The future of warfare on land
Theorists can debate endlessly what future warfare will look like, but governments, and their land forces, don’t have that luxury. Major modern equipment systems, for example, can take decades to bring into service and so choices about what kind of land forces to create have to be made early; these choices will depend amongst other things on the sorts of conﬂicts that one thinks an army will have to ﬁght. So what will the future bring for land warfare and what kinds of changes to land forces will be required to enable them to ﬁght successfully? Reﬂecting so much of what we have already encountered in our exploration of land
warfare, there is no consensus amongst commentators on what the future holds. The Gulf War of 1990-91, and the wars surrounding the breakdown of Yugoslavia from 1992-96, in particular, proved to be important catalysts for new thinking on the future development of land warfare. However, the conclusions reached have varied, and fall into three general schools of thought. The ﬁrst embodies the notion that by the end of the twentieth century, technological
developments were conducive to a revolutionary leap forwards in the conduct of warfare. This belief, couched in terms of the language of a Revolution in Military Aﬀairs (RMA), argued that warfare was going, or would go, through a paradigm shift as profound as the introduction of gunpowder. This technophile, military revolution perspective was countered by a second school, often termed the ‘New Wars’ school, which argued that in key respects warfare was going backwards: in the future, high-intensity
conventional warfare between states would become increasingly anachronistic. Instead, future warfare would be marked by bloody, local conﬂicts, often civil wars, in which the traditional military verities would be largely irrelevant. A third perspective, the ‘Hybrid Warfare’ school, saw a future marked by blended regular and irregular warfare. Each of these perspectives had important ramiﬁcations for the relative importance and/or the conduct of land warfare in the future. This chapter examines each of these schools of thought in turn, identifying the key
arguments associated with each. The diﬀerent perspectives span a range of future visions of land forces: dispersed, high-technology, conventional warfare involving small, heavily digitised forces; low-technology warfare featuring irregular, non-state actors in which conventional forces may or may not be involved; and blended wars in which future armies will face adversaries mixing both irregular and regular techniques of warfare. This chapter ﬁnishes by examining an alternative to the essentially predictive approaches of these three schools: a focus on organisational adaptability. In the end, trying to prepare for a single template of future warfare may be less useful than building into an army the capability to respond quickly to the actual conditions that emerge.