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Lynn: U.S. Must Prepare for Future Warfare Trends

By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, June 8, 2011 – The Pentagon must factor in major trends likely to shape the national security environment, including many that defy traditional military planning, Deputy Defense Secretary William J. Lynn III said here today.

The Defense Department must play a part in federal deficit-reduction efforts, Lynn told the Center for Strategic and International Studies’ 2011 Global Security Forum.

“Since 9/11, we have had the ability to address new defense challenges with increased resources,” he said. “We will not have that luxury for the foreseeable future.”

The challenge, he added, is to manage the coming budget reductions wisely and responsibly, and apply resources so they can best meet future warfare trends.

Lynn cited the revolutionary changes that occurred during the last half-century alone, exemplified through the life of Frank Buckles, the last surviving U.S. World War I veteran, who died in February. Buckles saw the horrors of trench warfare during World War I, was rescued as a World War II prisoner of war just as the design for an atomic bomb was finalized, and lived to have his own Facebook page before he died at age 110.

The three revolutions that Buckles’ life encompassed -- industrial, atomic and information -- “brought an avalanche of military technologies and introduced whole new dimensions to war,” Lynn said. “The issue for us as we consider what capabilities and programs to protect in a defense drawdown is what course future technologies will take.”

Lynn identified three strategic trends he said are likely to shape the future U.S. national security environment: increasing access to lethality across the threat spectrum, longer-duration warfare, and the growing prevalence of asymmetric threats.

“They are each, in different ways, the result of our entry into a new era of war, one driven primarily by the overlay of the information age atop the industrial and atomic revolutions,” he said. “They can and they must inform our defense planning. What we need to do at this juncture, in this fiscal environment, is to take the long view about what strategic trends are important.”

Gone, Lynn said, are the days when the most economically developed counties possessed the most-lethal military power, and others had second-rate capabilities or little or no access to highly lethal technologies.

“Today, this linear relationship between economic and military power no longer holds,” he said. “Terrorist groups with few resources can mount devastating attacks. Insurgents can defeat our most advanced armor with fertilizer bombs. Rogue states seek nuclear weapons. Some criminal organizations even possess world-class cyber capabilities.”

This change has increased the risks the United States faces and broadens the range of threats it must be prepared to confront, he said.

“Defense planning must reflect this development,” Lynn said, ensuring the military has the capabilities to confront both high- and low-end threats.

“We have decisions about how to size our forces for these disparate contingencies, but we must equip for both,” he said. “In other words, we will need both fifth-generation fighters and counter-[improvised explosive device] technology.”

Current reality also challenges the long-held assumption that kinetic engagements would be relatively short, Lynn said. Noting that operations in Iraq and Afghanistan have lasted longer than the U.S. participation in World War I and World War II combined, he said military planners must be prepared to sustain long-term commitments for a range of plausible conflicts. Their planning, he added, must account for enough force structure to provide adequate troop dwell time between deployments.

“This is likely to have important implications for how we size, structure and utilize our reserve force components,” he said. “We need the ability to scale-up force structure for longer conflicts. The long-term costs of extended conflicts must be considered in our strategic calculus.”

Another trend Lynn said must be taken into account in posturing the military for the future is the increasing prevalence of asymmetric threats.

Recognizing that they can’t go up against the United States militarily, adversaries use asymmetric approaches that Lynn said “target our weaknesses and undercut our advantages.”

As a result, “insurgents such as the Taliban and al-Qaida in Iraq avoid engaging our military in direct force-on-force engagements,” he said. “Instead, they use IEDs and assassination as their weapons, and they hope to use the longer duration of war to wait us out.”

Traditional powers also seek asymmetric capabilities, increasingly turning to area-denial and anti-access tactics through the proliferation of precision-strike weapons, he said.

Sophisticated precision-strike technologies, once exclusive to the United States and its allies, will be available to more nations in the next 10 to 20 years, Lynn said. This will have a cumulative effect he said will challenge U.S. power-projection to distant parts of the globe.

“To address these anti-access tactics and defeat area-denial strategies, we need to develop a range of capabilities, particularly missile defense and long-range strike,” Lynn said. He cited major investments being made in a long-range strike system that will enable the United States to penetrate defenses and deliver munitions worldwide.

Lynn also cited the potential use of asymmetric tactics in cyberspace -- a development he said that would threaten the Internet technology that increasingly underpins U.S. military and economic strength.

The cyber threat is maturing, Lynn said. Not only are its effects escalating, but more capabilities are being developed within terrorist groups which are hard to deter because they typically have few assets to strike back against.

“If a terrorist group gains a disruptive and destructive capability, we have to assume they will strike with little hesitation,” he warned. “So in cyber, we have a window of opportunity to act before the most malicious actors acquire the most destructive technologies. We need to continue moving aggressively to protect our military, government and critical infrastructure networks.”

Looking to the future, Lynn said the challenge is to navigate current fiscal circumstances without disrupting the capabilities of the world’s most effective military force.

“We need to make the right judgments about the nature of our future security environment,” he said.

“We need to invest in the right capabilities and force structure that address the trends in warfare, … and we need to relentlessly adapt our technology and our doctrine as threats evolve and mature,” Lynn said. “If we do these things, we will ensure our forces are ready for the future of war.”


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William J. Lynn III

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The opinions expressed in the following comments do not necessarily reflect those of the U.S. Department of Defense.

6/9/2011 4:08:32 PM
The easy answer is power projection and containment. South Korea and Japan is mostly about minimizing the threat potential of a rising China. Mearsheimer suggests a shift toward an offshore balancing strategy, but it's difficult to say how receptive most folks in the DOD and State Department are to that type of strategy, particularly given the integral role that forward deployment has played in Cold War era balancing and post-Cold War attempts at Hegemony. Just sayin'.
- Ben, Kansas City, MO

6/9/2011 10:57:26 AM
Why after more than 60 years are we in Korea? Can't they take care of the minor skirmishes already? Why, after more than 65 years are we still in Japan? Can anyone believe they are still a threat? We in so many places we really don't need to be..It seems to me some Generals just doesn't want to lose their little fiefdoms. It's time to get serious about cutting Defense in the right places.
- Jo, Washington DC

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