Professional Readings

Reading #135

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  • Monday, March 20, 2017

Letter to President George W. Bush et al re Predicting the Future

"Change will not happen on a certain day, or even in a year. In fact we're undergoing that change right now as we sit here, and we've been in the midst of it for some time. That change is evolutionary, not revolutionary. But it is no less profound."

GEN Mark Milley, 39th Chief of Staff of the Army, 3 October 2016

Acting Director Major General Robert “Bo” Dyess’ Comments:


In a recent ARCIC weekly reading, General Donn Starry reminded us in "Running Things" that a sound vision with achievable goals, benchmarks, and plans will enable organizations at every echelon of command to succeed in an environment characterized by "constant, unceasing, and ever-accelerating" change. To this end, Army professionals must continue to think clearly about the problem of future armed conflict as threats, enemies, and adversaries are becoming increasingly capable and elusive. As the Army Operating Concept indicates, we live in a complex world with a future that is not only unknown, but also unknowable, and constantly changing.

This week's professional reading is a letter drafted by Lin Wells in 2001 that Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld sent to President George W. Bush that succinctly describes major shifts in the strategic environment during each decade of the century. Wells' letter is a brief but powerful reminder of the continual change that occurs in our complex world. Consider the change that occurred in the last two decades. In 2001 when Wells wrote his letter, hardly anyone knew that Al Qaeda existed, thousands of US forces were deployed to the Balkans, and the entire V Corps consisting of two divisions and separate brigades were stationed in Germany. By 2010, a Balkan state joined NATO, US forces were withdrawing from Iraq and increasing in Afghanistan, and no one had ever heard of ISIS. Today, U.S. and Iraqi forces are fighting ISIS, the US has one Army BCT permanently stationed in Germany, and the shadow of great-power conflict re-emerged.

While there is no way to predict what will occur in the future, the Army thinks clearly about the changing character of future armed conflict by considering threats, enemies, and adversaries, anticipated missions, emerging technologies, opportunities to use existing capabilities in new ways, and historical observations and lessons learned. A failure to think clearly about the changes in future armed conflict risks what nineteenth century Prussian philosopher Carl von Clausewitz warned against: regarding war as "something autonomous" rather than "an instrument of policy," misunderstanding "the kind of war on which we are embarking," and trying to turn war into "something that is alien to its nature."

As you read the article, consider the impacts on the following Army Warfighting Challenges:
#1 Develop Situational Understanding:

How to develop and sustain a high degree of situational understanding while operating in complex environments against determined, adaptive enemy organizations.

#4 Adapt the Institutional Army and Innovate:

How to improve the rate of innovation to drive capability development and deliver DOTMLPF-P solutions to the warfighter at a pace that meets operational demand within the existing constraints of the acquisition and budgeting processes.

#10 Develop Agile and Adaptive Leaders:

How to develop agile, adaptive, and innovative leaders who thrive in conditions of uncertainty and chaos and are capable of visualizing, describing, directing, and leading and assessing operations in complex environments and against adaptive enemies.

#12 Conduct Joint Expeditionary Maneuver and Entry Operations:

The Army needs formations that can rapidly deploy into contested environments, quickly transition to operations, and be sustained to maintain high operational tempo with the overmatch necessary to destroy or defeat enemy forces.

#13 Conduct Wide Area Security:

How do Army forces establish and maintain security across wide areas (wide area security) and across multiple domains to protect forces, populations, infrastructure, and activities necessary to shape security environments, consolidate gains, and set conditions for achieving policy goals.

#15 Conduct Cross-Domain Maneuver:

How Army forces, operating as part of a joint, interorganizational, and multinational force, train, organize, equip, and posture sufficiently to deter or defeat highly capable peer threats in the degraded, contested, lethal, and complex future operational environment.

#19 Exercise Mission Command:

How to understand, visualize, describe, and direct operations consistent with the philosophy of mission command to seize the initiative over the enemy and accomplish the mission across the range of military operations.

#20 Develop Capable Formations:

How to design Army formations capable of rapidly deploying and conducting operations for ample duration and in sufficient scale to accomplish the mission.

Continuous feedback, collaboration, and teamwork are keys to the success of the Campaign of Learning and driving innovation in the Army. Please use the Army Warfighting Challenges as the framework to contribute your ideas and recommendations with respect to this topic to improve our ability to innovate as we develop the current and future force.

The Army Warfighting Challenges (AWFC) framework may be accessed here:

For previous weekly readings go to: ARCIC Professional Readings

  1. Army Operating Concept, TRADOC Pam 525-3-1, 30 October 2014
  2. Multi-Domain Battle

All the best,