Thursday, December 27, 2018

On Future War

From Modern War Institute at West Point:
In August 1945, when America initiated the atomic age, the dominant character of land war between great powers transitioned from operational maneuver to positional defense. Now, almost a century later, the US Army is mistakenly structuring for offensive clashes of mass and scale reminiscent of 1944 while competitors like Russia and China have adapted to twenty-first-century reality. This new paradigm—which favors fait accompli acquisitions, projection from sovereign sanctuary, and indirect proxy wars—combines incremental military actions with weaponized political, informational, and economic agendas under the protection of nuclear-fires complexes to advance territorial influence. The Army’s failure to conceptualize these features of the future battlefield is a dangerous mistake. 
The modern context of positional warfare, as argued by British theorist J.F.C Fuller, thus renders “physical” land invasion between nuclear powers an “obsolete thing.” Regional powers like Russia and China are protecting sovereign and adjacent territories with unprecedented reconnaissance-strike defenses that cannot be degraded without attacking systems in home territory and incurring instant strategic escalation. The US Army’s renewed focus on large-scale ground combat against peer threats with maneuvering field armies, as directed in its capstone doctrine, FM 3-0: Operations, presents a mismatch of problem and solution to these hybrid challenges. 
While many strategists idealize the Napoleonic Era or Second World War as the theoretical foundation for nation-state warfare, the era of Frederick the Great in the seventeenth century better describes the current strategic landscape. That period of European rivalry featured interlocking cannon forts and political alliances at depth that made offensives by small and expensive armies problematic. Instead, states typically acquired territory though positional advances or dynastic realignment while protecting lines of communication. This approach, similar to contemporary threat strategies, saw regimes routinely extend influence by co-opting sympathetic populations and expanding hardened networks. 
Failure to recognize the ascendency of nuclear-based defense—with the consequent potential for only limited maneuver, as in the seventeenth century—incurs risk for expeditionary forces. Even as it idealizes Patton’s Third Army with ambiguous “multi-domain” cyber and space enhancements, the US Army’s fixation with massive counter-offensives to defeat unrealistic Russian and Chinese conquests of Europe and Asia misaligns priorities. Instead of preparing for past wars, the Army should embrace forward positional and proxy engagement within integrated political, economic, and informational strategies to seize and exploit initiative. (Read more.)

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