The US Army isn’t counting on airpower in the next war. Without that cover, there won’t be supply drops, recon drones or medevac helicopters picking up your casualties — and you will have casualties.
“Land-based forces now are going to have to penetrate denied areas to facilitate air and naval forces. This is the exact opposite of what we have done for the last 70 years, where air and naval forces have enabled ground forces,” Gen. Mark Milley, the Army Chief of Staff, said last month.
Milley’s referring to a modern American way of war that emerged at least as early as 1944, with the landings at Normandy in France and on Tinian in the Pacific. The US first secured control of sea and sky, then bombarded enemy ground forces, and only then landed ground troops, followed by waves of reinforcements and supplies. But every step in this process is now threatened by the proliferation of long-range precision missiles, along with the sensors to target them and the networks to command them — a combination known as Anti-Access/Area Denial.
So as bad as Iraq and Afghanistan have been, a war against a well-armed adversary like Russia, China, or their customers would be worse — worse in ways that overturn longstanding assumptions about how America fights. Above all, long-range missiles targeting US aircraft, aircraft carriers, and airbases may disrupt the air support on which US ground troops have depended since the Second World War. Hacking and jamming will disrupt communications and blind sensors. Anti-tank missiles, artillery rockets, and roadside bombs will disrupt supply convoys and devastate static bases.
“On the future battlefield, if you stay in one place longer than two or three hours, you will be dead,” Milley told the Association of the US Army. “Being surrounded will become the norm.”