By BG William C. Hix, US Army

Today’s headlines provide the prologue to a broad range of emerging challenges in an increasingly unpredictable and complex security environment, even as impending budget shortfalls promise to constrain our resources to respond.  The increased speed, quantity, and reach of human interactions, along with potential adversaries’ greater access to lethal capabilities, are driving the likelihood of instability and disorder in ways that blur the distinctions of past conflicts.  A Syrian regime held up by an increasingly shaky Shi’a-Alawite alliance, a nuclear armed North Korean state teetering on the verge of collapse, the increasing influence of transnational criminal organizations, and under-governed spaces such as post-Qaddafi Libya reflect this complexity and illustrate the wide variety of existing and emerging challenges to US national interests.  Recent events, along with China’s growing economic and military power tied to its own goals and ambitions, and the increasing risk of nuclear weapons proliferation in East Asia, South Asia, and the Middle East make clear that the United States must remain engaged and prepared for a wide range of challenges.

Solving these security challenges will not be accomplished without human interaction on the ground.  Historically, it has been ground forces that have been required to operate in difficult environments, made complex by the unpredictability of human interaction.  Looking to 2030 this complexity will only increase, driven by globalization, increased access to information, and transparency, resulting in a remarkable diffusion of power and the proliferation of technology to increasingly diverse groups.  The character of conflict is likely to change as a result of these factors. Accordingly, two critical issues will dominate ground force operations in Asia and the Middle East:  nuclear proliferation and the diffusion of anti-access capabilities.

Dealing with nuclear proliferation issues that will likely dominate the world stage in 2030 is essential.  Based on stated objectives and trends, the risk of nuclear proliferation in East Asia, South Asia or the Middle East cannot be ignored.  Still other nuclear states may not be able to keep their weapons out of the hands of a wide variety of non-state actors.  A Stanford database on nuclear smuggling documents some 850 incidents in the past decade, including weapons grade plutonium smuggled out of the former Soviet Union.  Nuclear related arrests have been made in Armenia and Georgia.  In the coming decades, with thousands of nuclear facilities spread throughout the world and not all nations maintaining high standards of security, it is necessary to plan for the possibility of lapses at some of these facilities. As a matter of sound risk mitigation or crisis response, if called upon US Army forces will play a key role in working with other joint capabilities to quickly locate, track, seize, secure, and deal with the consequences of nuclear proliferation.

As the country moves toward 2030, the US military will confront significant challenges to access that it hasn’t encountered since World War II.  Breakthroughs in precision technology will make gaining and maintaining access one the key functions of ground forces in the future.  More precise missiles, aircraft, and unmanned aircraft are the technological backbone of future access challenges. Many of these precision capabilities are also developed as retrofit kits, upgrading older systems.  Intercontinental ballistic missiles with an accuracy of 100 meters will be within reach of nations and non-state actors alike thanks to advancements in global mapping, measurement devices (gyros and lasers), global positioning systems, and computing power.  The Chinese 400-meter WS-2 multiple rocket launchers and the Russian Yakhont cruise missile with a 300-kilometer range are just two examples of weapons likely to be widely proliferated by 2030. Increasingly, capabilities such as GPS jamming and laser countermeasures are exacerbating the access challenge. Enemies with precision mortars, artillery, rockets, missiles, and cyber tools can and will cover our likely entry points. Recognizing these challenges, the United States is developing operational approaches and capabilities to address these threats and maintain our competitive advantage over known and potential adversaries. These include off set entry operations and the application of US asymmetric advantages to counter or destroy hostile precision strike.

Military forces must ultimately be prepared to fight and win wars.  Indeed, it this capacity to respond decisively that is vital to deterring wars in the first place.   Certainly, ground forces have particular value in shaping the environment before a crisis even erupts and preventing conflict. One common denominator of most nations in Asia and the Middle East is the prominence of their ground forces. Army conventional and special operations forces are uniquely suited to assist Asian and Middle Eastern countries build the capacity to handle their own problems. Replicating and increasing past successes in this area will be all the more important given an unpredictable and complex future operating environment. Concurrently, we continue to study and attend to emerging challenges, ensuring we stand ready to meet whatever tests lie ahead.

Brigadier General William C. Hix is Director, Concept Development and Learning, Army Capabilities Integration Center, US Army Training and Doctrine Command.