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As we look to the future of war we must face one absolute certainty: any projection will prove faulty. Despite our best intellectual efforts, the future will remain unknowable. Between now and the focus of this study, the year 2010, humankind’s innumerable decisions will interact to form a future far beyond our powers to predict. It would reveal the greatest hubris to claim absolute insights on such a dynamic, multidependent future.
This limitation is especially true concerning war. Any projection of future war must contain implicit assumptions of time, enemy, location and purpose. We must know when the war occurs in order to project what kinds of technologies might be available. We must know the purpose of the war in order to forecast what level of effort the Nation will dedicate. We must know the enemy in order to build the most appropriate strategic campaign, addressing both offensive and defensive centers of gravity. Finally, we must know the location of the war in order to define the types and numbers of operational targets. All four factors will interact to define the nature and conduct of any future war. However, because none of the factors are knowable in advance, any vision of future war will be severely limited.
Accepting these limitations, this book will center on two themes. First, it will highlight where fundamental changes in military operations have already occurred. Militaries, by their nature, are hesitant to embrace unproven theories. As a result, they are usually slow to recognize new possibilities in operational art. Nonetheless, fundamental change in the conduct of war is a constant throughout history. To stay ahead of this change military planners must constantly reevaluate their concepts of war. This book is designed to help military professionals recognize new opportunities mandated by changes that have already occurred in the technological and political environments.
The second theme in this book is the impact of foreseeable technological advances on military operations. Technology is not standing still; if anything, technological advances are accelerating. Significant advances in technology are a valid planning assumption over the next 15 years. Advances in microprocessing and all its supporting technologies will drive new possibilities on future battlefields. While the exact specifications of these technologies are beyond our capacity to define in advance, we can assume technological change of at least the pace experienced over the past 10 to 20 years. Technological change of this magnitude will mandate commensurate changes in military operations. This book will explore some of the more significant impacts of probable technologies on the future battlefield.
Each argument exploring these twin themes is explained in detail in the succeeding chapters. Understanding the need for some readers to have an overview of key points in advance, the following paragraphs will introduce the key arguments. They are not intended to convince skeptical professionals of the validity of each proposal. That is the purpose of the detail in the succeeding chapters.
Despite current optimism, a peer competitor to the United States will eventually arise. Only the timing is unknown. Due to the time needed for tensions to increase and rearmament to begin, and based on historic intervals of fundamental change in security and technology, the earliest edge of this window is approximately 15 years (2010).
A peer competitor is defined as a state (or alliance) capable of fielding multiple types and large numbers of both emerging and present weapons, then developing an innovative concept of operations (CONOPS) to realize the full potential of this mix. In most ways, a peer’s military capabilities will roughly equal those of the United States. The peer’s goal will be to control a vital interest of the United States, on either a global or regional basis, then defeat the US military response. Historic examples of peer competitors include the USSR, Nazi Germany, and Imperial Japan.
A niche competitor is defined as a state (or alliance) that combines limited numbers of emerging weapons with a robust inventory of current weapons, then develops an innovative concept of operations to best employ this mix. The niche’s overall military forces will be inferior to those of the United States. Its goal will be to effectively challenge US interests in its region by making the US military response sufficiently costly to either deter initial involvement or dissuade further involvement on the part of the US.
A niche competitor could arise at any time over the next 10–20 years. It could access (1) civilian space networks for surveillance and communications, (2) international arms markets for low-observable missiles with precision guidance, and (3) computer and communications professionals for information war. Although these technologies are only emerging today, they’ll likely become widely available over the next 10–20 years. By 2005–2015, many countries could obtain these technologies and integrate them with the rest of their military. Examples of possible niche competitors include Iraq and North Korea.
In general, the military capabilities of future peer and niche competitors will differ significantly in both quality and quantity. While both will incorporate emerging advances in the key technologies of information, command and control (C2), penetration, and precision, they will do so in markedly different ways.
For example, a peer competitor will field surveillance systems that are dedicated to military applications. They will respond directly to the peer’s tasking. Taskings will cycle in near real time (NRT). A niche competitor, on the other hand, will likely depend more on commercial information systems (e.g., commercial communications satellites. These systems will be less responsive, especially when controlled by a third party. A niche will experience greater time delays between data collection and dissemination to weapon systems. Peers will pose multiple types of challenges to defense systems, while niches will confront defenses with only a few types of penetrating systems. The niche will also depend more on off-board guidance (such as the Global Positioning System while a peer will use autonomous guidance systems (such as inertial guidance).
A peer will have the wherewithal to avoid being defeated by a single, crushing blow by the United States. It will have sufficient depth and wealth to preclude being overwhelmed by massive numbers over a small area. It will also deter strategic attacks with a robust nuclear retaliatory capability. Conversely, a niche competitor must contemplate war without these advantages. Table 1 summarizes the major differences between peer and niche competitors.
Major Differences Between Peer and Niche Competitors
Peer Competitor Niche Competitor Information Indigenous, Dedicated Third Country, Commercial C2 NRT, Redundant, Automated Delayed, Nodal, Hierarchical Penetration Multisystem Single System Precision Autonomous Guidance
External Guidance (e.g., GPS) Weapons of Mass
Hundreds. Can Reach USA. <10, Theater Reach Size Large, Strategic Depth Small, Little Depth
Any forecast of future aerospace war must reflect the current revolution in military affairs (RMA). Historically, RMAs occur only when militaries fundamentally change both their concepts of operations (CONOPS) and their organizational structures to best employ radically new technologies. In other words, revolutions in military affairs are underwritten by new technologies but realized through new operational and organizational concepts.
Technological advances in four general areas are underwriting a new aerospace approach to future war:
2. Command and control
By 2010, well into the information age, aerospace planners will have an incredible amount of information about the target state. They’ll never know everything, but they will detect orders of magnitude more about the enemy than in past wars. With this information, commanders will orchestrate operations with unprecedented fidelity and speed. Commanders will take advantage of revolutionary advances in information transfer, storage, recognition, and filtering to direct highly efficient, near-real-time attacks. Responding in this direction, aerospace attackers will take advantage of advances in stealth, hypersonic, and/or electronic warfare technologies to greatly increase the chances of penetration. While defenses will certainly defeat some attackers, others will get through at rates higher than previously experienced. Finally, once over the target area, aerospace platforms will deliver brilliant munitions. Deliveries will be highly accurate. Target locations will be measured within feet. Working together, advances in these four areas of aerospace technology will underwrite a revolution in military affairs.
The new operational concept to realize the potential of these underwriting technologies is parallel war. In parallel war, aerospace forces simultaneously attack enemy centers of gravity across all levels of war (strategic, operational, and tactical)—at rates faster than the enemy can repair and adapt. The overall goal of parallel war is paralysis of the enemy through shock (as opposed to gradual attrition). For this reason, leadership is the highest priority target. Once paralyzed, the enemy will be unable to orchestrate either a damaging offense or an effective defense.
Parallel war requires large numbers of highly precise weapons directed against vital targets. While this concept has long been envisioned by strategists in theory, advances in technology are currently enabling its prosecution in reality. Aerospace forces will soon be able to engage hundreds of targets within the first hour of a conflict. They will deliver thousands of precision munitions within each 24-hour period. Enabled by advance information systems, these weapons will strike vital enemy targets. The sum of these capabilities drives more than an increase in military efficiency. As explained in chapter 1, these capabilities drive a new concept—parallel war.
New organizational concepts are needed to support these new technologies and concepts of war. The greatest need is for new approaches to command and control. This is the number one issue facing today’s aerospace planners. The information age is rapidly increasing the amount, speed, and fidelity of data gathered and distributed to war fighters. Exponential advances are on the horizon. However, the basic command hierarchy for US forces has remained roughly the same. While commands move through the system much faster than before, the basic aerospace C2 system is unchanged. From a historical perspective, this overlapping of new technologies on top of old hierarchies is a signpost for “old think.” A more automated and flat structure, notwithstanding its own vulnerabilities, offers the greatest potential for near-real-time, deconflicted, multiservice, multitheater operations.
One major change in aerospace C2 is needed immediately. The Joint Force Air Component Commander (JFACC) for theater war should remain in CONUS. Basing the JFACC in CONUS would avoid creating a fixed, in-range, high-value target for the enemy. It also would allow immediate planning/tasking of the aerospace campaign. A CONUS-based JFACC would have well-exercised connectivity with combat units (e.g., through fiber-optic cable connections with CONUS-based stealth bomber wings). Target planners would have immediate access to all-source intelligence. All data relayed by satellite (including data from national systems) would down link to this JFACC which would fuse the data, filter extraneous elements, and distribute distilled information. A CONUS-based JFACC could also take advantage of CONUS databases and expertise; JFACC computers could be hardwired to a secure information net. After running computer simulations to determine the best tactical options, JFACC would issue the air tasking order (ATO). This centralized ATO could direct all air assets, whether based in-theater, in CONUS, or in adjacent theaters. Finally, a single, CONUS-based JFACC would husband the limited number of aerospace strategists and standardize CONOPS, regardless of theater.
Future US theater commanders will call upon a Joint Force Information Component Commander (JFICC) to (1) collect information on enemy capabilities, deployments, and intentions; (2) fuse data collected from all sources and distribute timely information to users; (3) flow friendly information efficiently, even in the face of enemy attacks and competing friendly requirements; (4) degrade enemy information networks; and (5) defend friendly information networks against enemy intrusion. Aerospace forces should expect heavy taskings in support of the JFICC.
Future aerospace operations will require increasingly centralized execution. The increasing range of defense weapons and the decreasing range at which stealthy targets will be identified will stress aerospace defenses. Given decentralized C2, several aircraft—or several batteries—might fire simultaneously at the same target. Or one might shoot while another makes a counterproductive maneuver. Or no one might shoot, everyone thinking someone else has the lead. A centralized execution system can deconflict these factors.
A second factor requiring centralized execution is the multitheater nature of future offensive operations. Routine strike packages may require intelligence and communications from space, bombers from CONUS, escorts from carriers, tankers from a neighboring theater, and unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV) from frontline ground forces. All will operate long-range; all will be interdependent; all will probably receive last-minute changes to their orders. Decentralized execution, effective in past wars, won’t answer this challenge.
Because technology will allow near-real-time information and C2, commanders at all levels will try to move towards snap decisions in near real time. This tendency will open interesting opportunities for operational art. Commanders will exploit this tendency. They will make concerted efforts to drive their opponent’s snap decisions toward the poor end of the spectrum, usually by presenting false indications of intent or reality. The ultimate goal will be to either slow down the opponent’s decision loop or force the opponent to continue making bad decisions in near real time.
Any enemy will have access to these same technologies, of course, and will exploit them to varying degrees. Aerospace planners must prepare for innovative enemies possessing advanced information and C2 systems, stealthy aircraft and missiles, and precision munitions. Future enemies will also employ the full gamut of existing weapon technologies, including nuclear weapons.
One potentially dominant technology is the stealthy cruise missile. Its low signature, independence from fixed launch facilities, and ability to rapidly change routing make its long-range detection very uncertain. Cruise missiles also have the capability to launch from any medium (sea, air, land) and to navigate/target with single-meter accuracy in all weather. They can attack from any direction at any time of day. In addition, prospects for “cheap” stealthy cruise missiles are high. Future militaries will buy/produce thousands of low-observable cruise missiles. Thus, aerospace defenders will have to deal with massive numbers of precise attackers and very little warning.
Such an attack would challenge the number one mission of aerospace forces: to establish aerospace superiority. Thousands of stealthy cruise missiles would likely render current aerospace defense CONOPS obsolete. Current aerospace defense CONOPS assume exactly opposite conditions: limited numbers of expensive, high-signature attackers (e.g., Su-24s and Scuds), visible from launch to engagement, with an exposed support infrastructure. Stealthy cruise missiles invalidate those assumptions.
Defensive counters to stealth terminology may be analogous to antitank or antiaircraft developments before World War II. Although huge advances in defense against tanks and aircraft were made before World War II, both tanks and aircraft had decisive effects on that war. Although neither was invulnerable, both dictated a new environment for warfare.
In a similar way, stealth technology will dictate a new warfare environment. It may be possible to degrade the cruise missile’s effectiveness by targeting its navigation and terminal area guidance. Air defense units should exploit this potential in addition to improving physical interception capabilities.
One key to successful operations in the emerging environment will be signature reduction. All fixed forces with large signatures will eventually be detected and hit. Stealthy cruise missiles and bombers, properly supported by information and precision technologies, will make high-signature, immobile forces extraordinarily vulnerable.
Since air bases have high signatures, aerospace forces should base outside the range of enemy stealth systems. Such basing will be possible only if the aerospace inventory emphasizes long-range operations. Under this condition, aircraft would need long legs for flights from rear area bases to enemy targets. Aircrew ratios would have to support long sortie durations. Aircraft and munitions inventories would have to be sufficient to deliver effective, sustained firepower from distant bases. With minimal support, deployment kits must support extended operations from distant bases. Given these attributes, aerospace forces could effectively operate outside the range of enemy stealth systems.
In the future wartime environment, large invasion forces will be highly vulnerable. Their vulnerability will be greatest during the initial stages of an invasion when forces must mass to overcome indigenous defenses. Such wartime standbys as truck convoys, tank columns, ammunition ships that require days to unload, airlift aircraft needing hours to off-load and refuel, large air bases with “tent cities,” and air refueling aircraft parked nose-to-tail may not be possible in the emerging environment.
If the United States chooses to oppose an invasion of an ally, it must do so during the initial stages of the attack. Failure to immediately engage the enemy could prove disastrous. If enemy forces gain control of their objective, the US would have to mass forces to expel them.
As US forces mass to capture the lost territory, their logistics, convoys, and buildup areas would come under heavy attack. While the United States will probably be on the strategic defensive in a future war, it must take the operational offensive. Despite any advantages that may accrue to the defense by new technologies, the US can maintain the initiative only through the offensive. In this future environment, US airlift operations must assume significant enemy surveillance.
Space will undoubtedly be a strategic center of gravity in any future war. Both sides will want space control. Whichever side can exploit space for communications, collection, and positioning—while denying similar capabilities to its enemy—will gain a decisive advantage. For this reason, both sides will attack satellites. Attacks on homeland infrastructure for space operations (e.g., launch pads; command, control, communications, computers, and intelligence [C4I]) may be restricted due to the threat of nuclear retaliation. However, if satellite control depends on a small number of ground stations, those stations will likely come under attack. The United States may operate under certain disadvantages in any future space war. For example, the enemy may
1. shoot first (the National Command Authorities will probably deny first strikes by US forces against enemy satellites;
2. have a power advantage due to a greater willingness to use nuclear power plants in space;
3. have more state-of-the-art satellites due to a faster acquisition cycle;
4. aggressively weaponize space despite US and world opinion; and
5. prosecute an attrition strategy by emphasizing quantity over quality.
To mitigate these disadvantages, planners should integrate satellites and UAVs for communication and surveillance. They should plan for redundancy between types of platforms, overlapping coverage among types of sensors, and connectivity between all platforms with a common C4I architecture. When combined with innovative C2, this integration will provide dominant battlefield awareness in a highly competitive environment.
High-signature surveillance platforms will not thrive in the emerging environment. Satellites, especially those in low earth orbit, will be very vulnerable during a future war. As a backup and to heighten crisis stability, the US should prepare a high altitude long endurance (HALE) UAV architecture for communication, navigation, and surveillance.
Manned atmospheric platforms, such as AWACS and J-STARS, will have heavy taskings in a war with a niche competitor. In a war with a peer competitor, however, these platforms will prove too vulnerable for operations near enemy forces.
The side that can retrain its entire force to execute the most modern CONOPS will have a decisive advantage in future war. Computer simulations may enable this decisive advantage.