There are some military analysts, says Brig. Gen. John Kline, who believe the future of warfare “will be some dude sitting down in his basement at his mom’s house cyber hacking everyone, drinking a Monster [energy drink].
“I push back on that hard,” he said.
While new technology will likely be a key factor in the next war, Army leaders are urging that traditional ground combat will still be a major player.
It’s a tricky dichotomy the Army is trying to balance.
And despite rapid advances in cyberweapons, drones and artificial intelligence, they’re stressing the next war will still feature bloody, close quarters combat.
“All this technology is awesome, but it’s going to come down to city fighting chucking grenades, and being able to do that over and over,” Lt. Gen. Ted Martin said.
The US has spent its last several campaigns mostly fighting enemies without much in the way of advanced technology.
That wouldn’t be true in a conflict with Russia or China, the two potential adversaries military planners continue to focus on in their preparations, Beynon writes.
Martin, who commands the US Army Combined Arms Center at Fort Leavenworth, said the next war won’t just be “about pushing buttons,” and that US forces on the ground are going to have to quickly close in and destroy enemy forces.
The latter will come in heavy, equipped with artillery and aircraft.
Speed and mobility will be critical to evading enemy munitions, and getting close to an enemy quickly makes it harder for them to drop bombs due to the risk of hitting their own troops.
Long gone will be the days of Afghanistan warfare, which often had troops in shoddy forward operating bases standing their ground against Taliban fighters with radios and basic rifles shooting down from ridgelines, Beynon writes.
“We aren’t going to be doing the type of fighting we were doing in 2003, when we had air superiority and dominated, and cyber wasn’t as big of a player,” Martin said.
“What we are looking at is what weapons [adversaries] are investing in, what their doctrine says … our competitors’ ability to operate freely … use satellites … gives them surveillance on us and potentially subjects [American troops] to precision fires from long range. We need to rapidly close in and destroy.”
A report to lawmakers from the nonpartisan Congressional Research Service highlighted that the US is still more technologically advanced than China and Russia, but urged that competitive advantage could quickly shrink.
“Although the United States is the leader in developing many of these technologies, China and Russia — key strategic competitors — are making steady progress in developing advanced military technologies,” the report said.
“As they are integrated into foreign and domestic military forces and deployed, these technologies could hold significant implications for congressional considerations and the future of international security writ large.”
Earlier this month, the Financial Times reported about a Chinese test of a hypersonic glide vehicle launched from a rocket in low-Earth orbit that could theoretically be capable of evading US missile defense systems.
Gen. Mark A. Milley, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told Bloomberg the missile tests took the Pentagon by surprise, calling it “very close” to a “Sputnik moment.”
The Soviet satellite, which was launched on October 4, 1957, would spur the space race during the Cold War.
“The Chinese military capabilities are much greater than that” single test, Milley said. “They’re expanding rapidly in space, in cyber and then in the traditional domains of land, sea and air.”
The speed with which the Chinese developed the system stunned US national security officials.
When asked about the report, China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesperson Zhao Lijian said the August test was “a spacecraft, not a missile.”
“This test was a routine spacecraft experiment to verify the reusable technology of spacecraft, which is of great significance for reducing the cost of spacecraft use.
“It can provide a convenient and cheap way for humans to use space peacefully. Many companies in the world have carried out similar experiments,” Zhao said.
US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin has repeatedly emphasized that China is the pacing challenge for the Pentagon as Beijing races to modernize its military.
And last week, CIA director Bill Burns said China is the greatest technological threat to the United States.
“I think in terms of broad capacity, across the range of emerging technologies, I think China probably today is,” Burns said, speaking at Stanford University.
While historically able to perform some radio communications and, of course, share information through ground-based command and control, today’s fighter jets such as the F-22 and F-35 and MQ-9 Reaper drones have real-time information sharing, targeting cooperation, information processing and operational connectivity, National Interest reported.
This is all without needing to incorporate ground-based command and control, represents paradigm-changing possibilities for modern warfare.
Some of the most recent technical innovations, such as Northrop Grumman’s Freedom 550 software programmable radio, are built with a specific intent to preserve information stability and security.
Stealthy fifth-generation platforms, for example, can give away their location by sending a large volume of multi-frequency data transmission.
The larger an electronic signature, emission or transmission, the more detectable it may be to an enemy. The challenge is to enable connectivity while simultaneously maintaining “stealth mode.”
What might this new technology mean when it comes to future maneuver formations necessary for land war years from now?
These are questions now being taken up in great detail by Army Futures Command, an entity that is looking at new technologies and exploring how they will impact future concepts of Combined Arms Maneuver.
This is particularly true regarding the Army’s fast-developing Precision Strike Missile (PrSM).
The missile will double the attack distance as well as add new guidance systems and hardening technologies, all of which introduce new tactics for commanders to consider.
The Lockheed Martin-built PrSM weapon is now entering the Engineering Manufacturing and Development phase with the Army, a step that quickly brings the nascent technological promise of the weapon much closer to production, operational status, deployment and war.
“The current missiles can go about 350km and this will go beyond 500km eventually. We are almost doubling the range with existing launchers so we are not having to invest in new launchers. We can now put two missiles in the launcher as opposed to what we can do now which is one,” Gen. John Murray, the commander of Army Futures Command, told the National Interest last year.
A weapon of this kind of range and precision opens up an entirely new sphere of tactical possibilities for commanders interested in attacking enemy air defenses, troop installations or armored vehicle formations from twice the stand-off distance and even more precision.
Brig Gen. John Rafferty, the director of the Army’s Long Range Precision Fires Cross-Functional Team, says longer-range offensive weapons such as this are leading the service to redefine its approach to modern Combined Arms Maneuver.
“Long-range fires can suppress and neutralize enemy integrated air defenses and enable combined arms maneuver,” Rafferty told the National Interest earlier this year.
“Combined Arms allows us to close with and destroy an enemy. It requires armor, infantry and combat aviation to work together in a synchronized fashion. If we lose this synchronization we are far less lethal.
“If an enemy has range, he can separate the combined arms team. Our adversaries have watched us and learned how we fight. They have invested in areas to offset our advantage.”
Sources: Military.com, CNN Politics, Financial Times, Bloomberg, National Interest