Thinking about major war is back in fashion as forever wars shuffle off and near-peer conflicts become considered plausible.  Counter-insurgency is giving way to postulated high-intensity wars between technologically advanced great powers.  The operational level concepts that describe in an abstract manner how military forces might be used in such battlespaces are being dusted off and revised.  

Such concepts have long lineages and have progressively evolved.  This process means that the modern operational concepts of most nations are more alike than different.  In many respects they converge around the same ideas, some first elaborated by Soviet inter-war military thinkers.  In a future major war, the two opposing sides may then work off similar foundational ideas and, even if not fully realising it, be set on waging somewhat symmetrical operations.  In this regard, Russian, Chinese and US operational concepts are interesting to discuss to throw up commonalities and differences in emphasis between their thinking, and also where one might be stumbling towards the next evolutionary step.

A Soviet heritage  

In the interwar period, Soviet strategists argued that instead of conceptualising the adversary force arrayed on the battlefield in a thin, linear fashion as in World War One’s trench warfare, it should instead be viewed as being a system.  The adversary force was much more than solely the frontline of combat soldiers and included second echelon forces, reserves, indirect fire units, transportation means, logistic support, and command and control elements.  Moreover, like any system, this force was more than the sum of its parts.  Given this, simply attacking the frontline was inadequate as new combat forces were always being moved forward into the frontline to continue fighting.  Soviet thinkers conceived the enemy as a system but crucially this was a system with considerable depth.

Please click here to read the full “Converging ways of war: Russian, China and America” article published at Wavell Room, written by Griffith Asia Institute Visiting Fellow, Dr Peter Layton.