in securing a limited interest or objective, large conventional forces exist to protect our national identity, and the cost of failure could be much higher. The assumption that any force trained in major combat operations would be able to easily adapt to low-intensity conflict has proven incorrect as Army leaders have struggled with the nuanced intellectual challenges of stability operations since 2001.8 It is unwise, perhaps impossible, to ask a single force to be equally proficient at two missions as different as CAM and WAS are.

Different approach

One potential solution would be to create a new branch, a Stability Corps, to equip the Army with a force that conducts WAS as its primary mission. The Army could implement this strategy at many levels in our force, but the most logical organization is several brigade-sized elements, a proven unit structure for modularity and mobility. This Stability Corps would fill the void between high-intensity combined-arms forces and low-intensity Special Operations Forces (SOF), and allow each of the three to focus on its individual threats, integrating if a mission (real or training) calls for such a combined force.

Currently, there is perhaps greater institutional knowledge of stability, security, transition and reconstruction (SSTR) operations than ever before at every level in the U.S. Army. It would not be difficult to staff a new Stability Corps with leaders at all levels who are competent and experienced in SSTR operations. This new organization would attract quality Soldiers by its increased relevance in the current threat environment and higher likelihood of deployment compared to the CAM force, which the Army could hold in reserve for a knockout blow against symmetric threats.

The combined-arms force would benefit by being able to hone its core competencies for the moment of need rather than watch its skills degrade over an exhausting deployment. The mission would benefit by allowing combatant commanders to commit, when needed, a force specifically trained for stability operations that will embrace this mission as a fulfillment of its core skills.

There are countless ways to establish a Stability Corps in the Army, but there are some requirements in forming such a force that are fundamental to its success:

  • The Stability Corps must have WAS as its primary mission. This achieves the fundamental specialization lacking in the current Army organization.
  • The Stability Corps must have similar manning and equipment as infantry and military-police units: minimal equipment and an emphasis on training individuals and small units, as opposed to mastering complex technological systems.
  • The Stability Corps must conduct regular training and integration with other U.S. government agencies, conducted at a similar frequency as maneuver units conduct combined-arms training. Like SOF units, the Stability Corps can expect to execute almost all its missions alongside other agencies, intergovernmental organizations and nongovernmental organizations.
  • The Stability Corps must have regional focus to achieve the depth required to thrive in specific operating environments. Consequently, language education must be an initial-entry requirement and a regular part of training.
  • The Stability Corps must be large enough to provide organic security while deployed; the current structure of modular BCTs provides a good starting point for force size that balances weight with mobility.

By adhering to these basic guidelines, the Army of tomorrow would add a force that will truly be able to commit a full-spectrum response to a full-spectrum threat.

Are current efforts enough?

Since 2001, the Army has instituted drastic changes to its DOTMLPF to adapt the force to effectively conduct WAS. The dearth of doctrine after the post-Vietnam purge was one of the first shortcomings identified and addressed. New manuals such as Field Manual (FM) 3-24, Counterinsurgency, and Army Doctrinal Reference Publication (ADRP) 3-07, Stability, have been revolutionary in inculcating the lessons of stability into Army doctrine.

Forward-thinking Army leaders have also recommended and initiated many changes to the leadership and education spheres of DOTMLPF to improve our capability in WAS. BG David Haight, former Infantry School commandant, explains that leaders, faced with limited time and resources, will prioritize training on their core missions as opposed to what they see as tertiary objectives. He proposes that the Army place special emphasis on rigorously training Soldiers and leaders in adaptive problem-solving across the spectrum of combat operations.9

While these changes are undoubtedly essential to the future of our profession, he acknowledges the large cultural biases in the maneuver branches against embracing the SSTR mission.10 These biases are not new and have lingered since the Army ignored pressure from the Kennedy Administration to embrace COIN in the early 1960s.11 The creation of the Stability Corps would not require such drastic changes in the entrenched mindset; rather, it would carve out a space where a new culture could develop without the baggage of our own biases.

There have been some important changes in Army organization since 2001 that better enable WAS operations. The Army’s reorganization in 2004 around BCTs immeasurably increased our force’s mobility and modularity.12 Also, in 2012, the Army announced the plan to create a rotating team of regionally aligned brigades – maneuver units that would have a geographic focus for a number of years, making them preferred candidates to respond to the needs of combatant commanders in their specific areas.13 This initiative could definitely be an effective measure to bridge the gap while we build a Stability Corps, but the concept of a maneuver brigade focusing on a specific geographic area for a number of years does not solve the problem of embracing SSTR. Brigades have known they were deploying to Iraq and Afghanistan years ahead of time, sometimes on consecutive rotations to the same area, and have still struggled with the challenges of WAS because they were not trained, manned and organized for this mission.

Another organizational change implemented since 2001 to increase the Army’s capabilities in WAS has been a significant increase in the size of SOF.14 Some claim that the lead for WAS operations in the U.S. Army belongs to Special Forces, and that the creation of a Stability Corps violates the warning that “[SOF] cannot be mass produced.”15 However, a Stability Corps would not serve the same purpose as SOF; it would be a specialized force in the same sense that other branches are specialized. Army SOF operate in “hostile, denied or politically sensitive environments characterized by one or more of the following: time sensitive, clandestine, low visibility, conducted with and/or through indigenous forces, requiring regional expertise and/or a high degree of risk.”16

The deployment of Stability Corps forces, however, could serve as a large and overt show of support to an area in need. Such a force in the U.S. Army would be the ideal responders to humanitarian crises or to take part in United Nations’ peacekeeping missions around the world. A Stability Corps would not replace the need for SOF to execute operations in low-intensity environments but rather bridge the massive gap between SOF and the rest of the Army.

With the implementation of a Stability Corps, the U.S. Army would have three distinct forces to respond to different threats: CAM for high-intensity conflict, SOF for low-intensity conflict and the Stability Corps for medium-intensity conflict and WAS. The availability of these three forces would give combatant commanders the ability to build the right team for the right mission.

Starry’s challenge

There are many valid reasons the Army has preferred to change other aspects of DOTMLPF over substantially changing its organization. For one, the rotational deployment schedule of the last decade made it impractical to restructure the Army while it was engaged in two wars. Second, organization is arguably the most difficult (because of culture) and expensive (for practical reasons) aspect to change. GEN Donn A. Starry analyzed a similar revolution in military affairs after World War I as major powers struggled with how to implement the concept of armor. He explains that some of the criteria for success include institutional leadership, forward thinking and “willingness and ability to adapt to change.”17 We have all these necessary ingredients, and as our fight in Afghanistan draws down, we finally have the time and space available to implement the necessary adaptations.

The U.S. Army is a large, bureaucratic organization, and change is not always easy or rapid, but Starry’s challenge is that the Army cannot afford the luxury of inefficiency when preparing for the threats of tomorrow.18 The ability of small cellular networks to conduct effective unconventional warfare against our maneuver forces is no less a revolution in military affairs than the addition of the tank to maneuver warfare. If we are unable to adapt to this new reality, we will find ourselves unable to match the enemies of the future as the British and French were initially unable to cope with the German blitzkrieg. The cost of change may be high and uncomfortable, but the cost of ignoring the lessons of the last 12 years would be far more tragic.


1Haight, David B. BG, Preparing Military Leaders for Security, Stability, Transition and Reconstruction Operations, strategy research project, Carlisle Barracks: U.S. Army War College, March 30, 2007.

2Army Doctrine Publication 1, The Army, Washington, DC: Department of the Army, Sept. 17, 2012.

3Krepinevich, Andrew, “The Revolution that Failed” in Chewing Sand: a Process for Understanding Counterinsurgency Operations, editor Dean Nosorog, Boston: McGraw Hill, 2005.

4Wilson, George C., This War Really Matters: Inside the Fight for Defense Dollars, Washington, DC: CQ Press, 2000.

5Manea, Octavian, and Nagl, John, “COIN Is Not Dead: an Interview with John Nagl,” Small Wars Journal, Feb. 6, 2012, available from

6Gentile, Gian P. COL, “The Death of the Armor Corps,” Small Wars Journal, April 17, 2010, available from






12FM 3-90.6, The Brigade Combat Team, Washington, DC: Department of the Army, Sept. 14, 2010.

13Griffin, Steve, “Regionally Aligned Brigades: There’s More to This Plan Than Meets the Eye,” Small Wars Journal, Sept. 19, 2012, available from

14Sheftick, Gary, “Army Expanding its Special Operations Force,” Army News Service, Oct. 27, 2010, available from

15U.S. Special Operations Command, U.S. Special Operations Command Fact Book 2012, Washington, DC: Department of Defense, 2012.

16ADRP 3-05, Special Operations, Washington, DC: Department of the Army, Aug. 31, 2012.

17Starry, Donn A. GEN, “To Change An Army” in Press On! Selected Works of General Donn A. Starry Volume 1, editor Lewis Sorley, Carlisle Barracks: U.S. Army Combined Arms Center, 2009.