The Buzz

This Is How The U.S. Military Sees the Future of War

The U.S. military is certainly going through some changes these days. It is considering opening historically unavailable roles for women. Despite the recent NDAA agreement, it is dealing with a new reality of fewer troops and a continued uncertain budget future, affecting the Department of Defense’s ability to prioritize and plan. Add to that the military modernization of Russia (despite having budget issues of its own), the greater assertiveness of China, as well as the rising instability caused by ISIS and the recent

attack in Paris.

With that alone, America’s armed forces would have their hands full. But that’s only the near- to medium-term. What about the long term?

Luckily, despite all other issues, our military services—the Army, Navy, Marines, and Air Force—released documents outlining their vision for how they can be most efficient and effective in the future. While there are differences among them, their similarities reveal what our defense establishment believes is the role of the military going forward. Indeed, they unanimously believe that the world of the future will be more complex than it is today, requiring America’s armed forces to be more agile, austere, intelligent, and capable of working among themselves, with allies, and with partners. While these ways are correct, they are being used toward the wrong ends (and the means continue to be in flux). Thus, a strategic realignment that places a greater emphasis on stability and security over outright defeat should animate our armed forces.

First, to the more difficult environment. The future military (and, in a sense, the current one) will deal with non-state actors that can carry out strategically significant actions; state actors challenging the status quo; urbanization and megacity conflict; the proliferation of under-governed areas; a new global middle class that will demand energy and other resources, further straining certain societies; climate change; the improvement in new tools of statecraft like cyber; emerging disruptive technologies; and crises simultaneously popping up in multiple areas. (Sadly, that is not an exhaustive list.) As the Army admits, “our exclusive use of previous paradigms is insufficient for the task ahead,” thereby “requir[ing] a bold an innovative approach,” the Navy believes. So what is the new approach that gets our services away from past ways of operating?

The services differ, but they agree that the military needs to change. Our troops should be more agile, not only in their ability to get from place to place, but also in “breaking paradigms and leveraging technology,” as the Air Force puts it. They should be able to operate in austere environments and without many resources. In essence, they should literally get the biggest bang for their buck. To do this, more responsibility will go to younger officers, behooving the military to ensure these officers are well trained and educated early on in their careers. Finally, the services need to be more interoperable, not only with allies and partners but also among themselves. This is a function of lower budgets and the reality that with events moving quickly, any complications among militaries will slow down a crucial military response.

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