As the U.S. Army hunkered down for the war on terror, phrases such as “counter-insurgency” and “IEDs” became familiar to most Americans, along with the “shock and awe” introduced during the earlier Gulf War.
But now, if Army modernizers have read the runes right, two new phrases are set to dominate the future of U.S. warfare: “multi-domain operations” and “great power competition.”
Those ideas lie at the heart of the 16-year Army Modernization Strategy recently published by the newly minted Army Futures Command.
As the U.S. Army mastered the art of counter-insurgency on the dusty plains of Helmand Province and the streets of Baghdad’s Green Zone, and the world entered the age of the iPhone, China and Russia were working on ambitious strategies that harnessed the latest technology from the ground up.
In the past 15 years, China quietly tripled its annual military spending to an estimated $200 billion, with a clear focus on leveraging the latest developments such as artificial intelligence (AI), cloud computing, and hypersonic missiles to unbalance the U.S. military.
Spurred by the Trump administration’s 2017 National Security Strategy that followed years of murmurings by defense hawks, the military is now scrambling to catch up, with many analysts saying the United States had been asleep at the wheel after the end of the Cold War.
One of the organizations charged with meeting the challenge of this renewed “great power competition” is the Army Futures Command (AFC), created in 2018 to drive what is described by many analysts as the biggest reorganization in 45 years. But the AFC isn’t simply about feeding new ideas and priorities into the previous 20-year acquisitions cycle. The AFC is the recognition that the rapid pace of tech development requires forging a new approach that melds the spirit of the light-footed tech start-up with military discipline and strategy.