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The Enduring Relevance of Landpower: Flexibility and Adaptability for Joint Campaigns

October 7, 2003

The National Security Strategy (NSS) describes a volatile security environment in which the United States faces a broad array of threats requiring a wider spectrum of operations and a more complex range of operating conditions than previously faced.2 It requires new ways of thinking and operating to meet dilemmas across the full range of military operations. Land forces must be multidimensional and capabilities-based, able to prevent, protect against and effectively respond to attacks by conventional and unconventional forces, terrorists, criminal organizations and other threats. They must also support civil authorities at home and abroad. In addition, the uneven process of globalization highlights the dangers the nation may face, where countries or regions disconnected from the process pose special risks.3 Significantly, these include places where land forces have already proven their worth and others where they will be indispensable to assuring deterrence, conducting stability or support operations, or ensuring military victory when required. Such places include the tense Middle East and Persian Gulf, Northeast and South Asia, and unstable parts of sub-Saharan Africa and Latin America. The continuing urbanization of many of these regions underscores the need for flexible and adaptable land forces capable of operating in diverse environments.

The National Security Strategy (NSS) describes a volatile security environment in which the United States faces a broad array of threats requiring a wider spectrum of operations and a more complex range of operating conditions than previously faced. It requires new ways of thinking and operating to meet dilemmas across the full range of military operations. Land forces must be multidimensional and capabilities-based, able to prevent, protect against and effectively respond to attacks by conventional and unconventional forces, terrorists, criminal organizations and other threats. They must also support civil authorities at home and abroad. In addition, the uneven process of globalization highlights the dangers the nation may face, where countries or regions disconnected from the process pose special risks. Significantly, these include places where land forces have already proven their worth and others where they will be indispensable to assuring deterrence, conducting stability or support operations, or ensuring military victory when required. Such places include the tense Middle East and Persian Gulf, Northeast and South Asia, and unstable parts of sub-Saharan Africa and Latin America. The continuing urbanization of many of these regions underscores the need for flexible and adaptable land forces capable of operating in diverse environments.

These are unique capabilities that the Army desires as the primary provider of landpower to the joint force. Still, there are some in the defense community who question the relevance of advanced ground force capabilities for the future security environment. Some argue that other military capabilities, such as long-range precision strike, smart munitions, robust surveillance and loitering aerial platforms, could substitute for many of the ground capabilities envisioned by the Army. Additionally, some critics argue that the Army is too cumbersome, too heavy and too slow to respond to the demanding timelines of future crisis situations. While taking such challenging questions seriously, the real issue is whether landpower capabilities remain relevant to the security environment of the 21st century. More specifically, the question is whether U.S. land forces remain relevant to future joint campaigns. To address these questions requires an understanding of the meaning of landpower and the unique and critical capabilities that are essential to winning a joint campaign in the future security environment. The fact is that landpower, defined as “the ability in peace, crisis, and war to exert prompt and sustained influence on the achievement of national objectives on or from land,” brings a significant degree of flexibility and adaptability to the joint campaign, which cannot be replicated. Insights from futuristic wargames and studies, from military history and from recent operations and deployments reinforce the criticality of land forces to the joint campaign.