Small Wars Journal

The US Army is Wrong on Future War

The US Army is Wrong on Future War by Nathan Jennings, Amos Fox and Adam Taliaferro - Modern War Institute

In August 1945, when America initiated the atomic age, the dominant character of land war between great powers transitioned from operational maneuver to positional defense. Now, almost a century later, the US Army is mistakenly structuring for offensive clashes of mass and scale reminiscent of 1944 while competitors like Russia and China have adapted to twenty-first-century reality. This new paradigm—which favors fait accompli acquisitions, projection from sovereign sanctuary, and indirect proxy wars—combines incremental military actions with weaponized political, informational, and economic agendas under the protection of nuclear-fires complexes to advance territorial influence. The Army’s failure to conceptualize these features of the future battlefield is a dangerous mistake.


The modern context of positional warfare, as argued by British theorist J.F.C Fuller, thus renders “physical” land invasion between nuclear powers an “obsolete thing.” Regional powers like Russia and China are protecting sovereign and adjacent territories with unprecedented reconnaissance-strike defenses that cannot be degraded without attacking systems in home territory and incurring instant strategic escalation. The US Army’s renewed focus on large-scale ground combat against peer threats with maneuvering field armies, as directed in its capstone doctrine, FM 3-0: Operations, presents a mismatch of problem and solution to these hybrid challenges…

Read on.


Dr Robert Toguchi

Fri, 12/21/2018 - 10:55am

After taking time to reflect on the arguments in this essay, I would ask the authors to review their military history (if they ever received it due to cuts in PME over the years)  and study the Strategy of Appeasement that was encouraged by British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain during the interwar years.  Many of us are also very familiar with the George Santayana quote that "Those who do not remember the past are condemned to repeat it."  The ultimate Road to Victory first began with the Remilitarization of the Rhineland, Anschluss, and the Munich Agreement.  Poland was invaded on 1 September 1939.  Those who support the Modern War Institute proposition, are asking for the rest of us to end up in the same predicament of 1939. 

The argument's fundamental components of Nuclear Primacy, Sanctuary of Sovereignty, Integrated Fires Complex, Limited Fait Accompli, Indirect Proxy Wars, and Political/Economic Warfare are all indicative of a "Risk Averse" mentality toward National Security in the 21st Century.  For those of us that served in Germany during the Cold War, we knew what it felt like to be prepared to fight outnumbered and win.  Never mind that we were potentially outnumbered by a ratio of five-to-one in certain GDP sectors.  The "Risk Embracing" Mentality was prevalent in the early 1980's thanks to the confidence in the Reagan Build-up and the warfighting concept to go along with the material procurement.  The willingness to embrace a War with Limited Nuclear exchanges was a foundational underpinning for the Cold War force.  Those who refuse to acknowledge this underpinning will always be on the strategic defensive.  Investments in the Pershing II missile system, MADM/SADM capability, and the Neutron bomb were made alongside with the Big Five of the Abrams Main Battle Tank, Bradley Fighting Vehicle, Apache Attack Helicopter, Black Hawk and Patriot systems. The Big Five were tactical systems but highly representative of an Operational Maneuver mindset.  In my mind, the reflections of a Positional Warfare strategy leads me to remember the failed Maginot Line fortress of the French, and highly representative of their defensive mindset.

The U.S. Army's warfighting concept of Multi-Domain Operations reflects an offensive maneuverist approach to warfare.  In an age of opportunistic and predatorial leaders such as Putin; an offensive mindset and offensive strategies will prove to be far more effective than the PM Neville Chamberlain proposals of the mid 1930's.  Also, a Neville Chamberlain approach will foster a debilitating and demoralizing effect on junior leaders in the force of tomorrow.  What are the intellectual seeds that the U.S. military should sow in its future leaders during the interwar period?

Respectfully submitted,
Dr. Robert M. Toguchi 

Bill C.

Thu, 12/20/2018 - 12:26pm

In accordance with the information that I have provided in my comment below, let me attempt to set the "policy" ("ours" and now "theirs" also) stage somewhat more fully; as follows:

A.  U.S./the West's post-Cold War political objectives have been to (a) "get more" states and societies of the world to be organized, ordered and oriented more along modern western political, economic, social and value lines.  (In this manner, the U.S./the West hoping to gain more power, influence and control throughout the world) and to (b) "hang on to/keep what we have already got" in this regard.  In this exact such context, thus we find, and accordingly, 

B.  The (common?) political objective of the opponents of the U.S./the West (both great nations and small and both state and non-state actors); these being to (a) thwart/undermine/frustrate -- and thus to contain -- the U.S./the West such expansionist attempts and to, indeed where possible, (b) roll back U.S./Western power, influence and control throughout the world.

Thus, based on the above description of "policy" (ours and theirs), the question would now seem to be:

a.  Given the political objectives of the U.S./the West -- noted at my "A" above. 

b.  And given, in response to same, the (common?) political objectives of the U.S./the West's opponents/enemies today -- noted at my "B" above, 

c.  What role (if any) might large-scale conventional forces play; this, in helping the U.S./the West:

1.  Overcome the containment and roll back efforts of our many and varied adversaries and

2.  Achieve the political objectives (described at my A above) of the U.S./the West anyway/in spite of same?

(In this regard to specifically note that, at my item "c" above, I do not limit the use, for example, of the U.S. Army; this, to (a) "large-scale ground combat," (b) "against peer threats" (c) "with maneuvering field armies.")

Let's consider the need for large-scale conventional forces -- or no -- from the perspective offered by the following three paragraphs from LTG H.R. McMaster's March-April 2015 "Military Review" article entitled "Continuity and Change." 

(Items in parenthesis, following each quoted paragraph thereof, are mine.) 


... A failure to understand war through a consideration of continuity and change risks what nineteenth century Prussian philosopher Carl von Clausewitz warned against regarding war as “something autonomous” rather than “an instrument of policy,” misunderstanding “the kind of war on which we are embarking,” and trying to turn war into “something that is alien to its nature.” ...


(Thus, the requirement to see the U.S. Army -- and its necessary make-up and capability requirements -- this through the lens of U.S. policy(ies); policy(ies) that the U.S. Army MUST be organized, ordered and oriented to achieve/help achieve?)


First, War is Political. Army forces are prepared to do more than fight and defeat enemies; they must possess the capability to translate military objectives into enduring political outcomes. ... With these lessons in mind, the recently published U.S. Army Operating Concept (AOC) observes that “compelling sustainable outcomes in war requires land forces to defeat enemy organizations, establish security, and consolidate gains.


(Thus, in our recent wars, this has meant -- as we can all see in places such as Afghanistan and Iraq -- the Army supporting our "policy" of transforming the outlying states and societies of the world more along modern western political, economic, social and value lines?)


Second, War is Human. People fight today for the same fundamental reasons that the Greek historian Thucydides identified nearly 2,500 years ago: fear, honor, and interest. ... The cultural, social, economic, religious, and historical considerations that comprise the human aspects of war must inform wartime planning as well as our preparation for future armed conflict.


(Thus, re: the U.S./the West efforts post-the Old Cold War, to transform the outlying states and societies of the world more along our -- alien and profane [and, thus, amazingly threatening; see Thucydides above] -- political, economic, social and value lines [example, "girls schools"]; then one must expect -- in such amazingly confrontational settings as these -- to run HEADLONG into exactly this such "human" aspect of war?)

Bottom Line Thought -- Based on the Above:

a.  If "policy(ies)" is/are what the Army must be designed to help carry out/achieve, 

b.  Then one MUST, should we not agree, consult "policy(ies)" first; this:

c.  In determining whether such things as large-scale conventional forces will be required -- this, to carry out said policy(ies)?