A new US military would be similar to what we have now

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Article Highlights

  • The military we need would look a lot like it does now, except larger

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  • War remains a murky business where the goal is to compel the human enemy to do our will

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  • The predictions of military futurists have been almost entirely incorrect

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Editor's note: The following is Tom Donnelly's response to the New York Times Room for Debate question: What would the American military look like if we could start from scratch?

Absent a fundamental change in America's role in the world, the military we need would probably look a lot like it does now, although it would be substantially larger. The mix of capabilities and capacity that the "legacy" force would have, if properly resourced, reflect the very wide range of missions that naturally accrue to a global great power. The current force also has proved itself technologically and tactically flexible, at least by historical standards.

Moreover, the predictions of the current generation of military futurists, especially those who enthuse over the allegedly "transformative" trends in technology, have been almost entirely incorrect. The spread of information technology was supposed to dispel the "fog of war" and make for a "transparent" battlefield. Despite tens (if not hundreds) of billions in investment and some pretty nifty inventions, war remains a murky business, one where the goal is to compel the enemy — the human adversary — to do our will. Land warfare, in particular, has remained a technology-resistant trade, yet that doesn't prevent defense "reformers" from advocating for continued land-force cuts.

It's true that U.S. forces could use some new gear. We've gotten an immense amount of value out of the "Cold War force" — that is, the systems that were designed in the 1970s and purchased in quantity during the Reagan years. And yes, it would be nice to have a warp drive, cloaking devices and photon torpedoes. But those haven't been invented yet, and, while we think about a military reboot the world is hitting a "control-alt-delete" on the post-Cold War peace.

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