In his first major policy speech on Friday, Austin is demanding the U.S. military to move towards a faster and more innovative approach by leveraging emerging technologies and computing powers. “The way we fight the next major war is going to look very different from the way we fought the last ones,” the Pentagon chief said during a trip to the U.S. Pacific Command in Hawaii.
Austin did not mention any specific adversary by name. Still, his speech was clearly referencing a rapidly rising China, which has been increasingly intent on equalling and surpassing the United States on multiple fronts, including in cyberspace. In his speech, Austin said: “Galloping advances in technology mean changes in the work we do to keep the United States secure across all five domains of potential conflict — not just air, land and sea, but also space and cyberspace.”
Austin, who rose the ladder fighting the conventional wars of the Middle East, put forward a competitive new model of deterrence consisting of all domains of warfare. “What we need is the right mix of technology, operational concepts, and capabilities — all woven together in a networked way that is so credible, flexible, and formidable that it will give any adversary pause,” he said. “We need to create advantages for us and dilemmas for them.”
The remarks come as the United States will withdraw its remaining troops from Afghanistan by September 1, as ordered by President Joe Biden, who seeks to score a political victory by ending America’s longest war and “resetting” Pentagon priorities.
Austin acknowledged that he has spent “most of the past two decades executing the last of the old wars” and said preventing a conflict in the future would mean creating “advantages for us and dilemmas” for adversaries. Austin’s speech underscored the fundamental shift in the Pentagon’s thinking from fighting conventional wars in the Middle East to getting ready for a more sophisticated future conflict against China and/or Russia.
Two weeks ago, the top U.S. intelligence chief said China posed a great threat to the United States with cyber capabilities that could disrupt the nation’s critical infrastructure. In her testimony before Congress, Director of National Intelligence Avril Haines said China was “an unparalleled priority for the intelligence community,” alleging that Beijing strives to change global norms through numerous tactics.