The focus of ground combat operations has shifted dramatically since the end of the Cold War. Relatively few operations now involve the defeat of a technologically and doctrinally similar force, leading to the conquest or liberation of territory. Preparation for these operations remains important, but ground combat branches also have a host of other priorities, some (including counter-insurgency and policing) harkening back to the origins of the modern military organization.
What will the balance of ground combat power look like in 2030, presumably after the Wars on Terror and the Wars of Russian Reconsolidation (more to come on this idea below) shake out?
Predictions are hard, especially about the future, but a few relatively simple questions can help illuminate our analysis. In particular, three questions motivate this study:
• Does the army have access to national resources, including an innovative technological base?
• Does the army have sufficient support from political authorities, without compromising the organization’s independence?
• Does the army have access to experiential learning; does it have the opportunity to learn and innovate in real-world conditions?
Given these questions, most ground combat forces of 2030 will very much resemble the most lethal forces of today, with perhaps a couple of important changes.
The Indian Army is poised to stand alongside the world’s most elite ground combat forces. The Army has dealt with combat operations across the intensity spectrum, contending against a Maoist insurgency at home, a Pakistani-supported insurgency in Kashmir, and a variety of other, smaller domestic operations. At the same time, the Indian Army remains well-prepared for high intensity combat against Pakistan, having long accepted the need for realistic combat training. Altogether, these experiences have helped hone the force into an effective tool for New Delhi’s foreign and domestic policy.
While Indian Army equipment has lagged behind competitors in important ways, India now has access to nearly the entire universe of military technology . Russia, Europe, Israel, and the United States all sell their wares to India , complementing a growing domestic military industrial complex. Despite the need to compete with the air and naval services, the Indian Army should have greater access to advanced technology in the future than it has in the past, making it an ever more formidable force.
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Of all the European countries, France will likely retain the most capable, lethal army in the future. France remains committed to the idea of playing a major role in world politics, and clearly believes in the necessity of effective ground forces to fulfill that role. This should continue into the future, and perhaps even accelerate as France takes on greater control of the military and security apparatus of the European Union.
France’s military industrial complex remains robust , both on the domestic and the export fronts. The Army has modern command and communications equipment, and provides the backbone for most multilateral European Union forces. It also enjoys access to excellent field equipment, including tanks and artillery. The commitment of the French government to maintaining a strong domestic arms industry works in the Army’s favor.
The French Army has considerable experience with operations from the low to medium arcs of the combat spectrum. It has served in the Afghan and North African theaters of the Wars on Terror, using regular and elite forces to support locals and defeat enemy irregulars. The Army also enjoys the support of the two other French services; the Marine Nationale has creditable expeditionary capabilities, and the Air Force has increasingly focused on support operations, including battlefield strike, transport, and reconnaissance. The modular, professional nature of the Army makes it easily deployable across a wide range of territory.
The Russian Army went through a wrenching transformation at the end of the Cold War, losing much of its access to resources, to political clout, and to manpower. The military-industrial complex that had supported the Red Army collapsed in slow motion, leaving the force with outdated and poorly-maintained equipment. Morale dropped, and the Army struggled in combat against irregulars in Chechnya and elsewhere.
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Not everything has turned, but some things have. Improvements in the Russian economy allowed for more investment in the force . Reform, especially in the elite forces, helped Russia win the war in Chechnya. In 2008, the Russian Army quickly defeated Georgia, and in 2014 it spearheaded the seizure of Crimea from Ukraine. Together, we might call these the Wars of Russian Reconsolidation, a conflict that may not yet have ended. The Russian Army continues to play the central role in Moscow’s management of the near abroad, even as it has ceded some space to naval and air forces over the past couple of years.