Armed Forces Journal

From Fuzzy to Focus: Questions to Ask About Strategic Land Power

Editor's note: In a September 2013 op-ed in Armed Forces Journal, Peter W. Singer writes that the Strategic Landpower concept comes up short as a complement to the Navy and Air Force's AirSea Battle. Singer identifies twelve critical questions that U.S. defense planners must answer in order to shape American ground forces for future warfare.

In recent months, various parties have looked at America’s ground forces and their potential roles, utility, and — perhaps most importantly — narrative in the “post-Iraq” and soon “post-Afghanistan” era. These range from the Strategic Landpower Task Force, created by the Army, Marine Corps, and Special Operations Command to “study the role of forces that operate on the land” (and many think to complement and counterpoint the Navy and Marine Corps AirSea Battle concept) to a major Time magazine article entitled “The War Within the U.S. Army,” which looks at how “A force built to fight the Cold War is now battling changes to its size, shape and mission in the age of the drone.”

These projects have great merit, especially in how they identify the issues, which go deeper than how many personnel to trim in the next fiscal year. But while they consistently and correctly say the ground forces are “at a crossroads,” they stop short of the next necessary step: describing the forces’ desired focuses, which so far remain loosely identified or even opaque. Moreover, those actually laid out are, in general, not specific to land power. For instance, the DoD documents have emphasized a narrative of the ground forces’ key role in what is called “winning the contest of wills,” in the 21st century’s war in the “human domain.” These are certainly worthy goals, but they apply to every era, realm, type, and locale of warfare; whether with a stone or a drone, war is always a contest of wills between humans. The agenda for land power’s exploration is therefore so wide as to ensure agreement, but may be so non-specific that it prevents advancement.

If we are to wrestle with the important issues that lie before us, and ensure the viability and utility of land power in U.S. strategy through the 21st century, we must begin to identify and explore a more actionable agenda. Here are a set of questions, by no means comprehensive, around which we may center our exploration via studies, exercises, gaming, debate and discussion.

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