Cover: Looming Discontinuities in U.S. Military Strategy and Defense Planning

Looming Discontinuities in U.S. Military Strategy and Defense Planning

Colliding RMAs Necessitate a New Strategy

Published Mar 22, 2011

by Paul K. Davis, Peter A. Wilson


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In this think piece, the authors argue that the United States is entering a period of discontinuity in its defense planning, something that future historians may see as a planning crisis. The causes are technology diffusion that is leveling aspects of the playing field militarily, geostrategic changes, and the range of potential adversaries. The authors see these as leading to (1) increasingly difficult force projection in some important circumstances; (2) a related block obsolescence of U.S. forces and concepts of operations; (3) the need for a new grand strategy in the Asia-Pacific region, where China is now a major regional power; and (4) the United States having to deal with a demanding mix of "complex operations" (e.g., counterinsurgency and stabilization) and traditional challenges. Obstacles exist to taking on these challenges. These include severe economic issues and the absence of consensus on the nature of next-generation forces and posturing. The paper presents three illustrative models for future concepts of operations, but all are very challenging. They and others will need to be explored with considerable innovation and experimentation. Finally, the papers argue for a comprehensive rebalancing of national security strategy, not just a rebalancing of military capabilities.

The research described in this report was prepared for the Office of the Secretary of Defense (OSD). The research was conducted within the RAND National Defense Research Institute, a federally funded research and development center sponsored by OSD, the Joint Staff, the Unified Combatant Commands, the Navy, the Marine Corps, the defense agencies, and the defense Intelligence Community.

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