Sep 6, 2007

Stratfor's Forecast for US Military

Here is Stratfor's 2005-15 decade forecast for US Military.

The peaks and troughs and localized strains the U.S. military has felt during the war on terrorism in general and the Iraq war in particular will prove to be immaterial in the coming decade. Regardless of the outcome of the war -- though Stratfor suspects it will end in Washington's favor -- U.S. military dominance will remain absolute during the next decade.

The U.S. military is the unquestioned and sole global military power; this is based primarily on the ability of the U.S. Navy to dominate the world's oceans. This condition of hegemony is only partially based on the superior numbers and technology of U.S. naval vessels and augmented significantly by U.S. dominance in space-based reconnaissance technology. On a broad scale, this situation will not change in the next 10 years -- especially regarding U.S. naval dominance -- but the next decade probably will see the emergence of cautious challengers to U.S. dominance over space.

Fundamental technological breakthroughs have often driven fundamental changes in warfare, and Stratfor expects the next decade to be no different. The next step in revolutionary warfare likely to become operational by 2015 is hypersonic scramjet technology. Having been developed by the United States for going on two decades now, this technology -- capable of traveling at 15 times the speed of sound, meaning an aircraft with a weapons payload could fly from Seattle to Beijing in less than half an hour -- will have a coming-out party of sorts over the next 10 years.

The availability of such a unique standoff weapon will allow for rapid response and battlefield dominance in every corner of the world. This already is provided in part by the U.S. Navy, but now weapons can be delivered to a target far from any substantive naval presence and rapidly enough to negate any conventional countermeasures an enemy might have on hand. Technology like this solves many logistics-associated force projection problems simply because assets do not have to be in theater in order to launch a strike. Naturally, this will be another warfare tool for the United States and will not supplant traditional tactics and techniques. As situations require, ground forces will still have to be sent in to hold ground and force a political outcome favorable to the United States. This weapon would, however, give the United States rapid first strike or retaliatory capability in corners of the world where U.S. forces cannot instantaneously interdict or where the overriding geopolitical concerns do not require the physical presence of traditional U.S. military assets.

This will force those seeking to counter the United States to look to asymmetric methods and toward the one area the U.S. military is still subject to competition -- space. After all, the quickest, stealthiest, most expensive aircraft in the world is still rendered useless if it cannot navigate or if intelligence on the target cannot be gathered quickly.

Given the virtual inevitability of U.S. naval dominance, state and non-state actors' only viable recourse will be the pursuit of asymmetric naval forces to limit Western mercantile and U.S. military access. Guerrilla navies are limited to regionally focused militant organizations (Tamil Tigers) and oceangoing pirates; in 10 years, however, the use of these navies might rise. Considering the ability of a single small craft to disable a U.S. naval vessel -- as evidenced by the attack against the USS Cole -- it is a logical step for anyone seeking to disrupt U.S. naval operations but without the conventional military strength to do so. Southeast Asia is the most likely area for this development, since the region already plays host to a number of maritime pirates and criminal organizations that can find safe sanctuary in areas of limited security and governance -- the Philippines, Indonesia, Thailand and Malaysia, for example. Elsewhere, increased naval activity in and around the Gulf of Guinea might inspire guerrilla navies to use the existing pirate havens of Nigeria and the surrounding area to launch attacks against mercantile and U.S. naval vessels and ships of allied navies.

Though a strategic competitor is not likely to emerge by 2015, missile technology will continue to develop. States such as Iran and North Korea could be able to deliver first-strike nuclear weapons to targets within their regions, including U.S. military bases and staging points. This is part and parcel of the unconventional threat that could trump the U.S. military's ability to project power wherever and whenever Washington sees fit.

Of course, hypersonic payload delivery technology partially mitigates this threat, since it is best used against fixed infrastructure targets. The broadening of the U.S. missile defense umbrella is another line of defense for countries within range of regional nuclear powers, but missile defense technology is still spotty, will likely lag behind offensive technology and will never be 100 percent reliable.

The possibility of non-state actors acquiring nuclear weapons either through collusion with or because of the incompetence of a state government cannot be ruled out. A non-state actor in possession of nuclear weaponry allows for the weapons' use without political encumbrances and throws a volatile variable into military planning and operations in the next decade.

There will be at least six potential rivals emerging to challenge the United States' sole ownership of global, real-time, space-based reconnaissance and navigation: Russia, China, Japan, India, Iran and Europe. All six have their own internal limits on what they can and will do as far as space-based technology goes, but each will attempt to deploy such assets one way or another.

Russia is the only competitor with an outside shot of actually reforming its existing space program to the point of creating a near-global, near-real-time reconnaissance system. Add this to existing ballistic missile technology, and a space-capable Moscow would pose a genuine threat to U.S. hegemony. The variable here is the economic and political status of Russia throughout the decade; the country is in a cycle of decline, but Stratfor expects that to reverse sometime in the next decade. Once that reversal kicks in, Moscow will pay far more attention to improving its space-based capabilities as the only viable hedge to U.S. global naval dominance.

India and China are hamstrung by their indigenous space programs' limitations and the limitations created by economic difficulties, such as those forecast for China. Nevertheless, both countries maintain fairly substantial missile programs they will seek to augment with space-based assets to multiply their missiles' capabilities and deny the perception of free passage through their territorial waters. A rise in Chinese nationalism/militarism could serve as an impetus for this despite economic and social limitations. India's economy will continue to grow, and a severe economic crunch will not negatively impact its fledgling space program. It is possible -- and probable, in India's case -- that a limited space program, coupled with indigenous and exogenous missile development, could provide checks to U.S. naval dominance on a regional scale.

Japan's national security interests currently are in line with U.S. global and regional interests. In the long term, however, Japan likely anticipates its interests diverging from Washington's and could seek to use good relations now to incrementally launch a space-based reconnaissance and navigation program further down the road. This will be done slowly and innocently -- dual-use satellites, for example -- so as not to raise the United States' hackles and likely will not be completed by 2015, given Japan's economic and political limitations.

Iran and Europe are even further behind the power curve than other potential rivals. Europe has demonstrable space-based and satellite capabilities but does not, and likely will not, have the internal structure or political willingness to pursue a militaristic space program -- though Europe might be interested in a purely defensive domestic intelligence/surveillance space program. Iran has the motivation and the initiative, demonstrated by its planned March 2005 launch of its very first satellite. Additionally, Iran has a relatively capable missile program that will continue to improve, unless indigenous and exogenous factors interfere with Iranian military development. Their space program is still in its embryonic stages and not likely to be robust enough to challenge U.S. naval power even regionally.

The limiting factor for all these programs is not so much time as it is indigenous political willpower and economic capability. With the exception of Russia -- should its reversal come sooner rather than later -- none of the potential rivals has the necessary political willpower and economic leeway to complete a space-based defense program by 2015 that would be robust enough to challenge U.S. space hegemony.

Of course, geopolitical and military alliances between any of these rivals could accelerate indigenous programs and capabilities. It is worth noting that Russia has made a virtual cottage industry out of exporting its own space expertise and technology to countries such as India, China and Iran. Whenever Russia reverses course and begins to rebuild its military and space programs, this cooperation is likely to be somewhat curtailed, mitigating the benefits of these relationships.

Since U.S. naval dominance will not be challenged and power projection capabilities will remain near absolute, the United States will naturally respond in kind to a growing threat to its space hegemony. Stratfor expects a substantial increase in research and development into yet-to-be-realized anti-satellite technology to counter the potential rise of competing space powers. Whatever system is decided upon -- kinetic energy, high energy lasers, satellite parasites, jamming or chemical lasers -- it is not likely to be operational by 2015. Working prototypes, however, could be seen in limited operation by 2015. These will become even more indispensable when satellite-dependent hypersonic scramjet aircraft are put to use.

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