Warfare in a New Millennium

Military planning is undergoing rapid transformation. As the defense leadership attempts to define and prepare a more efficient and effective military from the top down, the services are selectively transforming key capabilities to meet anticipated needs for warfare in the new millennium. The challenges the services face in accomplishing future missions are becoming considerably more complicated in this new era, however. In the past, success in warfare was defined as accomplishing the mission objectives by coercing or compelling force on the enemy at the operational level or below, should deterrence fail. Increasing public demand for a "cleaner" war has changed the equation for success, however. Success still requires accomplishing the mission objective, but the mission may have to satisfy additional conditions such as keeping friendly losses to a minimum and keeping noncombatant casualties and collateral damage at an acceptable level.

These challenges prompt one fundamental question among many others now being asked: "What capabilities are essential for the future, and how should they be prioritized?" A recently published Issue Paper, Preparing for Future Warfare with Advanced Technologies, by RAND analysts John Matsumura, Randall Steeb, John Gordon IV, and Paul Steinberg addresses this question.

Researchers used sophisticated modeling and simulation, creating a scenario based on experiences in Operation Allied Force in Kosovo in 1999, to evaluate how three prioritizations of capabilities might play out in a similar small-scale contingency in the 2015 timeframe. In examining capabilities for the future, the authors explored three broad prioritizations of capabilities, driven by future technology options: 1) remote fires, 2) rapidly deployable ground forces, and 3) a joint capability that integrates the two.

Remote Fires

Researchers found that, at the fundamental level of success - accomplishing the military objectives of halting atrocities and mass genocide - the remote-fires option was not much more successful than it was in 1999, because the advanced technology in this area does not address the limitations that did and still do exist. Moreover, as remote assets become more capable, it is likely that a future foe will develop counter technologies and become more sophisticated at cover, concealment, deception, and electronic warfare.

Rapidly Deploying Ground Force Option

As a baseline, researchers assumed that a medium-weight force, based on future combat systems capabilities, was used as the main response to counter Serbian forces in the scenario. The resulting force accomplished the mission's objectives but did so with some friendly force casualties.

The Joint Forces Option

Between now and 2015, we can expect the Army to undergo its planned transformation. This will yield medium-weight forces in the form of the Interim and Objective Forces envisioned to dramatically improve the nation's ability to project power by supplying rapidly deployable ground force components. It is likely that such medium-weight forces would be used as an integral ground component of a joint rapid-reaction force, which conceivably could be deployed anywhere within days.

Researchers examined the results of a joint force option that fully accomplishes the mission and found that the loss-exchange ratio was nearly double the rapidly deploying ground force option's ratio. This occurs because combining remote fires and rapidly deploying ground forces offers significantly greater lethality. The one clear downside to the joint force option is that bringing remote fires back into the equation once again leads to the loss of noncombatants. Since there is a balance in this option between remote fires and ground forces, the noncombatant casualties drop by about two-thirds over the pure remote-fires case. Still, the casualties are substantial.

Looking across the options, researchers noted that given either the old or emerging equation of success, an option that relies on remote fires alone to conduct the mission is of limited utility. As the report states, "As we move toward an increasing likelihood of warfare in complex terrain, targets may be obscured, exposure times can be much shorter as enemies move from cover to cover, threats may make use of noncombatants as protection, and perhaps, most important, information technology may not work as planned. By leaning toward greater reliance on remote fires, U.S. military planners could be building a modern-day Maginot line."

Ultimately, the authors determined that some combination of remote and organic reconnaissance, surveillance, and target acquisition (RSTA), interservice or joint coordination, and remote and organic ground (indirect and direct) fires will be needed to provide the most responsiveness, effectiveness, and level of coercive and compelling force to best accomplish the wide range of tomorrow's missions.