American Forces Press Service
Dec. 8, 2008 - Regional conflicts driven by competition for food, water and energy, increased urbanization and the possibility that nonstate actors could obtain high-tech components for enhancing lower-tech weapons are among the global challenges U.S. joint military leaders likely will face over the next quarter-century, a senior officer said here today. These scenarios are part of the Joint Operating Environment 2008 report recently issued by Norfolk, Va.,-based U.S. Joint Forces Command, Navy Rear Adm. John M. Richardson told American Forces Press Service and Pentagon Channel reporters.
The report outlines potential threats and opportunities U.S. joint forces may confront during the next eight to 25 years, said Richardson, JFCOM's strategy and policy director.
The character of future joint military operations is going to change, Richardson said, as "the strategic landscape changes, as the enemy adapts, as new technologies come on, as resources become more scarce."
The report states that 5 billion of the 8 billion people of the world in the 2030s likely could live in cities, Richardson said. Such a circumstance, he said, increases the opportunity for conflict. Joint warfighters, therefore, should be studying the challenges of carrying out military operations in densely-populated cities, he said.
Conducting military operations in urban environments is different and challenging, Richardson said, because enemies can blend in among the population and unintended civilian casualties are more likely.
Another potential future challenge, he said, involves nonstate actors or terrorists obtaining relatively inexpensive, commercially available global positioning systems to enhance the guidance systems of older rockets and missile systems.
"Now we have GPS devices that we can stick on our windshield, and we have the computer programming that would allow you to work out the most expeditious or optimum route from point to point," Richardson explained. "They are much smaller, they're miniaturized; you can put them on rocket systems or any kind of a launch vehicle."
It is likely that the United States and its allies will be involved in conducting irregular warfare against global terrorists for many years to come, Richardson said.
That viewpoint is shared by JFCom's commander, Marine Gen. James N. Mattis, who wears a second hat as NATO's supreme allied commander for transformation. American sailors, soldiers, airmen and Marines will be fighting terrorists during the next decade or so, Mattis told attendees at the 2008 Joint Warfighting Conference held at Virginia Beach, Va., during summer.
"Irregular warfare, from my perspective, is the key problem that we face today," Mattis said at the conference. The threat of global terrorism, the four-star general added, is "not going away any time soon."
Increased global competition for resources such as food, water and energy also will present challenges for U.S. joint military forces in the future, Richardson said.
Yet, although regional competitions for resources "may serve as flashpoints" for future military operations, Richardson said, they may also "give the joint force an opportunity to exercise its powers of inspiration." U.S. forces, he said, could assist other U.S. agencies or coalition partners by furnishing food, water and other forms of "soft power" support to troubled regions to diffuse tensions before they erupt into conflict, he explained.
A follow-on document, Richardson said, will describe how U.S. joint forces would respond operationally to potential future challenges and opportunities outlined in the JOE 2008 report.
Yet, despite technological or sociological change in the world in coming years, military conflicts "will remain a human endeavor between two human forces that learn, adapt and respond to one another," Richardson said.