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What the military needs after Afghanistan

John Spencer and Steve Leonard

20 hours ago



U.S. soldiers maneuver their M1A2 Abrams tank to avoid indirect fire during training at the National Training Center at Fort Irwin, Calif., Oct. 7, 2016. (Spc. Dedrick Johnson/Army)

After 20 long years, the war in Afghanistan is coming to a close. Yet what does the next chapter for the U.S. military look like?




One projection involves an F-35 pilot shot down by Iran and a U.S. naval destroyer sunk by Beijing in the South China Sea. That is the fictional premise behind a new buzzed-about book, “2034.”


<img src="https://www.armytimes.com/resizer/385svFmiHpq3AEpDcZHx-kfl23o=/500x376/filters:quality(100)/cloudfront-us-east-1.images.arcpublishing.com/mco/WUGMOLMLFZA6XJXIQR2KCU53MM.jpg" class="image-lazy" alt=""2034: A Novel of the Next World War" by Elliot Ackerman and James Stavridis (Penguin Random House)">

Book excerpt: ’2034: A Novel of the Next World War’

From two former military officers and award-winning authors, a chillingly authentic geopolitical thriller that imagines a naval clash between the U.S. and China in the South China Sea in 2034 — and the path from there to a nightmarish global conflagration.

Elliot Ackerman and James Stavridis

The dismal prospects of how the U.S. military might fare in a future war, whether against China, Iran, or some other enemy, has Pentagon planners, defense manufacturers, and service chiefs bracing for a future that will not be kind to the defense budget. Besides ballooning national deficits, non-traditional national security priorities, and pushback against pricey yet unproven fighters like the F-35, the impact of COVID on the U.S. economy, two separate COVID relief packages, and the proposed “American Jobs Plan” could result in one of the biggest defense budget cuts in modern history.

This very real possibility has the armed services — the Army, Marine Corps, Navy, Air Force, and now Space Force — each scrambling for a larger piece of the dwindling pie. A U.S. Air Force general recently stated that the U.S. Army’s pursuit of long-range artillery and missiles capabilities was “stupid.” The Army has had to reassure the Marines that they aren’t trying to encroach on their efforts in the Indo-Pacific region.

Some services are better at crafting compelling fiscal narratives than others. As the late Congressman Ike Skelton shared with one of us in 2009, “Congress understands the strategic utility of a carrier strike group or a bomber wing. They have a harder time with an infantry brigade or an armor battalion.”





In the wake of the 2013 sequestration, a similar turf war broke out when the military was set to take a roughly $1 trillion cut to its budget. The Department of Defense conducted a controversial study that included a set of scenarios and potential conflicts. Behind closed doors, each service argued that their strengths would be the greatest contribution of winning and therefore should be prioritized in budget decisions. Clearly, none of the scenarios imagined in 2013 have happened.

Now with the news that the U.S. will pull its last troops out of Afghanistan in September, it is anybody’s guess where or how U.S. forces will be deployed next. One camp will argue that the next major war will take place on the high seas while another foresees a grand conflict waged across the skies using state-of-the-art manned and unmanned aircraft. Still another camp will insist that any future war must involve island-hopping campaigns in the South Pacific akin to World War II, while yet another will argue that the future portends clashes in outer space and the cyber domains. And some will simply tag every future concept with an appropriate military modifier (“cross-domain,” “multi-domain,” or “all-domain”) in hopes of maintaining an illusion of equity across the services.

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