Learning lessons and building capabilities
Geopolitical priorities
Threats
What military capabilities?

As the war in Afghanistan enters it thirteenth year, and two years after the final exit from Iraq, military thinking in the West is motivated by a range of imperatives. Some are rooted in financial stringencies; others derive from a desire to leave behind the most difficult aspects of those military experiences. That desire has also helped resurrect thinking that in future, armed conflict might be waged quickly, cheaply and efficiently, or at least without an enduring military presence.

In the United States, concepts similar to the 1990s prediction of a ‘revolution in military affairs’, touting advanced military technology as a means to achieve a high degree of certainty in war, have reappeared under new guises such as ‘Air-Sea Battle’. Fiscal constraints and the associated need to reduce defence budgets – as well as successful unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) strikes against terrorist cells in places like Yemen and the frontier provinces of Pakistan – have strengthened the lure of long-range strikes as a cost-effective answer to security threats.

While opinions might be mixed about the relative value of these concepts and nascent doctrines, defence planning must account for and embrace technological change; there is no doubt that rapidly developing technologies are affecting military modernisation by state and non-state actors alike. Of course, the degree to which this is the case varies according to contextual factors – such as geography, defence ambition and financial resources – but armed forces are increasingly dependent on capabilities ranging from networked systems at the high-end, to section-level hand-thrown UAVs, and even commercially available communications at the lower end. But overly high expectations of technology could leave military forces, both Western and non-Western, ill-prepared to deter conflict, respond to security threats as they emerge and cope with countermeasures that potential enemies may employ against them.

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