In a future where a soldier in combat on one continent can radio commanders in the United States, potential enemies can use the same technology to launch diversionary attacks at ranges much farther than conventional weapons allow.
The Army is brainstorming a battle plan for how to fight future wars where combat will occur on land, at sea, in the air and in space and cyberspace. Technology will have at once shrunk the battlefield by improving data sharing and communication and radically expanded it because enemies can use cyberspace to reach targets in the U.S. homeland, according to Army Training and Doctrine Command (TRADOC) Chief Gen. David Perkins.
“The vastness of space and cyberspace – along with the far-ranging effects of information operations, electronic warfare, and even some conventional weapons – ensures that the battlefield is limitless,” Perkins writes in the July/August edition of Military Review. “From home station to the close area, there is the potential to be engaged instantaneously with long-range fires, cyberspace, space, electronic warfare, and information.”
Under the doctrine of Multi-Domain Battle that is under development at TRADOC, the “close area” is the physical battlefield of a future war where most of the conventional fighting will take place. The close area no longer is where the opening salvos of a war will be fired.
Maj. Gen. Bo Dyess, deputy director of the Army Capabilities Integration Center (ARCIC), said the next large-scale war will be fought by computers and robots before human soldiers enter the fray.
“In the next [war], the first battle will be bit-on-bit, followed by a second battle of bot-on-bot, followed by what we would consider a conventional battlefield,” he said in June at a professional development forum hosted by the Association of the U.S. Army at the College of William and Mary in Williamsburg, Va.
“So, if we are in a bit-on-bit war in cyber, are we already in some state or warfare now? Or are our phasing construct just not able to describe warfare in a way in which we have traditionally defined warfare?” Dyess added.
Perkins envisions a group of hackers operating deep behind enemy lines using proxy servers in another location to launch attacks on a unit in its immediate area. Using information from social media, for instance, the hackers could attack the unit directly or go after their stateside families.
“These effects could be lethal, utilizing social media and open source imagery to select targets on the unit’s more vulnerable home-base and community, or they could be nonlethal, such as emptying bank accounts,” Perkins writes.
The “central problem” with the Army’s current posture and equipment is that it is not prepared to operate in a complex future battlefield, Perkins says. U.S ground forces, he says are “currently not sufficiently trained, organized, equipped or postured to deter or defeat capable peer enemies to win in future war.”
ARCIC is developing the multi-domain battle concept to help prepare the Army for all possible future battlefields, “in which current American strengths could become future weaknesses, and domains of present dominance could become areas of violent struggle.”
Modernization is key to repositioning an Army that is optimized to fight relatively unsophisticated insurgencies in fairly permissive environments where access to air, space and cyberspace is assured. Both technology and new training methods are necessary to fight future wars, Perkins says.
With as few resources as the Army has had in recent years for modernization, even as its deployment schedule and global mission have remained constant or increased, the service will not be able to buy its way to superiority over future opponents, Perkins says.
“We want to get out of this tit-for-tat,” he said at the June forum in Williamsburg. “We won’t necessarily try to out-capability every other specific weapon system. We just think we can use them better and out-decide somebody faster. Because, technology you can steal and it can be transferred pretty easily. The ability to lead and make decisions, it’s hard to steal that. … You can steal the plans for a new tank on a thumb drive. You can’t steal leadership.”