A New Approach?

Posted on December 10, 2012


In the December 2011 issue of Armed Forces Journal, retired Army Major General Robert Scales offers a new approach to predicting the threats on which to position our nation’s military (Robert Scales, “The 7,000: What history tells us we’ll need tomorrow,” Armed Forces Journal, December 2011). He offers that he shares the company of William Lind and Frank Hoffman in the premise that, “that wars follow long periods of epochal continuity interrupted infrequently by seismic shifts induced by radical changes in technology, geopolitics and material wealth.”

Reflecting on my office’s analytical approach in studying military concepts (“ain’t nothing new”), I was transported back to a graduate school class, “The History of Warfare,” taught by Professor Robert Bunker. Professor Bunker offered various models in studying the changing character of warfare: Fourth-Generation Warfare (Lind), Third-Wave War (Alvin and Heidi Toffler), and Fourth Epoch War (Professors T. Lindsay Moore and Bunker). Fourth-Gen/Third-Wave aside, Fourth Epoch War theory offers that western warfare can be described by energy-based epochs where modes of warfare are prosecuted by the dominant form of energy of the era. The dominant form of energy drives political, economic, and military change.

Analysis Fourth Epoch War theory ended in the late 1990’s on the precipice of two modes of warfare in what was argued was a period of epochal change: non-western warfare (blending of terrorism and low-intensity conflict) and advanced technology warfare (precision guided weapons, nonlethal weaponry, robotic war-fighting units, and directed-energy weaponry). After a decade of war the empirical evidence that was lacking in the late nineties accumulated as those two modes met on the battlefields of Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya, and Kosovo.

Therefore, I would suggest that Epoch War theory isn’t new (See Robert J. Bunker, “The Transition to Fourth Epoch War,” Marine Corps Gazette, 78 (September 1994), 20-32; “Generations, Waves, and Epochs: Modes of Warfare and the RPMA,” Airpower Journal, 10 (Spring 1996), 18-28; and “Epochal Change: War Over Social and Political Organization,” Parameters, Summer 1997, pp. 15-25).

However, MG (ret.) Scales does offer that, “much of our failure to properly anticipate the future rests on the fact that generals fail to look at history and the past behaviors of our enemies.” Further, that, “patterns of behavior wind their way through all of our contemporary wars and are repeated at all levels of war from strategic to tactical.” As a subliminal counter to the emerging concept of AirSea Battle, he argues that there is no evidence that current and future enemies are trying counter American air, maritime, or space supremacy (nor are they capable). From there, he suggests that the focus of the threat has been close-combat deaths of Americans and that future force designs should be dedicated to the improving the warfighting functions of small close-combat units. Ahhh, he might be on to something.