A revolution in war has been underway for nearly three decades. Beginning in the mid–1970s, in an effort to compensate for the numerical superiority of Warsaw Pact forces, the US military sought to exploit a number of asymmetric technological advantages. Despite the demise of the threat for which these “offset” capabilities were created, they have continued to be developed, and have been leveraged to great effect in wars ranging from Desert Storm to Operation Iraqi Freedom.
To date, the revolution in war has been principally characterized by:
- The emergence of all-weather precision war;
- The advent of stealth;
- The rise of unmanned systems;
- The tactical and operational exploitation of space; and
- The emergence of early forms of network-based warfare and joint force integration.
Thus far, the US military has enjoyed a monopoly on the revolution in war. Within the next two decades, however, the revolution could shift from a purely opportunity-based one for the United States to one that portends significant threats, as well as opportunities. If there is competition within the revolution in war, it is likely to be highly asymmetric. It is entirely conceivable, moreover, that a competitor could “leapfrog” the United States in some areas of future competition.
Major advances in the core military capabilities that are underwriting the revolution in war—awareness, connectivity, range, endurance, precision, miniaturization, speed, stealth, automation, and simulation—are likely over the next one or two decades, and significant discontinuities in the conduct of war could lie ahead. The future course of the revolution in war could range from a continuation of current trends and the existing warfare regime, to a “revolution within the revolution” due to asymmetric exploitation of disruptive capabilities (e.g., robust, “anti–access/area denial” networks, offensive information warfare and space warfare capabilities) by strategic competitors, to a successor revolution that would involve a much greater break with the ongoing revolution in war (e.g., the emergence of an unmanned warfare–dominant regime). While the emergence of a revolution within the revolution or a successor revolution is still highly uncertain, we believe that the outcome of six warfare competitions will be determinative of the character of the future warfare regime: