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Surprise, Shock and Daring: The Future of Mobile, All-Arms Warfare

April 7, 2004

Today as U.S. armed forces fight our enemies in Southwest Asia, South Asia and many other parts of the globe, it is clear that the nature of war and combat remains essentially the same. Though our weapons have become increasingly more effective and our tactics and organizations for fighting have thus evolved, what remains constant is the fact that war and combat remain a brutal test of human wills. Enemies of the United States are displaying the ability to resist and adapt. U.S. soldiers and airmen in turn are adapting to win. Gaining and maintaining contact with the enemy; killing and wounding him with fires; and maneuvering to finish him are as challenging as ever. Information, mobility, firepower, protection and leadership remain essential to the combat power required to prevail. Complicating this are the challenges of doing all of this over great strategic distances and in remote, austere locations. American fighting forces have faced these daunting challenges before and certainly will continue to do so.

As we fight we also look forward. We imagine how future wars will be waged. Assessing the United States’ strategic situation and the threats both today and into the future, our leaders acknowledge the requirement to modernize and transform our military and naval forces. Demonstrated capabilities of our most modern technologies today on the battlefield and proving grounds provide us glimpses of extraordinary future potential. This potential allows us to visualize future war and combat being waged in ways significantly different from those of today or the recent past.

The United States Army’s vision, however, acknowledges that, in the end, conflict will remain a human endeavor. The Army also affirms the ultimate requirement to control an enemy’s terrain, resources and population to achieve decisive victory. Ground forces thus will remain indispensable.

At its most fundamental level, war is a brutal contest of wills. Winning decisively means dominating our enemies. Potential opponents must be convinced that we are able to break them physically and psychologically and that we are willing to bear the costs of doing so. For some opponents, mere punishment from afar is not enough. With these adversaries, the only way to guarantee victory is to put our boots on his ground, impose ourselves on his territory, and destroy him in his sanctuaries. . . . This is the foundation of decisive operations.

The challenge for the Army is to fight these battles anywhere the United States has interests and against any enemy. This requires us to be prepared to alert and deploy on short notice; travel great distances; and, on arrival, fight to win successfully operating under any set of local conditions. We will have to be able to do this as part of joint, 2 interagency or multinational forces. Operations can range from peacekeeping to mid- to high-intensity warfare.

This requirement is driven by many changes on the strategic landscape. Rapidly expanding United States political and economic interests around the globe not only increase opportunities for better relations and wealth creation but also increase exposure and risk, i.e., exposures that will have to be defended when threatened. Regional instabilities, aggressive regimes, terrorists, organized crime and the proliferation of advanced weapons ensure a varied, unpredictable and dangerous set of threats. Gone are the days when the Army could focus on a small number of specific theaters, adversaries and missions pursuant to a long-established and little-changing national military strategy. Today and into the future the Army must be prepared for any challenge, any time and anywhere.

The U.S. National Security Strategy of September 2002 acknowledges this new reality. It is a strategy of engagement and cooperation with allies, friends and those who seek partnership with the United States. It is also a strategy for preemption against the nation’s enemies. U.S. strategies have expanded beyond deterrence.

The U.S. Army’s leaders offer the idea and challenge of a Future Force2 to meet tomorrow’s threats. This force is intended to be a ubiquitous force of unmatched and unprecedented combat power—power that can be employed against any enemy, at any location on the globe, and achieve decisive victory. Exploiting science and industry’s most advanced technologies, we will arm our soldiers with superior weapons and equipment. This superiority, coupled with combined-arms organization, quality training and joint force integration, is intended to give our Army the tactical power of “firsts”: “see first, understand first, act first, and finish decisively.

Accepting the possibility that much of the technological advances intended for the Future Force will be realized, I shall offer three ideas or requirements toward which we should aim; ideas that should be used to impart a decided operational bias in our efforts to field this force.

To transform the U.S. Army into a 21st century force of unprecedented and overwhelming combat power, Army leaders propose the fielding of a Future Force—a technologically sophisticated force designed to wage violent, fast-paced operational “deep battle” in any given theater. It is to do this as part of a joint, interagency or multinational force (JIM). It will alert and deploy across strategic distances against any enemy in any type of terrain. It will be a force that will be optimized for offensive operations. It will commit our strengths against identified enemy weaknesses— weaknesses that can be exploited through rapid fire and maneuver to strike at what the enemy holds most dear. The goal is to preempt long, costly wars of attrition.

The Army must both aim toward and leverage three specific qualities to realize the full operational potential of the Future Force. First, operational surprise should be viewed as not only an essential planning factor for the conduct of any future campaign but also fully realizable. Second, shock effect by highly mobile, combined-arms tactical combat units will be essential to maintaining high operational tempo. Third, daring and creative leaders at both operational and tactical levels will continue to be the sine qua non for 3 harnessing and exploiting the information, firepower, protection and mobility of the Future Force.

Technological advances notwithstanding, what will make the Future Force truly lethal will be its ability to force enemies of the United States to react to its campaign design and combat methods. The intended capability to enter a theater at just about any point with highly mobile and lethal forces will give us great opportunities to surprise our enemies. That, coupled with the ability to subsequently and repeatedly defeat enemy forces in fast-paced, violent tactical engagements, will sustain the enemy’s initial surprise with shock effect. Surprise, shock effect and rapid destruction will both disorient and weaken the enemy while also increasing our freedom of action and allowing for rapid maneuver. This will be the way we will defeat enemy forces: by causing dislocation and disintegration rather than by engaging in sequential, set-piece battles of annihilation. Key to this will be leaders who will both design these schemes and lead in their flexible execution. Only they will be able to visualize enemy strengths, weaknesses and centers of gravity. They will also envision the operational concepts to attack decisive objectives while exploiting operational surprise and tactical prowess.

These ideas are timeless but have been present in history’s most successful armies. They also reflect more the character of an army than, say, specific technological advances. That character is very often reflected in the attitude of an army’s officer corps, the bias of its doctrine, the focus of its training and the organization of its fighting units.