01 September 2011

Barry Watts, CSBA: The Maturing Revolution in Military Affairs

Barry Watts, The Maturing Revolution in Military Affairs (Washington, DC: Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments, 3 June 2011).

Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments is pleased to release The Maturing Revolution in Military Affairs. The report, authored by Center Senior Fellow Barry Watts, considers the maturation of the precision-strike regime and five of the most consequential fundamental changes in the conduct of war by 2040-2050:

  • Growing U.S. dependence on space and cyberspace may prove a major vulnerability to the operational concepts and organizations American forces have increasingly utilized since the early 1990s.
  • Naval surface combatants such as aircraft carriers may no longer be sufficiently survivable when operating within reach of enemy anti-access/area-denial systems.
  • The advantages of stealth—understood as mission planning and tactics plus low-observable platform signatures—may be eroded by advances in sensors and surface-to-air missile systems, especially for manned strike platforms operating inside defended airspace.
  • Large or massed ground forces, major ports, and bases are likely to become highly vulnerable to enemy guided artillery, mortars, and missiles.
  • Finally, traditional approaches to overseas power projection of conventional forces may grow too difficult and costly to sustain.

The symmetric precision-strike regime people envisioned during the 1990s has not unfolded as most observers expected, according to Watts. “Nearly two decades after the Office of Net Assessment raised the issue of a revolution in military affairs based on precision munitions, advanced sensors, and more automated command and control, the United States is still the only power able to conduct information-enabled precision-strike on a global basis,” he finds.

The spread of both long-range and short-range precision strike capabilities that is occurring today, most notably in the case of China in the western Pacific, will pose significant challenges to the U.S. military in the next decade or two, according to the report. Among other things, traditional American approaches to power projection are likely to become increasingly difficult and costly to execute, according to Watts.