Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin says the United States should prepare for a potential future conflict starkly different from “the old wars” that have consumed the Pentagon for the past two decades.
In his first major policy speech on Friday, Austin stressed the need for the US military to move forward a faster and more innovative approach by harnessing emerging technological advancements and computing powers.
“The way we fight the next major war is going to look very different from the way we fought the last ones,” the Pentagon chief said during a trip to the US Pacific Command in Hawaii.
Austin did not mention any specific adversary by name but the impetus behind his speech was clearly a rapidly rising China, which has been increasingly intent on challenging the United States on multiple fronts including in cyberspace.
Galloping advances in technology mean changes in the work we do to keep the United States secure across all five domains of potential conflict — not just air, land and sea, but also space and cyberspace,” Austin said.
Austin, who rose in the ranks fighting the conventional wars of the Middle East, put forward a competitive new model of deterrence consisting all domains of warfare.
“What we need is the right mix of technology, operational concepts and capabilities — all woven together in a networked way that is so credible, flexible and formidable that it will give any adversary pause,” he said. “We need to create advantages for us and dilemmas for them.”
“We can’t predict the future,” Austin said. “So what we need is the right mix of technology, operational concepts and capabilities – all woven together in a networked way that is so credible, so flexible and so formidable that it will give any adversary pause.”
The remarks come as the United States prepares to withdraw its remaining troops from Afghanistan by September 11 on orders from President Joe Biden, who seeks to score a political win by ending America’s longest war and resetting Pentagon priorities.
Austin acknowledged that he has spent “most of the past two decades executing the last of the old wars,” and said preventing a conflict in the future would mean creating “advantages for us and dilemmas” for the adversaries.
Austin’s speech underscored the fundamental shift in the Pentagon’s thinking from fighting conventional wars in the Middle East to getting ready for a more sophisticated future conflict against China or Russia.
Two weeks ago, the top US spy chief said China posed a great threat to the United States with cyber capabilities that can affect and disrupt the nation’s critical infrastructure.
In testimony before Congress, Director of National Intelligence Avril Haines said China was “an unparalleled priority for the intelligence community,” accusing Beijing of striving to change global norms through a variety of tactics.