Military Embedded Systems

Warfare Evolution Blog: Moving toward next-generation warfare


June 24, 2014

Ray Alderman

VITA Standards Organization

Warfare Evolution Blog: For the moment, let's ignore sequestration, program terminations, funding reductions, and all the negative speculation concerning America's military budget. Let's look at where we are going, in the evolution of warfare. When we're done here, you will see that U.S. military budgets are just being refocused and the net effect will be some level of reduction, at least on the front-end. The reductions we observe today will become directed and focused spending in the near future, on advanced military systems with capabilities you never imagined.

We should have a sound foundation for this discussion by first exploring a brief history of warfare. If we classify the strategies and techniques in each generation, and map conditions, circumstances, and events on top of those classifications, we can see what capabilities we need now and in the future. We must categorize each of our potential enemies too, according to the generation of warfare they are capable of inflicting today. We also must have an idea about when our enemies will evolve to their next generation of warfare capabilities. This exploration will show that warfare is purely an evolutionary process.

I suspect that we have preliminary next-generation advanced warfare systems now in rudimentary form. The precision laser-guided bombs used so effectively in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars in the 2000's were first dropped, in prototype form, in the jungles of Viet Nam in 1968. The first use of cruise missiles was in the Falkland's War in 1982, fired by the Argentinians (who got those missiles from the French) against the British and hitting two of their destroyers and another of their ships. Both those weapons are much more accurate and destructive today. Technology has been progressing at an increasing rate, so it takes less time now to design and refine advanced systems. In this space, we will take a look at the new technologies and the enhanced missions advanced warfare systems will exhibit, from a technologist's point of view.

Before we get into the details, let's get a macro-view of warfare. Some famous people have given us some interesting statements to consider:

-Ambrose Bierce (1842-1914) once said: "War is God's way of teaching Americans geography." Few Americans knew or cared where Viet Nam was before the 1960's. Nobody knew or cared where Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq, or Kyrgyzstan were in the 1980's. While Bierce implies that he reads the mind of God, he is simply observing the first-order effects of America's past wars. However, he is correct about the trend: America has been fighting in some very obscure places in recent history.

-Michael Ledeen, an American policy expert, once said: "Every 10 years or so, the United States needs to pick up some small crappy little country and throw it against the wall, just to show the world that we mean business." He was not only referring to Viet Nam, but Grenada, Panama, Haiti, Bosnia, Kosovo, Somalia, Iraq, and Afghanistan. Actually, the U.S. has invaded 23 countries in the past 30 years, depending on how you define "invasion." (See While Ledeen's statement is harsh, there is more truth in it than Bierce's. However, Ledeen errs in his timeframe calculations. America invades a small crappy little country every 1-2 years on average, not every 10. According to historians, civilization has endured more than 15,000 wars and armed conflicts in the past 5,500 years. That's three per year, on average. Comparatively, the numbers suggest that we are actually experiencing a decline in the occurrence of armed conflict.

-Vladimir Slipchenko, a Russian military general, once said: "I see the main purpose of war as being the large-scale real-life testing by the United States of sophisticated models of precision weapons." This statement contains even more truth, since Vlad could easily find himself on the receiving end of those weapons.

-"Peace is that brief glorious moment when everyone stands around reloading." The source of this statement is unknown, but it sounds like something General George Patton would have said. The period between World War I and World War II certainly exhibits the basic premise, as do many other periods of peace in history. The truth here, and history proves it, is that peace is temporary.

-Publis Flavius Vegetius Renatus, the Roman author of De Re Militari (published about 450AD), once said, "Si vis pacem, para bellum" (If you want peace, prepare for war). This is the basic "peace through strength" philosophy, claiming that your enemies will not attack if you are stronger. It held true right up to 9-11, when warfare took an evolutionary step from 3GW (Third Generation Warfare) to 4GW.

-"Only the dead have seen the end of war." While this quote is normally attributed to Plato, it is more likely that it came from poet, novelist, essayist, and philosopher George Santayana (1863-1952). Unfortunately, this is where the most truth lies.

In the next installment, we will take a cursory look at the history of warfare, from the perspectives of General Vladimir Slipchenko ("Future War," Makhmut Gareev and Vladimir Slipchenko, 2005) and Colonel Thomas Hammes ("The Sling and the Stone," Col. Thomas Hammes, 2006). That will help us define the progressive generations of warfare. From there, we can then get an idea about the next generations of warfare, and the new capabilities, weapons, and systems we will need to fight them.


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