The End of the American Way of War?

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The End of the American Way of War?

The U.S. military’s technological superiority is slipping, says Deputy Secretary of Defense Robert Work.

The End of the American Way of War?
Credit: U.S. Army/Flickr

“I tell you now, our technological superiority is slipping. We see it every day,” lamented U.S. Deputy Secretary of Defense Robert Work during a speech on Wednesday at the Army War College in Carlisle, Pennsylvania, The Guardian reports.

According to Work, the “proliferation of precision” weapons and the emergence of hybrid warfare have undermined, “the American way of war that we have grown accustomed to over the last three decades.”

America’s adversaries are slowly catching up with its deadly arsenal of high-tech “conventional weapons with near-zero miss,” the deputy secretary emphasized. “We’re not too far away from guided 50-caliber rounds,” he added.

Paradoxically, the United States’ lethality in conventional and precision-guided warfare had its adversaries scramble for a solution to defeat the mighty U.S. military machinery, as the strategist John Schindler noted a while back:

[T]he U.S. military may have simply priced itself out of the market. After the thrashing of Saddam’s forces in early 1991 by a U.S.-led coalition in Operation DESERT STORM, it was evident to nearly everyone that facing America’s military in a stand-up fight was a losing proposition.

Robert Work reinforced this statement by arguing that, “our enemies have gone to school on us, at least since 1991 [in] Desert Storm.”

Long discussed among military thinkers (see: “The Maturation of the Precision Strike Regime”), precision-guided warfare has slowly diffused among militaries and non-state actors hostile to the United States across the globe and, as a consequence, can no longer be counted on as providing U.S. forces with the decisive edge to achieve victory in combat.

The diffusion of precision strike regimes and the emergence of new war fighting domains (e.g., cyberspace), paired with the convergence of conventional and unconventional tactics, as well as the the recruitment of non-traditional elements when conducting a military campaign (e.g., media, organized crime, and business), pose a host of formidable challenges to U.S. policymakers.

John Schindler’s response this new form of conflict – often labelled hybrid warfare – is to give the enemy a taste of its own medicine:

What is needed instead is a serious capability in what some Eastern intelligence services term “special war,” an amalgam of espionage, subversion, even forms of terrorism to attain political ends without actually going to war in any conventional sense. (…) It’s very cheap compared to any conventional military operations, and if executed properly it offers states a degree of plausible deniability while achieving state interests without fighting. The United States at present is not ready – organizationally, legally, politically, or culturally – to compete in special war.

Work acknowledged that this form of warfare is “a zone in which we don’t typically operate but one in which we must become more proficient.”

However, his remedy to combat hybrid warfare is the development of a new “third offset strategy” based on robot weapons and remote-controlled warfare, while simultaneously relying on conventional military hardware such as the new M109A7 Paladin (see: “The US Army’s Deadly New Gun”) –  capable of firing precision munition – in order for the United States to maintain its military-technological advantage, and consequently emerge victorious out of any future conflict.

“The real essence of the third offset strategy is to find multiple different attacks against opponents across all domains so they can’t adapt, or they adjust to just one, and they died before they can adapt again,” he told  the Washington Times

“I believe that what the third offset strategy will revolve around will be three-play combat in each dimension (…) And three-play combat will be much different in each dimension [air, sea, land], and it will be up for the people who live and fight in that dimension to figure out the rules,” Work said.

He further explained:  “We will have autonomy at rest, our smart systems being able to go through big data to help at the campaign level and to be able to go through big data at the tactical level. So autonomy at rest and autonomy in motion.”

Whether a technological driven answer will succeed in countering new emerging patterns of warfare remains to be seen. There is still some time to come up with an adequate solution. As I have written here (see: “A Tempest in a Teacup: Forget Hybrid Warfare!”), hybrid war is still in its embryonic phase and it will require more innovation, refinement and experiments before it can become a new warfighing paradigm.

Interestingly, there is very little debate on one key aspect required to conduct a successful hybrid military campaign: interoperability.

Indeed, looking back into history, all the forces opposed to NATO and the West (e.g., the Russian military, the Chinese PLA, etc.) have a poor track record when it comes to interoperability. This is something we need to pay closer attention to in the future lest we fall prey to threat inflation.