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There is an ongoing debate in the US military establishment about the changing character of war. Officially, we acknowledge the need for significant change over continuity, yet very few agree on the details. Ongoing conflicts raise questions. In particular, just how will the rapid diffusion of low-cost unmanned systems and an array of accurate, lethal top-attack munitions impact warfare and US defense priorities? How should tomorrow’s landpower adapt to the purported changing character of war. What is now a legacy capability and what are the new priorities shaping US military investments? A new book, The Arms of the Future: Technology and Close Combat in the Twenty-First Century, gets to the heard of that debate, taking a forward-leaning look at these questions and urging adaptation. It races up to and past what a prior article in these pages called “the inflection point between evolutionary and revolutionary adaptation.”

The author’s thesis is clear: despite more than adequate evidence of the need to change how armies fight, they are not modernizing or restructuring their forces properly. Rather than transform the force coherently, “Armies today are largely seeking to retain tried and tested structures while adding new capabilities onto their platforms.” Bolting new capabilities onto existing platforms, the author contends, is inefficient and adds costs.

The author of this consistently informative and often provocative book is a senior research fellow at the London-based Royal United Services Institute. Jack Watling is widely recognized as an international expert in land warfare and has drawn accolades for a series of consistently penetrating monographs and commentaries on the ongoing war in Ukraine. His latest product is not simply an academic exercise; it is built upon extensive interviews, experimentation reports, direct observation, and interviews from exercises and contemporary wars.

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