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The Evolution in Military Affairs: Shaping the Future U.S. Armed Forces

Authored by Professor Douglas C. Lovelace Jr.. | June 1997

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SUMMARY

In determining the armed forces the United States will require in the future, the challenge for the military strategist is to identify the near-term actions which must be taken to ensure the right military capabilities are available when needed. To do so, the strategist must determine the nation's future interests, identify and rank the most significant and likely future threats and opportunities associated with those interests, and discern the future military capabilities the nation will require to accommodate the future security environment. Such planning is fraught with difficulty. The specifics of U.S. future interests are nearly as uncertain as future threats and opportunities. This compounded ambiguity coupled with political pressures to defer resolution of long-term issues poses substantial challenges to strategic planners.

Nonetheless, this monograph provides a military capability analysis that features a simplified approach to defining and weighing future national security interests and objectives. The study employs a three-tier model of the future international security environment to help identify future threats and opportunities and suggest future national security strategic concepts and their military components. In doing so, it describes the military capabilities necessary to effect the concepts.

The study then reviews the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff's Joint Vision 2010 to identify the fundamental military capabilities it denotes. By comparing Joint Vision 2010 capabilities to those identified by the three-tier assessment, the study illuminates the different or additional U.S military capabilities that will be required as the international security environment emerges from the post-Cold War era.

Although the analysis necessarily requires some speculation about future national security interests, threats, and opportunities, it seeks to avoid the infirmities in credibility and relevancy that frequently befall futuristic strategic assessments. The analysis demonstrates that for the most part the contours of the early 21st century international security environment are fairly discernible today, as is the domestic context within which the United States will frame its national security interests and strategy. Additionally, the technological opportunities and limitations regarding force design and the potential capabilities of the early 21st century U.S. military are equally visible. Clearly, extraordinary technological and geopolitical surprises could obviate the analysis presented. That eventuality, however, need not inhibit timely force planning based on what is currently foreseeable.A comparison of the three-tier assessment to the tenets ofJoint Vision 2010 clearly shows that the force capabilities suggested by the Chairman's vision are appropriate and necessary for the post-Cold War period, and many will apply well into the 21st century. It is equally clear, however, that as the international security environment emerges from the post-Cold War period, the U.S. armed forces must continue to evolve to serve better the needs of the nation. The assessment, therefore, both confirms the continued relevance of many Joint Vision 2010 force capabilities and suggests several needed force modifications beyond those indicated by the Chairman's vision. Key actions suggested by the report include the following:

INTRODUCTION

The transitory nature of the international security environment that followed the collapse of Soviet communism has left many U.S. national security strategists in a quandary concerning the type of armed forces the nation will require in the future. While pondering that question, strategists have engineered significant modifications of the U.S. Cold War military, making it more suitable for what has been called the "post-Cold War era." But that rearward-looking, indeterminate descriptor of an international security environment cannot be perpetuated indefinitely. Strategists must look forward to the 21st century and employ a concept for the future international security environment that can guide military force development decisions. To that end, this monograph proposes a useful construct for viewing the national security challenges and opportunities of the 21st century. Using that template of the future, the study describes how the U.S. armed forces must continue to evolve if they are to be relevant to the international security environment that succeeds the post-Cold War era.

CONCLUSIONS

The three-tier approach to viewing the international security environment that will succeed the post-Cold War period provides a useful framework for determining the broad outlines of a national security strategy for the early 21st century. The approach also provides a practical basis for developing the military components of the strategy. By doing so, it facilitates identification of the military capabilities that the United States will require if U.S. armed forces are to provide for the common defense and promote the general welfare into the 21st century.

The contours of the 21st century international security environment are fairly discernable today, as is the domestic context within which the United States will frame its national security interests and strategy. Additionally, the technological opportunities and limitations regarding force design and the potential capabilities of the early 21st century U.S. military are equally visible. Clearly, extraordinary technological and geopolitical surprises could obviate the analysis presented herein. That eventuality, however, need not inhibit timely force planning based on what is currently foreseeable.

A comparison of the three-tier assessment to the tenets of Joint Vision 2010 clearly shows that the force capabilities suggested by the Chairman's vision are appropriate and necessary for the post-Cold War period, and many will be applicable well into the 21st century. It is equally clear, however, that as the international security environment emerges from the post-Cold War period, the U.S. armed forces must continue to evolve to serve better the needs of the nation. The foregoing analysis both confirms the continued relevance of many Joint Vision 2010 force capabilities and suggests several needed force modifications beyond those indicated by the Chairman's vision.

The three-tier assessment confirms Joint Vision 2010 in several significant respects. Nonetheless, due to its nearly exclusive focus on large-scale conventional warfare, Joint Vision 2010 is only a partial template for developing the military capabilities that will be needed in the 21st century. To be sure, as long as there are large Second Tier industrial armed forces that could potentially threaten fundamental U.S. interests, the United States must possess countercapabilities. The nature of these capabilities, however, cannot be a function solely of the magnitude of potential threats but also must take into account the likelihood of the threats materializing.150

To hedge against potential Second Tier and First-Second Tier hybrid threats, the United States should continue to refine the force capabilities described in Joint Vision 2010, evolving those forces into smaller, more lethal asymmetrical counters to large, conventional Second Tier forces.151 To accommodate fiscal realities and take advantage of increased production agility and training innovations, the bulk of U.S. symmetrical conventional warfare capabilities should be shifted to the Reserve Components.152

The U.S. asymmetrical counter-conventional capabilities maintained in active status should be smaller but more lethal high-technology forces capable of denying Second Tier aggressors their objectives long enough for U.S. symmetrical capabilities to be brought to bear. The Active Component must also contain multi-mission capable forces to shape the international security environment, prevent conflict conditions from arising, and, if necessary, add asymmetrical capabilities to deter or compel an aggressor.

These multi-mission capable forces, equipped with multi-role systems, should be differentiated at a lower organizational level, perhaps at what is currently referred to as the battalion or squadron level. They must be structured into very flexible units that can be rapidly aggregated in various proportions for customized, mission oriented application. Finally, they must serve a national security strategy that contemplates the early and full integration of military capabilities with the other instruments of national power in the active furtherance of U.S.national security interests.

If the U.S. armed forces are to continue to provide for the common defense, DoD must be assigned responsibility for defending key national information systems from foreign attack. In the 21st century, it will make no more sense to require separate government agencies, corporations, or the American public to provide their own defense from foreign information attacks than it would be to require them to protect themselves from nuclear attacks. DoD, therefore, must develop large-scale, offensive and defensive information warfare capabilities.

National security strategy must evolve beyond the strategic nuclear deterrence of the Cold War. Only through a combination of strategic deterrence, common strategic and theater missile defenses, new preemptive and defensive approaches to eliminating the threat of WMD terrorists, and diplomatic initiatives will WMD lose their political appeal. Until these concepts are woven into a comprehensive strategy, proliferation of WMD and delivery methods will not be stanched.

Technology must be exploited not only to increase the lethality of military forces but also to improve their abilities to aggressively promote U.S. interests and prevent conflict conditions from developing. The political utility of the military instrument of national power must be increased by lowering the costs of intervention in terms of fiscal resources, people, and domestic and international political capital. Technology also must be pursued to counter adversary asymmetric strategies such as intermingling of combatants with noncombatants in urban areas, limited use of high technology systems, strategic employment of terrorism, and intentional disregard for the international laws of armed conflict. Finally, selected technology must be shared with allies and potential coalition partners to ensure interoperability of military forces.

If not prevented, terrorists armed with WMD will seriously threaten fundamental U.S interests in the 21st century. The United States, in concert with other nations, must develop a comprehensive strategy for dealing with such terrorists. The strategy should include robust preemptive as well as defensive capabilities. The U.S. armed forces and domestic law enforcement agencies must have clearly defined antiterrorism and counterterrorism roles, whereby the armed forces have lead responsibility for preventing terrorism from reaching U.S. soil, and law enforcement agencies have primary authority for dealing with terrorism within U.S. borders.

Given its technological preeminence and diverse society, the United States is in a unique position to develop a new global intelligence network to replace the remnants of its Cold War predecessor. This new intelligence organization will be needed to give meaning to the vast amounts of information that will be available in the 21st century, provide for early detection of emerging conditions which if left untreated would lead to conflict, permit advance discernment of the intentions of potential adversaries, and provide increased strategic warning.

The complexity and dynamism of the 21st century international security environment will not allow for imprecise national security policy. All of the instruments of national power must be integrated to produce unprecedented synergy if the United States is to become more competitive within the First Tier, appropriately hedge against and mitigate Second Tier threats, prevent unfavorable situations from developing within the Third Tier, and take advantage of every opportunity to actively promote U.S. interests around the globe.

While the three-tier construct of the future international security system used as the basis for this analysis facilitates military force planning efforts, it may not prove to be a universally applicable construct. Regardless, however, of the specific contours of the international security environment that actually emerge in the 21st century, they will undoubtedly feature wide varieties of conflicts and opportunities. The analysis provided in this report should highlight to American national security strategists, political leaders, and military strategists issues that should be considered in making the decisions which will shape the U.S. armed forces of the 21st century.

ENDNOTES

150. This approach to hedging against potential threats differs from Cold War approaches such as "worst case" and "near worst case" planning. During the Cold War, the bipolar international security environment and focus on global war made defense planning based on potential threats, without regard to their probability of occurring, more reasonable.

151. Preliminary thinking along this line is reflected in Greg Caires, "Garner: Army Could Reduce the Size of its Divisions," Defense Daily, February 25, 1997, p. 285.

152. For example, over time, the United States should place most of its heavy bombers, aircraft carriers, and heavy armored and mechanized forces in the Reserve Components, while constituting an Active Component largely of smaller, highly lethal, rapidly employable, asymmetric capabilities.