The Buzz

The U.S. Army Plans for the War of the Future: Russia, Nukes and More

The outgoing Secretary of the Army and the recently retired Chief of Staff of the Army published a new vision for the Army that calls for a wider focus to meet a broader range of demands. After previous wars, the Army has shrunk in size; but in today’s security environment the demand for forward American military presence has actually been higher than any other post war period. The Army Vision focuses on how the Army must innovate to meet today’s steady state demands and the challenges of conflict in the future.

To that end, The Bridge has been kind enough to host a series on the Army Vision and its impact on the changing landscape for land forces in the future. Emerging from over a decade of war and facing significant budgetary pressures, the Army is now focused on evolving and transforming itself to meet tomorrow’s challenges while addressing current demand.

With the changing of Army senior leadership and the recent release of General Dempsey’s National Military Strategy, there is both an opportunity and a need to examine the Army Vision and its inherent assumptions, including: Should the new Army Secretary and Chief of Staff continue down this path described by their predecessors? Are the unique roles of the Army defined in the Army Vision the only contributions of the Army to the Department of Defense? Do the characteristics in the Vision help the Army evolve enough to meet the demands of the future security environment?

Demand and the Security Environment

The key to identifying how the Army must change is to first understand what type of future security environment it will likely confront. Much like in the past, future challenges will run the gamut, from non-state actors that export terrorism and undermine existing states to regional powers that will exercise more traditional military force. However, due to the proliferation of technology, the widespread and effective use of social media, and the increasing inability of states to adequately govern, non-state actors are growing more powerful, acquiring state-like tools and blurring the line between conventional and irregular types of conflict.

On the other end of the spectrum, technologically advanced near-peer states such as Russia are demonstrating an increased willingness to use military force, in addition to other diplomatic, economic and communication tools, to intimidate and control the behavior of their neighbors. Furthermore, increased competition for food, water and energy within countries and regions with sprawling urban populations will likely result in greater instability and lower-level intra- and interstate conflicts. The impacts of climate change and severe weather patterns may lead to humanitarian crises, including the destabilization of countries, mass population migrations and disease epidemics. Lastly, the potential proliferation of weapons of mass destruction to rogue states or terrorist groups is an all-too-real possibility.

While in the past the Army has chosen to plan for a specific enemy or type of warfare, the envisioned future security environment will not allow that luxury. Unlike during the Cold War when the United States was able to focus almost exclusively on deterring and defeating the Soviet Union, and our recent history when our primary focus has been on stability and counterinsurgency threats in Iraq and Afghanistan, in the coming years there is no clear singular threat or demand. Instead, we face a complex future security environment with multiple unpredictable challenges and requirements. Technologically advanced adversaries, both states and non-state actors, will severely test our traditional military advantages while presenting new challenges, most notably in the cyber realm.

The proliferation of weapons of mass destruction since the end of the Cold War has made it increasingly likely Army expertise will be needed to rapidly deploy to seize weapons of mass destruction with little notice or information. Finally, future conflicts in which the United States is likely to be involved will take place in environments within which influencing populations will be both the most challenging and most important component for achieving our strategic goals, a role for which the Army is ideally suited. As the Nation’s primary military means to secure strategic gains on land, the Army will likely be deployed in more places, executing more missions than ever before.