Editor’s note: MWI Adjunct Scholar David Johnson has written a two-part series of articles at War on the Rocks that examine the challenges facing the US Army. To read the full articles, click the links below.


Part I: Learning from the 1970s

For the past three decades, the US military has lived off the concepts and eroding capabilities for conflicts against peer adversaries that it developed during the Cold War. For the Army, AirLand Battle is the last fully institutionalized intellectual and doctrinal warfighting construct intended for high-end adversaries, although there have been several replacement candidates in recent years. These have included “Strategic Landpower,” and, most recently “Multi-Domain Battle.” The former never gained traction within the Army and vanished from the discussion in a few short years. Why is that? What must be done to keep Multi-Domain Battle from going the way of Strategic Landpower?

Without consensus on the specifics of the military problem—including the adversary, his capabilities and weapons that must be countered, and the place where the fight is envisioned to occur—Multi-Domain Battle and other concepts for deterring or defeating peer adversaries (like the third offset) are in jeopardy.

Furthermore, to gain broad acceptance, new military concepts must be supportive of the priorities of a national strategy. Otherwise, they are irrelevant in the key areas of obtaining political support and resources. The new National Security Strategy is such a policy statement, because it prioritizes the security challenges (Russia, China, North Korea, Iran, and jihadist terrorists) facing the United States and provides broad presidential guidance on a strategic way forward. The question for the Army is how will it turn this political guidance into concepts and capabilities to address these challenges?

Read the full article.

Part II: From 9/11 to Great Power Competition

In military operations after 9/11, US conventional warfighting dominance was on full display. The Taliban and Saddam Hussein’s military were quickly routed. However, the decisive initial operational and tactical successes in Afghanistan and then Iraq turned out to be illusory. It was soon evident that the campaign plan for Operation Iraqi Freedom, although delivering as promised in toppling Saddam and his military, did not have a realistic vision for what would follow. Consequently, there were not enough forces on the ground to deal with a post-Saddam Iraq, and that country soon went off the rails. Coalition forces were suddenly in the midst of a full-blown insurgency. The challenges of Iraq, coupled with a worsening insurgency in Afghanistan, presented a different problem that, while not existential, created a political crisis and demands for military solutions. The Army and the other services responded.

Read the full article.


David Johnson is a retired Army colonel. He is a Principal Researcher at the RAND Corporation, an Adjunct Scholar at the Modern War Institute at West Point, and an Adjunct Professor at Georgetown University.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not reflect the official policy or position of the Department of the Army, DOD, or the US Government.


Image credit: Spc. Dedrick Johnson, US Army