Wars today are fought for the same reasons the Greek historian Thucydides identified nearly 2,500 years ago: fear, honor, and interest. Many of the difficulties encountered in strategic decision making and operational planning stem from a neglect of continuities in the nature of war. The cultural, social, economic, religious, and historical considerations that comprise the human aspects of war must inform wartime planning as well as our preparation for future armed conflict. A failure to consider the human aspects of war risks, as General Carl Vuono observes in this week’s essay, that future generations “will pay for our irresponsibility with their treasure and possibly with their blood.” General Vuono emphasizes the value of capable, credible conventional land forces to deter threats and defend U.S. global interests, especially during periods of change. He underscores the importance of understanding continuities in the nature of war as well as recognizing changes in the character of armed conflict.
During the early 1990s, policy makers and strategists were enthusiastic about the Peace Dividend. In his prophetic 1990 essay, “The Strategic Value of Conventional Forces,” General Carl Vuono, former U.S. Army Chief of Staff, observed that the world will remain complex long after the collapse of the Soviet Union. To “remain prepared to deal with the military capabilities of a host of foes,” in such a complex world, Vuono stressed the need to maintain ready land forces that can be adapted quickly to deal with the ever-widening range of challenges.
Vuono listed three attributes for conventional land forces: versatility, deployability, and lethality. Land Forces must be capable of responding to a widening array of challenges while drawing from the same reservoir of forces. Versatility requires retaining combat power in units forward deployed in Europe, Asia, Central America, and in other areas where forward presence is vital to protect and defend US interests. Second, conventional land forces must be deployable - able to project substantial combat power rapidly wherever our interests are threatened. Finally, conventional land forces must be lethal - lethal to bolster deterrence and lethal to ensure defense. Lethality demands modern weapons, tough and realistic training, and “young Americans of character and ability who volunteer to fill our ranks.” Combined, all three attributes enable Army forces to succeed in what Army Chief of Staff General Mark Milley has described as the “unforgiving environment of ground combat” during his 2015 speech when assuming duties as the 39th Chief of Staff, U.S. Army. Otherwise, as Milley stated, “we will pay the butcher's bill in blood.”
Our Army requires modernized combat vehicles across all formations because Vuono’s 1990 observation remains true today: “conflict remains a way of life and the principles of freedom and democracy remain very much at risk.” Innovative and crosscutting technologies are essential to improve the future force’s combat effectiveness through reduced logistical demand, improved reliability and reduced life cycle costs, and simpler systems that are easier to operate and sustain. Synthetic and live prototyping will improve our ability to innovate and integrate new technologies with well-trained soldiers and teams. Neglecting to do so leaves the Army in danger of paying the “butcher’s bill” during future conflicts.
Vuono’s article reminds us that anticipating the demands of future armed conflict requires an understanding of continuities in the nature of war as well as an appreciation for changes in the character for armed conflict. As you read this essay, consider the capabilities our Army requires to protect the nation and our vital interests.