The Janus Paradox: The Army’s Preparation for Conflicts of the 21st Century

October 7, 2000

This paper poses a serious question about the Army’s future. Has the Army sufficiently thought through the environments the newly devised Interim Brigade Combat Team (IBCT) and its more futuristic Objective Force will face in the future? The conclusion: The Army’s thinkers have done a great job in thinking through traditional combat—after all, open, force-on-force, symmetrical combat is precisely what the Army has done magnificently over the years. But the Army hasn’t given sufficient thought to possible environmental variables it will cope with during future operations. If the Army doesn’t reorient its current thinking, it could face serious shortfalls in doctrine, training, logistics, materiel, organizations and soldier systems.

Specifically, the Army’s thinking must expand to include nontraditional environmental variables that could influence its operations. The IBCT and Objective Force won’t habitually face conventional forces in open areas fighting as armies have fought for hundreds of years. No, the Information Revolution has brought upon the Army (and all services) the specter of asymmetric warfare—a strategy in which a weak opponent successfully engages a stronger opponent by using a variety of offsets for gaining advantage in hopes of achieving objectives and goals. Asymmetric approaches involve information operations (IO), weapons of mass destruction, and indirect attacks against soldiers, knowledge workers and their families.

Asymmetric warfare is a perfect strategy for operating in the 21st century. That is, asymmetric operations are nonlinear and cellular in an organizational sense. Asymmetric foes will seek and strike weaknesses, attack in areas in which they are strong, count on intelligence and deception, and work the fine lines of psychological operations (PSYOPS) and deception en route and in the objective area, as well as in the continental United States, including soldiers’ home bases.

This paper is in three parts. First, it provides some broad concepts to support its position on what the Army will face in future conflicts. Included in this part is the premise that the Army’s opponents of the future will successfully compete with the 8 United States military regardless of their conventional military prowess. It also makes an argument that the Army must prepare for kinetic, force-on-force conflict, along with facing foes who use asymmetric strategies and engage in a combination of kinetic combat and invisible, digital struggles. Second, the paper provides some concrete observations about conceptual work the Army’s planners have done with the Interim Brigade Combat Team. Third, the paper provides some specific C4 ISR (command, control, communications, computers, intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance) recommendations for the Army’s leaders to consider, as they move the organization into a future whose complexities are difficult to grapple with and perceive.