When discussing military what-ifs, it’s always dicey to use the phrase “never again.”
World War I was supposed to be the war to end all wars, but actually precipitated an ever deadlier global conflict.
And the drive to end that war necessitated one of history’s largest military operations: D-Day.
The scale of that one operation was almost unimaginably vast.
In one day, more than 120,000 Allied troops were landed on five Normandy beaches and some 24,000 airdropped over the area, supported by a vast aerial and naval armada.
Casualties were vast as well. More than 4,000 were killed and more than 12,000 wounded on Day 1. The casualties would have been worse had Britain not tricked Germany about the location of the landings.
The landings continued for months as men and materiel were assembled for the hard fighting to retake the continent and capture Berlin.
One of those who participated in D-Day was legendary reporter Arnaud de Borchgrave, who heads the transnational threats project at the Center for Strategic and International Studies think tank.
De Borchgrave, who covered 18 wars including Iraq and Afghanistan in his storied career, flatly says modern technology makes an operation anywhere near the scale of D-Day impossible.
Instead, he says, future conflict will be dominated by game-changing cyber and drone operations.
In fact, he notes, cyber warfare involving nations and terrorist and criminal groups is already underway.
Top strategists agree that massive operations like D-Day are unlikely. But that’s not to say that future conflicts will be any less deadly.
Cyber warfare, for example, can cause casualties as surely as conventional military operations.
Predicting how the combination of cyber, drones, precision, big data and increasingly distributed as well as unconventional operations will change warfare is a major focus for strategists and planners alike.
Russia has used innovative means in Ukraine to get the territory it wants while stopping short of suffering any meaningful punishment for its actions.
China, too, is methodically but incrementally changing the game in Asia as it steadily advances its regional territorial claims without blatantly triggering a concerted collective response.
America and its Pacific allies vow to stand up to China, but have done nothing to deter Beijing from taking steadily bolder steps.
Indeed, while US planners envision new concepts to deal with China, there’s little certainty regarding how a potential conflict would unfold. Would a military crisis over contested territory remain purely conventional or take a nuclear dimension? Which side has the political will and the capabilities to press the conflict to resolution?
While answering such questions will be difficult, it’s critical to think through the implications of new technologies and approaches to warfare that could force fundamental changes in current investment plans.
Absent definitive answers, all nations will focus on preserving legacy assets and improving readiness.
Meanwhile, they must develop more flexible systems as well as more agile and innovative concepts. They also must identify tomorrow’s competitive advantages.
Because when it comes to national security, it pays to learn from history and avoid convincing yourself that something terrible may never happen.