Next War Cover

Next War

Reimagining How We Fight

John Antal

Casemate, Haverton, Pennsylvania, 2023, 256 pages

Book Review published on: January 19, 2024

Throughout the years, there has never been a shortage of people delving into the topic of the future of warfare. Today, there are numerous books on the market broaching the subject. In my experience, it is a very mixed bag. I have found the most valuable are those that are adept at enabling the reader to reflect on the subject themselves. One recent volume that clearly sparks “thinking” in its readers is John Antal’s outstanding book, Next War: Reimagining How We Fight. It is a book that clearly distinguishes itself from the vast majority within this genre.

Before detailing into what separates Next War from the preponderance of books in this category, let’s begin by discussing the author’s experience and credentials. For many, Antal should be a very familiar name. After serving a highly distinguished career as a combat arms officer in the U.S. Army for thirty years, Antal has focused much of his time writing and speaking on leadership and warfighting. This has included crafting well over a dozen books (fiction and nonfiction) and a huge number of articles, appearing frequently on TV and radio, and speaking to numerous groups across the world. This expertise and experience are on full display within the Next War.

Antal immediately provides readers with a glimpse of why his volume is unique to most others in this genre in his preface. He states, “This is an unconventional book. Prepare for a wild ride. To impel your imagination and further your understanding of the changing methods of war, I introduce many of the changing methods of war with dramatic hypothetical accounts. Imagine these as “thought experiments.” To conventional thinkers, this may be jarring. A thought experiment is an imagined sequence of events that is used to illustrate or investigate the consequences of a given action or condition and attempts to solve a problem using the power of human imagination. I take inspiration for this approach from best-selling author and military futurist Peter Singer” (xii).

Within Next War, Antal makes superb use of these accounts or “thought experiments.” In most cases, they are utilized to begin a chapter and to jump-start a reader’s thinking process. For most of the volume, these chapters are focused on what Antal labels as the “Top Nine Disrupters of Modern Warfare.” He titles these chapters “Transparent Battlespace,” “First Strike Advantage,” “AI and the Tempo of War,” “Top Attack,” “Fully Autonomous,” “Super Swarm,” “Kill Web,” “Visualize the Battlespace,” and “Decision Dominance.” These originated from Antal’s thorough study of recent wars, in particular the Second Nagorno-Karabakh War, the Israel-Hamas War, and the ongoing Russia-Ukraine War. The author believes these “disrupters” will be the essential elements of the next war.

Antal explains to readers the importance of studying these wars and compares the current period of warfare with events occurring over fifty years ago. Specifically, he refers to Arab-Israeli Wars of 1967 and 1973 and their impact on U.S. future doctrine and warfighting. This impact included the development of AirLand Battle doctrine, which was instrumental in the execution of Desert Storm. Antal highlights this current opportunity when he states, “Today, we have a similar circumstance. Three recent conflicts—the Second Nagorno-Karabakh War (2020), the Israel-Hamas War (2021), and the ongoing Russia-Ukraine War (2022–)—provide us with the ability to learn from others’ wars. There are those in our military dedicated to studying these wars in width, depth, and context, but more need to do so. We must use these conflicts to recognize the changes in warfare and reimagine ho we fight” (x).

The author’s treatment of each of the above “disrupters” is engaging and highly beneficial to readers. Initiating each chapter with the “thought experiment” grips the reader and provides an excellent start point for future understanding. With a baseline established, Antal devotes the remainder of the chapter to ensuring readers possess some insight of the “disrupter,” how it has been utilized in the past and presently (using recent conflicts), and what its effects are on warfighting and on the battlefield. Most importantly, he provides how it may be used in the future (with advancements in technology) and how it may be combined with other “disrupters” for use in the next war.

In addition to the focus of the volume, Antal also includes some intriguing chapters on other subjects tied to future warfighting. These include discussion on starlink war, urban operations, unmanned aerial combat, hybrid human-robotic force, forging battleshock, and command post rules. As was the case with the “disrupter” chapters, each is highly informative and thought-provoking.

Of the above chapters, I found the one keyed on command post rules to be extremely beneficial. Within it, Antal offers eighteen rules that he believes will dramatically aid in the survivability and effectiveness of command posts not only today, but in the future. Antal sets the conditions for these rules by stating that “developing survivable CP configurations now, using existing equipment, must be a priority. Going forward, experimenting with new equipment, and determining what is needed, and demanding changes, is vital” (169).

There are many strengths displayed in the volume which significantly assist Antal in addressing future warfighting. The first is the superb readability of the volume. Antal writes in a highly conversant style throughout the Next War. This is not surprising if you have read any of his prior books or articles. This ability is especially valuable because many of the topics he addresses can be very complex. His capability to articulate this in language his readers can understand is invaluable.

An excellent example of his conversant style and his ability to provide readers with advice and guidance can be found in the following passage: “The best way to prevent war is to be ready for it; it that fails, the goal is to win as quickly as possible. No one knows what will happen tomorrow, but not thinking about or planning for the future ensures you will be taken by surprise. Leaders who think and act in time are invaluable. Developing leaders with imagination and foresight is our most dire challenge. As vital as technology is to winning wars, human leadership remains paramount. Winning leadership in war requires great skills, imagination, and foresight. You engage your imagination when you read, think critically, ask pertinent questions, derive answers, and then test your conclusions. We develop foresight through reading, study, interaction, dialogue, wargaming, and red teaming. Develop your foresight today, not tomorrow” (xii).

Antal’s addition of a glossary at the end of the volume is also extremely beneficial in promoting reader’s understanding of complicated concepts. When you envision glossaries in warfighting volumes, you typically think of definitions taken verbatim from doctrinal manuals. This is not the case in Next War. Readers will find that many of the definitions or descriptions found are developed by the author himself. As you would expect, they are easy to comprehend and will be a valuable resource for readers in the future.

Within the Next War, Antal also makes outstanding use of visuals. Throughout the volume, he has imbedded dozens of visuals to augment his words. These visuals come in a wide variety including photographs, maps, sketches and diagrams (created by the author), and charts. These visuals are even more powerful because Antal has provided informative captions under each visual he utilizes.

Within his preface, Antal states, “If Next War sparks your imagination, raises your awareness, and impels you to enter a dialogue with others about the changing methods of war, then it has accomplished its mission” (xii). Readers will find that the volume certainly achieves this mission. Antal has crafted a book which will make you think and entice you to spark up a conversation with others on the areas addressed in the volume. I believe this will be one of the more valuable and well-crafted books you will read in some time.

Book Review written by: Lt. Col. Rick Baillergeon, U.S. Army, Retired, Fort Leavenworth, Kansas