Preparing the Military for Future Threats

With breaking news of a U.S. Navy SEAL team successfully [4]rescuing two
hostages from pirates in Somalia, military pundits are quick to note how the
deployment of small, elite units will fit in with [5]President Barack Obama’s
vision for modernizing the U.S. military. Yet, while small, elite units are
indeed crucial to the modern military, so too is a balance of force structures,
doctrines, and technologies appropriate to a variety of challenges. At the
strategic level, [6]preparing for 21st-century threats means thinking
holistically on a global scale.

First, we must define the threats. China and Russia present the greatest
long-range threat to U.S. national security interests. More immediately, the
threat issues from a nuclear-armed Iran, especially if Tehran’s alliances
extend beyond Syria to North Korea, Venezuela and—not unthinkably at some
point—a drug-cartel dominated Mexico. At another level, insurgencies and civil
wars in Africa and South America are likely to continue. Additionally, threats
from international terrorism, in some cases allied with the four rogue states
cited above and, possibly, criminal cartels, enlarges the threat profile.

With the withdrawal of U.S. forces from Iraq and the current winding down of
our presence in Afghanistan, [7]the Army seems to be sending mixed messages
about its future. While the Navy and Air Force have formulated an air-sea
concept for meeting future threats from major powers or would-be regional
hegemons like Iran, the Army struggles with how to recapture the conventional
war-fighting concepts and skills lost or, at the least, degraded during the
last decade.

In a way, the present harkens back to the immediate aftermath of the Vietnam
conflict when the predominant attitude was, "We ain’t doing that again."
Attention turned to more conventional forms of warfare attendant to stopping a
Soviet attack at the Fulda Gap during the era of Air-Land Battle. The reality
is, counterinsurgency, irregular warfare, and terrorism are not going away.
U.S. national security strategy must, therefore, indulge in a delicate balance
of priorities to meet a full range of threats, or we face total defeat at the
high end of the spectrum on the one hand, or death by a thousand cuts through
inappropriate organization, doctrine, and training at the lower end.

China—and to a lesser extent Russia—and perhaps North Korea and Iran, demand a
strategy built around force projection over long distances. That means
investment in high tech (and high cost) systems like aircraft carriers,
long-range submarines, and attack aircraft. The high cost of these systems,
however, is a plus. Government spending on defense means good jobs for highly
skilled workers that will stimulate the economy by boosting both production and
service-industry jobs to employ the less skilled. The technological fallout
from research on (needed) high-tech weapon systems will infuse new vitality
into American leadership in a wide variety of fields from electronics to
automotive engineering. In short, build more warships, submarines, and
high-tech fighter planes like the F-22 and F-35, along with 20 to 40 more B-2s
to replace the B-52s in our inventory. We should also look at the stealth
bomber for the period beyond 2040.

The most likely scenarios involving the Army and Marine Corps will be in areas
of global instability, most notably Africa. These can be met with special
operations forces and with highly deployable brigades capable of unleashing
overwhelming firepower on any potential threats to U.S. interests or to our
allies. The role of the Reserve components will remain important should a
conflict become more protracted, requiring a longer-term employment of ground
forces. The added capabilities inherent in air power and precision strike from
the air, space or sea will prove critical in diminishing the conventional
capabilities of any mid-range threat that might result from an Iran or similar

To be unprepared for threats ranging from pirates to major powers is a threat
to our nation and its economic prosperity. The alternative will be protracted
conflict coupled with increasing subservience to entities with the will to

— Dr. Earl Tilford is a military historian and fellow for the Middle East &
terrorism with [8]The Center for Vision & Values at Grove City College. A
retired Air Force intelligence officer, Dr. Tilford earned his PhD in American
and European military history at George Washington University. From 1993 to
2001, he served as Director of Research at the U.S. Army’s Strategic Studies
Institute. In 2001, he left Government service for a professorship at Grove
City College, where he taught courses in military history, national security,
and international and domestic terrorism and counter-terrorism.

© 2012 by The Center for Vision & Values at Grove City College. The views &
expressed herein may, but do not necessarily, reflect the views of Grove City

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