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Gen. Milley warns West Point grads of global war, enemies with ‘robotic tanks’ and more

Gen. Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff appears before the Senate Armed Services Committee on Sept. 28, 2021. (DoD photo by Chad J. McNeeley)
May 23, 2022

Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Mark Milley warned graduates of the West Point U.S. Military Academy over the weekend that they will commission into the military at a time when the U.S. faces an increased threat of global conflict between “great powers,” and enemies with advanced weapons, including robotic tanks.

Speaking at the West Point graduation ceremony on Saturday, Milley said, “At this very moment, a fundamental change is happening in the very character of war. We are facing, right now, two global powers: China and Russia, each with significant military capabilities, and both fully intend to change the current rules-based order.” 

Milley noted Russia’s ongoing invasion of Ukraine as an indication of the threat Russia poses. He also noted Asia is in “the third decade of the largest global economic shift in 500 years, resulting in a rapidly rising China as a great power with a revisionist foreign policy backed up with an increasingly capable military.” 

Throughout his speech, Milley reiterated that the threat of armed conflict between great powers is increasing. At one point, he noted that 58,000 U.S. troops were killed during the summer of 1944 as the U.S. fought in the most recent period of “great power” competition, World War II.

“We are also on the cusp of a change in the fundamental character of war. The nature of war is not going to change. It’s still a political act. It’s a decision by humans to impose their political will on their opponent by the use of violence,” Milley said. ” . . . But the character of war, how wars are fought, where wars are fought and with what weapons, technologies, organizations and doctrines — in short, the ways and means of war — is undergoing a fundamental, profound and significant change.”

Milley explained that technological developments are leading the changes in the ways wars will be fought.

“[The] maturity of various technologies that either exist today or are in the advanced stages of development, when combined, are likely to change the character of war just by themselves,” Milley said. “You’ll be fighting with robotic tanks, ships and airplanes. We’ve witnessed a revolution in lethality and precision munitions. What was once the exclusive province of the U.S. military is now available to most nation-states with the money and will to acquire them.” 

Milley said other technologies that will shape the future of warfare include synthetic fuels, 3D manufacturing, medicine, human engineering and enhancement

“And finally, there is the mother of all technologies — artificial intelligence — where machines are actually developing the capacity to learn and to reason,” Milley said.

“These rapidly converging developments in time and space are resulting in that profound change — the most profound change ever in human history. And whatever overmatch we, the United States, enjoy militarily,” he continued, “The United States is challenged in every domain of warfare: space, cyber, maritime, air and land.” 

Milley warned graduating cadets that they will have to adapt to the changes in warfare and learn to change the ways they think about war.

“The exact details we don’t know yet, but we need to change and we need to change our current methods of thinking, training and fighting,” he said.

“You are our most valuable asset. You are our most significant asymmetric advantage. You represent what is inherent in the United States military, for we come from a society of improvisers, a society of tinkerers, a society of innovators and problem solvers and tech-savvy at a very early age,” Milley said. “And independence of action comes natural to all Americans. Self-starting initiative, disdain for boundaries and rules, non-linear critical thinking and an aggressive will to win, coupled with an eternal optimism to overcome all obstacles and achieve the objective, all of that is hardwired in our national DNA and it’s hardwired into the heart and soul of the American soldier.”