Emerging operational challenges in the Western Pacific require development of a new, integrated concept of operations for U.S. air and sea forces akin to the AirLand Battle of the 1980s
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For well over half a century, the United States has been a global power with global interests. These interests include (but are not limited to) extending and defending democratic rule, maintaining access to key trading partners and resources, and reassuring those allies and partners who cooperate with the United States in defending common interests. The United States’ ability to project and sustain military power on a large scale has been, and remains, essential to this endeavor.
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.
This net assessment of the military-technical revolution, issued in July of 1992, is perhaps the best-known assessment prepared by the Office of Net Assessment. It has, I believe, held up well over time. The strategic management issues it raised should still be of special interest to top-level Department of Defense officials.
The US military is currently investing billions of dollars annually in developing and deploying a broad range of new precision-guided and electronic-strike weapons. These weapons are revolutionizing the way military organizations are thinking about future conflict. Perhaps nowhere are the potential implications of these weapons more significant than in the case of nuclear forces and strategic-strike operations. For the last forty years, the US strategic deterrent has centered on a triad of intercontinental bombers and land- and sea-based ballistic missile forces.
What kind of military will the United States require in 2016? Given the uncertainties involved, it is impossible to say with a high degree of confidence. However, it will not be a close descendant of its Desert Storm military. Military-related technologies are progressing and diffusing too rapidly to assume that the future competitive environment will merely be a linear extrapolation of the recent past. Potential competitors have the incentive and will increasingly also have the means to present the United States with very different and more formidable challenges in 2016 than did Iraqi forces a quarter of a century earlier.