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Research Synopsis

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Research Questions

  1. What lessons can the U.S. Army draw from its own recent combat experience and that of other countries facing similar challenges that can help it prepare for the full range of adversaries it is likely to face in the future?
  2. What are the Army's critical capability gaps relative to potential adversaries?

The U.S. Army has been at war in Afghanistan and Iraq almost continuously for more than a decade. While this experience has honed the Army's ability to fight irregular adversaries, these may not be the adversaries the Army will need to fight in the future. This perspective reviews the spectrum of military adversaries and operations the nation currently faces, how it has adapted to irregular challenges and the consequences of that adaptation, and the lessons of other recent conflicts. The aim here is not so much to learn about the current conflicts but to help understand battles the United States has not yet fought but likely will in the future — to learn how to address the recurring Army pattern of ignoring potential conflicts while focusing intently on a current one. To counterbalance this focus, the author has synthesized prior RAND research and drawn on personal experience and discussions with current Army personnel. He notes that our country's potential adversaries know U.S. military capabilities and vulnerabilities and are adapting. The Army needs to prepare for the full range of adversaries it is likely to confront, some of whom will be armed with weapons that are now superior to some of its own.

Key Findings

Potential Adversaries Know U.S. Military Capabilities and Vulnerabilities

  • These adversaries are adapting.
  • The Army needs to prepare for the full range of adversaries it is likely to confront, some of whom will be armed with weapons that are now superior to some of its own.

The research reviewed in this perspective was conducted within the RAND Arroyo Center.

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