Army Chief of Staff Gen. Mark Milley said recently that the world will soon witness a ground-shaking change in the conduct of warfare on the ground. It is a revolution that is about ten years away, while the Army is preparing to confront the modernized war machines of China, Iran, North Korea, and Russia. “We are on the cusp of a fundamental change in the character of ground warfare,” said Milley, who expects to see warfare that “is going to be intensely lethal, the likes of which the United States Army, the United States military, has not experienced…since World War II.”
There will be war, unlike our fathers’ and grandfathers’ war. Long-range weapons, said Milley, will be used to destroy large, obvious targets (such as the Pentagon itself) and force all sides to break down into smaller units that can operate independently and without anything looking like a frontline, as was the case during the World Wars of the last century. Jamming and hacking, electronic and cyber warfare, will disrupt communications and logistics will disrupt the command structure and force more junior commanders to show initiative as never before.
Facing the challenge requires money. And while the Army must overhaul equipment, training, and its interior culture to adapt to a new world of war, its budget for modernization is up to $40 billion below the other services’
In the not too distant future, army divisions by 2030 will need the ability to fight in multiple scenarios. Some future enemies, such as China and Russia, may match or exceed American capabilities in cyber warfare. The Army is seeking weapon systems to address air, missile, and unmanned aerial system threats, while providing commanders with the means to maneuver and respond. In the report, the military believes that the United States might be outmatched in areas such as precision and hypersonic weapons, electronic warfare, high-yield conventional strategic weapons, and unmanned, self-contained and robotized arms and equipment.
Milley's vision of those future wars is unnerving. President Obama has announced a drawdown of troops on counter-insurgency operations in Afghanistan, while the Army is already looking ahead to possible conflicts with nation-states such as Russia, China, North Korea, and Iran. Milley foresees a battlefield that “is going to be intensely lethal, the likes of which the United States Army, the United States military, has not experienced…since World War II.”
To address the future of warfighting, Milley said that the military must reform its centralized, top-down culture. He does not think that culture can prevail in a war with a near-peer competitor. Milley said that military leaders will have to be self-starters and thinkers. “They’re going to have to have maximum amounts of initiative….critical thinking skills….(and) character, so they make the right moral and ethical choices in the absence of supervisions under intense pressure in combat.” Senior leaders, he said, may not be able to just pick up a phone or send an email to issue orders to commanders in the field. They will thus have to trust junior commanders "implicitly," said Milley.
The New World War
Fighting wars in the future must be a shared venture, said Milley, while mentioning approvingly the concept of AirLandBattle that was developed by the Army and Air Force for Europe and utilized to great effect during the Gulf War. Since the 1980s, the Navy and Air Force developed Air-Sea Battle, a vision of long-range, high-tech warfare in the Pacific against China. Each of those concepts covered “two domains,” Milley said. In the future, he said, American military power must “operate in all domains simultaneously” — not just air, sea, and land, but space and cyberspace as well.
The military is looking over the horizon in order to develop new weapons systems. Among them is an air-deployable light tank or Mobile Protective Vehicle to provide covering fire to light infantry units. In the envision wars of the future, because light infantry units cannot rely on Air Force or Army air assets to drop them off within walking distance of objectives that may have heavy anti-aircraft defenses, they would need the MPV for support while troops range ahead in unarmored cross-country trucks known as Ground Mobility Vehicles, which bear a resemblance to dune buggies.In addition, the Army would deploy with its infantry units sufficient artillery.
In addition, robots will also play a role in combat. All the same, the Army remains aware of another dimension of future warfare: counter-insurgency and terrorism. The Defense Department, already looking ahead, is building a $100 million drone base in Niger as part of its response to the future of war.