[ Table of Contents][Overview: Future Airpower and Strategy Issues][ Chapter 4]
According to Andrew Marshall, director of the Office of Net Assessments in the Office of the Secretary of Defense, "a Revolution in Military Affairs (RMA) is a major change in the nature of warfare brought about by the innovative application of new technologies which, combined with dramatic changes in military doctrine and operational and organizational concepts, fundamentally alters the character and conduct of military operations." Such an RMA is now occurring, and those who understand it and take advantage of it will enjoy a decisive advantage on future battlefields.
Military theorists around the world have long noted the historical discontinuities in the conduct of warfare caused by the advent of new technologies and weapon systems. The Soviets called these discontinuities "military-technical revolutions." Recently, analysts in the United States have started calling them RMAs. This change in terminology was meant to capture the nontechnical dimensions of military organizations and operations, the sum of which provide a large part of overall military capabilities.
The nature of these discontinuities is such that warfare after the "revolution" is unlike what went on before in profound and significant ways. Throughout history, there have been a number of such revolutions. Gunpowder produced an early military revolution in the Western World, transforming both land and naval warfare. During the mid-nineteenth century, industrialization revolutionized warfare through railroads, the telegraph, the steam engine, rifled guns, and ironclad ships. More recently, the mechanization of warfare during the interwar period led to the development of blitzkrieg, carrier aviation, amphibious warfare, and strategic bombing.
In some cases, the changes in technology associated with these revolutions changed not only transportation, communication, and warfare but also entire societies as well. During the transportation revolution, for example, railroads altered the economies of nations and allowed them to move military forces farther and faster and sustained them longer. Moreover, these societal changes created new sets of operational and strategic targets. We currently characterize these kinds of revolutions as "social-military revolutions."
To date, the bulk of the intellectual and physical development associated with the current RMA has focused on new systems and technologies. What is needed now is a more careful analysis of the new operational concepts and new organizations that might best help us realize the full potential of these new systems and technologies. To reach that level of analysis, we need to start with an appreciation of the historical and geostrategic contexts in which the RMA may unfold.
What motivated past changes in the conduct of warfare? Who might our future competitors be? What will be their political and military objectives? How might they choose to organize and equip militarily to achieve those objectives? How might the conduct of warfare change? The answers to these questions will assist us in identifying new RMA warfare areas and, in turn, help identify what new military capabilities the United States will need.
Before proceeding, however, we must issue a word of caution. Although we think that we now stand at the start of a long period in which we may face a RMA, we cannot be certain about when the transition period might start, how long it might last, what new competitors might arise, when they will arise, or what new warfare areas might be developed, not to mention a host of other key questions. In short, we do not have an absolute grasp of the scope, pace, and implications of this possible RMA.
We can make useful observations even at this early stage. During and immediately after the First World War, forward-thinking military officers such as Col J.F.C. Fuller of the British army and Maj Earl Ellis of the US Marine Corps outlined the basic features of armored warfare and amphibious warfare. They defined these concepts decades before the necessary systems existed and at a time when the political circumstances of the next war were uncertain.
More recently, science fiction writers have been exploring future war-fighting capabilities. The novels Starship Troopers by Robert Heinlein (1957) and Ender's Game by Orson Scott Card (1977) alluded to military systems that today equate to artificial intelligence and virtual reality. These future systems appeared to be pure fantasy at the time, but yesterday's fiction has, in many instances, become today's reality. It should be instructive to those of us engaged in looking to the twenty-first century that military officers and authors were able to look into the future and picture types of warfare that became real or today are becoming real.
Achieving analytic progress requires discussion of these issues with as much definition and certainty as possible in order to give analysts something concrete to critique and, thereby, improve. It is our hope that such discussion will facilitate identifying new ideas and animate a discovery process that includes war games and simulations over the course of the next three to five years. It is in this spirit of discovery that we offer the following portrayal of the unfolding revolution in military affairs.
RMAs have risen from various sources, with many--but not all--of them technological. Societal change contributed to a military revolution during the wars of the French Revolution and the Napoleonic era, in which the levée en masse allowed for the creation of larger, national armies.
In the technologically based military revolutions of this century, different scientific fields have provided the enabling factor. For example, chemistry and early physics drove many of the critical advances during World War I. In this war of gunpowder, the rate at which weapons fired and the ranges that the projectiles traveled decided the fate of many battles.
Advanced physics drove the next RMA, which extended from the mastery of flight to improved radios and the introduction of radar through the creation of nuclear weapons at the end of World War II.
The current RMA has as its source what has been called new physical principles. These principles focus on technologies such as lasers and particle beams. Current trends indicate that the next revolution in military affairs may have a biological source. Some manifestations of these biological advances may include biosensors, bioelectronics, nanotechnologies, distributed systems, neural networks, and performance-enhancing drugs.
New technologies and systems significantly influence the RMA, although the resulting RMA could take one of a number of forms. The interwar innovations of armored warfare by the German army, amphibious warfare by the US Marine Corps, carrier warfare by the US Navy, and strategic bombing by the US Army Air Forces have been characterized as "combined- system RMAs." Their revolutionary nature derived from a collection of military systems put together in new ways to achieve a revolutionary effect.
A different type of RMA is the "single-system RMA." An example is the nuclear revolution of the 1940s and 1950s, in which a single technology, nuclear fission/ fusion, drove the revolution. Another example of a single-system RMA is the gunpowder revolution, in which gunpowder transformed land and naval warfare through the use of siege guns, field artillery, infantry firearms, and naval artillery.
Evidence suggests that the revolution unfolding today is neither a combined-system nor a single-system RMA but an integrated-system RMA. The outlook is for the rapid evolution of new technologies eventually leading to the development of several advanced military systems.
These systems, when joined with their accompanying operational and organizational concepts, will become integrated systems. In contrast to developments during the interwar period, this system-of-systems approach will aim to take advantage of the cumulative effect of employing each of the new capabilities at the same time.
In World War II, each new form of warfare took place in its own operating medium--armored warfare on land battlefields, strategic bombing in the air over homelands, carrier warfare at sea, and amphibious warfare at the intersection of land and sea--and only occasionally interacted with the others. In the current RMA, the integrated employment of all the new systems will be essential to take advantage of their true value.
Nevertheless, this forecast does not exclude the possibility of a single-system RMA. To avoid strategic surprise, we must continue to think about breakthroughs in critical areas such as information technology, biogenetics, and others. Unforeseen advances in these areas could bring about a sudden, significant, and solely owned military advantage to the country that achieves a breakthrough.
The same holds true for a combined system RMA. Furthermore, there is also the possibility that the information revolution may result in far-reaching societal changes, putting us on the path of a social-military revolution. Such a revolution holds profound, but somewhat different, implications for the changing nature of warfare.
It is important to remember that technologies and systems enable but do not cause military revolutions. Past military revolutions have been driven by requirements that have motivated military organizations to innovate in order to overcome the limitations of existing practice. Such strategic, operational, and tactical requirements determined whether technologies were adopted and how they were employed. Without them, stagnation can prevail, even in states possessing technologies with revolutionary implications.
An example of this principle is the gunpowder revolution of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. In Europe, gunpowder weapons fundamentally changed the conduct of all areas of warfare--maneuver warfare, siege warfare, and naval warfare--on account of the constant competition between rival states of roughly equal military power. Imperial China developed gunpowder and firearms a century before Europe possessed them, but stagnated in all areas. China fell behind in the gunpowder revolution largely because of its vast population, which allowed it to overcome any land or sea threats through sheer weight of numbers.
In contrast, the smaller states of Asia made significant innovations in response to pressing military requirements. In sixteenth century Japan, where rival warlords strove for dominance, the rise of firearm-equipped infantry and the use of volley fire mirrored developments in Europe. Korea in the 1590s responded to the threat from reunified Japan by developing its "turtle ships," ironclad, cannon-armed galleys that provided a technological advantage that proved essential to defeating three successive Japanese invasions.
Another example is the interwar period, in which all of the major powers possessed the same technologies but only a few countries created new operations concepts and organizations. For example, the development of carrier aviation took place in the United States and Japan for the purpose of fighting major naval engagements in the Pacific. Carrier aviation withered in Britain's Royal Navy, whose main tasks were fighting in confined waters such as the Mediterranean Sea and combating German commerce raiders on the high seas.
In the case of armored warfare, only the Germans employed tanks, radio, and airplanes in new ways in 1940 even though all of the essential technologies had been available since World War I. This situation was due in part to Germany's unique strategic problem of being surrounded by enemies. This problem led to an operational requirement for rapid offensives to defeat enemy states quickly, and the emphasis on offense dictated tactical requirements for mobility, firepower, and protection.
Germany thus integrated tanks, infantry, and artillery in the Panzer division and supplemented them with close air support. France and Britain, constrained by defensive strategic and operational concepts on land, did not innovate and paid the price in May of 1940.
Past RMAs hold another significant lesson for the current RMA. In past RMAs many of the key systems were already used in combat or in civilian applications decades before significant changes occurred in military organizations. For example, railroads began carrying commerce in the 1830s, but in the 1860s only the Prussian army under Helmuth von Moltke, the elder, used them to facilitate intricate mobilization plans that conferred a significant operational advantage at the start of a campaign.
Similarly, tanks, radios, and close support aircraft were used in quantity in World War I, but they did not realize their true potential until the Germans devised new organizational and operational concepts for them in the 1930s. Likewise, the implementation of revolutionary operational and organiza- tional concepts in this RMA may require a long time even though most of the key systems probably are already in development or have even been used in combat. We need to start thinking immediately about the shape of warfare in 2020 in order to capitalize on the RMA in a timely fashion.
II we hope to understand the scope and potential impact of the RMA, we first must understand our potential future competitors. The threats and the vulnerabilities of these competitors will clearly influence how the United States should exploit the RMA.
We must stress that we are talking about potential military competitors--not political and economic competitors--although politics and economics are related factors. Developing and assessing alternative futures--projecting the nature of future competitors, their force structures, and modes of operation--is far from an exact science. Indeed, if the events of the last five years are any indicator, current approaches at predicting the future will continue to meet with only marginal success.
While it is difficult, if not impossible, to assess accurately which nations will become peer competitors in 25 years, it is possible to imagine one nation, or a combination of nations, rising to challenge US national security interests. History provides many examples of potential competitors rapidly elevating themselves first to regional and then to peer competitor status. Japan and Germany prior to World War II are examples of the ability of nations to evolve rapidly up the competitor scale through willpower and sacrifice. To assume that we are unlikely to see a peer competitor in the next 25 years is to ignore history.
Given that a peer competitor is likely to emerge, the most important question is not who the competitor is but the likely characteristics of that competitor. Leading experts in the field of assessing the nature of future competition have provided significant insights into how we view and think about potential competitors.
Dr Paul Bracken of Yale University, in his article on "The Military After Next,"1, characterizes nations as Type A, B, and C competitors. Type A competitors are peer competitors, able to compete with the United States on a global basis across a full range of military capabilities. Type B competitors are regional competitors, able to compete regionally, and only across a limited set of military capabilities. Bracken's Type C competitors are terrorists, low-intensity conflict countries, drug lords, and the like. We feel this type of competitor is not really a national security competitor but a political competitor. It is more useful to think of Type C competitors as being niche competitors. A niche competitor would be a country that has chosen to specialize in a specific military capability that appears to have high leverage against US forces. This type of characterization seems useful in bounding the range of possible competitiveness in a military sense.
Dr Stephen Rosen of Harvard University has framed the debate on future competitors by dividing the world into "zones of peace" and "zones of turmoil."2 His fundamental division of the great powers places the industrialized democracies in the zone of peace with all other countries in the zone of turmoil. Conflicts will most likely arise among nations in the zone of turmoil, or between them and countries in the zone of peace. It is difficult to develop scenarios that lead to wars among nations in the zone of peace.
So long as the countries remain democratic, Dr Rosen cannot envision a war between the United States and, for example, a democratic Japan or Germany. Dr Rosen's analysis reminds us that it is important to consider political traditions, cultural norms, economic strength, alliances, and many other factors as we think about the evolution of competition between states. Furthermore, states may swing between peace and turmoil, dramatically change goals and directions, or gain or lose military capabilities, making our strategic planning even more difficult.
To understand the nature of future competitors and, more importantly, plan for their potential emergence requires an understanding of the heart and soul (or national character) of the countries under consideration. By "national character" we mean what makes them tick--what factors (current and future) would push them along the path from niche, to regional, to peer competitor.
Such considerations might include, but are not limited to, the following:
In other words, it is essential that we understand what a nation or region is to more accurately reflect what it may become.
Understanding the national character and proclivities of a nation is only part of the equation. Equally important is an appreciation of national, regional, and/or global trends that may act in synergy with national character to propel a nation to competitive status. Trends associated with economics, the pace of technological innovation, the development of military weapon systems, the growth of new operational and organizational approaches, and the proliferation and diffusion of military systems and technologies will all interact with the national character and daily events of virtually every nation in the world.
While some analysts may view the birth of competitor states (China or Japan for instance), as being quite predictable, we should be cautious in ascribing too much certainty to such predictions. Trends may cause nations to transform in unanticipated ways, thereby giving rise to a number of surprise competitors. Nevertheless, evaluating trends in the context of national character may help to narrow the field of who these competitor states may be.
Taking into account our understanding of the national character of potential competitor states/regions, our subsequent analysis should focus on the three dimensions of the RMA required for a nation to achieve competitor status. First is the conscious decision on the part of a state to acquire all or portions of what might be termed an RMA complex. Second is the ability to acquire or develop the systems that constitute RMA-type technologies. Last, and perhaps most important, is the ability, organizationally and operationally, to adapt technologies in ways that bring into being the full military potential of an RMA.
In the analysis of the current RMA, which may take decades to emerge, analysis of likely competitors will be a long, arduous, and ongoing process. Today, we could identify a number of potential candidates as peer competitors (Russia, Japan, China, Germany, a unified Korea, an Asian coalition, etc.), but whether they achieve that status remains in question. An even more interesting result of the analysis may be the surprises--new candidates, not unlike Japan in 1940, which have the potential to rise from niche to regional or peer competitor status in the early decades of the twenty-first century. In either of these eventualities, it is likely that for a period of time in the future, the United States will be faced with a number of regional competitors while not being forced to deal with a true peer competitor. However, historical precedent leads us to believe in the inevitability that a large peer competitor will emerge over time. It will be critical for the United States to understand the nature of the challenges posed by such a peer long before the competitor achieves rough parity across important military areas.
Understanding the natures of competitors is especially important because of their influence on emerging forms of warfare. Judging from the example of past RMAs, distinct approaches to harnessing new technologies will surface in those states seeking to exploit them. During the interwar period, the Germans, British, and French followed different directions in the usage of tanks; similarly, the US and British navies differed in their development of carrier aviation. The most successful approaches will not necessarily come from the countries most experienced with the relevant technologies, as evidenced by Britain's lagging in the development of tanks and carrier aviation despite having invented them. Success will most likely come through favorable matchups between competing doctrines. Obtaining an advantage over a peer competitor through the RMA will require understanding likely opponents' tendencies in order to determine the optimum approach.
W e think the current RMA, like the interwar period, will involve the emergence of multiple new warfare areas. A warfare area is a form of warfare with unique military objectives and is characterized by association with particular forces or systems. Examples of warfare areas that emerged in the interwar period are armored warfare, carrier warfare, amphibious warfare, and strategic bombing. We have currently identified four potential new warfare areas--long-range precision strike, information warfare, dominating maneuver, and space warfare. Other areas that we have yet to identify could also develop.
Of the four potential new warfare areas, precision strike is the most developed conceptually, although even here much analytic work remains to be done. Much work has been done in the area of information warfare, yet it remains a poorly understood concept. Analysis of dominating maneuver and space warfare has just begun.
The warfare areas that we have identified are likely to emerge in the long run but will not necessarily be developed fully in the near future. Doctrinal development is a long and uncertain process, and military history offers numerous examples of unexploited warfare areas--concepts intended to revolutionize warfare that did not come to fruition. Technological limitations, conflicts with prevailing doctrine, or lack of strategic purpose derailed these developments.
In the late nineteenth century, the Jeune École in France sought to exploit an emerging weapon, the torpedo, to contest British sea control with small, cheap torpedo boats for commerce raiding and coastal defense. Their attempt to create a new warfare area led to a decade of doctrinal uncertainty in naval warfare but failed by the turn of the century owing to the ineffectiveness of the primitive torpedoes and torpedo boats, the rising influence of Adm Alfred Thayer Mahan, and the emergence of the Anglo-French entente.
After the Korean War, Gen James Gavin and others in the US Army sought to create a new form of land warfare using the helicopter. Seeking greater strategic mobility between theaters and a "mobility differential" over the battlefield, they envisioned helicopter-equipped units that could rapidly deploy in a crisis and would use their superior mobility to their advantage in the cavalry roles of scouting, pursuit, and delaying actions. They succeeded in making helicopter aviation a significant part of the Army, but the Army developed the helicopter as part of a combined-arms team rather than as the basis for autonomous units, fielding only one air assault division during and since the Vietnam War. The vulnerability of helicopters to air defenses and the predominance of armor and infantry in existing doctrine each contributed to this result.
Short-term technological and doctrinal barriers will not diminish the ultimate importance of a new warfare area. There are past examples of warfare-area concepts that were abortive in one context but resurfaced in other settings with the emergence of the right enabling technologies or doctrinal pressures. The ideas of the Jeune École appeared again in Germany during the First World War, when practical submarines were the enabling technology and the need to strangle British commerce provided the doctrinal pressure.
Similarly, the nascent armored warfare concepts of J.F.C. Fuller and the Salisbury maneuvers went undeveloped in Britain but reemerged in the German army. The fact that concepts discarded by Britain and France provided the basis for U-boat warfare and the Panzer divisions illustrates that fundamentally sound concepts will eventually be exploited--if not by the United States, then by its competitors.
Precision strike may well be the most thoroughly understood new warfare area of the next revolution in military affairs. This is true because the United States has been a leader in the development and deployment of such systems since the 1970s. The creation of precision strike capabilities during the latter stages of the Cold War in fact cast a long technology shadow and deeply affected Soviet military thought.
The Red Army gave us far more credit than we deserved for developing the reconnaissance strike complex. It probably saw tests of parts of systems, such as the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) "assault breaker" missiles in the mid-1970s, as indicative of imminent deployment. Somewhat ironically, the Soviet military may have more fully comprehended the revolutionary impact that such systems would have on future battle than did the US military establishment.
Precision strike in the context of the coming RMA is well beyond its predecessors of follow-on forces attack (FOFA) and joint precision interdiction, which are its conceptual forebears. At the time of the development of such precision strike systems as the Joint Surveillance Target Attack Radar System (JSTARS) and the Army Tactical Missile System (ATACMS), the idea was to create a maneuver differential for NATO ground forces.
NATO planned to delay and disrupt the arrival of second-echelon and third-echelon Warsaw Pact armored forces before they could overwhelm the outnumbered and outgunned NATO defenders. Such deep strikes would extend the battlefield; they would delay in time the advance of the conflict to the nuclear threshold; that would permit reinforcing forces to arrive from the continental United States (CONUS). This was planned to allow for the creation of a conventional counteroffensive force to turn back the attacking Warsaw Pact armored advance.
The Gulf War demonstrated the potential for such deep strike systems not only to create a maneuver differential, but at least potentially to be decisive in themselves. Precision strike, in the context of the unfolding RMA, is the ability tolocate high-value, time-sensitive fixed and mobile targets; to destroy them with a high degree of confidence; and to accomplish this within operationally and strategically significant time lines while minimizing collateral damage, friendly fire casualties, and enemy counterstrikes. In 2020, precision strike technologies will create the potential to achieve strategic effects at intercontinental distances.
The potential effect of precision strike can be seen in the dramatic increase of capabilities to strike strategic targets. In 1943 the US Eighth Air Force prosecuted only 50 strategic targets during the course of the entire year. In the first 24 hours of Desert Storm, the combined air forces prosecuted 150 strategic targets--a thousand-fold increase over 1943 capabilities. By the year 2020, it is not out of the realm of possibility that as many as 500 strategically important targets could be struck in the first minute of the campaign--representing a five thousand-fold increase over Desert Storm capabilities.
It is envisioned that precision strike will be able to achieve effects similar to those of nuclear weapons but without the attendant risk of escalation to intolerable levels of destruction. When directed against targets comprising the enemy center of gravity, precision strike might itself prove decisive. For it to do so, however, requires a much clearer understanding than we have had in past wars about what constitutes the enemy's center of gravity and what it takes to affect it.
The precision strike area of warfare presents a significant challenge to the organizational adaptation of the US military. These systems achieve decisive impact only if they are integrated at the operational or strategic level of war. This means that a single theater or global commander must have control over the employment of precision strike systems, as was done during Desert Storm.
A potential problem does arise however in the development of current precision strike systems, which are jealously guarded by the individual military services and even by some DOD-wide agencies. This arrangement tends to lead to the acquisition of systems that are duplicative rather than complementary. Notwithstanding the potential benefits to be derived from having the services compete for the precision strike mission area, there is a potential danger that in the current budgetary climate such competition may prove to be counterproductive.
There is a further potential problem in that even should we manage to orchestrate a successful joint program management scheme, the architecture that frames the development of disparate precision strike technologies and systems may not be structurally coherent. This could result in several separate and perhaps inherently incompatible components, none of which have much military utility by themselves. There is a growing need for a system-of-systems framework to define precision strike requirements, as well as a need for an architecture which would drive the development of advanced technologies and systems applicable to precision strike.
We must begin now to move beyond the service-specific approach to the employment of precision strike and experiment with new organizational approaches to employing these systems on the battlefields of 2020. These systems will likely be theater-wide or even global, and there will be no single service able to provide a service-specific core organizational unit to serve as the basis for the commander-in-chief's joint task force for precision strike operations. Therefore, new organizational units may have to be cut out of whole cloth.
This does not imply that massive new commands or new organizations must be created. In fact, we may need to consider just the opposite approach. We may need to consider the power inherent in the new information technologies that could greatly expand a commander's span of control, allowing us to eliminate one or more levels of command and to consequently accelerate the decision-making and command and control cycle.
The essence of precision strike is the ability to sense the enemy at operational and strategic depth, recognize his operational concept and strategic plan, and select and prioritize attacks on enemy targets of value. All of this is intended to achieve decisive impact on the outcome of the campaign. To be most effective those attacks probably should be synchronized in time and space.
The revolutionary potential of precision strike derives from the technologies that provided a glimpse of their own potential during Operation Desert Storm. These and related technologies enable commanders to have continuous wide-area surveillance and target acquisition, near-real-time responsiveness, and highly accurate, long-range weapons at their disposal.
Such technologies by themselves have the potential to change dramatically the way wars are waged. Integrating precision strike capabilities with dominating maneuver and information war may create an especially potent RMA.
By 2020, real-time responsiveness of sensor-to-shooter systems must become a reality. For the first time in history, this responsiveness will allow the striking force to maneuver fires rather than forces over long ranges, and allow direct and simultaneous attack on many of the enemy's centers of gravity.
This warfare area is currently being driven by advances in technology. The key improvements that are now occurring are in broadening the environmental conditions for wide area surveillance and precision targeting; security and counter-measures; data processing and communications; delivery platforms; precision munitions; and positioning/locating devices. The advances needed to exploit our lead in this warfare area include continuous situation awareness and improve- ments in data fusion, mission planning, and battle damage assessment (BDA).
At the same time, we need an equal effort in developing new operational concepts and organizations for the application of precision strike. As in other new warfare areas, it may be that the greatest military payoff will come from operational approaches and organizational adaptation--not from systems.
Another revolution under way in warfare is that associated with information systems, their associated capabilities, and their effects on military organizations and operations. We call this new warfare area information warfare, which we define as the struggle between two or more opponents for control of the information battlespace.
At the national level, information warfare could be viewed as a new form of strategic warfare, one of the key issues being the vulnerability of socio-economic systems, and the question is how to attack the enemy's system while protecting yours. At the military operational level, information warfare may contribute to major changes in the conduct of warfare; therefore, one of the key issues is the vulnerability of command, control, communications, and intelligence systems, and the question is how to attack the enemy's system while protecting yours.
As we increasingly assimilate information capabilities into our military structure and focus more and more on establishing and maintaining an "information advantage" as a war-winning strategy, we also change the vulnerabilities of US forces, and, ultimately of the United States itself. The force structure that will implement information warfare 25 years from now may well be different from today's military in more ways than just its equipment. Moreover, the character of warfare may change in ways that affect our thinking regarding intelligence and crisis and wartime decision making.
Some of the changes might include the whole issue of deciding that a war has begun. It is not clear at this time whether information warfare measures taken by a potential adversary at the outset of a war would be readily detectable. The question of how you know you are at war may be difficult to resolve in view of the potential ambiguity associated with information warfare.
Ambiguity and plausible denial are not new phenomena. But the rapid growth of interconnections manifested already in communications, banking, and other areas creates vulnerabilities and presents opportunities to do grievous harm--quickly, with no warning, and with a minimal "signature." Accordingly, the analysis of indications and warning that mark the outset of warfare must change. To date, insufficient thought has been applied to this aspect of the character of future war.
In addition to its inherent ambiguity, information warfare in 2020 also portends a very different set of potential responses by the United States to an adversary detected acting in a hostile or potentially hostile fashion. The information warfare measures that the United States could take might require quite different policies with regard to rules of engagement than have previously been contemplated.
This is both good news and bad news. The good news is that there may be new tools, short of lethal attacks available to signal an adversary that warfare with the United States would be a bad idea. The bad news is the inherent ambiguity noted above. In other words, it might be hard to signal our intentions. In any case, the point is that much thought must be given to the examination of threats, requirements for intelligence, and rules of engagement.
Although countering an adversary's command and control has always been a feature of warfare, the continental United States has been somewhat invulnerable to such measures. One clear implication of warfare in 2020 is that almost any enemy will try to degrade our information system. The United States must be prepared for that eventuality. Paradoxically, although the technology of information systems is becoming more capable and sophisticated, it is actually harder to secure the US information infrastructure from attacks.
One potential vulnerability is the fact that information warfare generates problems at the national level rather than just for the Department of Defense. Therefore, such problems will not be solved by creating new military organizations. The problem goes beyond the armed forces to the entire national security infrastructure. As the international information infrastructure grows and elaborates, its reach expands beyond the control of any single entity or any single nation.
Thus, the infrastructure is beyond the control of those who use it, and has access points at a myriad of places for others to enter the system. It is not at all clear, as a result, that today's military organizational structure (e.g., the Joint Chiefs of Staff, regional and supporting commanders-in-chief, and military service departments) is the best way to manage the complexities of information warfare as it might unfold in 2020.
Another key organizational deficiency is the lack of a coherent strategic approach to offensive and defensive considerations for information warfare. Nowhere in our system do we bring together and integrate the offensive and defensive nature of information warfare. Nor is there a single locus for requirements generation and staking claims in the acquisition process for information warfare.
The Defense Information Security Agency (DISA) has been actively pursuing "information assurance" as a part of the charter to take responsibility for all DOD information systems. However, DISA is not an operational command.
The question is, will we be able to plan for war in 2020 with the view that communications channels will be available, with little concern for the overall architecture or the nature and characteristics of those channels? It seems clear that information warfare in 2020 may require operators to have more familiarity with how commands interact in order for these operators to execute effectively strategy and operations.
There are examples of the problems we can anticipate if such "information awareness" is not part of the force. The first example concerns the logistics information systems, which are both elaborate and critical to successful military operations. Despite their criticality, these systems are generally subject to less stringent security measures than other military systems. The shortcoming does not involve just cryptologic security, although that is an area that lags operational channels. We could make the system cryptologically secure but still be quite vulnerable. A potential enemy could significantly disrupt our operations merely by denying us information-by simply interfering with logistics transmission links.
A second example is the anticipated problems associated with the presence of automated systems on the battlefield of the future. These systems are likely to be considerably more widespread in 2020 than they are today. The commander who knows his "human" systems but who does not understand his "automated" systems will be vulnerable to surprise--possibly to defeat. Knowing the automated systems entails an understanding of the software programming "rules."
There are already many autonomous systems available to the commander to include unmanned air vehicles (UAVs), unmanned underwater vehicles (UUVs), smart mines, and Tomahawk cruise missiles, among others. The commander who does not understand the details of his logistics information system, or the programming of his autonomous systems, may face a significant information warfare vulnerability in 2020.
In dealing with the information revolution that is affecting the military today, the US military services seem to be engaged in improving their current communication channels. That is, they are striving to improve performance elements within the current organizational structure. They have yet to address the implications of systems and capabilities that do not fit within the current structure. This is a fundamental issue. The military traditionally has viewed information services, including intelligence and communications, as supporting inputs to the actual warfare functions of fire, maneuver, strike, and the like.
However, information warfare might not always be a supporting function; it might take a leading role in future campaigns. This makes it both more important and more challenging to get the organizational issue right. By 2020, at least in some militaries, the requirements of the battlefield will be such that traditional hierarchical command and control arrangements will be obsolete. In most organizations today, the decentralization trend is already well established.
Information technology is making distributed systems commonplace, and "virtual organizations" are growing like cultures on a petri dish. The rapid rate of growth of these types of new organizational entities would seem to suggest strengths that the military would be wise to examine.
One of the more recently identified potential new warfare areas is dominating maneuver. Maneuver has always been an essential element in warfare, but the RMA potentially offers the ability to conduct maneuver on a global scale, on a much-compressed time scale, and with greatly reduced forces.
We define dominating maneuver as the positioning of forces--integrated with precision strike, space warfare, and information war operations--to attack decisive points, defeat the enemy center of gravity, and accomplish campaign or war objectives.
While precision strike and information warfare are destroying enemy assets and disrupting his situational awareness, dominating maneuver will strike at the enemy center of gravity to put him in an untenable position, leaving him with no choice but to accept defeat or accede to the demands placed on him.
War is typically nonlinear, meaning that the smallest effects can have unpredicted, disproportionate consequences. In meteorology, nonlinearity is illustrated through the "butterfly effect"--a butterfly flapping its wings in the southern hemisphere can set off a string of reactions that eventually result in a violent storm in the northern hemisphere.
In the early nineteenth century, Clausewitz made similar observations when discussing the formulation of successful strategy. He wrote that victory comes not through winning battles or inflicting attrition but through attacking the enemy center of gravity, which--depending on the situation--could be his army, his capital, his leaders, or his principal ally. In the course of the twentieth century, it appears that the complexity of warfare has increased as military forces and their logistical and political underpinnings have become more complicated.
With increasing complexity, the nonlinear nature of war is likely to increase. Dominating maneuver seeks to exploit the increasing complexity and nonlinearity in warfare by striking directly at the enemy center of gravity in order to disrupt his cohesion and cause his swift collapse.
Dominating maneuver is distinct from maneuver in several ways. Maneuver refers to the "employment of forces on the battlefield through movement in combination with fires, to achieve a position of advantage with respect to the enemy in order to accomplish the mission."3
Dominating maneuver refers to the positioning of forces, not necessarily their employment; they can be positioned anywhere in a theater, not necessarily on the battlefield. It goes beyond "combination with fires" by integrating its effects with the effects from precision strike, space warfare, and information warfare. Its ultimate purpose is directly to achieve campaign and war objectives, transcending the role of ordinary maneuver.
Dominating maneuver does not require superiority at all points in the battlespace or imply domination of the entire maneuver. By 2020 our competitors could well challenge our national interests in regions where they enjoy the advantage of close proximity, and we may have neither a lengthy buildup period to marshal our forces nor access to a continental infrastructure to support our forces in the theater.
Under these circumstances, we will have to fight using the continental United States as our principal base of operations, making the maneuver battlespace orders of magnitude larger than it was in Desert Storm. Dominating maneuver could allow ground forces to operate successfully in situations where they cannot dominate the entire battlespace. The concept has a number of other implications for operations, organization, and technologies as well.
First of all, dominating maneuver will require new operational concepts that take into account the decisive importance of time, making future maneuver more simultaneous than sequential. It will be essential to attain operational and strategic objectives through simultaneous information warfare, space warfare, precision strike, and maneuvers against the enemy's critical points rather than through a series of pitched battles against enemy forces.
Further evolution of the Army's airland operations or the Marine Corps's operational maneuver from the sea could lead to such a concept. On the other hand, entirely new concepts may be required.
The German invasion of Norway in April 1940 was a campaign waged successfully in a way analogous to dominating maneuver, although on a smaller scale. A single airborne maneuver into Oslo on April 9, 1940, induced the surrender of the city's garrison by creating the perception that their cause was hopeless. Fighting continued on the fringes of Norway for six weeks, but the airborne maneuver led directly to decisive results. The maneuver gave the German commander a time advantage during which he could reinforce faster than the Norwegians could mobilize or the Allies could deploy. Moreover, the surrender of the Oslo garrison precipitated the capitulation of the Norwegian monarchy and forced the Allied decision not to become heavily engaged on the Scandinavian peninsula.
The Inchon landing during the Korean War was another operation that illustrates the principles underlying dominating maneuver. Gen Douglas MacArthur's plan to capture Seoul through an amphibious landing at Inchon struck at one of the critical vulnerabilities of the North Korean forces--their dependence on the transportation bottleneck at Seoul. Instead of gradually rolling the North Koreans back from Pusan, MacArthur planned to cut them off and put them into an extremely vulnerable position. The landing paralyzed the already overstretched North Korean forces, and they broke into disorganized fragments that retreated in disarray, incapable of serious resistance.
To execute dominating maneuver in 2020, the United States will have to develop new means for the movement of ground forces. The development of forms of mobility not possessed by the enemy could help generate maneuver dominance. More advanced concepts for comparable forms of mobility also could give a decisive advantage, as the Germans demonstrated in May 1940. The Germans generated maneuver dominance on the ground by employing combined-arms units that could mass combat power quickly, supporting them with fast- moving "aerial artillery" in the form of close air support, stressing aggressiveness, developing a faster command and control system to establish C2 dominance, and employing air interdiction to degrade Allied mobility.
The revolutionary period that we are currently entering will have its own forms of maneuver that will require new technologies, new operational concepts, and new organizations. Along with new forms of mobility, the United States will require advances in logistical support to maintain the effectiveness of forces engaged in dominating maneuver. The need to operate far from existing bases, with little time for logistical buildups and with insecure lines of communications, will compel changes in the supply and support of ground forces.
The dangers of failure in this area are exemplified by the German campaign in the Soviet Union in 1941. In this campaign, the Germans quickly established complete maneuver dominance over the Soviets, whose decimated air force and poorly organized ground forces could not stop the Germans' fast-moving armored columns.
The Germans intended to use their maneuver dominance first to attrit the Red Army and then to seize Moscow, whose capture would sever the Soviets' transportation network and paralyze their political apparatus. Despite their maneuver dominance, the Germans failed--largely because of their logistics, which were inadequate to the needs of supporting far-flung advances over the vast distances of the Soviet Union. Future attempts at dominating maneuver may similarly come to grief as a result of shortcomings in logistics.
The dual imperatives of mobility and logistics may create the need for smaller forces and new transportation technologies. The current Strategic Mobility Study has as its objective the intercontinental deployment of a heavy brigade in 15 days and a heavy corps in 75 days. In the future, the United States may require the ability to move a corps-equivalent force across the oceans in seven days or less.
This capability might be achieved through the exploitation of new transportation technology such as fast sea transports capable of 100 knots or more, the national aerospace plane, and supersonic transports; through organizational changes creating smaller units with useful combat power that could deploy faster or be forward-deployed on naval platforms; or through ways not yet conceived.
The organization and tactics of such ground forces are difficult to visualize today. Some have suggested that twenty-first century variants of the so-called Hutier tactic developed by the Germans in World War I--Stingray or infestation tactics--would be useful. Such tactics would combine deception and bombardment with infiltration and attacks against strong points. The ground forces may be a small number of Army infantrymen, marines, or special operations forces, delivered deep in enemy territory by air and equipped with high-technology linkages to space-based or atmospheric strike systems, in effect acting as part of a sensor-shooter network.
The United States may need new technologies if it employs such tactics and seeks to maintain the lead that its forces possess in close combat. As advanced sensors and conventional weapons technologies proliferate and provide greater stand-off ranges for enemy forces, the United States should concentrate on achieving capabilities that will allow it to leap ahead of these developments. We should begin now to apply low-observability techniques to maneuver systems. We need to develop advanced propulsion technologies to give our maneuver systems greater speed, range, and agility. We also need new means to enhance the lethality of our munitions and the protective characteristics of our materials and systems.
Progress in these conceptual and technological areas will enable maneuver to play a significant role in the RMA. It is possible that precision strike and information warfare will make maneuver unnecessary in certain situations or that enemy progress in these areas will make maneuver difficult. Nevertheless, maneuver will be essential against an enemy unwilling to concede defeat unless the United States defeats centers of gravity that cannot be attacked without maneuver forces. Dominating maneuver may provide the coup de grace in future wars, and in other situations may serve as the enabler for war-winning space warfare, information war, or precision strike operations.
We define space warfare, the fourth future warfare area of importance, as the exploitation of the space environment to conduct full-spectrum, near-real-time, global military operations. It includes facets of the other three warfare areas but has the potential to become a qualitatively distinct warfare area in its own right.
The US military's increasing reliance on support from space-based systems for its everyday operations and especially during times of conflict has highlighted the importance of space operations. However, space assets could provide more than support for the terrestrial war fighter in the future. The space environment offers the possibility of conducting worldwide military operations in a greatly reduced time frame.
The evolution of space operations is comparable to the development of air warfare, which similarly exploited inherent advantages in altitude and speed. Aircraft filled an essential role in supporting the ground and naval forces in the First World War through observation, antiobservation, ground attack, and communications. Between the wars, larger aircraft came into service in the form of civil and military transport, a capability that was greatly expanded during World War II.
Moreover, between the world wars the United States and Great Britain developed airpower as a means of leapfrogging conventional ground and naval battles to enable direct strikes on the enemy's ability to wage war. Although this theory of strategic bombing met with limited success in the Second World War, the concept culminated in the development of the intercontinental nuclear deterrent after the Second World War.
Space operations, like air operations in the First World War, currently provide support essential for the successful operations of terrestrial forces. Satellites enable near-real-time, world- wide communications, sensing, timing, and navigation. These capabilities, analogous to the roles of the observation balloons and aircraft of the First World War, may make possible dominant battlefield awareness and coordination of a global precision strike architecture.
An effective antisatellite (ASAT) capability could lead to the ability to achieve aerospace control or superiority in order to deny an opponent the ability to operate in or from space. An ASAT system would follow in the footsteps of the first fighter aircraft that dueled for control of the air over the trenches of the First World War and is a logical extension of the current role of air superiority fighters and developing theater air defense systems.
However, space operations will also greatly differ from air operations. First, the "geography" of space is fundamentally different from that of the earth's atmosphere. Orbital mechanics require operating speeds (17,000 miles per hour) that far surpass those currently achievable in the atmosphere.
Thus, if properly placed and employed, space assets could perform missions in much less time than state-of-the-art aircraft. One possible mission is to use space forces to project power to directly achieve national objectives (operational or strategic) in a particular theater. Space strike systems based on satellites or on transatmospheric vehicles could enable precision strikes whose quantitative advantage in speed would result in a qualitative difference in capability.
Although currently limited, future capabilities in space transport may also make possible the movement of critical forces and equipment from CONUS to a theater in time frames an order of magnitude faster than with current sea and air transport. Thus, space operations may provide important advantages in time-critical situations.
Further, the altitude advantages provided by space greatly improve surveillance and reconnaissance coverage of the earth and, as a result, could offer the means to command and control operations in theaters where distance and terrain complicate or confound terrestrially based systems.
Space, however, does have limiting factors that could constrain its military use. First, space is not amenable to human life, thus limiting the manned presence in future space operations. As a result, most of the improvements in future space operations will most likely come through unmanned technologies. In addition, the speeds associated with space flight and the amounts of fuel required to maneuver in orbit using current technologies and energy sources greatly limit the flexibility of spacecraft in orbit.
Therefore, sizable technical hurdles have to be overcome before space-based strike, antisatellite systems, spacelift, and space transport become militarily usable capabilities. Systems that could enable future space operations might include trans-atmospheric vehicles (TAVs), single-stage-to-orbit (SSTO) launch vehicles, space-based directed-energy weapons (DEW) or kinetic energy weapons (KEW), space-based ballistic missile defense (BMD), satellite defense systems, small satellites, and both space-based and ground-based distributed networks to reduce the vulnerability of space capabilities.
However, new technologies such as new materials to reduce weight, more heat-resistant and stress-resistant materials, and sources of energy more powerful and efficient than chemical reactions may be needed to make these systems truly effective.
Space warfare will likely become its own warfare area only when there is need to conduct military operations in space to obtain solely space-related goals (not missions that are conducted to support earth-based operations). For example, if the United States becomes dependent on resources unique to space (such as He3 on the moon), it may be forced to develop technologies and operational concepts to support/defend space-based industries, command and control nodes, or colonies that are entirely non-earth dependent. In such situations, space operations would be altogether removed from any congruence with traditional air operations and would undoubtedly become a distinct warfare area.
Though our understanding of the unfolding RMA and its potentially new warfare areas is still evolving, several possible implications have begun to come into focus. One of our working hypotheses is that the truly revolutionary effects will come from the combination of two or more new warfare areas.
For example, some combination of space and information warfare may provide certain advantages heretofore impossible to generate. As a result, the United States may be able to achieve a degree of information dominance over an enemy by both significantly degrading his information flow and enhancing ours, thereby gaining a potential step-function increase in our information capabilities.
The application of such a system of systems may generate significantly greater capabilities in times of conflict. One potential result may be the ability to generate dominant battlespace awareness (DBA) over a particular enemy, in a particular conflict. This awareness would not magically provide perfect intelligence, but would allow the United States to detect all observable phenomenology while limiting the enemy's knowledge.
This information would translate into the ability to know force locations and characteristics (including distinguishing between targets and decoys and among target types) at all times. Furthermore, the DBA architecture could include mechanisms for disseminating this data directly to the appropriate strike systems and conducting constant battle damage assessments (BDA).
An advantage such as DBA would probably require a large percentage of the total US sensing, analysis, and data transmission assets. As a result, to generate dominant battlespace awareness for a given conflict would require borrowing from both national assets and those assets dedicated to other theaters.
In the collection arena, the constant monitoring required may increasingly emphasize airborne and terrestrial sensors rather than space-based platforms. We may well see stealthy unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), flying at very high altitudes, conducting a greater share of the collection duties than do manned aircraft.
Advancements in information processing should enable faster analysis of the data, while dissemination can be directly linked to the shooters. Efficiency in military strike operations should be enhanced by such an across-the-board improvement in our reconnaissance-strike architecture.
Having established the possibility of generating DBA, what might its implications be in a future conflict with a regional competitor? The enemy's goal might be to achieve a break-through quickly and push the US forces out of the country before they could be reinforced. This would be especially true if the enemy knew of our ability to generate DBA and feared the consequences. The United States would presumably desire to stop the attack as soon as possible, with as few losses as possible. Roughly 24 hours of warning before the launch of a standing-start attack would improve the prospect of the United States generating battlespace awareness.
A capability such as DBA could affect both the systems the United States fields and the operational concepts designed to employ them in such a conflict. One likely implication may be that a force with a greater number of long-range strike systems, tied to DBA, would be far more lethal in attriting enemy forces than would traditional forces. If the value of DBA can be shared throughout the force, then the entire time line of the conflict from locating targets, determining the best time to strike them (e.g., when they are on the move), striking them, and then assessing the success of the attack could eventually become seamless. Thus, the efficiency of US precision strike campaigns could increase substantially as current problems such as prompt targeting, selection of the proper munitions, reallocation of assets, and near-real-time BDA begin to dissipate.
On the other hand, a force designed to maximize the impact of DBA might exacerbate some difficulties faced by today's forces. First, the volume of targets made available through DBA could simply overwhelm US strike capabilities. A force heavily weighted toward long-range precision-strike weapons may not completely overcome this problem but may still provide an order-of-magnitude increase in the force's lethality. Second, such a fire-intensive force will require a very large inventory of munitions. Both of these problems, last seen in the Gulf War, may not go away.
As noted above, dominant battlespace awareness may also provide benefits that extend beyond simply increasing the effectiveness of long-range strikes. For example, another force structure implication of DBA may be the ability to truly do more with less. If DBA can tell us where the main axis of attack is coming, we may be able to use smaller forces to blunt the attack because they will be covered more effectively by fire support, and the commander will have the ability to commit reserves precisely where and when they are needed. This could lead to much improved loss/exchange ratios and the opportunity to direct certain assets against other high-value targets much earlier in a conflict.
Similarly, far lighter forces could also be used for dominating maneuvers, either airmobile or amphibious, with the goal of dislodging the enemy and allowing DBA-cued strikes to target them more easily on the move. These maneuvers can also be far less risky because the planners can select landing objectives they know to be free of enemy forces. Finally, a smaller force may be capable of exploiting a successful defense with a counteroffensive far sooner than today because we could identify the path of least resistance and focus our fire support and commit our reserves more precisely and in a more timely manner.
At the same time, we would have to recognize that there would be several categories of targets where DBA would not have a large impact. One example may be a country with large inventories of nuclear, biological, or chemical (NBC) weapons. Use of these weapons may take the form of limited chemical attacks on ports and airbases or could even include nuclear attacks against US forces. Almost certainly, DBA will not help the United States gauge the enemy's intentions vis-à-vis NBC use. Furthermore, the deep underground targets that typically house NBC systems and infrastructure would be impossible for DBA to penetrate.
Another potential area in which DBA's impact may be limited is close battle. Even after a highly successful attrition campaign, US forces may inevitably run into residual enemy forces on the ground and the resulting battle may be too confined for DBA-cued fires to be of much utility. Nevertheless, if the above implications are borne out, DBA could allow the United States to defeat an enemy quicker and with fewer losses than is currently possible.
This description of the revolution in military affairs is neither definitive nor conclusive. The discussion is intended primarily to stimulate thinking--thinking in unique and more meaningful ways about how warfare in the twenty-first century may be fundamentally different than it is today and, of equal importance, evaluating what we should be doing now to prepare ourselves for that eventuality.
We expect that the true revolutionary impact of future changes in the conduct of warfare will come from the intersection of precision strike, information warfare, dominating maneuver, and space warfare. Military operations in all four warfare areas will be integrated into an overall operational plan that will be decisive in terms of the course--if not the outcome--of the war.
Precision strike will hold an enemy at a distance and blind and immobilize him by destroying operationally and strategically crucial, time-urgent targets. Information warfare will deny an enemy critical knowledge of his own--as well as our--forces and turn his "fog of war" into a wall of ignorance.
Dominating maneuver will deploy the right forces at the right time and place to cause the enemy's psychological collapse and complete capitulation. Space warfare will enable the United States to project force at dramatically increased speeds in response to contingencies while denying the enemy the ability to do the same. At least that is the overall concept. What we need to do now is develop the details of how we can conduct such warfare against various categories of competitors.
A number of changes must occur if the United States military is going to compete successfully on the battlefields of 2020. First, there must be a change in outlook--a change in the way we think about preparing for the future. The military must nurture an attitude that supports free thinking, that accepts honest mistakes, that encourages experimentation, that rewards risk takers, and that makes provisions for starting over. As an organization, the military must break out of the box, must consider alternative futures, must think the unthinkable, and must let go of the conventional modes of operation.
Why are these changes so important? What may be the consequences if we fail to change? First, failure to change will ensure that we will not gain the most that we possibly could from the unfolding RMA. Failure to change will make it difficult for our military to make the best possible use of the new emerging technologies.
Failure to think imaginatively about the future may result in a failure to maintain the military advantages our forces so clearly demonstrated during the Gulf War. Approaches that are not innovative may prove adequate in the short term, but in the long run they may squander potential advantages needed against future competitors. We must alter our thinking and our approaches to planning if we are to be prepared for either the emergence of a large peer RMA competitor or the surprise of a true niche competitor.
To be successful and lasting, the change must come from the top--from leadership. The impetus for change must flow through the entire organization, especially through the education system. The required changes cannot occur without the support and encouragement of leadership and the enthusiasm and cooperation of the entire organization.
To be successful, we need to develop a broad strategy--a strategy robust enough to encompass and cope with the massive uncertainty we face. We need to be clear (if not always explicit) about our goals, vis-à-vis our allies as well as our competitors. We need to think through what we would like the future to look like and develop a strategy for shaping it to that end.
None of this will be easy. But a concerted, sustained, and focused effort by the Defense Department could pay dividends in the decades to come in ways as yet unforeseen.
1. Paul Bracken, "The Military After Next," Washington Quarterly, 16, no. 4 (Autumn 1993) 157-174.
2. Stephen Peter Rosen, Briefing on Future Competitors, US Army Roundtable Conference on the Revolution in Military Affairs, HQ US Army TRADOC, Fort Monroe, Virginia, 27 September 1993.
3. Department of Defense Directory of Military and Associated Terms, 1 December 1989, 218. See also, JCS Pub 1-02.
The conclusions and opinions expressed in this document are those of the author cultivated in the freedom of expression, academic environment of Air University. They do not reflect the official position of the US Government, Department of Defense, the United States Air Force or the Air University.
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