Marco J. Lyons is a Lieutenant Colonel in the U.S. Army who has served in tactical and operational Army, Joint, and interagency organizations in the United States, Europe, the Middle East, Afghanistan, and in the Western Pacific. He is currently a national security fellow at Harvard Kennedy School where he is researching strategy and force planning for war in the Indo-Pacific. He may be contacted at Although the ideas here are the author’s alone, he benefitted from feedback provided by Colonel George Shatzer (Strategic Studies Institute, U.S. Army War College) on an earlier draft. Divergent Options’ content does not contain information of an official nature, nor does the content represent the official position of any government, any organization, or any group. 

Title:  Assessing the Forces Driving the Redesign of U.S. Army Land Power 

Date Originally Written:  March 23, 2022. 

Date Originally Published:  March 28, 2022.

Author and / or Article Point of View:  The author believes that threat, geopolitical, and technological changes necessitate a reassessment of broad U.S. Army future force design parameters. Without this reassessment, the U.S. Army and the Joint Force risk wasting resources on obsolete conceptions. 

Summary:  Redesigning U.S. Army land power for the twenty-first century will require policy makers and defense leaders to negotiate numerous conflicting dynamics. Future U.S. Army forces will need to be immediately ready for crises but also adaptable. They will need to be powerful enough for major combat operations and organizationally flexible, but also tailored to missions and tasks. 

Text:  The principles that have historically guided U.S. Army force planning—size, mix, and distribution—to meet strategic needs include: early use of the Regular Component in a contingency; reliance on the Reserve Component for later-arriving forces; primacy of defeating an aggressor in major combat operations; capabilities for short-notice deployments; and the importance of readiness to deploy over cost considerations[1]. These principles will likely persist. 

Future technological factors will shape U.S. Army strategy, force structure, and planning decisions. Important technological changes that may decisively influence future U.S. Army force design include advances in information acquisition, processing, distribution, and utilization; capabilities for light, medium, and heavy forces; integrated air defense and protection; and changes to support and maintenance requirements for advanced systems. Demands to reconfigure forces for a broad range of contingencies will not shrink in the foreseeable future. The overriding imperative for air deploy-ability will not change significantly[2]. Like in the 1990s, come-as-you-are wars are still likely, but these require reconceptualization in a Great Power context. 

There will continue to be missions and tasks that only Soldiers, Sailors, Marines, or Airmen can realistically accomplish. Military power employment and military power integration and significantly different – the sum, integrated, is greater than the parts, acting independently. Missions and tasks of the future joint force will be assigned based on military necessity and objectives, and not based on predetermined formulas or a desire for equitability. Future force planning will balance forms of military power and the different major components within land power with the understanding that high-/low-technology mixes are generally superior to a reliance on only one end of the technology spectrum[3]. 

Military affairs are evolving rapidly as events in Ukraine illustrate. Ballistic missiles, precision strikes, unmanned systems, space and cyberspace, and weapon of mass destruction technologies are spreading to various areas around the world. The means and ways of warfare are changing. Battle space in the air, sea, space, and cyberspace domains, in which U.S. forces have enjoyed various degrees of dominance, is becoming increasingly contested[4]. This contestation directly threatens U.S. integration of joint functions, especially fires, movement and maneuver, and sustainment. 

Globalization creates both economic wealth and activity, along with security vulnerabilities. For many advanced economies, the range of security threats is expanding and becoming more varied. The twenty-first century is likely to see more so-called coalitions of the willing than formalized alliance structures like during World War Two. It is not clear that traditional military forces and capabilities will still retain their value and utility[5]. 

The unclassified summary of the 2018 National Defense Strategy (NDS) recognized a weakening, post-1945 international order. The 2018 NDS also called for increased strategic flexibility and freedom of action to manage a high volume of change[6]. Although accurately forecasting the future strategic environment is inherently prone to error, it is also practical to assume that major changes will happen rapidly in the wake of particular high-impact events[7]. 

Because future great power competitors will likely have formidable escalation capabilities, the importance of designing for escalation advantage in future force planning will increase. Part of the complexity being generated in the emerging operational environment is caused by the increasing number of competition-warfighting domains, expanding options for synergy between them, and their disparate considerations with respect to speed, range, and lethality. As the reach, penetrability, and effectiveness of sensors, networks, and weapon systems improve, the demands for integration of capabilities and effects across domains multiply[8]. One characteristic of the emerging operational environment worth watching is that more power centers have more ways to push events on the international stage to their liking[9]. This pushing might be called hyper-competition[10]. 

Future adversaries will almost invariably be fighting on or near land, near their home or otherwise controlled territory, with shorter and simpler lines of communications. Platform for platform, land ones are cheaper, less technologically complex, easier to produce in large numbers, and quicker to replace than their air and maritime counterparts[11]. Part of what makes the twenty-first century military challenge so seemingly intractable is that the drivers of change appear to be forcing adaptation across the full breadth of policy, security, and military dimensions[12]. This means that these traditional factors will almost certainly change in the near- to mid-future: federated military forces based on physical domains; alliances and partnerships of convenience; and “runaway” technological advances that are formulated for purely civilian use. 

Numerous dynamics suggest that the future joint force will be smaller but will still need to retain technological overmatch, rapid deploy-ability, joint and multinational interoperability, and organizational agility[13]. Force development is about getting the joint force to do what it does better while force design is about getting the joint force to do new things in new, more disruptive ways[14]. Changes to both force development and force design are needed to protect current and future overmatch. For national security, and for getting to the future force needed, force development is best when linked directly to the right kinds of research clusters looking at disruptive technologies, that can then be integrated quickly into the right kinds of military capabilities[15]. As for force design, U.S. Army Futures Command is a primary vehicle for delivering rapid technological integration to ground forces. Integrating various technological, research, and military activities based on a coherent view of future national security will take reformed national policy. 

Redesigning U.S. Army land power for the twenty-first century will require policy makers and defense leaders to negotiate numerous conflicting dynamics. Future U.S. Army forces will need to be immediately ready for crises but also adaptable. They will need to be powerful enough for major combat operations and organizationally flexible, but also tailored to missions and tasks. Countering Russian Armed Forces in Ukraine or the Chinese People’s Liberation Army will take forces dominant in and through the land domain while being fully relevant in all competition-warfighting domains – properly integrated with other forms of domain power. 


[1] Joshua Klimas and Gian Gentile, Planning an Army for the 21st Century: Principles to Guide U.S. Army Force Size, Mix, and Component Distribution (Santa Monica, CA: RAND Corporation, 2018), 

[2] National Research Council, Board on Army Science and Technology, Commission on Engineering and Technical Systems, STAR 21: Strategic Technologies for the Army of the Twenty-First Century (Washington, DC: National Academy Press, 1992), 

[3] William T. Johnsen, Redefining Land Power for the 21st Century (Carlisle Barracks, PA: Army War College, Strategic Studies Institute, 1998), 

[4] John Gordon IV, Igor Mikolic-Torreira, et al, Army Fires Capabilities for 2025 and Beyond (Santa Monica, CA: RAND Corporation, 2019), 

[5] The United States Commission on National Security/21st Century, New World Coming: American Security in the 21st Century Major Themes and Implications, The Phase I Report on the Emerging Global Security Environment for the First Quarter of the 21st Century, September 15, 1999, 

[6] James Mattis, Summary of the 2018 National Defense Strategy of the United States of America (Washington, DC: Department of Defense, 2018), 

[7] John A. Shaud, Air Force Strategy Study 2020-2030 (Maxwell Air Force Base, AL: Air University Press, Air Force Research Institute, January 2011), 

[8] Training and Doctrine Command, The Operational Environment, 2035-2050: The Emerging Character of Warfare (Fort Eustis, VA: United States Army Training and Doctrine Command, n.d.), 

[9] Richard Kaipo Lum, “A Map with No Edges: Anticipating and Shaping the Future Operating Environments,” Small Wars Journal, November 2020, 

[10] Cf. Nathan P. Freier, John Schaus, and William G. Braun III, An Army Transformed: USINDOPACOM Hypercompetition and U.S. Army Theater Design (Carlisle, PA: U.S. Army War College Press, 2020), 

[11] Shmuel Shmuel, “The American Way of War in the Twenty-first Century: Three Inherent Challenges,” Modern War Institute, June 30, 2020, 

[12] National Defense Panel, Transforming Defense—National Security in the 21st Century, Report of the National Defense Panel, Arlington, VA, December 1997, 

[13] See Prepared Statement by Dr. Mike Griffin, Senate Hearing 115-847, Accelerating New Technologies to Meet Emerging Threats, Hearing Before the Subcommittee on Emerging Threats and Capabilities of the Committee on Armed Services, United States Senate, 115th Congress, 2nd Session, April 18, 2018, U.S. Government Publishing Office, 

[14] Jim Garamone, “National Military Strategy Addresses Changing Character of War,” Department of Defense (website), July 12, 2019, 

[15] Joint Chiefs of Staff, Joint Operating Environment, JOE 2035: The Joint Force in a Contested and Disordered World (Washington, DC: Joint Chiefs of Staff, July 14, 2016),