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Future War/Future Battlespace: The Strategic Role of American Landpower

Future War/Future Battlespace: The Strategic Role of American Landpower - cover

Authored by Dr. Steven Metz, LTC Raymond A. Millen.

March 2003

49 Pages

Brief Synopsis

The authors examine the trends in the strategic environment in their development of the Future War/Future Battlespace. One fact is clear. Traditional warfighting has changed in the post 9-11 era. The U.S. military must adapt or fail. There is no other recourse. The authors have superbly framed the strategic environment into four strategic battlespaces and have examined the ways future adversaries will operate within them to thwart U.S. strategic initiatives. In this context, these variables influence the path that Transformation must take.


Although the events of September 11th signified the end of the short-lived post-Cold War era, they did not necessarily render obsolete U.S. inter-agency, future war analysis and planning. Rather, future war concepts require adaptation to the strategic environment. In order to link Army Transformation to security environment trends with specific focus on the “Objective Force” timeframe, this report’s conceptual framework assesses the nature of the emerging security environment, the modes of future armed conflict, the Objective Force characteristic requirements to remain strategically decisive, an Objective Force conceptualization for the emerging security environment, and the enduring relevance of the U.S. Army.

Two conclusions emerge from this report: first, the marked decline of large-scale state-on-state warfare and the rise of ambiguous, protracted, indecisive conflict in complex environments; second, because the collective international community will seek to harness American military hegemony, the United States should adopt a broad spectrum strategy based on partnership and shared risks for long-term national interests.

The future security environment will be characterized by minor conflicts due to the influence of the following interconnected trends: WMD proliferation, globalization (“Golden Straightjacket”), the glare of the information age, U.S. conventional military dominance, the positive and negative effects of rapid change on states, and the rapid diffusion of knowledge and technology.

Largely marginalized by the Cold War, smaller conflicts have assumed greater attention since the fall of the Berlin Wall, and with the inevitable fall of rogue states like Iraq and North Korea, major conflicts will become extremely rare as a result of the aforementioned trends. WMD proliferation will constrain states from conventional war because of the increased risks and decreased benefits. To ensure the nuclear threshold is not crossed, states will engage in quick incursions with limited objectives. The increasing globalization of economies will restrain aggression because of the immediate, negative impact on an aggressor’s economy. The glare of the Information Age means that any use of force will gain instantaneous world attention and if aggression is involved, will result in the immediate severance of the aggressor’s external capital flows and markets. Few regimes can survive economic stagnation.

The sheer dominance of the U.S. conventional military will serve to deter most aggressors, and despite theoretical uses of asymmetric methods—anti-access strategies, terrorism, or weapons of mass destruction—to thwart U.S. intervention, aggressors will have to pause and weigh the associated risks. The continued period of decolonization will entail the struggle for resources and power, the opposition to globalization by failing states or non-state actors will result in a backlash against change, and the traditional competition for resources among poorer nations will continue unabated. Ordinarily, the machinations of non-state actors would be of small consequence, but for the greater availability of knowledge and technology. With greater access to WMD, funding and situational awareness, and unconstrained by norms, rules, and laws, non-state entities pose a serious threat to even the United States. Unlike traditional adversaries, these non-state entities seek victory by avoiding defeat. Protracted conflict, ethical, political, and legal ambiguity, and operating within population centers make them particularly virulent.

Three big strategic shifts demand a reshaping of American strategy. First, future adversaries will be much more savvy regarding U.S. capabilities and triggers for intervention. The era of the “stupid” enemy is over. Second, precision operations are crucial to avoiding the unintended and second order of military effects. Victories which inadvertently alienate, destabilize, or impoverish neighboring states or regions (those not directly involved in the conflict) will prove counterproductive and debilitating in the long term. Third, the armed forces will most likely be employed to restore and sustain stability rather than to defeat a discernible enemy. Internal conflicts will be more prevalent, which if left unchecked, could grow or become intolerable to the international community. Hence, the security concerns will focus on staunching a conflict early, which will be characterized as protracted, complex, and ambiguous.

The future battlefield/battlespace expands the concept of armed conflict by placing the operational aspects within a broader context to include political, economic, social, ecological, demographic, legal, normative, diplomatic, and technological. Adversaries will employ complexity, ambiguity, and asymmetry to prevent, deter, and complicate outside intervention, and should that fail, avoid rapid, decisive operations. Adversaries will use any device (information warfare, theUNlegalist paradigm tendencies, provocation attacks, and human shields) to fetter U.S. military power.

The four distinct but interrelated dominant strategic battlespaces are direct interstate war, nonstate war, intrastate war, and indirect interstate war. Direct interstate war is the traditional and conventional, but is declining in frequency. Nonstate war involves criminal and terrorist actors that thrive among various host states (knowingly or unknowingly) and use information technology for funding, intelligence, and internal communication, command and control. The Al Qa’ida terrorist network is an example. Indirect interstate war entails aggression by a state through proxies. Serbia’s support of the Bosnian and Krajina Serbs is illustrative. Intrastate war involves a conflict between a state and a nonstate actor, such as an insurgents or separatists, or a conflict between two or more nonstate entities. Of the four strategic battlespaces, indirect interstate and intrastate wars will be the most prevalent.

U.S. landpower is vital to operations within the strategic battlespaces. The United States prefers to fight rapid, decisive operations, but must also be adept at protracted, complex, and asymmetric warfare. Without this robust, flexible landpower, the U.S. military would be like a medieval knight or a battleship—very proficient at a narrow range of military tasks.

The Army role in future war transcends traditional warfighting. Although it is integral to defeating an adversary as part of the Joint Force, it must also help consolidate success by providing security and support to partners, other government agencies, and nongovernment agencies in the aftermath. Furthermore, the Army must render stabilization for a challenged state or uncontrolled region. History instructs that success entails military victory followed by a committed peace.

The Objective Force supports the Army’s role in future war by providing strategic speed, full scale decisiveness, broad band precision, success in protracted, asymmetric, ambiguous, and complex conflicts, the ability to operate in a coalition, and rapid conceptual and organizational adaptation. As the Objective Force continues to mature, the Army must not lose sight of the need for adaptability and flexibility that modularity of the armed forces brings to the strategic battlespace. Transformation must continuously develop new operational and strategic concepts, educate soldiers and officers to implement them, and develop organizations and technologies to ensure they function.

To ensure dominance, Transformation must adopt two parallel tracks: one aimed at direct interstate war, and the other aimed at indirect interstate and intrastate war. Both tracks are naturally mutually supporting but require mutual cognizance to prevent tunnel vision.

The conceptual design of the Objective Force must permit maximum effectiveness in protracted, ambiguous, complex, and asymmetric conflicts. The three components of the Objective Force would be Strike Forces, Special Forces, and Support Forces. Together, they permit the Army to respond to the full spectrum of conflicts and crises with robust capabilities and without eviscerating standing units as occurs currently.

The Army serves a vital role to the Joint Team. It is the most versatile, permitting the United States to respond to every strategic battlespace without causing substantial unintended consequences and political fallout. In short, the Army will be extremely effective at the type of armed conflict that will dominate the global security environment in the coming decade as Transformation continues.

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