US Military Is Preparing for the War It Wishes to Fight — Not for the War Russia Is Actually Going to Deliver
"We’re preparing to fight a war of neat columns of data, sophisticated user interfaces, systems of systems, and... spreadsheets"
There’s an old saying that Generals are always preparing to fight the last war. Well, there’s a related and previously unknown phenomenon developing within the US military which is that the Generals are preparing to fight the wrong next war.
To give some credit where credit is due, the US military is devoting a fair amount of effort to preparing to fight the next war. The problem is that the next war that our military envisions is one entirely of their own creation rather than one defined by consideration of the enemy’s capabilities and intent.
We’re not preparing to fight the war that China and Russia are going to deliver; we’re preparing to fight the war that we want to see: a war of high technology, with lots of cross-domain buzzwords, artificial intelligence assisted joint battle command, with dispersed, small, flexible, light units creating havoc deep within enemy territory, tiny unmanned vehicles roving the air, land, and sea and applying nearly magical capabilities, all supported by an exquisite, ephemeral network providing perfect situational awareness.
What kind of war are the Russians and Chinese preparing to deliver? They’re building heavier and heavier armored units with more, bigger, and far more lethal conventional explosives delivered by massed artillery and ballistic missiles. The Chinese are building for a war of attrition and are on a quick path to outnumbering us in every category of military capability. The Russians are telling us exactly what kind of war they’ll deliver with their semi-proxy invasion of Ukraine. It’s a war of unimaginable destruction delivered by artillery supported by electronic warfare and UAVs, all backed by heavy armored units. Entire mechanized units are wiped out in seconds. Our enemies are preparing to employ lethal battlefield unmanned vehicles without a care for unintended casualties.
In short, our enemies are preparing to deliver a war with massive firepower, heavy armored units, widespread and effective electronic warfare, and Terminator style unmanned killing machines.
Now look at the kind of war games we’re conducting.
We’re preparing to conduct the first multi-domain command and control exercise, Cross Domain One.
The Air Force will lead the first experiment of Joint All-Domain Command and Control (JADC2) capabilities in two weeks, tying fighter jets to Army ground systems and Navy ships in a real-world example of Multi-Domain Operations.
Preston Dunlap, Air Force chief architect for acquisition, told Breaking D that the exercise in Florida will “be powered by” the service’s nascent Advanced Battle Management System (ABMS). (1)
We’re preparing to fight a war of neat columns of data, sophisticated user interfaces, systems of systems, and cross-domain synergistic spreadsheets all backed up by dispersed light infantry and distributed logistics ships with a few anti-ship missiles. Our idea of heavy firepower is the 30 mm machine gun that we’ve so proudly stuck on the Strykers and dubbed ‘Dragoon’. The Russians in their heavily armored, T-90 or T-14 Armata tanks with 125 mm guns must be quaking in their boots over the prospect of facing unarmored Strykers with machine guns for main weapons.
While Russia is developing improved cluster munitions and China is mass producing conventional ballistic missiles, we’ve established a Department of Defense, Non-Lethal Weapons Program (2).
Where’s our war game that examines the devastating effects of pure firepower? Where’s our wargame that tries to figure out how to defeat an armored pincer? Where’s our wargame that looks at how to deal with massive artillery barrages? Where’s our exercise that forces units to operate with jammed communications, no GPS, jammed radar, and constant cyber attack? Where’s our wargame that looks at trying to operate under enemy controlled skies?
Our [badly] misguided military leadership has created a fantasy vision of what a future war will look like – a war that doesn’t match the predictable reality – and are now contentedly ‘validating’ our weapons and systems against that unrealistic fantasy war. Our Generals and Admirals are busy congratulating themselves for the rosy results of these fantasy wargames that are concocted from wishful thinking rather than the enemy’s demonstrated capabilities and plans.
We’ve left firepower far behind in the rear view mirror in our pursuit of perfect data awareness. We’ve forgotten that even perfect awareness is useless without the means to destroy what we see. We’ve forgotten that firepower trumps awareness – you don’t need to know exactly where that enemy unit is if you’ve got the firepower and are willing to wipe out a grid square (and all the collateral damage that might go with it) to destroy it. An unstoppable barrage of artillery fire doesn’t require precision guidance – close counts in horseshoes and artillery.
The decades of low intensity, low threat conflict have led our military leaders who have grown up in that environment to believe that war with Russia/China/Iran/NKorea will be more of the same and that the war can be won with data and networks. These ignorant leaders have now concocted fantasy wargames because they simply can’t grasp the horror, devastation, and barbarity that will be a modern peer war.
Source: Navy Matters
(1) Breaking Defense website, “First Multi Domain C2 Exercise Planned: Cross Domain One”, Theresa Hitchens, 6-Dec-2019,