The US Army is working to figure out how to fight the next war which is more than can be generally said for the Navy or Air Force. Unfortunately, they’re blind (as is the rest of the military) to what’s in front of them. Consider this statement from Army Futures Command Commander Gen. Mike Murray who was discussing the German Blitzkrieg:
“It was a combination of those three technologies [German military’s airplanes, radios and tanks] and how the Germans put it together to execute what we call Blitzkrieg" that was “fundamentally different” than any of the capabilities the Allied forces … (1)
Okay, General, you recognize that Germany achieved a breakthrough in warfare and you want to achieve something similar in terms of significance. Good for you! What are your thoughts, Gen. Murray, on how to achieve this?
In 2020, there are three key technologies that when paired together in novel ways can provide a strong advantage against possible conflict with near-peer adversaries, according to Murray: artificial intelligence, autonomy and robotics in the air and on the ground. (1)
Do you see a problem, General?
Okay, let me lay it out for you.
Here’s what you identified as the three keys to the German breakthrough:
Now, here’s the three keys you’ve identified for your desired, modern breakthrough:
General, do you see a fundamental difference between those two groups of factors? It’s okay. Take your time. I’m asking you to think and that’s a new experience so I’ll wait.
Really … nothing?
All right, I’ll spell it out for you.
Two of the three German factors were things that make explosions (airplanes and tanks) and one was an enabler (radio). None of the three current US factors make explosions and it’s highly debatable that any are even enablers.
It’s all about firepower, General. If you can enhance your firepower, as the Germans did … all the better, but you have to have firepower. Without it, you’ll just be a well-informed loser when the enemy’s firepower overwhelms you.
You’re not going to revolutionize warfare without things that go boom (I’m trying to keep this on a level that a General or Admiral can understand). All the data in the world is useless if you haven’t got firepower.
For those who are a little smarter than a General or Admiral – like all the readers of this blog! – let’s consider the General’s three factors a bit closer.
Artificial intelligence – Our AI efforts are at the level of the Wright bother’s airplane. We’re just barely beginning to develop it. There won’t be any breakthroughs from this for the foreseeable future. Consider our recent attempt: the F-35’s ALIS was a colossal failure and it wasn’t even AI, really, just a predictive maintenance database.
Autonomy – The Navy just proved that an unmanned ship couldn’t navigate from San Diego to Hawaii without an attending ship and boarding crew. We’re decades away from any significant breakthrough, here. Significantly, our military appears committed to NOT allowing autonomous systems to control lethal weapons. One can debate the wisdom of this position but it surely diminishes the breakthrough potential of autonomy, doesn’t it? You’re trying to achieve a breakthrough while simultaneously limiting the scope and usefulness of the technology!
Robotics – Our current state of the art combat robots can’t tell the difference between a puddle and a lake, as a recent Internet article pointed out. Our UAVs have been deemed non-survivable over a battlefield by the military. UAVs around the world are routinely shot down. Robots can offer some ancillary assistance but to expect a breakthrough from them is pure fantasy.
Here’s some more from Gen. Murray,
“I firmly believe on a future battlefield, the commander that can see first, understand first, decide first and the act first will have a distinct advantage and will ultimately win any future battle,” Murray said. (1)
Not without firepower, they won’t! This is the blindness that the US military exhibits. It’s all about firepower and they simply can’t see it. There’s an adage that’s applicable, here. Paraphrasing,
Get there firstest (first) with the mostest (most).
The saying is attributed (debatably) to Confederate Gen. Nathan Bedford Forrest and it means that victory goes to he who first achieves the proper position with the necessary firepower. The key is the ‘mostest’: the firepower. It does no good to know everything about your enemy and to maneuver to an advantageous position if you lack the firepower to do anything decisive when you get there and yet that’s exactly the path the US military is heading down: perfect knowledge and insufficient firepower.
Consider the example of Midway, in WWII. We had the intel (code breaking) which allowed us to mass forces and reach a position of advantage but what allowed victory (aside from some large doses of good fortune!) was that we had sufficient firepower when we got there. Had we arrived at Midway with our intel but lacked firepower, we would have been defeated. Today’s leaders fail to recognize that you need the mostest to go along with the firstest.
It’s sad, isn’t it? General Murray obviously read some history about the German army, which is great – ComNavOps constantly pushes for our military leaders to study history – but he completely fails to see the lessons from that history.
Stuka Dive Bomber
The more we head down the misguided path of data over firepower, the more I’m going to push back and keep pounding on the need for firepower.
Consider this for some perspective … We’re coming out with new networks and data schemes on a seemingly daily basis but what was the last significant advance the US made in firepower?
Standard Disclaimer: I'm all in favor of intel - as an enabler of firepower, not instead of firepower.
(1)Defense News website, “Inside Project Convergence: How the US Army is preparing for war in the next decade”, Jen Judson, 10-Sep-2020,