Trends in Future Warfare

By Bowie, Christopher J.; Haffa, Robert P., Jr. et al. | Joint Force Quarterly, Summer 2003 | Go to article overview
Save to active project

Trends in Future Warfare

Bowie, Christopher J., Haffa, Robert P., Jr., Mullins, Robert E., Joint Force Quarterly

The United States has engaged in several conflicts since the Cold War. It built a coalition to drive Iraq out of Kuwait, conducted an air campaign against Serbia with its NATO allies to halt ethnic cleansing in Kosovo, and defeated the Taliban in Afghanistan as part of the global war on terrorism. And it has launched an invasion of Iraq to overthrow Saddam Hussein. While these interventions have failed to bring peace to the world, the Armed Forces are likely to remain militarily committed for many years.

Recent conflicts offer insights on the conduct of war in the early 21st century. These trends are drawn from high-intensity combat operations over a relatively modest timeframe. Trends over the last decade will probably endure for another ten years and underscore the relevance of strategic realities, military capabilities, and enabling technologies for the future.

Some Basic Assumptions

War will continue to be an instrument of national power. The fact that there have been four major conflicts since the Cold War may be evidence enough that the near-term future is unlikely to be peaceful, Trends revealed in these conflicts will not be rapidly overtaken by revolutionary new technologies. Those analysts who have studied the revolution in military affairs in an historical context argue that technical breakthroughs are not sufficient in themselves to bring about an entirely different way of warfighting. Corresponding organizational and doctrinal changes require twenty or thirty years to take root, mature, and evolve into new capabilities.

Trends in warfare can be plotted across a range of conflicts. The diversity of the conflicts argues in favor of capabilities for both high-intensity and small-scale contingencies. Asymmetry is a commodity that will be coveted by the United States and its enemies. A conventional imbalance will induce potential enemies to wage asymmetric warfare. The Armed Forces must be prepared to confront such threats. The task is examining trends that describe enemy actions in recent conflicts and point to areas in which Washington can increase its competitive advantages.

An analysis of future warfare cannot review all aspects of military strategy and operations. For example, increased reliance of land, sea, and air operations on space-based assets is difficult to weigh. Moreover, areas such as information operations, air and missile defense, and post-conflict operations do not readily lend themselves to trend analysis but are also clearly worthy of serious evaluation.

Hindsight is not always accepted as useful in developing recommendations on the conduct of future war. After all, there is the old adage that the military often prepares to fight the last war. A corollary may be that little can be learned from past conflicts because of their uniqueness. While recent conflicts have been unique, evidence suggests that the historical record is relevant.

Political-Military Trends

The location of recent conflicts suggests a shift from Europe toward Asia, a region of vast economic importance and diverse security challenges. Whatever a future war in that region might look like, it will not resemble an intense battle in Europe from large fixed bases dispersed over relatively short distances envisioned over the last half century.

America depended on alliances such as NATO for collective defense during the Cold War. In three post-Cold War conflicts, coalitions were organized as the result of an ad hoc approach to securing international support for military operations led by United States. Rather than the long-term arrangements that typified past alliances, future coalitions are likely to be temporary liaisons, with some partners proving more faithful than others.

In contrast to the Cold War, recent allied contributions have largely come in the form of political support and access to facilities rather than combat forces. Trends in coalition warfare have revealed widening disparities in capabilities that will cause allies in the future to fall farther behind, although niche capabilities such as special operations forces will remain valuable.

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
Loading One moment ...
Project items
Cite this article

Cited article

Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

Cited article

Trends in Future Warfare


Text size Smaller Larger
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

While we understand printed pages are helpful to our users, this limitation is necessary to help protect our publishers' copyrighted material and prevent its unlawful distribution. We are sorry for any inconvenience.
Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.

Are you sure you want to delete this highlight?