173. “Tenth Man” – Challenging our Assumptions about the Operational Environment and Warfare (Part 1)

[Editor’s Note:  Mad Scientist Laboratory is pleased to publish our latest “Tenth Man” post.  This Devil’s Advocate or contrarian approach serves as a form of alternative analysis and is a check against group think and mirror imaging.  The Mad Scientist Laboratory offers it as a platform for the contrarians in our network to share their alternative perspectives and analyses regarding the Operational Environment.  Starting today, we begin our new series of “Tenth Man” posts examining the foundational assumptions of The Operational Environment and the Changing Character of Future Warfare, challenging them, reviewing the associated implications, and identifying potential signals and/or indicators of change. Enjoy!]


Our Vision of Future War Centers on the 2+3 Threat.  This threat consists of two near-peer competitors — Russia as our current pacing threat and China emerging as our pacing threat sometime prior to 2035 — plus three additional potential adversaries — North Korea and Iran as regional threats and Radical Ideologues and Transnational Criminal Organizations.


TRADOC Pamphlet 525-3-1 The U.S. Army in Multi-Domain Operations 2028 lays out the U.S. Army’s operational concept for prevailing in Competition and winning decisively in Conflict against these near-peer competitors. The Army Futures Command (AFC) was established by GEN Mark A. Milley, former Chief of Staff of the Army and now Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, to modernize the Army; specifically, to field an MDO-Capable Force by 2028 and set the conditions for fielding an MDO-Ready Force in 2035.  AFC’s Cross Functional Teams (CFTs) are addressing the CSA’s six priority modernization efforts:  Long-Range Precision Fires (LRPF); the Next Generation Combat Vehicle (NGCV); the Army Network, including Assured Positioning, Navigation, and Timing (A-PNT); Future Vertical Lift (FVL); Air and Missile Defense (AMD); and Soldier Lethality, including the Synthetic Training Environment (STE).


These modernization priorities will likely yield a number of new weapon systems / enhanced capabilities, designed primarily to deter Russia and China in Competition and, when necessary, penetrate and dis-integrate their Anti-Access / Area Denial (A2/AD) systems to exploit the resultant freedom of maneuver and win decisively in armed Conflict, forcing a return to Competition on terms favorable to the U.S.

Source: ARL

This way ahead presupposes a constant, linear projection of current threat capabilities and that the future fight will necessarily involve Large Scale Combat Operations (LSCO) that are ever more hyperkinetic and lethal….

But what if the integrated military power of the U.S. and its network of alliances deters both Russia’s and China’s appetite for direct Conflict?  What if Competition with our near peers remains the new norm, continuing to percolate with episodic crises that never quite trigger the transition into armed Conflict?  We will have built an exquisite combat capability that deters Conflict with Russia and China, but may be unsuited to decisively winning conflicts with lesser powers and non-state actors threatening U.S. interests — who have been watching and learning from our past 18 years of experience in the asymmetric fight.

Not all future Competition and Conflict “nails” will require a high intensity “hammer” response.  A U.S. whole of Government approach will require investment in other capabilities (e.g., Department of Treasury and State and regional experts across Federal service), as well as Special Forces (to include Civil Affairs and PsyOps) and Cyber Operations force modernization.

Signals / Indicators of Change:

The Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) deployed armored medical vehicles and personnel to Germany for the Combined Aid 2019 Joint Exercise with the Bundeswehr this Summer.

– China is driving a wedge between the U.S. and its traditional allies via Competition.  Joint German / Chinese military medical service live training exercises, facilitated this year in Germany and in China in October 2016, are focusing on non-kinetic humanitarian and medical response cooperation. Per the South China Morning Post, COL Yue Gang (PLA-Ret) stated, “The PLA in the future will need to go abroad to protect China’s overseas interests in countries along the Belt and Road Initiative, and if there could be some basic mutual trust and understanding with NATO forces, the risk of potential conflict could be greatly mitigated.” Wang Yiwei, of Renmin University in China, said, “As the leader of the EU, Germany has said that Europe should take charge of its own security…. It is also a brand new world security situation now, as both China and Europe would want to hedge their risks in dealing with the U.S.

Example of China’s next generation of UAVs / Source: Flickr

– Continued Russian, Chinese, and Iranian support of regimes, proxy forces, and brushfire wars around the globe (reminiscent of the Soviet Union, Warsaw Pact, and Cuba during the Cold War era), providing funding, advisors and training, materiel support, and military sales.  Examples include Russia’s on-going support of Syria’s Assad regime and Iran in challenging U.S. interests; China’s global sales of armed UAVs; and Iran’s support of Houthi rebels in Yemen and Hezbollah, Hamas, and Islamic Jihad.

– Provocations, up to and including kinetic strikes on U.S. high value but unmanned assets, by strategic competitors and regional hegemons may be met with non-kinetic responses (e.g., cyber and information operations), thus remaining in the Competition phase rather than escalating to armed Conflict.

These signals / indicators of change lead us to query:

– Can the MDO Force, optimized for LSCO, achieve U.S. interests across Competition and the full spectrum of armed Conflict?

– Will the MDO Force provide sufficient flexibility to our Combatant Commanders to operate in the Competition phase short of armed Conflict?

– What is the deterrent value of the MDO Force if our competitors can achieve their respective national interests in the Competition phase?

Mad Scientist Laboratory would like to hear your thoughts regarding this post on our web site (for our subscribers who are reading this blog post via email, please go to https://madsciblog.tradoc.army.mil and select the title of today’s post to access the post online), scroll down to the bottom of the blog post, past the “Leave a Reply” heading, enter your observations in the “Comment” text box, then select the “Post Comment” black button. Your post will be added to the discussion as soon as it has been approved — thank you for contributing your insights!

If you enjoyed this post, please see our previous “Tenth Man” blog posts:

Disclaimer:  The views expressed in this blog post do not necessarily reflect those of the Department of Defense, Department of the Army, Army Futures Command (AFC), or Training and Doctrine Command (TRADOC).

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3 Replies to “173. “Tenth Man” – Challenging our Assumptions about the Operational Environment and Warfare (Part 1)”

  1. Greatly appreciated this article on ‘The Tenth Man’. I instituted a ‘Devil’s Advocate’ position when I was involved with our Safety Program at my previous job. It lead us from relying solely on a ‘Behavioral Based’ safety program (which never truly move such a program forward), to a ‘Hierarchy of Controls’ system. A company having a dedicated individual (or rather, individuals) who constantly challenge group think is critical to future success.

  2. The advantages of advanced LSCO forces include heritage tactics, psychological tactics and future system capabilities. These impact the grey zone conflicts and continue the consideration of response and tipping points. In addition to questions concerning the mix of forces and relationships with traditional allies, the role of escalation and impact of armed response confronting aggression on manned, unmanned or allied forces continues to question the value and persistence of freedom of operation and international cooperation and the role and method of escalation. Perhaps the LCSO has evolved already to the scaled combined combat operation force. There is little advantage in nuisance engagements other than political statements, distraction or inconvenience. Escalation before armed conflict presumes the behaviors of adversaries and hazards the conflict ideally intended to prevent. Today we might call it grey zone conflict and in the past we may have referred to it as a cold war. The components of economic, media, social and armed conflicts can be coordinated in contemporary MDO and the ethics of engagement may need reconsidered. A contrarian in civil discussion is always a good thing in principle.

  3. This blog post is a refreshing breath of fresh air. While the Army’s focus on a new flock of primary warfighting hardware is understandable, and while we must indeed keep our materiel at or beyond those of our adversaries, the termites are in our national house and working very hard to rot the foundation and the centerpiece of our nation. Our adversaries are playing a very well thought-out long game and are using their instruments of national power in a very strategic manner, while we tend to act tactically. The US is and has been in the position of big man on the hill, with adversaries all around him. This has always been manageable, but with the advent of ubiquitous electronic linkages and instant communications/social media, our geographic protection from attack by two large oceans and two allies to the north and south has dissolved. Our adversaries are now at our heels, conducting continuous information operations attacks on our citizenry, sowing discord, misinformation, distrust in government, distrust in media, distrust in the nature of truth, and they are facilitating the rise of hyperpartisan and destructive echo chambers.

    Theirs is a direct attack on the major sources of our national psychological power – cohesion and will. There are billions of dollars and much effort being expended to increase our tactical materiel capability, but apparently none being expended to inform the American population that they are actually unwilling combatants and are being subjected to adversary IO. Our election security, our information security, our cyber security, our information validity, all are under attack and this will continue until the adversaries are blocked in this or until they have achieved their strategic goals, which are to significantly diminish our status and similarly elevate theirs. They are applying Sun Tzu’s guidance: “The supreme art of war is to subdue the enemy without fighting” and “Supreme excellence consists of breaking the enemy’s resistance without fighting”. Our adversaries know that going toe to toe in a peer to peer conflict would be extremely expensive in blood and treasure, and that the cost-benefit in such a conflict is prohibitive. Thus, like a matador takes down a bull, they seek to inflict death by a thousand cuts, and they are doing it from afar and through stealth.

    We must have a national discussion on this, followed by action, led by the Department of Defense which is charged with fighting and winning the Nation’s wars and keeping the population secure. When all citizens are combatants, whether they like it or not, they must be informed, trained and prepared for combat.

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