Dr. Lani Kass with CACI offers her thoughts on the need to keep America's edge sharp in the 21st century... plus news you may have missed, and MORE!
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A/O Global Intelligence Weekly: The Imperative of Modernization in the Age of the Unthinkable

The Imperative of Modernization in the Age of the Unthinkable
by Guest Columnist Dr. Lani Kass

Offense and defense are inherent in the very nature of war--intrinsic to any human interaction.  They constitute the essential duality that defines any contest. Today's adversaries are undeterred by sheer military might. We need a new paradigm, a fresh vocabulary, and agile approaches.

One of the most difficult aspects of waging modern war is devising strategies that translate battlefield successes into enduring strategic effects.  This dilemma is most acute in what could be defined as “the age of the unthinkable”, wherein actors go well beyond the norms of civilized behavior to destroy their opponent’s will and means to fight.  Asymmetric, asynchronous, geographically-dispersed engagements are at the core of this new struggle. Fighting on the enemy’s terms, scoring short term wins at unjustifiably high cost in lives and treasure, is simply unacceptable.

Today’s challenges are predominantly hybrids: offense and defense; foreign and domestic; regular and irregular; symmetric and asymmetric; synchronous and asynchronous; geographically-focused and globally ubiquitous. This, in turn, requires multi-dimensional thinking, multi-faceted approaches, and coherent, nimble execution.

The confluence of global trends foreshadows significant challenges to America’s organizations, systems, concepts, and doctrines. The future strategic environment will be shaped by the interaction of globalization, economic disparities and competition for resources; diffusion of technology and information networks whose very nature allows unprecedented ability to harm and, potentially, paralyze advanced nations; and systemic upheavals impacting state and non-state actors and, thereby, international institutions and the world order. Given explosive population growth and resource scarcities, future conflicts will be particularly vicious, involving life-sustaining necessities like food, water and natural resources.

The U.S. military’s lethality drives opponents to adopt distributed, dispersed operations and seek maneuverable space in urban areas, ungoverned hinterlands, and loosely regulated networks. These adversaries pose a challenge to America’s freedom of action and threaten its interests at home and abroad.  Concurrently, ascendant powers, hungry for resources and status, are posturing to contest U.S. superiority and global presence. These adaptive competitors are translating lessons from recent conflicts into new capabilities tailored to counter America’s many strengths and capitalize on its equally numerous vulnerabilities.

Being the U.S. is both a strength and a liability. The very values that make America formidable can be exploited: the U.S. can be pushed to act in a self-defeating manner, especially since its citizens are not fully engaged—or even interested--in the defense of the nation, forfeiting a core advantage necessary to prevail.

For a great power like the U.S., there is no such thing as a minor setback.  Once the U.S. commits its prestige, victory on its own terms is the only acceptable outcome. The alternative diminishes America’s stature, credibility and influence--as well as alliance cohesion.  This, in turn, could push allies to fend for themselves--either entering coalitions of convenience or acquiring independent nuclear capabilities to defend their own interests.

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For a nation whose security is predicated on an enduring strategy of dissuasion, the most fundamental risk is failure of deterrence. To mitigate the risk, the U.S. must sustain a modern, ready, and capable military force, a responsive Interagency, and an engaged private sector.  Strategic risk can also mount through the accumulation of shortfalls in recapitalization and modernization, stale approaches, and unwillingness to let go of outdated structures and hierarchical relationships. America’s global posture and future success depend upon the ability of its people to adopt new concepts, constructs and technologies, suitable to the ever-shifting dynamics of the strategic environment.

In the age of knowledge, decision superiority, resiliency, agility, mutually supporting governance structures, and reliable partners are indispensable to victory.  So is a holistic policy that balances today’s exigencies with the far-reaching implications of looming threats. America will succeed in the 21st century only by developing and resourcing a strategy that closes the gap between ends and means. The window of opportunity is shutting fast. Time is not on our side.

As a global power with global commitments and distant allies, the U.S. needs freedom of access across the global commons. Global reach, power and vigilance are the indispensable means through which America promotes and defends its interests, reassures allies, and deters opponents.  This strategy, in turn, hinges on the ability to maneuver in all domains: on land, at sea, in the air, space, and cyberspace. Since these domains are increasingly interdependent, loss of dominance in any one could lead to loss of control in all.

No modern war has been won without maritime and air superiority. No future war will be won without maritime, air, space, and cyberspace superiority.  To promote and defend America’s interests, the Joint Force must attain cross-domain dominance: the freedom to attack and the freedom from attack in and through: the oceans, the atmosphere, space, and the electromagnetic spectrum. Cross-domain dominance integrates systems, capabilities, and effects to gain competitive advantage in all domains. It maximizes synergies among the Services, generating a new array of simultaneous, synchronized effects—presenting multiple dilemmas to the opponent. This, in turn, allows Joint Force Commanders to achieve the desired outcomes in peace, crisis and war.

War is a human endeavor -- a contest of wills. The better trained, the more determined airman, sailor, soldier, marine, coastguardsman, or civilian will, ultimately, carry the day. People are America’s true asymmetric strength.  The Nation cannot falter or fail to provide them the wherewithal to win.

The U.S. will have neither the buffer of time nor the barrier of oceans in future conflicts. The character, tempo and velocity of modern warfare already severely test America’s ability to adapt.  Rising to this challenge is not a choice; it is a shared responsibility and a national imperative.

Dr. Lani Kass is the Corporate Strategic Advisor at CACI. She served as the Senior Policy Advisor to the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, directed the Air Force’s Cyber Task Force, served as Special Assistant to CSAF, and was the first woman Professor of Military Strategy at the National War College. During her 20 years at NWC, Dr. Kass educated several generations of the nation’s senior-most strategic leaders. She served the U.S. government with great distinction for 28 years and retired from Federal Service in September 2011.This article expresses her personal views and does not reflect the positions of any organization, public or private.

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