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The purpose of this paper is to explore alternative concepts for structuring mission capability packages (MCPs) around which future U. S. military forces might be configured. From the very outset of this study group’s deliberations, we agreed that the most useful contribution we could make would be to attempt to reach beyond what we saw as the current and commendable efforts, largely but not entirely within the Department of Defense, to define concepts for strategy, doctrine, operations, and force structure to deal with a highly uncertain future. In approaching this endeavor, we fully recognized the inherent and actual limits and difficulties in attempting to reach beyond what may prove to be the full extent of our grasp.

It is, of course, clear that U.S. military forces are currently the most capable in the world and are likely to remain so for a long time to come. Why then, many will ask, should we examine and even propose major excursions and changes if the country occupies this position of military superiority? For reasons noted in this study, we believe that excursions are important if only to confirm the validity of current defense approaches. There are several overrarching realities that have led us to this conclusion. First, while everyone recognizes that the Cold War has ended, there is not a consensus about what this means for more precisely defining the nature of our future security needs. Despite this absence of both clairvoyance and a galvanizing external danger, the United States is actively examining new strategic options and choices. The variety of conceptual efforts underway in the Pentagon to deal with this uncertainty exemplifies this reality.

At the same time, the current dominance and superiority of American military power, unencumbered by the danger of an external peer competitor, have created a period of strategic advantage during which we have the luxury of time, perhaps measured in many years, to re-examine with a margin of safety our defense posture. On the other hand, potential adversaries cannot be expected to ignore this predominant military capability of the United States and fail to try to exploit, bypass, or counter it. In other words, faced with American military superiority in ships, tanks, aircraft, weapons and, most importantly, in competent fighting personnel, potential adversaries may try to change the terms of future conflict and make as irrelevant as possible these current U.S. advantages. We proceed at our own risk if we dismiss this possibility.

Second, it is relatively clear that current U.S. military capability will shrink. Despite the pledges of the two major American political parties to maintain or expand the current level of defense capability, both the force structure and defense infrastructure are too large to be maintained at even the present levels and within the defense budgets that are likely to be approved. Unless a new menace materializes, defense is headed for "less of the same." Such reductions may have no strategic consequences. However, that is an outcome that we believe should not be left to chance.

This shrinkage also means that the Pentagon's good faith strategic reviews aimed at dealing with our future security needs may be caught up in the defense budget debate over downsizing and could too easily drift into becoming advocacy or marketing documents. As the services are forced into more jealously guarding a declining force structure, the tendency to "stove-pipe" and compartmentalize technology and special programs is likely to increase, thereby complicating the problem of making full use of our extraordinary technological resources. This means that some external thinking, removed from the bureaucratic pressures and demands, may be essential to stimulating and sustaining innovation.

Third, the American commercial-industrial base is undergoing profound change propelled largely by the entrepreneurial nature of the free enterprise system and the American personality. Whether in information or materials-related technology or for that matter in other areas too numerous to count, the nature of competition is driving both product breadth and improvement at rates perhaps unthinkable a decade ago. One sign of these trends is the reality that virtually all new jobs in this country are being created by small business. In the areas of commercial information and related management information systems, these changes are extraordinary and were probably unpredictable even a few years ago.

On the so-called information highway, performance is increasing dramatically and quickly while price, cost, and the time to bring to market new generation technology are diminishing. These positive trends are not matched yet in the defense-industrial base. One consequence of this broad commercial transformation is that any future set of defense choices may be inexorably linked to and dependent on this profound, ongoing change in the commercial sector and in learning to harness private sector advances in technology-related products. It must also be understood that only the United States among all states and nations has the vastness and breadth of resources and commercial capability to undertake the full exploitation of this revolutionary potential.

Finally, it is clear that U.S. forces are engaged and deployed worldwide, often at operating tempos as high as or higher than during the Cold War. These demands will continue and the diversity of assigned tasks is unlikely to contract. These forces must be properly manned, equipped, and trained and must carry out their missions to standards that are both high and expected by the nation's leaders and its public. The matter of maintaining this capability while attempting to reshape the force for a changing future is a major and daunting challenge not to be underestimated.

These structural realities are exciting and offer a major opportunity for real revolution and change if we are able and daring enough to exploit them. This, in turn, has led us to develop the concept of Rapid Dominance and its attendant focus on Shock and Awe. Rapid Dominance seeks to integrate these multifaceted realities and facts and apply them to the common defense at a time when uncertainty about the future is perhaps one of the few givens. We believe the principles and ideas underlying this concept are sufficiently compelling and different enough from current American defense doctrine encapsulated by "overwhelming or decisive force," "dominant battlefield awareness," and "dominant maneuver" to warrant closer examination.

Since before Sun Tzu and the earliest chroniclers of war recorded their observations, strategists and generals have been tantalized and confounded by the elusive goal of destroying the adversary's will to resist before, during, and after battle. Today, we believe that an unusual opportunity exists to determine whether or not this long-sought strategic goal of affecting the will, understanding, and perception of an adversary can be brought closer to fruition. Even if this task cannot be accomplished, we believe that, at the very minimum, such an effort will enhance and improve the ability of our military forces to carry out their missions more successfully through identifying and reinforcing particular points of leverage in the conflict and by identifying and creating additional options and choices for employing our forces more effectively.

Perhaps for the first time in years, the confluence of strategy, technology, and the genuine quest for innovation has the potential for revolutionary change. We envisage Rapid Dominance as the possible military expression, vanguard, and extension of this potential for revolutionary change. The strategic centers of gravity on which Rapid Dominance concentrates, modified by the uniquely American ability to integrate all this, are these junctures of strategy, technology, and innovation which are focused on the goal of affecting and shaping the will of the adversary. The goal of Rapid Dominance will be to destroy or so confound the will to resist that an adversary will have no alternative except to accept our strategic aims and military objectives. To achieve this outcome, Rapid Dominance must control the operational environment and through that dominance, control what the adversary perceives, understands, and knows, as well as control or regulate what is not perceived, understood, or known.

In Rapid Dominance, it is an absolutely necessary and vital condition to be able to defeat, disarm, or neutralize an adversary's military power. We still must maintain the capacity for the physical and forceful occupation of territory should there prove to be no alternative to deploying sufficient numbers of personnel and equipment on the ground to accomplish that objective. Should this goal of applying our resources to controlling, affecting, and breaking the will of an adversary to resist remain elusive, we believe that Rapid Dominance can still provide a variety of options and choices for dealing with the operational demands of war and conflict.

To affect the will of the adversary, Rapid Dominance will apply a variety of approaches and techniques to achieve the necessary level of Shock and Awe at the appropriate strategic and military leverage points. This means that psychological and intangible, as well as physical and concrete effects beyond the destruction of enemy forces and supporting military infrastructure, will have to be achieved. It is in this broader and deeper strategic application that Rapid Dominance perhaps most fundamentally differentiates itself from current doctrine and offers revolutionary application.

Flowing from the primary concentration on affecting the adversary's will to resist through imposing a regime of Shock and Awe to achieve strategic aims and military objectives, four characteristics emerge that will define the Rapid Dominance military force. These are noted and discussed in later chapters. The four characteristics are near total or absolute knowledge and understanding of self, adversary, and environment; rapidity and timeliness in application; operational brilliance in execution; and (near) total control and signature management of the entire operational environment.

Whereas decisive force is inherently capabilities driven—that is, it focuses on defeating the military capability of an adversary and therefore tends to be scenario sensitive—Rapid Dominance would seek to be more universal in application through the overriding objective of affecting the adversary's will beyond the boundaries traditionally defined by military capability alone. In other words, where decisive force is likely to be most relevant is against conventional military capabilities that can be overwhelmed by American (and allied) military superiority. In conflict or crisis conditions that depart from this idealized scenario, the superior nature of our forces is assumed to be sufficiently broad to prevail. Rapid Dominance would not make this distinction in either theory or in practice.

We note for the record that should a Rapid Dominance force actually be fielded with the requisite operational capabilities, this force would be neither a silver bullet nor a panacea and certainly not an antidote or preventative for a major policy blunder, miscalculation, or mistake. It should also be fully appreciated that situations will exist in which Rapid Dominance (or any other doctrine) may not work or apply because of political, strategic, or other limiting factors.

We realize some will criticize our focus on affecting an adversary's will, perception, and understanding through Shock and Awe on the grounds that this idea is not new and that such an outcome may not be physically achievable or politically desirable. On the first point, we believe the use of basic principles of strategy can stand us in good stead even and perhaps especially in the modern era when adversaries may not elect to fight the United States along traditional or expected lines. On whether this ability can and should be achieved, we believe that question should be part of a broader examination.

Finally, we argue that what is also new in this approach is the way in which we attempt to integrate far more broadly strategy, technology, and innovation to achieve Shock and Awe. It is this interaction and focus which we think will provide the most interesting results.

For these and other reasons, we have embarked on an ambitious intellectual excursion in making a preliminary definition of Rapid Dominance. For the moment, we view Rapid Dominance in the formation stage and not as a final product. Over the next months, we believe further steps should be taken to refine Rapid Dominance and to develop "paper" systems and force designs that will add crucial specificity to this concept. Then, this Rapid Dominance force can be assessed against five sets of questions:

  • First, assuming that a Rapid Dominance force can be fielded with the appropriate capabilities of Shock and Awe to affect and shape the adversary's will, how would this force compare with and improve on our ability to fight, win, and deal with a major regional contingency (MRC)?
  • Second, what utility, if any, does Rapid Dominance and its application of Shock and Awe imply for Operations Other Than War (OOTW)? Where might Rapid Dominance apply in OOTW, where would it not, and where might it offer mixed benefits?
  • Third, what are the political implications of Rapid Dominance in both broad and specific applications and could this lead to a form of political deterrence to underwrite future U.S. policy? Would this political deterrence prove acceptable to allies and to our own public?
  • Fourth, what might Rapid Dominance mean for alliances, coalitions, and the conduct of allied and combined operations?
  • Finally, what are the consequences of Rapid Dominance on defense resource investment priorities and future budgets?

From this examination and experimentation, we believe useful results will flow.

We also would like to acknowledge the support and role of the National Defense University in sponsoring this first effort. In particular, we owe a huge debt of gratitude to Dr. David Alberts of NDU whose intelligence, enthusiasm, and wisdom, as well as his full support, have been invaluable and without which this project would have been far less productive.

Washington, D.C.

1 September 1996

L.A. Edney J.T. Howe
F.M. FranksH.K. Ullman
C. A. HornerJ.P. Wade


Introduction to Rapid Dominance

Table of Contents



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