An Excerpt Adapted From the New Book by Best-Selling Author John Antal
The clocks are “striking thirteen” and time is running out. In modern warfare, a failure of imagination will get you killed. Reinforce this failure with hubris, an attitude that you do not need to adapt since no enemy can match you, and the nation’s survival is at risk.
We often think of war as something that happens “over there,” to other people. The US is a superpower. We have failed in wars of choice but have never known defeat at the hands of a peer enemy. As a people, Americans cannot imagine losing. Yes, there were those long wars in Vietnam, Iraq, and Afghanistan, but do those count? Who could defeat the US? After all, we have the best military in the world, right?
Warfare is changing and our military is not ready.
The purpose of America’s military power is to deter conflict and win the nation’s wars. Our opponents have studied our methods and failures. We cannot afford to be unprepared in a fight against a peer enemy. If we do not adapt our thinking and act in time, even wars against lesser powers could be disastrous. There is an urgent need to think differently.
We must study and learn from the conflicts of the past few years. Recent wars offer numerous lessons concerning thinking and imagination. In September 2020, the Azerbaijanis unleashed a war against the Armenians in Nagorno-Karabakh. This war must be studied in every US military school. Prior to 2020, few thought about Azerbaijan as a military power, yet they conducted a skilled, joint, multidomain campaign against their opponents. They used new technologies not common in the US military. Fighting against an enemy that held prepared mountain defenses, the Azerbaijanis executed a 44-day military campaign that ended in a decisive victory. The campaign was not flawless, but the Azerbaijanis “got more right” than their opponents, and that is all that counts in war. Azerbaijan leveraged drones, electronic warfare, and cyberwar to overturn the defender’s traditional advantages. The combination of “shock drones” and a sophisticated sensor and battlespace coordination effort by the Azerbaijanis and their Turkish allies destroyed the Armenian air-defense network and provided Azerbaijan with air dominance for the rest of the war. The Second-Nagorno Karabakh War was the first war in history primarily won by robotic forces. For this reason alone, we should know about this war.
Instead of studying this important conflict, the lessons of the Second Nagorno- Karabakh War are largely unknown in the US military. This is unfortunate as this war pre-shadowed the course of combat in the Russia–Ukraine War. As the Secretary of the US Army, Christine Wormuth, stated at the Association of the US Army conference on October 11, 2021: “I’m not convinced that we have fully thought our way through all of the challenges we may face on the future high-end battlefield if deterrence fails. We need to look harder at key cases, such as the Nagorno-Karabakh War between Armenia and Azerbaijan … Perhaps hardest of all, these changes must be made swiftly.”
The second war to examine occurred in the spring of 2021. Operation Guardian of the Walls, the name used by the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) for the 2021 Israel–Hamas War, lasted only 11 days, but this conflict showed the possibilities of wars to come. The IDF called this the “first artificial intelligence war,” as AI was the key element in their success. Hamas launched 4,360 rockets at Israeli cities and towns, many of which were knocked out of the sky by Israeli Iron Dome anti-missile rockets. The Israeli anti-missile defense was impressive but, to end the war, the IDF had to take the fight to the enemy. Hamas fighters were hiding among the people and Israel’s dilemma was to separate combatants from non-combatants in a dense urban battlespace. Israeli sensors collected years of data on their enemies from all sources, centralized this information into a multidomain sensor database, and accessed it in real-time to generate multidomain targeting information. Sensors input data continuously and in real-time to update a common operational picture that provided the IDF with a transparent view of their opponents. The IDF also used AI-enabled drone swarms for sensing and striking. The AI generated a super-fast kill chain that enabled the IDF to eliminate enemy fighters and destroy Hamas rocket launchers while minimizing civilian casualties within the city of Gaza.
The third war that must be studied is the ongoing Russia–Ukraine War. In late 2021, the idea that Russia would attack Ukraine and begin the deadliest war in Europe since 1945 seemed possible but unlikely. By mid-January 2022, the intelligence view changed and the US seemed certain the Russians would attack Ukraine, but American diplomacy did not deter the Russians. Just before the invasion, the US Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Mark Milley, told lawmakers that “Kyiv could fall within 72 hours if a full-scale Russian invasion of Ukraine takes place.” When Russia invaded on February 24, 2022, US intelligence agencies, calculating the size and capabilities of the opposing forces, predicted the Russians would capture Kyiv in two or three days. Apparently, the Russians believed the same logic and thought the Ukrainians would greet them with bread, salt, and flowers, traditional Russian gifts for greeting important guests. Instead, the Ukrainian’s greeted the invaders with Molotov cocktails, Javelin anti-tank guided missiles (ATGMs), and Kalashnikov assault rifles. Ukraine’s will to resist surprised the world. It is difficult to measure an army’s willingness to fight; the courage and determination to adapt, improvise, and overcome is something we can only guess at until proven in battle. Second only to the Ukrainians’ will to fight is their ability to think and create solutions as they confront the ever-changing methods of warfare. The Russians smashed into them like a tidal wave on February 24, 2022, and the Ukrainians learned to swim with the tide. Fighting back fiercely against the invasion and adapting rapidly in the chaos of the first weeks of battle, the Ukrainians beat the odds. This ongoing conflict is the bloodiest conflict in Europe since WWII and is also turning out to be the most technological war in history.
These wars show that a one-punch boxer will lose to a skilled opponent who can use both arms. The contest is even more one-sided if the opponent is a skilled mixed martial artist who uses their torso, head, legs, and arms to win. The modern multidomain battlespace is like this mixed martial artist. Armed forces that can work together, coordinate, and synchronize operations on land, at sea, in the air, in space, and in cyberspace, as well as influence the electromagnetic, informational, and human dimensions, will defeat adversaries who only operate in one or two domains. Multidomain capabilities, that are now possessed by even third-tier military powers, have made the battlefield—the modern term is “battlespace” to depict the multidomain nature of the modern battle areas—transparent. Multidomain sensor networks use sensors from the muddy ground to outer space to reveal targets in the battlespace. Creating an unblinking eye that identifies, locates, and tracks targets in a congested battlespace is not a simple task. It takes sophisticated systems, purpose, and planning to reveal the enemy in this new battlespace. Couple ubiquitous sensors with long-range precision fires, that can hit and destroy targets at extreme ranges, and you grasp the crux of the issue. Indeed, in Nagorno-Karabakh in 2020, Gaza in 2021, and Ukraine from 2022, the combined effort of sensors, drones, and long-range precision fires shaped the conduct of these wars.
This does not mean the traditional means of war do not count, but it does mean we must reimagine how to fight and develop new combinations of combat power. Since World War II, the US military has enjoyed air dominance due to its superior air forces, but this is no longer assured. “The threat has changed. Our adversaries, large and small, now integrate Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance (ISR) sensors, especially UAS [unmanned aerial systems], with long-range precision fires. For US forces, this is the end of guaranteed air superiority.” War is now a matter of “finders,” versus “hiders,” and “strikers” versus “shielders.” Imagine a peer fight against China where US forces rush to defend Taiwan. As with the Japanese in World War II, American and Allied forces are “in the way” of Chinese ambitions. How will our forces survive and win when sensors see everything and long-range precision fires target anything seen? Do our forces have the skill, training, and equipment to survive an enemy first strike? Will our forces adapt to the ever-accelerating tempo of war? Can we execute Mission Command11 in a degraded communications environment? How will our command posts survive? Will commanders see and understand what is happening in the battlespace to plan, decide, and act in time?
We must reimagine how we fight. Technology is vital and humans are more important than hardware, but only if those humans think and prepare. We will not rise to the level of our most exquisite technology; we will fall to the level of our collective training, using what we have when the war starts. If we do not learn from recent wars, we will not get a second chance. The future will be here sooner than you think. All these potential conflicts are accelerated by new technologies. We seem to be at the precipice of a major war. If we prepare now, we may be able to convince potential adversaries to think twice before launching a war. Deterring war requires the enemy to believe he cannot win a conflict and should not even attempt to attack us or our allies. If deterrence fails, we must win as speedily as possible, as long wars are the ruin of nations. To win wars against peer enemies we need a robust dialogue about the nine disrupters described in this book (The Transparent Battlespace; The First Strike Advantage; Artificial Intelligence and the Tempo of War; The Super Swarm; The Kill Web; Visualizing the Battlespace; Top-Attack; Fully Autonomous; and Decision Dominance). The clocks are “striking thirteen” and time is running out. It is up to us, as leaders, to think, act, and be ready for the next war.
Serious Warfighters Will Want to Watch This Video – A Recent Talk by COL Antal
Like what you’ve read so far, then treat yourself to the book at: https://www.amazon.com/Next-War-Reimagining-How-Fight-ebook/dp/B0CFW32F52