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The US Army: Facing a Complex and Converging Operational Environment

The US Army stands at a crossroads. The various, yet interconnected elements of the operational environment (OE) are rapidly converging, presenting a multitude of challenges.

A Return to Great Power Competition

The US Army transitions from counterinsurgency operations to confront a new reality: great power competition. Near-peer and peer adversaries are rapidly improving their capabilities, modernizing warfare tactics, and revolutionizing how they train and develop leaders.

Trends Shaping the OE

Several key trends are shaping the OE:

  • Increased speed of human interaction and data-driven processes
  • Multi-generational societies with rapid socioeconomic changes
  • The COVID-19 pandemic has accelerated these trends globally.

A Battlefield of Competition, Crisis, Conflict, and Change

The modern battlefield is dominated by competition, crisis, conflict, and constant change. Adversaries aim to win without fighting, using standoff capabilities across multiple domains to isolate the US politically and militarily from its allies and partners.

Advanced Threats and Persistent Challenges

The US faces a range of persistent challenges, including:

  • Advanced and persistent threats from China and Russia
  • Regional actors like North Korea and Iran
  • Radical ideologues operating in various regions

China: The Pacing Challenge

China has emerged as the US’s primary pacing challenge. They employ a “whole-of-nation” approach, wielding diplomatic, informational, military, and economic power to achieve their goals. China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) poses a significant risk to US economic interests globally.

The People’s Liberation Army (PLA) is undergoing its most significant modernization effort since its inception. They’re not just acquiring new technology, but fundamentally changing their organization, doctrine, training, and even their conceptualization of warfare. China’s growing capabilities, coupled with their assertive behavior, make them a current threat.

Russia: A Capable Near-Peer Adversary

Russia is a capable near-peer adversary with a nuclear arsenal and significant combat experience. Their military emphasizes artillery and tanks, utilizing both kinetic and non-kinetic fires to dominate the battlefield. Russia is currently modernizing its military, incorporating advanced air defense systems, unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), and hypersonic weapons.

Regional Threats: North Korea and Iran

North Korea, with its large but dated military, remains a significant regional threat. Their sizeable artillery force and growing ballistic missile capabilities pose a multi-domain challenge, particularly to South Korea. Additionally, their cyber force is becoming increasingly sophisticated.

Iran boasts a robust cyber force, regional power projection capabilities, and ground forces equipped with advanced domestically produced weaponry. They’ve demonstrated niche capabilities in UAVs, anti-tank, anti-ship, and anti-aircraft weaponry. Iran’s ballistic missile strikes and support for proxy forces highlight its ability to project regional power.

Radical Ideologues: A Spectrum of Threats

Radical ideologues range from lone actors to well-organized and well-equipped organizations. Their capabilities span improvised explosive devices (IEDs), edged weapons, small arms, and even advanced weaponry like anti-tank missiles and battlefield rockets.

A Dangerous World: The US Response

The world the US faces is complex and dangerous, with a vast array of threats that have intensified in recent years. The COVID-19 pandemic has further complicated the global landscape, creating opportunities for adversaries to exploit vulnerabilities. US forces must be prepared to confront advanced adversaries, emerging doctrines, and potential flashpoints around the globe through 2030 and beyond.

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