U.S. policymakers and military strategists have been too slow to appreciate the changes going on around them. If the defense establishment fixates on building a more lethal force at the expense of investment in emerging areas of military competition, it will fail in these new domains, perhaps catastrophically.
Left undefined, lethality risks the fate of many insufficiently elucidated but well-meaning concepts. It is imperative the concept is properly understood, otherwise the word will saturate PowerPoint slides bereft of insight. Given the theoretical grounding it deserves, lethality provides incisive structure. It forms the backbone and guiding intent underwriting the litany of defense actions, processes, and programs: from doctrine, organization, training, and materials to leadership, education, personnel, and facilities. Understood tactically, organizationally, and strategically, lethality hones a latent ethos. Word choice matters, which is the point. The National Defense Strategy is a well-informed and insightful guiding document, but lethality deserves unpacking.
Dynamic force employment presents an opportunity to fundamentally change the way the U.S. military allocates forces to respond to crises, and proactively take advantage of global strategic opportunities. Rapid and variable deployment of ready forces can deter conflict and foment confusion and paralysis in adversaries, making it a powerful tool to be wielded in global competitions with China, Russia, and others.
The future of U.S. military competitiveness will depend upon the ability to remain a leader in innovation in these critical technologies through a national surge in science, while also building upon perhaps more enduring advantages in talent and training to advance innovation in concepts of operations.