Major geopolitical shifts and peer-competitor advancements are changing the way the U.S. military prepares for future conflicts, as evidenced by the adoption of New Generation Warfare (NGW) studies which are examining futuristic global scenarios and multiple potential crises across a variety of geographic locations.
The studies, taking place under the guidance of the United States Army Capabilities Integration Center (ARCIC) — which is tasked with integration “warfighting capabilities into the force and among the military services with other agencies” — will ideally lead to the development of new tactics and strategies integrated with advanced technologies, to help the U.S. military prepare for what may lie ahead.
In May 2016, before retiring from the U.S. Army and taking a job as President Donald Trump’s national security adviser, then-Lt. Gen. H. R. McMaster — who used to head up the ARCIC — told a security conference hosted by the Center for Strategic and International Studies that the NGW studies were necessary to meet new and emerging challenges in a threat environment unlike any seen in decades.
“…I think what we’re seeing is a shift in geopolitics and competitions in a way that imposes great dangers and I think has elevated the risk of a major international military crisis to maybe the highest level in the last 70 years,” he said.
McMaster noted further that the goal of future planning ought to be less focused on establishing a potential adversary’s patter of behavior and more on anticipation of “a pattern break” that would allow the U.S. military to “address those threats in a timely manner.”
Both Russia and China are seeking to expand their power base and influence regionally McMaster noted — Russia in eastern Europe with the annexation of Crimea and invasion of Ukraine, and China throughout the South China Sea — by combining direct and indirect actions such as physical force, cyber espionage, information warfare and political subversion.
“So we ought to … continue to pursue those advantages technologically, but we have to recognize that we have to seek strengths, relative advantages elsewhere, and I would think…mainly through joint synergy and mainly through the combination of well-trained soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines, and cohesive well-trained teams and adaptive leaders with technology,” McMaster told the CSIS conference.
Russia’s rapid — and successful — incursion into Ukraine and Crimea, following intimidation campaigns in the Baltics and a short but successful war to punish Georgia in 2007 and 2008 respectively, was as much of a wake-up call to U.S. military planners today, perhaps, as was Germany’s tactic of Blitzkrieg in the early 1940s.
“It is clear that while our Army was engaged in Afghanistan and Iraq, Russia studied U.S. capabilities and vulnerabilities and embarked on an ambitious and largely successful modernization effort,” McMaster told the Senate Armed Services Committee in April 2016, in what was widely viewed as a tacit admission of failure by the Army and the U.S. government in general to more effectively forecast or anticipate Russian military progress and prowess.
In Ukraine, for instance, a Russia-supplied ‘rebel’ force used surprisingly lethal tanks, anti-tank weapons and artillery to gain control of a swath of Ukrainian soil; those forces were preceded by “swarms of unmanned aerial vehicles and cyberattacks that shut down battlefield communications and even GPS,” Politico reported.
The U.S. Army, meanwhile, has been mired in low-intensity conflict in Afghanistan and Iraq, where it doesn’t face air power, opposing armor or even conventional forces.
McMaster responded with the NFW Study, and it is believed it will have a major impact on how the U.S. Army in particular will look in the years ahead, as well as what types of equipment it will need and buy and how soldiers and units will train.
“That is all designed to demonstrate that we are in the game,” said retired Army Chief of Staff Gen. Gordon Sullivan.
To gain this new perspective, McMaster reportedly reviewed a 43-year-old Army after-action report on the 1973 Yom Kippur War, in which Israel fought back successfully against a surprise attack from a coalition of Arab states led by Egypt and Syria. During the 20-day conflict, more tanks were destroyed than what the U.S. Army currently had in stocks in the entire European theater.
The conflict destroyed more than just companies of armor; it also blew away much of the U.S. Army’s conventional thinking regarding tactics it had employed during a decade of low-intensity conflict in the jungles of Vietnam. And it caused U.S. military planners to begin developing new strategies and tactics based on those employed successfully during Yom Kippur.
Today, the NGW studies seek to address the same thing: Deficiencies in U.S. military thinking and strategy after years of fighting unconventional low-intensity conflicts.