Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Strategic Environment: 2035

Credit: Don Inbody
Periodically, we review our thinking about the nature of security in the years ahead. We published our views on the Strategic Environment anticipated in the year 2025. That view was first written in 2001 and updated a few years ago. It is now time to look even further ahead and revise our crystal ball - not that we have one. So, now it is Strategic Environment 2035.

Back in 2008, Greg Grant wrote an interesting article discussing Frank Hoffman's view of the world ahead. Hoffman warned against getting too hung up on China as the next “near peer” rival of the United States.  Hoffman went on to argue that the U.S. Navy needs to develop a “tri-modal” capability which would include (1) power projection, i.e., aircraft carriers, (2) an expeditionary capability to offset the decline in overseas basing, and (3) an ability to operate in the littoral environment.  The last capability is brought home most distinctly as we are seeing a rise in piracy off the coast of Africa.

Much of what Hoffman called for remains good.  While we still have a slightly different idea about the future of aircraft carriers, we are not far from each other.  Building an armed force that is preparing to fight World War III is not in the best interests of the United States.  It is important to understand what the world will look like in the next few decades to best decide how to develop a military force that will be effective and useful.  We now call it the Strategic Environment 2025 2035.  It is reprinted below with modification from its original form.
The principle issues of the strategic environment which will impact military planning by the year 2035 are (1) decreased forward basing, (2) increased anti-access tactics on the part of our potential enemies, (3) increased asymmetric attack, and (4) increased technological development, particularly in information systems. This will drive the American force structure to obtain an ability to assure access to anywhere in the world without the requirement of permanent basing.

Building a force designed to fight a specific number of Major Theater Wars is a mistake. The force should be designed to respond to a realistic assessment of requirements and have certain capabilities built in and based on a realistic estimate of future conflict.  Most of that conflict will occur within the region of the world described by Thomas P. M. Barnett as the “non-integrated gap.”  It is the locations within this “gap” wherein the United States has found itself and will continue to find itself increasingly fighting and involving itself in humanitarian operations.

The US must be able to discern developing problems in time to do something about them. In the prevailing terminology, information dominance is the name of the game. Then, the U.S. must be able to move the necessary forces, be that combat or humanitarian, to the needed point of crisis. 

This information dominance must not be restricted to agencies within the Department of Defense.  Other agencies, such as the Department of State, U.S.A.I.D., and Department of Energy, among others, must have the capability of input as well as retrieval of data from this information dominance “system.”  While such a “system” will have a technical component, it is a mistake to believe that it is entirely such, as input from people on the ground within those regions as well as from non-traditional sources like academia, humanitarian agencies, non-governmental organizations, and the United Nations will be critical. Given the understandable reticence on the part of non-American (and non-military) organizations to share such data with the Department of Defense, it will be necessary to enable non-military agencies to capture, analyze, and disseminate the information.
Once taking full advantage of Information Dominance, the Force of the Future will have three fundamental characteristics: (1) Strategic Agility, (2) Precision Strike, and (3) Integrated Defense. Exploiting information dominance made possible by advances in technology will enhance all of these characteristics.

Strategic Environment.

Decreased Forward Basing.  By 2035, Europe will have continued the maturation progress already demonstrated. The need to maintain American forces in Europe will have long passed. We originally thought the Koreas may have reunited by then. We no longer believe that to be the case, as China will most likely step in should North Korea become destabilized.  At any rate, we do believe that North Korea will become increasingly irrelevant, meaning that the need to maintain forces in Northeast Asia will be reduced considerably. Should the European and Korean/Japanese bases become unavailable, which is increasingly likely, the United States military (and other forces) must be able to transport itself anywhere in the world in sufficiently short a time to be strategically useful.  This will also entail increased and innovative use of pre-positioned equipment and stockpiles.

Increased Anti-Access Tactics.  Potential enemies recognize that they can make military access to their countries more difficult by using various relatively inexpensive anti-access tactics. Cruise missiles, mines (both land and sea), anti-aircraft artillery and missiles, and small surface craft make forced entry into any area problematic. The increasing sophistication of improvised explosive devices (IED) will require continued scientific and tactical innovation to reduce that threat.  The United States military must be able to counter these tactics in order to assure access to strategically critical areas. This will necessitate an increasingly scientifically supported force to understand and counter such devices. 

Increased asymmetric attack.  Most potential enemies will recognize that they cannot meet the United States in conventional military combat. They will increasingly resort to asymmetric tactics. Such attacks will be by conventional terrorism (bombings, shootings, kidnapping), unconventional terrorism (NBC attacks or holding cities or areas hostage to NBC attack), small unit attacks (irregular paramilitary units and raids by specially trained military units), use of increasingly sophisticated and difficult to detect IEDs, and information attacks (computer hacking, destructive viruses, stealth-spy viruses, conventional espionage). It will also take the form of piracy, arms trade, drug trafficking, and trafficking in human beings.  We are already seeing such attacks by organizations within China and Syria as well as other countries.
Side note: It is not impossible to imagine an Al Qaeda-like group obtaining a nuclear device from a destabilized regime (such as Pakistan or Russia) and then infiltrating that device into western Europe or the United States. 

Increased technological development. Technology will continue to develop and faster rates in the next quarter century. Computer and network-related technology in particular will drive the developed world and become more and more used by the developing world. Use of the technology will enhance an ability to counter anti-access tactics and asymmetric attack.  This will also require an increasingly technologically capable and highly trained force structure, including forces specifically specialized in computer and network operations. Leaving this force solely within the hands of the U.S. Department of Defense is a mistake. New organizations directly reporting to the President and under the auspices of the National Security Council are needed.

Force Structure Characteristics.  In 2035, the military of the United States will be a smaller, essentially CONUS-based force. The smaller size is a reality driven mostly by budgetary restrictions. It must be able to see the enemy first, decide what to do quickly, get to the scene with sufficient force to be decisive, sustain and protect itself while doing the job, and be able to extract quickly and efficiently when complete. Central to the entire force and the peg upon which the national defense hat will be hung is Information Dominance. This will entail revitalizing and likely reorganizing national intelligence gathering and processing, to include collection and exploitation of new communication technologies such as the internet, computer encryption, internet traffic analysis, and cellular communications. This will include national and joint level sensors that can be used by tactical units for targeting and a system of communications that can allow small combat units to call in fires from remote areas. From the central position of information dominance, the three legs of the National Military Strategy can then be brought to bear. Recent controversial issues with the National Security Agency must quickly be resolved by public national debate, and then refocused on international security threats. We may not know from where the next attack on vital American interests are, but we can be sure that without understanding how to gain information we will have no warning at all.

Precision Strike. Application of fires on the precise targets necessary to bring about the desired effects has always been the goal of military leaders. By use of increased information dominance and technology, US forces will be able to accurately decide which targets are critical and then place the necessary force exactly where needed. This will take the form of conventional precision guided munitions. These munitions, launched from ships and aircraft (both crewed and un-crewed), and land-based launchers, will be guided by an integrated system that combines sensors, launchers, and targeting sources. Better precision weapons will be necessary to isolate the damage to just that required to accomplish the mission and reduce collateral damage to a level less than has been accepted today.  However important this capability will be, we must maintain the ability to put specially trained soldiers and operatives on the ground to accomplish particularly difficult missions.

Integrated Defense. Defending the force from anti-access tactics and asymmetric attack as well as conventional attack will be the new challenge. Information technology will greatly assist by integrating various systems and providing protection and warning. By integrating systems, the resultant flexibility of response and better sharing of information will better enable local commanders to understand the nature of security problems. Integrated defense begins at the national level, combining service-centric systems into national or joint systems providing service to all forces. National intelligence systems will be combined and streamlined to provide better indications, warnings, and recommendations.

The Force of the Future. 
The US military of 2035 will be lighter (better able to be strategically transported and providing less of a footprint when deployed), more mobile (strategically, operationally, and tactically), more lethal (better able to deliver precise fires), and better protected (taking advantage of stealth, integrated defenses, and new countermeasure technologies). The force will not be platform-centric, i.e., based upon the concept that the only effective way to deliver fires is to take them into battle on one’s own platforms. The ground force will be optimized to fight in close, urbanized terrain under confusing conditions. The air force will be optimized to provide air domination and precise fires. The naval force will be optimized for forcible entry, counter anti-access tactics, and provide precise fires. The Special Operations Force will be optimized to execute unconventional warfare, but also include Civil-Military Affairs and countering asymmetric attack.
Transition Plan. In order to achieve the Force of the Future, transition must begin now. The first priority is to establishing the information dominance necessary for the plan to work that will require resources to begin RDT&E.

Army.  Maintain only one heavy Corps in Fort Hood. Stop production of M1 tanks and use existing tanks to maintain the heavy Corps in the near to mid-term. The heavy Corps will eventually be phased out. The Army will develop between ten and fifteen medium highly mobile Brigades, organized to be easily formed into Divisions. The Brigade will be the basic unit of the Army. Develop, in conjunction with the Marine Corps, doctrine that will make integration of Army and Marine Corps units a seamless procedure.  Maintain a few Division-level Headquarters units that can be easily deployed as necessary to command larger deployments.

Navy.  Stop production of large aircraft carriers. Maintain the current carrier force for the near and mid-term, but as they age and retire, replace them with smaller carriers capable of a smaller number of manned aircraft and large numbers of UAVs.These smaller aircraft carriers, about the size of current LHDs, will use modern VSTOL and UAV aircraft.  They will provide the mobile air power necessary to support forces ashore. While the large CVN will be useful in the near term, it is becoming increasingly expensive to build and maintain and impossible to imagine losing one in combat.
Stop production of the Zumwalt DDG class after the first three units, ending with the USS Lyndon B. Johnson. Develop a newer, smaller, less expensive ship, capable of being developed in numbers. Vice Admiral Cebrowski was correct in advocating a "streetfighter" concept of naval warfare. Develop large numbers of smaller, less expensive ships. With such ships the Navy can purchase more and thus be able to introduce more vessels into crisis areas. 

See Rebalancing the Fleet, Proceedings, November 1999, Vice Admiral A. K. Cebrowski, USN, and Captain Wayne P. Hughes, Jr., USN (Ret.)

Develop and produce a new Low Observable High Speed (LOHS) amphibious assault ship/craft, that can operate in or near littoral areas, supporting the Marine OMFTS concept. Develop the Streetfighter concept or a follow-on concept that permits small, maneuverable, low observable craft to operate in a dangerous littoral environment, while able to provide or direct precision fires. Except for a few hulls, decommission the SSBN fleet and convert them to SSGN (strike arsenal ships). These vessels will be used in the near and mid-term, but as they age and are retired, they will be replaced by a submersible, high speed, arsenal ship armed with precision guided munitions. Maintain the SSN force and continue development of smaller more capable submersibles, as these ships are most useful in providing access to contested littoral areas. 

Marine Corps.  Continue development of the JSF(STOVL) and V-22 or next generation. Stop production of the AAAV, and work with the Navy on a LOHS concept of ship and craft capable to delivering combat power ashore. Concentrate on how to deliver precision munitions to areas with a minimum of personnel and equipment on the ground. The Marine Corps will take over the traditional UDT functions formerly provided by the SEALS. The basic unit of the Marine Corps will be the Marine Expeditionary Unit based upon an Infantry Battalion. As with the Army, doctrine will need to be developed to make integration of Marine units with Army units a seamless procedure.  Maintain a few Brigade headquarters units and at least one Division headquarters unit capable of quick deployment to command large concentrations of Marine Corps and Army units.

Air Force. Concentrate on the Joint Strike Fighter or a next generation beyond that. Maintain production of the F-15/F-16 as the near and mid-term solution. Decommission B-1 and B-52 bombers. Maintain the current B-2s, but replace with unmanned, high altitude, precision bombers. Increase development of unmanned strike aircraft capable of launching from either shore or sea basing, including the new smaller Navy aircraft carriers.  Begin training enlisted personnel to fly the unmanned aircraft.  Build more C-17 aircraft and develop a low cost replacement of the C-130.

Special Operations Forces.  Combine Army andUSAF special forces as well as the SEALS operating under the auspices of SOCCOM, in effect creating a separate special forces service. Develop a new “Cyber Force,” operating in close conjunction with the National Security Agency and CIA, capable of countering Internet and computer virus attack and able to conduct offensive cyber attack.  The SOF must be able to move quickly and unobtrusively around the world in order to carry out “black” operations either in conjunction with other organizations (CIA), or by themselves.  Regular forces must be trained to be able to provide the necessary support to SOF operations in their vicinity.   Most counter-terrorism work in the future will be carried out by these forces in conjunction with the CIA and similar forces from other countries. Note that the operations conducted by the Russians in Ukraine were entirely conducted by special forces, thus bringing in a new form of "gray" warfare.

National Missile Defense and Strategic Nuclear Weapons.  Cancel NMD and reduce strategic nuclear weapons to a small number (as few as 100 or 200.) NMD does little to ensure the security of the United States and requires the use of resources better applied into development of Information Dominance. With the increasing irrelevance of North Korea a principle ballistic missile threat will disappear. China has shown no propensity to develop a large number of strategic missiles. The maintenance of some naval anti-ballistic missile defense will suffice.

Intelligence Forces.  While all services will maintain tactical intelligence forces specializing in supporting operating forces, all military intelligence functions will be combined under the Chairman, Joint Chiefs of Staff. This function will take advantage of the information dominance and provide joint intelligence support to the theater CINCs and better enable cooperation with the CIA.  This, combined with the newly invigorated SOCCOM, will enable better work against terrorist and global criminal/pirate organizations.  New law by Congress to ensure the rigorous cooperation between military intelligence, the CIA, and FBI will likely be necessary.

The National Guard.  The National Guard should be maintained to support any future major expansion of the regular Army and Air Force.  It has become increasingly apparent that the maintenance of large combat units (Brigade and larger) by the Guard is difficult, expensive, and ineffective. The Guard should maintain a smaller number of units capable of falling in with regular forces to augment certain capabilities. While the Guard should be capable of supporting state-level emergencies, they should also be trained and equipped to support national emergencies, including augmentation of regular combat overseas.  There is likely no need of Division or even Brigade sized units in the Guard, but doctrine, equipping, and training, must be in place so the addition of a National Guard unit (whether Army NG or Air NG) is seamless when needed.

Chairman, JCS.  The Chairman (or possibly SECDEF) will control programming for all information systems within DOD. By controlling such systems, he can drive the development of the force structure necessary to take full advantage of the new information dominance. The services will have to develop forces that can effectively use the information systems provided by the Chairman. This will take legislation by Congress to effect and should be an early priority of the SECDEF and CJCS.


The Force of the Future will be able to deploy from the United States to anywhere in the world quickly (within hours to days) and with sufficient combat power available to be decisive. Not all of the combat power will necessarily be with the deployed force, but may be on remote platforms or locations supported by remote sensors and targeting systems. The forward forces will be able to integrate with the combat power and sensors increasing effectiveness.
Heavy forces will be maintained in the near term, but replaced by lighter forces in the long term. Some early force retirements and program elimination will be used to begin the transformation. As information dominance is realized, other legacy forces can be replaced by the newly developed forces and capabilities.

Information Dominance will enable the US to see the problem early, define the problem accurately, and begin action in time to make a difference. The force selected will be able to move quickly to the scene and be effective upon arrival, taking advantage of integrated information systems to precisely place combat power (fires) where it will be most decisive and protect itself while employed.
We will see the enemy earlier than ever before and clearer than ever before. We will deliver combat power more quickly than ever before and with more precision than ever before and the force will be better protected than ever before.   But, above all, we will be smarter in when we apply such force.

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