Colloquium Brief: U.S. Army War College 25th Annual Strategy Conference Carlisle, Pennsylvania, April 8-10, 2014 — Balancing the Joint Force to Meet Future Security Challenges

Dr. Richard Weitz

Key Insights:

  • The international security environment will remain cluttered, confusing, and uncertain; many of these problems are unavoidable; at best, we can mitigate them.
  • More than a decade of continuous military operations, fewer materiel resources, changing threat perceptions, and novel technologies are affecting how the U.S. military deploys, operates, and fights.
  • The U.S. military needs maximum flexibility, adaptability, and readiness to deal with a range of potential contingencies that could suddenly arise.
  • Hedging against strategic surprise requires persistent horizon-scanning, wargaming, and net assessment focused on the least predictable and most disruptive future outcomes.
  • Globalization will continue to produce a gap between transnational challenges, such as terrorism and weapons of mass destruction (WMD) proliferation, and the world’s ability or willingness to manage them.
  • The exponential rate of technological development is enhancing the lethality of weapons while reducing their costs, which could lead to a disruptive proliferation of powerful weapons in potentially hostile states and nonstate actors.
  • The U.S. military must diversify its increasingly vulnerable information and space-based support networks to ensure U.S. forces can conduct independent operations without continuous cyber and space support.
  • Some new smart weapons—like naval lasers, railguns, high-power microwave weapons, better sensors, cyberweapons, and smaller vessels—could increase U.S. military mobility, flexibility, adaptability, and deception.
  • The United States cannot deter everyone and everything, so it must establish priorities.
  • Rising nationalism, decelerating economies, and other factors will promote China and Russia’s rivalry with the United States; U.S. policymakers must avoid war with both while preventing either Beijing or Moscow from dominating the gray area that lies below the level of conventional war.
  • Cross-domain operations can help overcome anti-access area-denial (A2AD) challenges and will almost always include cyber and space capabilities, which should be incorporated into all U.S. military planning and operations.
  • Current Army operational commanders are very experienced in counterinsurgency (COIN), but need more practice in conducting large-scale airborne and forcible-entry operations.
  • The military must be able to transition rapidly between combat and non-combat operations by dynamically aggregating and disaggregating small-force packages, with more agile command and control networks.
  • To manage transnational threats better, the United States must improve interagency effectiveness through national security reform, raising the quality of human resources, and rebuilding the U.S. military’s foreign-area expertise.
  • Preparing for likely wars, building partnership capacities, rebalancing roles and missions, and investing in revolutionary technologies can help limit defense spending while still preparing the military well for future contingencies.


From April 8-10, 2014, the U.S. Army War College (USAWC) hosted its 25th Annual Strategy Conference in Carlisle, Pennsylvania. The theme of the conference—a collaboration with the Joint Staff’s Joint Force Development Directorate (J-7)—was “Balancing the Joint Force to Meet Future Security Challenges.” Participants discussed the most important military demands for U.S. and allied joint forces through the current decade and how the United States should meet these demands.

The conference featured keynote addresses by prominent national security leaders, who offered their perspective on the salient threats, challenges, and opportunities that are likely to shape U.S. military forces and operations in coming years. The four speakers were Dr. Robert Kaplan, a prolific writer at the Center for a New American Security (CNAS); Dr. Richard Haass, of the Council on Foreign Relations; Admiral Dennis Blair, former Director of National Intelligence; and Lieutenant General Sir Graeme Lamb, Retired, former Deputy Commander, Multi-National Forces-Iraq and Director of British Special Forces.

The presentations provided context for a series of panels that examined important Joint Force issues in the context of the global security and decision-making environments, specific regional challenges, evolving service roles and missions, and force requirements:

  • The Road to Rainbow: Imagining Future Military Demands
  • Understanding 21st-Century Military Advantage
  • The Decision-Making Environment: Defense and Military Challenges through 2020
  • Competition and Chaos: Future Military Demands in Central Command (CENTCOM) and Pacific Command (PACOM)
  • Global Response, Joint Entry, and U.S. Ground Forces
  • Rest of the World Risk
  • Global Agility: The Range of Military Operations and Its Impact on Roles and Missions
  • Conducting Operations Across Domains
  • Globally Integrated Operations and the New Road to Rainbow

      For the panels, the USAWC collaborated with five institutions representing a wide spectrum of U.S. national security perspectives: National Intelligence Council (NIC), Atlantic Council’s Brent Scowcroft Center on International Security, University of Pittsburgh’s Matthew B. Ridgway Center for International Security Studies, Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), and the Center for Naval Analyses. In addition to the expertise of these flagship institutions and the USAWC, the panels benefited from a wide variety of policy-relevant voices representing the Office of the Secretary of Defense, the British Ministry of Defence, the National Defense University, CNAS, the Cato Institute, and the American Foreign Policy Council, among others.

The panel speakers included: Dr. Henry Gole, USAWC; Dr. Robert Citino, University of North Texas; Mr. Raymond A. Millen, U.S. Army Peacekeeping and Stability Operations Institute; Dr. Thomas X. Hammes, National Defense University; Mr. Mark Gunzinger, Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments; Dr. Sam Tangredi, Strategic Insight, LLC; Mr. Nathan Freier, USAWC; Mr. Daniel Flynn, the NIC; Brigadier Ian Rigden, UK Ministry of Defense; Lieutenant General Wallace Gregson, U.S. Marine Corps, Ret.; Dr. Richard Betts, Columbia University; Dr. Christopher Bolan, USAWC; Mr. Barry Pavel, Atlantic Council; Dr. Ely Ratner, CNAS; Dr. Dafna Rand, CNAS; Dr. Paula Thornhill, RAND Corporation; Brigadier General Jon Thomas, Joint Staff; Lieutenant General William Mayville, Joint Staff; Major General Fred Padilla, U.S. Marine Corps; Major General Rowayne Schatz, Jr., U.S. Transportation Command; Major General John Nicholson, Jr., Commanding General, 82nd Airborne Division; Dr. Steven Metz, USAWC; Dr. Robert Bunker, USAWC; Dr. Phil Williams, University of Pittsburgh; Dr. Stephen Blank, American Foreign Policy Council; Ms. Lesley Anne Warner, Center for Naval Analyses; Mr. Samuel Brannen, CSIS; Captain Henry Hendrix, U.S. Navy; Lieutenant General Christopher Miller, U.S. Air Force; Mr. Frank Hoffman, National Defense University; Lieutenant General Terry Wolff, U.S. Army; Colonel Matthew Lopez, U.S. Marine Corps, Ret., Joint Staff; Major General William Hix, Army Capabilities Integration Center; Major General James J. Jones, U.S. Air Force; Rear Admiral Brian E. Luther, U.S. Navy; Major General George Franz III, Commander, Cyber National Mission Force; General James Cartwright, U.S. Marine Corps, Ret., CSIS; Dr. Nora Bensahel, CNAS; Ms. Anne Witkowsky, Office of the Secretary of Defense; and, Dr. Eric Thompson, Center for Naval Analyses.

Megatrends, Game Changers, and “Weapons of Mass Disorder.”

     Sir Graeme Lamb noted that history is littered with instances when people fail to perceive an emerging reality and suffer disaster as a result. Yet, we still need more cultural understanding—what we see as “ungoverned spaces” are actually governed in ways that we do not fully comprehend—we must recognize the truth of Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld’s famous comment about “knowns” and “unknowns,” and a tolerance for “mass disorder” on a large scale, affecting key public and private infrastructures (e.g., power, logistics, transportation, etc.). In Sir Lamb’s view, all these challenges concern instability rather than military threats, but the armed forces need to help manage them. Early engagement and intervention will generally ensure the most effective, cost-efficient results. Given budgetary limits and other priorities, military leaders need to articulate to civilians why their contribution to these endeavors is important and should continue.

Although accuracy is difficult and the possibility for surprise is high, examining potential future scenarios can provide policymakers with insights regarding the challenges that might result from decisions. Demography, technology, climate change, and resource scarcity will strongly affect the future security environment. Hostile states, troublesome nonstate actors, and regional instability are currently major problems facing the United States and the world that could easily escalate. Due to fast-paced globalization trends, future threats are likely to defy traditional classifications like major theater war, insurgency, and terrorism. Specific disorder challenges may be more prone to emerge without an easily identifiable main cause or single readily targetable adversary, and may accelerate and proliferate due to electronic connectivity and power vacuums caused by weak institutions. People from different cultures, ethnicities, and religions can more easily collide, as well as cooperate. Tensions along global fault lines can blow up to full-fledged violence.

Dr. Robert Kaplan saw several factors promoting global anarchy: the end of foreign imperialism; the demise of post-colonial strongmen, who felt they had a moral right to rule due to the fact that they had either directly or indirectly cast off imperialism; the lack of domestic public institutions between the national government and the family; “feeble state identities,” resulting in weak national loyalties to their states; the surge in religious and ethnic “doctrinal battles;” and the rise of information technology. According to Dr. Kaplan, the old way of analyzing the world is falling apart. After World War II, the United States artificially divided the world into regions and developed targeted-area linguistic and cultural expertise and specializations. Now, these divisions are being erased as local competitions have spread globally. Conversely, global competitions have begun to take on new significance at local levels. All these developments mean that the United States will be less able to influence events.

Mr. Daniel Flynn of the NIC summarized the findings of the Council’s Global Trends project, which identifies key “megatrends” of concern to Army planners. These are relatively certain future trends that will affect the global security environment in coming years. The first focuses on demography—specifically, the aging population in Western countries and the destabilizing youth bulges in Africa, Asia, and the Middle East. The second regards natural resource constraints. Half of the world’s population will soon live in water-scarce areas. Although the United States is still in a stable position as far as energy is concerned, states like China, with enormous and rapidly expanding populations and landscapes devoid of resources, will import more energy. Third is the diffusion of power, both globally and within nation-states. Although the United States will maintain vast power, rising powers will increasingly challenge U.S. preferences. The final megatrend is the empowerment of individuals—the necessity for governments to meet the needs of the growing global middle class to avert instability, which will become a growing problem in developing nations rather than in politically established nation-states. The impact of these megatrends will depend heavily on the global economy (Will it grow or stagnate?), global governance, technology (either providing solutions or generating more disruption), regional instability, and the potential for conflict. Four trends are likely to increase the risk of future conflict: (1) the diffusion of power in the international system; (2) the increased competition for resources; (3) the spread of disruptive technologies; and, (4) the rising potential for local or regional instability to rapidly escalate with global consequences.

The increasing reliance on technology, especially information technology, is also shaping up as a global tendency. New technologies are creating advantages for defense at the tactical level while leaving offense at the operational and strategic levels. A transition is occurring from a few expensive precision-strike weapons to a proliferation of many cheap smart weapons. For example, developments in science and manufacturing have driven down the price of “weaponizable” off-the-shelf remotely piloted aircraft. Nanotechnology and energetics can enhance lethality while reducing size. Technology creates weapons that are small and can be hidden (both physically and on radio and infrared detectors), instead of large and conspicuous ones. Cellphones and computers are considered part of the small, easily hidden technology, as well as technological systems involved in cyberwarfare. The proliferation of A2AD capabilities and of WMD presents a direct threat to the United States, but even their use in conflicts between other parties could pose a major challenge. U.S. conventional military dominance causes U.S. adversaries to seek asymmetric means to circumvent it. For instance, they rely more on A2AD weapons and tactics, including improvised explosive devices, and cheap sea mines, to negate U.S. air and maritime strengths.

Ranking Regional Challenges.

     Regional threats are affected by the above megatrends. The most dangerous challenges involve potential military confrontations with China and Russia. The most dangerous threats of “disorder” involve state failure in a nuclear-armed country, uncontrolled civil conflict across the greater Middle East, the prospect of failing governments, and violent civil conflict in the Americas. These cases harbor great potential to transcend geographic boundaries and pose substantial hazards to the United States and its international partners. Criminals and insurgents are merging, and the disorders of the global south are moving north. Nonstate actor threats prevail in areas characterized by nations with low levels of economic and social development, governed by or recently rid of authoritarian figures, and mired in acute ethnic or religious tribal rivalries either within or surrounding them. These areas affect U.S. interests in several ways—they hold important resources, either oil or expensive minerals, or they are so violent as to eventually raise humanitarian concerns that call for action. With the inevitable increase in violence, humanitarian crises can occur regardless of whether the United States accepts the premise of Right to Protect. In dealing with threats of this nature, the U.S. military must act preventively and early when the violence and suffering become intolerable to the rest of the world and simultaneously work against our interests. Additionally, failed and failing violent states are havens for al-Qaeda and its franchises, which have already demonstrated a capacity and willingness to carry out attacks from these states. The U.S. Government needs to have the ability to act in those regions, enforce laws, deal with aggressors, and intervene militarily as part of international forces. These kinds of actions require interagency teams with State Department and U.S. Agency for International Development components working with the military.

Though no African state will pose a direct threat to the United States, weak states will present dangers in the form of uncontrolled nonstate actors. Criminal organizations will continue to undermine already weak and fragile states. Foreign fighters will be returning to North Africa from the war in Syria. Corruption within their security forces will erode their response capabilities, but so will counterproductive, heavy-handed tactics. These nations will also experience a disruptive combination of a youth surge, underemployment, and a growing middle class. All of these factors will promote transcontinental instability. The strongmen who have been in power since the fall of imperialism generally do not have secession plans; this will create intense competition to fill power vacuums. Seemingly frozen conflicts will begin to thaw, reigniting old tensions and rivalries. Relative to the rest of the world, Africa is still of limited strategic interest to the United States, but the U.S. military must still maintain a small footprint on the continent, primarily with Special Operations Forces collaborating with U.S. civilian agencies and international partners to mitigate risks, such as sudden state collapse. The United States should of course prepare for the possible loss of proxies, allies, friends, and even access on the continent, as well as novel challenges such as the unexpected emergence of a North Korea-like adversary in Africa. Better educating U.S. military personnel about Africa and increasing funding for the civilian agencies that work on conflict prevention would make a smaller U.S. footprint more effective and sustainable.

South America does not present a military threat to the United States. The region has become more stable during the past decade, despite continuing narcotics and crime problems. It also has limited military and economic power to contribute to U.S. security interests elsewhere. Most of Europe is also stable and integrated, but on the periphery, there are challenges, since these areas are not integrated into the European Union’s social, political, and economic networks. In the east, Russia is unlikely to evolve into the future equivalent of the Soviet Union or become a renewed peer global rival of the United States. Yet, the U.S. military remains critical for protecting U.S. allies against Russia’s improving military. Russia’s ballistic missiles, sophisticated air defenses, and long-range fires poise a major A2AD challenge. Moscow has also shown deftness in leveraging proxy irregular forces, foreign ethnic cleavages, and non-kinetic tools.

The Asia-Pacific region lacks strong multinational institutions and is rife with political-military tensions. Asia has been surprisingly stable, despite its rapidly growing economic power. This benign condition is, nevertheless, unlikely to persist. The rise of nationalism, particularly in China, Japan, and South Korea; political and economic transitions in India and Pakistan, and other sources of friction will grow. Unlike Europe, which was built on the principles of postwar reconciliation and institution-building, Asia still has unresolved World War II tensions—such as on the Korean Peninsula and Beijing’s claim over Taiwan and the South China Sea—and a paucity of strong regional institutions. The region will invariably command more U.S. military resources, but uniquely welcomes and rewards U.S. engagement. However, rebalancing toward Asia should not be a zero-sum loss for other regions, such as the Middle East. Asia is itself becoming more involved in the Middle East, drawn by the energy resources there and by U.S. encouragement to adopt a more global security perspective. Asian nations are well aware that a hasty U.S. retreat from the Middle East would put their access to energy and investments at serious risk.

The Middle East will remain a major military problem for the United States in coming years. The region has weak governments and numerous political and other divisions. Yet, its resources, high levels of terrorism, and pivotal position continue to draw in outside powers. The United States is involved too deeply in the region to simply back away, but it should rely more on soft power and diplomacy to manage and prevent conflicts as well as to assuage local concerns of U.S. abandonment. The members of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) perceive the United States as deserting them due to the military withdrawal from Iraq, negotiations with Iran, U.S. support for democratic movements in Egypt and Bahrain, U.S. budgetary problems, and limited U.S. intervention in Syria. Whereas the United States views the Syrian conflict as a popular uprising against an authoritarian government, the GCC sees a Shia-Sunni conflict and, therefore, an opportunity to reduce Iran’s regional influence. Nonetheless, U.S.-GCC interests will continue to converge on energy and counterterrorism.

Force Planning and Capabilities Building.

     The United States needs to maintain effective, yet subtle, footprints overseas, allowing its military to maintain global power while simultaneously stepping out of the spotlight. This is more palatable both at home and abroad. The reduction of permanent U.S. overseas facilities and forces will potentially degrade the ability of the Army to close time and space with foreign threats. U.S. commanders must show flexibility in using scalable, tailored forces to meet unexpected sudden surprises. Training needs to prepare soldiers to fill a variety of roles and to work with a variety of partners at different times. Improving readiness is also important, since the United States can presently move ground forces faster than they can get ready to be moved. Since future crises will inevitably require coalitions, U.S. forces must have viable partners for contingencies by cultivating relationships and promoting interoperability, occasionally through limited embedment.

According to Admiral Blair, a status-quo world power like the United States does not “do” grand strategy. The United States does not use military force proactively to achieve its positive objectives, such as coercing China to become a global stakeholder within a U.S.-led world order. Instead, the United States mostly employs force reactively against countries that try to upset the existing order, like Iraq during Operation DESERT STORM, or when internal violence threatens to disrupt regional order, such as in the Balkans in the 1990s. As a result, U.S. force planning is more complicated than in other countries. In the past, the U.S. Government used to throw copious amounts of money and manpower at problems to beat them into submission. U.S. force planners need to consider critical external factors such as the international security environment and the nature of military technology while addressing several critical variables:

  • Flexibility: How well can forces built for one objective fulfill another? Are they the same for every situation? (Air Force and Navy missions are more similar regardless of their location than Army or Marine packages.)
  • Simultaneity: How many forces can operate or overlap with each other in a small amount of space?
  • Mobilization capacity: What resources are readily available to U.S. policymakers (the National Guard, the civilian air fleet, universal conscription)?

      Admiral Blair’s ideal force could deal with three simultaneous hypothetical contingencies: intervention in an African civil war demanding Army and Marine Corps forces prepped for irregular warfare and necessary naval and air support; a conflict that requires a greater commitment from naval and air units in conjunction with space and cyber forces, such as over Taiwan; and a major war, such as on the Korean Peninsula, that would involve all military branches and resources.

As the United States pulls back from more than a decade of fighting two major COIN campaigns in Iraq and Afghanistan, the military needs to resize and reassess strategic priorities. The last 13 years were characterized by COIN operations, in which the United States enjoyed unchallenged access to the operational environment and a degree of relative predictability with its large military movements in its relatively contained theaters of operation. The United States will probably no longer use forcible entry forces as conventional infantry on sustained COIN campaigns. Due to the duration of the Afghanistan and Iraq conflicts, much of the Army officer and non-commissioned officer corps have rarely trained the core competencies of their units. In particular, they must relearn how to conduct large-scale airborne and forcible entry operations. Future conflicts will likely involve better organized nation-states with greater capabilities, such as anti-air defense systems, air forces and navies, chemical weapons, and more sophisticated means of communication and intelligence gathering. Current U.S. military expeditions have not had to face such a threat. U.S. soldiers need to train for these challenges.

The U.S. planning focus must now be global as opposed to concentrated on only a few countries. Undesirable seams between the U.S. Combatant Command’s Areas of Responsibility (AORs) are unhelpful because issues that start in one AOR can easily move to another. For example, the civil war in Syria is adversely encouraging terrorism in other regions. These sorts of “nested security dilemmas” can quickly escalate if mistakes are made, and the United States should work to keep this risk as low as possible. U.S. forces must be able to deploy quickly anywhere in the world and respond differently to the distinct military demands of each case. For example, meeting Chinese aggression in the western Pacific will require major U.S. air, sea, space, and cyber forces more than ground combat forces, whereas responding to threats from North Korea or Russia will likely require different capabilities. The Pentagon needs to formalize procedures to facilitate rapid force movements between AORs.

The “exquisite and few” procurement model that the U.S. military currently adheres to is not optimal, given the threat and technology environment. The United States should develop a combination of some very expensive and sophisticated weapons, as well as many relatively unsophisticated and inexpensive platforms. These capabilities would create a wide range of effects, more favorable cost-exchange ratios, and time and depth advantages. Directed-energy weapons can help counter unmanned aerial vehicles, sea-borne swarm attacks, and various projectiles, while keeping U.S. forward basing affordably defensible, despite the increasing vulnerability of fixed bases to conventional strike platforms. The U.S. military needs to diversify its information and space-based networks and also increase its capacity to conduct independent operations at times when U.S. forces do not have continuous communications or the precision navigation provided by Global Positioning System satellites. Railguns and high-power microwave weapons will also become more readily available. If implemented correctly, they could potentially create a strategic advantage for the United States. For instance, the U.S. Army could control strategic maritime chokepoints from the land. Lasers and railguns would also help shift the cost balance in the U.S. favor. Fully exploiting the new technologies means ensuring the right operational concepts and organizations are in place.

U.S. leaders need to reevaluate budget decisions to ensure long-term sustainability. The United States has a large gap between what it wants to do, and what it can do. The Quadrennial Defense Review (QDR) is a “framing document” that noted the importance of rebalancing missions, capabilities, and resources, but failed to address the gap between resources and missions. It made the argument for more resources, but did not address how to deal with the inevitable shortfalls that will develop, especially given new challenges such as WMD proliferation, cyberattacks, jihadists, synthetic biotechnology, and rising powers in Asia, combined with higher personnel costs, rising infrastructure costs, and higher unit costs for modernization. The U.S. military must also cope with smaller, older, weaker, and poorer allies, as well as ebbing domestic support for defense spending.

Roles and missions debates attract attention to the large gap between defense strategies and force capacity. The Department of Defense has reviewed U.S. roles and missions frequently over the past few years, but not recently due to other concerns and a lack of high-level civilian interest. Roles and missions are blurring as cross-service connections deepen. However, questions still needing answers include:

  • Which missions are falling through the cracks?
  • What can be learned from the Special Operations Command, which combines roles and missions?
  • How to balance efficiency and effectiveness (some redundancy may be valuable)?
  • Is the Joint Staff playing a useful role in moderating the Combatant Command’s demands?
  • What role should the Office of the Secretary of Defense play?
  • What key roles and missions are new (possibilities may include cyber and unmanned missions)?
  • What about interagency roles and missions, such as Phase Zero and homeland defense?

      The U.S. military allocates a vast amount of resources on what some deem outdated weapons systems that take too long to build. Budgetary constraints challenge all elements of military strategy—from planning, to procurement, to personnel, to deployment—and will also impact U.S. soft power and its relationships with both partners and adversaries. Whether through the reallocation of funds, research into cheaper weapons systems, or potential personnel cuts, military budget reductions come at the cost of accepting higher risks. Even with recent budget cutbacks, there is probably enough money to do everything necessary, if not everything that is wanted. Professional planners must create the best force structure, with the resources given, for probable and unlikely contingencies. When those contingencies occur, they should be prepared to build the necessary forces and capabilities quickly. Meanwhile, U.S. procurement should focus on supporting ends and means designed to promote the highest priorities. With a shrinking budget, the military needs to prioritize its goals and shift its strategies to align better with available resources. The U.S. armed forces are not going to be able to do more with less; they are going to do less with less, but they must do it smarter in order to still do it better.

Even with reduced spending, it is important to retain latent capabilities to address unexpected challenges. For example, the Navy reduced anti-submarine warfare (ASW) after the Cold War, but appropriately assigned ASW duties to the Third Fleet to keep some institutional knowledge. Now that China is building up its submarine fleet, the U.S. Navy has a foundation upon which to build. The Army should do the same and maintain centers of excellence for combined arms and irregular warfare. For example, despite the current disillusionment with COIN, which resembles the rejection that followed the Vietnam War, the U.S. Army may be called upon at some point to conduct and lead another COIN campaign.

The U.S. military is still in the process of “normalizing” cyber capabilities into joint operations. Cyber is an independent domain that must be won on its own, but also applies to every other domain. The cyber domain has a physical facet, which includes geographic and physical network components; a logical layer, which refers to dynamic parts of the network; and the cyber persona, which represents the human domain—people using cyber tools to support operations in other domains. Offensive and defensive actions must be used to mitigate the congested and contested nature of the cyber and space domains, and be synchronized with the operations in the other domains. U.S. planners must remain innovative enough to develop new concepts for dealing with parts of the cyber domain that are still emerging. Similarly, almost every aspect of military operations includes a link to space as well as cyber operations; therefore, synchronizing these two domains in all planning and operations is crucial. These new technologies must be viewed as complementary interdependent elements rather than simply additives to the current forces. Meanwhile, adversaries are rapidly closing the technology gap with U.S. forces, which must be prepared to fight and win in cyber and space degraded environments.

Achieving better cross-domain operational synergy among the Army, Navy, Air Force, and Marines is essential for overcoming adversary A2AD capabilities. “Cross Domain Synergy” (CDS) occurs when different branches of the services employ capabilities in each domain in an integrated manner to maximize synergies, leverage strengths, and offset weaknesses. CDS can apply at the tactical, operational, and the strategic level, and is best accomplished by an empowered joint, and often coalition, command that can quickly counteract weaknesses in one domain with strengths in another. CDS requires a very interoperable communications and network architecture, more programmatic collaboration across the Joint Force, an agile command-and-control structure, mature and accessible cyber capabilities, and a fully integrated operational plan developed from the start of an operation for fighting in multiple domains in a contested environment. To take a concrete example, each military service can make unique contributions to conducting joint operations for forcible entry. Entering a contested environment is one of the most challenging joint military missions. The Joint Concept for Entry Operations (JCEO) describes in broad terms how joint forces, especially land forces, should enter contested foreign territory and employ capabilities to accomplish assigned missions. JCEO addresses the challenge of conducting entry in the presence of armed opposition, characterized by increasingly advanced area-denial systems, as well as locations where the environment and infrastructure may be degraded or austere. “Anti-access” (A2) refers to those actions and capabilities, usually long range, designed to prevent an opposing force from entering an operational area. In contrast, “area denial” (AD) refers to those actions and capabilities, usually of shorter range, designed to limit an opponent’s freedom of action within the operational area. Although JCEO focuses on the former, the proliferation of both types of capabilities challenges the ability of joint capabilities to intervene in a timely and effective manner.

As the Services continue to deal with the realities of limited resources and competing demands, seams and gaps between the forces could increase as the Services focus on protecting their separate core competencies. Such deficiencies may not become fully evident until the United States is engaged in another major conflict. To counter this challenge, joint operations, like any other military competency, must be proactively maintained through continued exercises and other joint activities. Maintaining interoperability between Special Operations Forces and General Purpose Forces will prove essential for maintaining jointness.

Sustaining global non-combat engagement is also crucial, since U.S. forces will have to assure friends and allies, invest in promising partnerships, deter adversaries, counter terrorism, and shape the global strategic environment to enhance U.S. interests. This engagement will also build situational and regional awareness, alerting the United States to conflicts as they develop and offering the ability to act at an earlier stage. Force mobility and adaptability must be defined from the demand perspective rather than from the supply side. The force should be able to move swiftly between combat and non-combat activities by being able to dynamically aggregate/disaggregate and offer smaller force packages, agile command and control networks, and a toolkit better able to work with civilian and foreign partners.

Toward an Effective Strategic Response.

     Having a clear, coherent strategy is critical for answering these questions. All the challenges described earlier are inherently intertwined. The current security environment is characterized by dynamism, disorder, and contested and unpredictable outcomes. Military hedging is appropriate, since we need a force capable of responding to new types of challenges and adapting when they inevitably evolve. Institutional certainty about which future challenges are most important (i.e., most likely or most dangerous) is liable to be wrong—those judgments are commonly based on hope, preference, or convenience, rather than on a thorough appraisal of current and projected strategic conditions. Excessive certainty about the future is a recipe for surprise, shock, and dislocation in the future. U.S. planners have historically been poor at identifying both the time and location of armed conflict.

Given this historical deficiency and the strategic ambiguity of the contemporary international security environment, the United States has to be prepared across the spectrum of possible conflict. The primary U.S. military advantage lies in its capacity of adaptability. Effectively hedging against these outcomes requires persistent horizon-scanning, wargaming, and net assessment focused on the least predictable and most disruptive future outcomes. The Army must maintain a nucleus of capabilities in as many dimensions as possible. Building an agile, adaptable, and balanced force will help safeguard against a consistent record of failing to forecast the most taxing future requirements. Effective military responses require adaptable military capabilities, concepts, and leaders. Mobility, flexibility, adaptability, and deception are historic sources of the U.S. military advantage. Another still valuable strength is the U.S. capability to move and sustain large forces, globally, against opposition—an ability facilitated in part by U.S. international alliances as well as innovative competences and concepts.

One near-certainty is the increasing U.S. dependence on partners—foreign militaries, U.S. civilian agencies, and others—for executing stability operations, peacekeeping, security cooperation, humanitarian assistance, disaster relief, protection of diplomatic facilities and personnel abroad, and other missions. The United States should aim to strengthen its partners’ capabilities as well as its own. Professional military education must cover many non-military topics, and the commands need greater access to more civilians, especially those having diplomatic, development, and law enforcement skills needed for post-conflict stabilization missions. Supporting allies and partners with tailored security cooperation and joint exercises also remains crucial. The United States must continue to take their needs seriously and commit to meeting them.

The U.S. constitutional framework, which emphasizes the diffusion of power, checks and balances, and the frequent turnover in authority, normally prevents the United States from pursuing a consistent and coherent grand strategy. However, the Eisenhower administration’s strategic planning within the National Security Council, which began with the 6-week Solarium Project, correctly addressed big-picture issues and embraced clashing policy proposals to generate enlightened debate and a comprehensive Grand Strategy. The USAWC and its partners can help U.S. leaders to achieve comparable results in the future.

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