The future of warfare: Does the Pentagon get it?

Shen, who teaches at Fudan University, was countering the view of some Chinese analysts that Beijing should embrace the gospel of Alfred Thayer Mahan, the 19th-century American missionary for sea power. Mahan is outdated, he said: With a laser weapon fired from space, “any ship will be burned.” China’s future isn’t in competing to build aircraft-carrier battle groups, argues Shen, but in advanced weapons “to make other command systems fail to work.”…

What worries me is that even as the military looks forward, the brass is still clamoring to build the legacy systems – think aircraft-carrier battle groups – that will soon be vulnerable to the new weapons. It’s as if the Pentagon were trying to be the old IBM, running big, clunky mainframes while trying to be an Apple-like innovator. We can’t afford to do both.

The puzzle to ponder in 2011 and beyond is how the United States can retain the “legacy power” benefits that come from conventional fleets and bases around the world while transitioning to the new realities of military power. We don’t want to be the national equivalent of a train company at the advent of air travel, or a radio network trying to protect its old programming in the age of television.