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Army Futures Command’s Directorate of Concepts, in cooperation with the Modern War Institute, is pleased to announce an essay contest to generate new ideas and expand the community of interest for the Army’s next operating concept focused on 2040.

The Directorate of Concepts is in the process of writing and testing the next Army Operating Concept, aimed at anticipating how Army forces might operate, equip, or organize in different ways to meet the challenges of the future operational environment in 2040. Forecasting challenges and trends eighteen years into the future, while necessary, remains a major challenge in this particular concept’s development. We know that we’re not going to get things exactly right, but by applying rigorous and creative thinking about the future, we can start to understand emerging problems and begin to describe how to solve them. We invite you to imagine how some advancing and disruptive technologies like artificial intelligence and autonomous systems might be employed on the battlefields of 2040, to explore how these adaptations at the tactical level might lead to changes in operations and campaigns, and to stretch the limits of current thinking of how Army forces best contribute to the joint force’s success by operating, equipping or organizing in different ways. In short, we ask you to help us think rigorously about what the future may hold and how the Army should begin to prepare for it today.

Essay Prompt

Essays must address the following question: With AI maturing, autonomous systems and robotics becoming more prevalent on the battlefield, and battlefield transparency increasing, how should Army forces operate, equip, organize, and array the battlefield 2040 to overcome those challenges?

This topic is broad. We encourage authors to clearly articulate a specific idea or concept in their responses.


  • Essays will be accepted from any person from any field.
  • Up to three people may coauthor an essay entry.
  • Participants may submit only one entry to the competition.
  • Essays must be original, unpublished, and not subject to publication elsewhere.

Submission Guidelines

  • Essays will not exceed two thousand words.
  • Use the standard submission guidelines for the Modern War Institute.
  • Email your entry to with “Army 2040 Contest” in the subject line. Once submitted, no edits, corrections, or changes are allowed.
  • Submission deadline: essays will be accepted until 11:59 PM EDT on June 12, 2022.

Selection Process

Submissions will be reviewed and evaluated by a team from the Directorate of Concepts and the Modern War Institute. Submissions will be assessed based on how well and creatively they address the topic of the contest and provoke further thought and conversation, as well as their suitability for publication by the Modern War Institute (e.g., style, sources, accessibility, etc.). Evaluation criteria include:

  • Does the essay clearly define a problem and present a solution?
  • Does the essay show thoughtful analysis?
  • Does the essay inject new, provocative thinking or address areas where there needs to be more discussion?
  • Does the essay demonstrate a unique approach or improve current initiatives?
  • Does the essay take lessons from history and apply them to today’s challenges?
  • Does the essay propose an idea that could realistically be incorporated into the Army Operating Concept 2040?
  • Does the essay demonstrate knowledge of relevant existing writing on AI, autonomy, robotics, and future warfare?
  • Is the essay logically organized, well written, and persuasive?

Essays do not have to meet all eight criteria, but stronger essays will excel in multiple categories. The director of the Directorate of Concepts will make the final judgment for the contest.

Winning Submissions

The top three essays will be announced publicly and will be published by the Modern War Institute. Depending on the evaluation of the Modern War Institute editorial team, revisions may be required before publication.

Image credit: Pfc. Matthew Mackintosh, US Army