Small Wars Journal

Generals Worry US May Lose In Start Of Next War: Is Multi-Domain The Answer?

Generals Worry US May Lose In Start Of Next War: Is Multi-Domain The Answer? By Sydney J. Freedberg Jr. - Breaking Defense

QUANTICO: Russia or China could “overrun” US allies at the outbreak of war, senior military leaders fear, and our plan to stop them is very much a work in progress. Iraq and Syria have given sneak previews of how the US can combine, say, hackers, satellites, special operators, and airstrikes in a single offensive, but we’re not yet ready to launch such a multi-domain operation against a major power.

“There is a good chance… we’d lose the opening stages of this war,” said one participant in a high-level all-service conference on multi-domain operations held here last month. (I was allowed to attend on the condition I not identify anyone). “Parts of the Pacific, parts of Europe are probably going to be overrun before we can gather ourselves.”

“If deterrence fails, we’re not going to be able to prevent loss of terrain and populations,” the speaker continued. “Just look at the Baltic States,” where every potential target is just a few hours’ drive from the Russian border and the NATO presence — one multinational battalion each in Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, and Poland — is often dismissed as a “tripwire.” With US allies this exposed, the speaker said, “we’d give ground, and we’d have to consolidate and gather our resources to make a counter push.”

But when we try to counterattack, today’s adversaries won’t allow the US four or five months to mobilize, deploy, and prepare the way Saddam Hussein did twice (in 1990-91 and 2002-3), added another participant: “We’re predictable. They’ve built a system to take advantage of that predictability.”

Defense Secretary Jim Mattis — a former joint commander himself — has pledged to make the US “strategically predictable for our allies” (i.e. dependable) but “operationally unpredictable for any adversary.” …

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