December 10, 2015

CNAS Releases Report on the Future of the Ground Forces


Washington, December 10 – Center for a New American Security (CNAS) Defense Strategies and Assessments Program Senior Fellow Paul Scharre has written a new report, “Uncertain Ground: Emerging Challenges in Land Warfare.” The report, which is a part of the CNAS Future of the Ground Forces Project, examines emerging challenges facing U.S. ground forces and makes recommendations for enhancing strategic agility to adapt to a changing world.

The full report is available here:

Please find the introduction of the report below:

The U.S. ground forces are at a critical juncture. With the end of two long wars, the ground forces are transitioning away from a period of sustained large-scale counterinsurgencies and preparing for future conflicts. The shape of that future, however, is far from certain. The Army, Marine Corps, and Special Operations Command face a diverse array of challenges. From a resurgent Russia to a chaotic Middle East to a rising China, the evolving security environment presents a myriad array of possible challenges. Any number of these could involve the commitment of U.S. ground troops, potentially in large numbers and for operations that could be far different from the counterinsurgency wars the U.S. military has fought for the past decade-plus. At the same time, the scope and character of possible ground operations has evolved beyond easy characterizations between counterinsurgency vs. traditional warfare, unconventional vs. conventional, irregular vs. regular. Non-state actors possess increasingly advanced weapons, such as anti-tank guided missiles (ATGMs), man-portable air defense systems (MANPADS), and low-cost commercially available drones. These will allow them to contest U.S. forces for control of terrain and impose heavy costs on militaries advancing into these low-end anti-access/area denial environments. Nation-states have also adapted their tactics, relying on “gray zone” or hybrid approaches that use proxies, deniable operations, propaganda, and cyber attacks to achieve their objectives without overt military aggression.

The battlespace in which U.S. forces find themselves is also evolving. The rapid diffusion of information technology connects and empowers civilian populations, upending traditional relationships between people and authority. Ubiquitous smartphones mean that every citizen can be a global reporter, the node of an ad hoc network, the leader of a spontaneous flash mob, or the symbol for a cause. In future ground operations, U.S. forces are likely to find themselves in an environment where the location and disposition of U.S. troops is known to anyone interested and where every action – and inaction – of U.S. servicemembers is broadcast in real time.

Many aspects of ground warfare are not likely to change, however. Information will not strip away the fog of war. Technology will not reduce warfare to a riskless engineering exercise. In fact, quite the opposite: Advances in more lethal weaponry are likely to make war more bloody, not less. The rapid pace of commercially-driven innovation is likely to further erode the U.S. military’s technological advantages in ground warfare.

In this environment, strategic agility will be key to success. The U.S. military needs ground forces that can rapidly adapt to changing events on the ground, troops who understand the strategic ramifications of their actions, and acquisition processes that equip them with the right tools for each mission and environment. 

Scharre is available for interviews. To arrange an interview, please contact Neal Urwitz at or call 202-457-9409.


  • Paul Scharre

    Executive Vice President and Director of Studies

    Paul Scharre is the Executive Vice President and Director of Studies at CNAS. He is the award-winning author of Four Battlegrounds: Power in the Age of Artificial Intelligence...