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A Strategic Blending: When RMA Meets the Revolution in IW

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A Strategic Blending: When RMA Meets the Revolution in IW

Interview with Jim Thomas

Interview by Octavian Manea

SWJ: What are the lessons that NATO’s competitive adversaries have taken from Ogarkov’s military technical revolution?

Jim Thomas: It is interesting in 2015 to look back almost 31 years ago. 1984 is a good place to start telling the story. Nikolai Ogarkov outlined the basic thesis of the military technical revolution involving long-range precision weaponry coupled with advanced sensors to create a reconnaissance-strike complex. If you then look ahead to the 1991 Gulf War there were two basic interpretations of what the war meant. At the risk of over-simplifying, I would call one approach the American military’s interpretation and the other the Chinese interpretation. Many American military observers viewed a lopsided victory in Desert Storm as validating many of the ideas that Ogarkov had despite the fact that the fact that the vast majority of the munitions that were used during the First Gulf War were not PGMs. Nevertheless, many Americans believed they had just glimpsed of the future: the potential for the satellite communications, GPS, launching a single weapon against a target. In the American interpretation, an RMA was seen as something that would allow to US to extend its domination and preponderance in the military sphere, in particular to be able to conduct power projection operations in the distant regions of the world and maintain control of various domains – the seas, skies, land, space and cyberspace.

But I think that the Chinese military took away a very different lesson. Desert Storm was a brutal vicarious defeat for China given the fact it had many of the same sorts of systems that the Iraqis had. They came away with a greater appreciation of the types of threats that countries such as the US could pose and how unprepared the PLA was for that sort of high-tech warfare. They did not dismiss the Ogarkov doctrine, however. Like their American counterparts they also embraced it, but applied it to their particular circumstances, in particular how to conduct local war under informationized conditions. Whereas the Americans were thinking about how they could use PGMs and the reconnaissance strike complex to further their ability to conduct air-control, sea-control or land-control, the Chinese were thinking in a more minimalist fashion in terms of how they could use precision strike systems and other capabilities  to contest others’ control of various domains through robust integrated air defenses to deny the skies, coastal defenses to deny the seas, and long-range missile strike forces to hold theater airbases and aircraft carriers – the centerpieces of American power projection – at risk.

Few grasped twenty years ago that the competing interpretations of the Ogarkov’s vision were stoking a long-term contest between the forces of denial and the forces of control. But what really ensued from 1991 to the present has really been such a clash between denial vs. control. At the point where we are now, I think we can start to draw some preliminary conclusions. One is that is going to be far cheaper and easier to deny any domain than it is to control. That is, reconnaissance-strike complexes tend to favor denial over control. That has to inform our thinking moving ahead in terms of the kinds of the preparations that we might undertake. It is probably most difficult for the U.S. military to shift its paradigm from control to denial. Overall, the trends that favor domain denial will affect U.S. capabilities, plans and doctrine the most, since historically it is the U.S. military that has been most optimized to conduct domain control operations: air superiority, naval mastery, land control, space control and information dominance.

But there is a second debate that started with the Lawrence Freedman’s Adelphi Paper on a Revolution in Strategic Affairs as a rebuttal to the first debate over the RMA. He argued that the real revolution in less about technology and more about super-empowered sub-state actors that would challenge the nation-state system. The 2001 Al Qaida’s attacks tended to confirm Freedman’s thesis and catalyzed a new debate about irregular warfare.

As with the American interpretation of the RMA, American conception of irregular warfare is very narrowly defined and myopically focused on its defensive dimensions, in the sense that it was focused on counterinsurgency and counter-terrorism. American policymakers and military leaders thought less about the potential offensive applications of the irregular warfare in terms of unconventional warfare or using proxies and surrogates to undermine an opponent. Again, the American interpretation was at odds with the interpretations of other great powers.  China, Russia and Iran have thought about irregular warfare in a very different way whether they use grey zone conflict, proxy forces or lawfare. Ambiguous paramilitary forms and instruments of power to further their political ends, as Clausewitz would say. They are willing to employ irregular warfare as a surrogate for or complement to traditional military power projection.

I think we are at a point where if you take the old debate about the technical military technical revolution and you overlay it on the debate that we are having about irregular warfare the synthesis is really hybrid warfare involving the interplay of twin competitions:  the competition between control and denial and the competition between conventional forces and paramilitary or sub-conventional forces. Now we talk not only about classic insurgencies, that historically are relatively low-tech, but what if in fact you create these hybrid forces where you have partisans armed with very high-tech weapons. The difficulty is that an insurgency is good at hitting and running but it falls down on traditional military tasks. Now, we are going to a direction where small groups of partisans can achieve effects that rival those of large militaries and that is truly revolutionary.

SWJ: So do we have a linkage, a blending of these trends?

Jim Thomas: It is all coming together. We see this confluence of the RMA debate, the irregular warfare debate and maybe even of our fiscal debate as we think to all of these factors flowing in in the same pot in terms of how we think about threats, but also how we think about new opportunities for our own militaries and our allied militaries.

SWJ: You’ve talked about proxies and surrogates and how great powers might use insurgent forces in order to advance their political goals. Was the 2001 Rumsfeldian campaign to remove the Taliban regime some sort of a sample of this tendency-project power through irregular forces?

Jim Thomas: There was nothing subtle or ambiguous about the unconventional warfare campaign that the United States conducted in 2001 in Afghanistan. There we were very clearly working with the Northern Alliance on the ground to change conditions, but we also integrated special operations forces with them. In particular this allowed air-ground integration where the U.S. really became the Northern Alliance’s air-force and made the force far more effective than it would otherwise be. What we see today in the case of Russian forces in Ukraine is a more insidious form of power projection. One of the things that is really lacking is that the separatist forces within Ukraine do not benefit from the Russian air cover.

SWJ: Having in mind this so-called Rumsfeld-ian way of war is this also the Obama approach against ISIL? It seems to have some of the same features-the use of irregulars (tribes, Peshmerga forces, training Syrian opposition forces) under a sporadic air-force umbrella?

Jim Thomas: It appears to have similarities with the 2001 campaign, but I would say that today it really lacks the coherence. The lack of special operations forces, including joint terminal air controllers, on the ground is a large deficiency. It has also been incremental and piece-meal whereas one of the things that really was noticeable and apparent in 2001 was the deliberate nature and the great speed of the campaign. It was an unconventional, irregular blitzkrieg. Today we have been hampered because we don’t have the same level of special operations forces on the ground and have not achieved that air-ground integration and the campaign is sub-optimized. We have seen a clear track and tendency over three administrations (from president Clinton announcement at the start of Kosovo where he talked about no boots on the ground, to the 2001 campaign in Afghanistan with a minimal presence that was special operation forces intensive, to president Obama’s emphasis on not having boots on the ground or conventional combat forces) to avoid committing large conventional ground forces. This is really a big question for the strategic analysts around the world-does this trend continue in the future? Or it will be some discontinuity?

SWJ: How would you expect the U.S. forward presence to evolve in this rapidly changing operational environment, one that favors increasingly the denial forces?

Jim Thomas: When we talk about forward-presence we tend to become intellectually lazy. If you think what the word presence means it means visible. That is the message that we wanted to send historically. I am not sure that this is going to be the same in the future. U.S. has certainly has an interest in staying forward because there are real limitations to things like offshore balancing. We want to maintain strong commitments to our forward frontline allies in Asia, in the Middle East and Europe. But how we do that may really differ in the future.

Overall we need to be able to do two things simultaneously: having a more continuous deployment or stationing pattern in the frontline states maybe with more ground based capabilities and in particular air-ground integration capabilities; plus air and naval forces that can fight from range. We are unlikely to have the luxury of the relatively permissive operating environments we’ve experienced in recent decades.

SWJ: What are the implications for the frontline states located in the proximity of regional A2/AD powers that also have a revisionist agenda?

Jim Thomas: First of all we have to have much greater expectations for what our allies will do to optimize their own local defenses. Here they can follow the Chinese model by developing their own anti-access/area denial capabilities both for air-denial which would deny an adversary the ability to gain air cover for its ground forces, or it can conduct land-denial in terms of precision anti-armor systems or sea-denial in terms of anti-ship cruise missiles, mines and submarines.

Another element is related to what the allied frontline states can do to provide to U.S. greater sanctuary within their countries. We need bases, facilities to operate from and in a crisis or conflict we need to be able to flow forces in to what is going to be probably a denied or at least a contested operating area.

The third element is the ability to hold-out the prospect of a protracted conflict to any adversary. This may take the form of an irregular resistance, a high-tech people’s army that could sustain a resistance and counter an occupation armed with PGMs that could really bloody an invasion force.

SWJ: Fighting from long-range might be a necessity in the current security environment. But the U.S. has traditionally invested massively in shorter-range capabilities. The historical assumption was that U.S. will act from short-distance. Does this imply a major shifting in the acquisition patterns for the U.S. military?

Jim Thomas: There has to be a rebalance that occurs in the U.S. military from short-range to long range. Employment of our tactical air forces is predicated on operating from close-in bases. Manned fighters all have to operate at short theater ranges and they are heavily dependent on aerial refueling. But the same could be said of our naval combatants in terms of their effectiveness-carriers need to operate very close to the shore given the ranges of today’s carrier-based manned aircraft. So how can we change that dynamic over time so we can conduct conventional deterrence at range?

SWJ: Twice during the Cold War, U.S. and NATO had to restore their deterrence capital by investing in a very specific offset strategy. In an operational environment where the traditional power-projection is no longer possible what should a third offset strategy emphasize?

Jim Thomas: I am attracted to the idea of a new offset strategy - one that has to be focused on a specific military problem. The big problem that we have is the anti-access area denial problem. How can we continue to stay in the business of power-projection despite the challenges that are emerging? At the same time we need to leverage some of our key advantages: the area of robotics, the ability to use robotics both for manufacturing as well as conducting operations with UAVs or Unmanned Underwater Vehicles and overcome some of the physiological limitations that we’ve had in the past and may help us to maximize weapons and sensor density at ranges in these denied areas. It is a way of penetrating and operating inside the adversary’s bubble in ways that impose costs on them. Just like the offset strategy that Harold Brown and Bill Perry developed in the 1970s overcame the Soviet strategic nuclear parity and the numerical conventional superiority of the Warsaw Pact, today we have the potential to do something similar in terms of offsetting the build-up of large-theater missile forces on the part of some potential adversaries or their ability to conduct air and sea denial close to their shores. The seeds of the Reagan Revolution were planted in the Carter Administration in the form of the offset strategy and Carter doctrine that marked the end of detente. We are still living on the fruits of the previous offset strategy. So we need to think ahead on what kind of offset strategy and what sorts of capabilities would be viable as we look 30 years in the future. 

SWJ: The outcome of the last year’s NATO summit in Wales was very much focused on power projection. To reassure its Eastern Flank, the Alliance promised a very fast reinforcement force that will be able to deploy in 48 hours in case of an Article 5 emergency. But this particular outcome should be combined with the crisis of the traditional power projection model. The problem is that NATO assumes a highly permissive environment. It doesn’t seem to be bothered by what increasingly seems to be a Russian A2/AD reach in the Baltic and Black Seas that affects NATO’s Eastern Flank. How appropriate do you see this traditionalist power projection model compared with what Russia is fielding?

Jim Thomas: This debate matters a lot for the U.S. Since WW2 the US military has really seen itself as the world premiere expeditionary force. When there is a crisis we react and flow-in forces across oceans to the theaters were we conduct operations. All the trends we’ve been talking about suggest that there are real limitations with that expeditionary model in the future not only for the U.S. but also for its allies. Regional actors are pursuing anti-access and area denial capabilities to prevent U.S. expeditionary forces from being able to defend America’s regional allies and partners effectively. Everyone who has been in the power projection business now faces the same problem, which is that in a crisis dispatching expeditionary forces may be highly destabilizing and in a conflict it may be simply impossible because those forces would not have protected ports and airfields they could flow into. For these reasons, I am skeptical of the whole idea of a super-rapid reaction force because it fails to understand the changing military competition and the security environment. To meet these challenges there is no substitute for forward-based forces. The force will either be there before the crisis and conflict or I have doubts if it will ever get there.

SWJ: The expeditionary component that NATO embraced at the last summit seems to be a reflection of an outdated defense mindset. It is still a defense in depth oriented posture, one that assumes enough time to react. That is no longer enough in an operational environment that favors domain denial. NATO should find new ways of “doing business” and reassuring its Eastern Flank.

Jim Thomas: In Europe and NATO circles, Ukraine should have been a wake-up call for everyone but some people are still hitting the snooze button. Even after Ukraine, it is hard for me to understand how people are still talking about 2% of GDP as being adequate for defense. It is hard for me to understand how some people are still talking about smart defense or rapid reaction forces and the consolidation of headquarters. The mindset is still stuck in a 1990s Brussels discotheque. We now have to not only re-conceptualize our doctrine and operational concepts as we did with the follow-on forces attack (a complement to the American Air Land battle) during the Carter Administration. As e tU,S, is seeking new joint operational concepts we should ask what are the allied equivalent to them. I think we need to emphasize deterrence at three levels:

  • We have to maintain a robust nuclear deterrent because we still face many uncertainties in the future granted that are many scenarios where is hard to see the relevance of nuclear deterrence. But there were also many people that didn’t see the relevance of the NATO Alliance a few years ago. My fears is that if we remove the nuclear weapons from Europe we will never put them back again so it is better to maintain that level of deterrence.
  • The second is the conventional level and here we need to do two things for the US and the most Western allies like the UK and France. We need to think how we can project power into the denied areas to come to the rescue of the frontline allies. We need to think about how we can conduct conventional strikes but also how we are going to have a greater forward basing posture than what we had in the past. For this reason we need to rethink the three No’s. It was this deal that we struck with Mephistopheles which makes no sense in the current era. The last part of the conventional equation is that we need to think what our frontline states need to do. They need to develop their own A2/AD networks.
  • The third is that we need to think more about sub-conventional deterrence. As we face ambiguous hybrid threats we need to think how we can counter them with border control and internal defences, but we also need to think how we can pose similar challenges to others. How can we develop national resistance movements and guerilla forces of our own armed with PGMs that can pose a very messy threat to potential belligerents? Precision weapons have the potential to revolutionize the irregular warfare.

The major vulnerability that NATO faces today is one of sub-conventional ambiguous aggression. This implies thinking about how NATO will build up its sub-conventional deterrent, but arming them with a couple of things: on one side, we need precision-guided artillery, mortars and missiles in the frontline areas; second is the sensor net that such forces need to have with aerial, space, terrestrial layers. So the question becomes how can we create that sensor grid across borders that can provide early warning and targeting information for highly distributed, highly irregular ground guerilla forces?

SWJ: The seizure of Crimea is transforming the Black Sea region. There are already signs that the Black Sea is entering the age of a keep-out zone. Crimea is rapidly becoming an A2/AD vanguard. Russia is deploying some of its most long-range area denial weapons. Access is at risk. How should NATO and the NATO littoral states think about this emerging threat to the regional commons?

Jim Thomas: Geographically you can almost think to Crimea as being analogous to Taiwan, the salient peninsula that allows the Russians to extend the range of their systems. This is an area that traditionally has been subjected to Russian naval dominance. But I take the point that we are going to see a redetermination on the part of Russia to master the Black Sea. One point for all of the frontline allies in Europe is to think about reducing their reliance on energy resources that either flow from Russia or that Russia can cut. With respect to the sea denial capabilities I think that these should be land-based. It doesn’t make sense to contest Russian naval dominance in a Mahanian way so it has to be approached asymmetrically by investing in land based sea denial capabilities (anti-ship cruise missiles, mines) and maybe in some smaller submarines. 

Jim Thomas is Vice President and Director of Studies at the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments. He served for thirteen years in a variety of policy, planning and resource analysis posts in the Department of Defense, culminating in his dual appointment as Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Resources and Plans and Acting Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Strategy. In these capacities, he was responsible for the development of defense strategy, conventional force planning, resource assessment, and the oversight of war plans. He spearheaded the 2005-2006 Quadrennial Defense Review (QDR), and was the principal author of the QDR report to Congress.

About the Author(s)

Octavian Manea was a Fulbright Junior Scholar at Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs (Syracuse University) where he received an MA in International Relations and a Certificate of Advanced  Studies in Security Studies.

Comments

Move Forward

Wed, 06/10/2015 - 12:49pm

One last comment:

<blockquote>SWJ: The outcome of the last year’s NATO summit in Wales was very much focused on power projection. To reassure its Eastern Flank, the Alliance promised a very fast reinforcement force that will be able to deploy in 48 hours in case of an Article 5 emergency. But this particular outcome should be combined with the crisis of the traditional power projection model. The problem is that NATO assumes a highly permissive environment. It doesn’t seem to be bothered by what increasingly seems to be a Russian A2/AD reach in the Baltic and Black Seas that affects NATO’s Eastern Flank. How appropriate do you see this traditionalist power projection model compared with what Russia is fielding?</blockquote>
<blockquote>Jim Thomas: This debate matters a lot for the U.S. Since WW2 the US military has really seen itself as the world premiere expeditionary force. When there is a crisis we react and flow-in forces across oceans to the theaters were we conduct operations. All the trends we’ve been talking about suggest that there are real limitations with that expeditionary model in the future not only for the U.S. but also for its allies. Regional actors are pursuing anti-access and area denial capabilities to prevent U.S. expeditionary forces from being able to defend America’s regional allies and partners effectively. Everyone who has been in the power projection business now faces the same problem, which is that in a crisis dispatching expeditionary forces may be highly destabilizing and in a conflict it may be simply impossible because those forces would not have protected ports and airfields they could flow into. For these reasons, I am skeptical of the whole idea of a super-rapid reaction force because it fails to understand the changing military competition and the security environment. To meet these challenges there is no substitute for forward-based forces. The force will either be there before the crisis and conflict or I have doubts if it will ever get there.</blockquote>

The A2/AD threat in limited war is greatly exaggerated. Why? Because the aggressor attempting limited war does not want to escalate. They want to piecemeal their way to a new regional reality one small bit of land at a time. If they were to react to our deterrence reinforcement into <strong>adjacent</strong> areas of Europe and the Pacific with massive missile and air attacks, the conflict would lose its limited nature and solidify allied opposition. If Japan, the Philippines, and South Korea were on the fence about supporting allied sanctions and additional deterrence in the face of limited seizure of small islands, all ambiguity would go out the window if missiles suddenly started falling on their territory.

The same applies in Europe with Russia. We already see repeated NATO reinforcement and build-ups near the Baltics, Poland, and Ukraine. Have the Iskanders started flying? No, because it is in Russia’s interest to seek that one of 28 EU nations to oppose sanctions so that they end in July. What if they did launch demonstrations attacks using Iskanders or worst case tactical nukes? Russia publically proclaims that this would be escalation to deescalate. In reality, they know it would strengthen NATO resolve overwhelmingly, increasing defense budgets, solidarity, and forward presence through rotational and permanent basing near the Baltics and in Poland.

As long as we continue to announce and conduct numerous training deployments, even in the face of limited Russian or Chinese aggression, it provides cover and practice defeating A2/AD attacks. Even if the true intent is to build up our forces, we certainly do not need to announce it. Saddam Hussein had two potential opportunities to attempt to knock out our “speed bump” in Desert Storm and OIF. He had the SCUD missiles and the airpower but we had our own Northern and Southern Watch airpower, as well. The second time around Hussein did launch limited attacks but they hardly stopped our deployment. Likewise, NATO defense-in-depth will quickly become deploy-in-depth to exploit the more limited numbers of medium and long-range PLA missiles and to outrange the Iskanders.

The same applies in NATO with airpower just outside the range of Iskanders that only will strengthen as the F-35 begins to deploy both for our own and allied forces. We then deploy ground forces to join prepositioning equipment at numerous different locations each time and rapidly disperse. The A-400M ultimately will get its bugs worked out and when coupled with our C-17s/C-130s we can get something on the ground early as a tripwire. Russia is not going to shoot down cargo planes, sink Baltic and Black Sea ships, or knock out satellites and shoot down Reapers, Global Hawks, AWACS, or JSTARS flying over NATO territory <strong>over a limited war</strong>.

Move Forward

Fri, 06/05/2015 - 10:42am

In reply to by Move Forward

<blockquote>SWJ: Twice during the Cold War, U.S. and NATO had to restore their deterrence capital by investing in a very specific offset strategy. In an operational environment where the traditional power-projection is no longer possible what should a third offset strategy emphasize?

Jim Thomas: I am attracted to the idea of a new offset strategy - one that has to be focused on a specific military problem. The big problem that we have is the anti-access area denial problem. How can we continue to stay in the business of power-projection despite the challenges that are emerging? At the same time we need to leverage some of our key advantages: the area of robotics, the ability to use robotics both for manufacturing as well as conducting operations with UAVs or Unmanned Underwater Vehicles and overcome some of the physiological limitations that we’ve had in the past and may help us to maximize weapons and sensor density at ranges in these denied areas. It is a way of penetrating and operating inside the adversary’s bubble in ways that impose costs on them.</blockquote>

This again distorts history. Close and rear aspects of forward-presence, close air support and attack helicopter close combat attack, and the deep capabilities of MLRS/ATACMS, attack helicopters, and F-35s/F-22s are shoved-aside rhetorically in claims that long range strike of follow-on forces are all that matter.

Yes, robotics will matter in the future. But there is plenty of doubt in our ability to control multiple UAS with one ground control station let alone relying too soon on autonomy to solve everything. Collateral damage and fratricide matter. ISIL and past conflicts demonstrate that enemies find ways of not becoming an air attack target by blending in with civilians. The Klub missile disguised as a container is another example where targeting a missile launcher may not be as easy as advertised.

Often, persistence and patience is required which is not feasible with swarms of small UAS that never will match the endurance of larger RPAs/UAS. Small UAS swarms will get wasted when they fail to find a target. We may be able to dash F-22s/F-35s to missile launch locations identified by launch signature to include EO/IR systems on the F-35. They can dash part way there at mach speed and then launch a search RPA to find the target in a narrowed-down launch area to preserve endurance.

Unmanned Underwater Vehicles also have great potential and the towed payload modules may be feasible, as well. Could we potentially tow such modules with nuclear missiles in lieu of building new nuclear missile subs? Virginia class subs and any destroyer feasibly could tow such modules.

Move Forward

Fri, 06/05/2015 - 10:12am

In reply to by Move Forward

<blockquote>SWJ: Fighting from long-range might be a necessity in the current security environment. But the U.S. has traditionally invested massively in shorter-range capabilities. The historical assumption was that U.S. will act from short-distance. Does this imply a major shifting in the acquisition patterns for the U.S. military?

Jim Thomas: There has to be a rebalance that occurs in the U.S. military from short-range to long range. Employment of our tactical air forces is predicated on operating from close-in bases. Manned fighters all have to operate at short theater ranges and they are heavily dependent on aerial refueling. But the same could be said of our naval combatants in terms of their effectiveness-carriers need to operate very close to the shore given the ranges of today’s carrier-based manned aircraft. So how can we change that dynamic over time so we can conduct conventional deterrence at range?</blockquote>Yes, our fighters rely on aerial refueling but that is a U.S. strength that could expand if bomb-like fuel pods were included on the LRS-B with drogue hoses that could extend to support Naval F-35s and F/A-18s and EA-18Gs. Buddy refueling is already practiced. Multiple Naval squadrons could rotate through carriers taking off from distant islands, refueling en route, going to Taiwan, returning to a carrier to rearm/refuel, aerial refuel en route, bomb again, and return to the distant island they originated from. Use of multiple squadrons would keep the "chainsaw" going even with only 8+ hours of flying per day per pilot.

The same approach would work with multiple USAF squadrons of F-35s and F-22s using aerial refueling. Larger KC-10 aircraft starting from Hawaii, Alaska, and Guam would shuttle fuel to other forward smaller KC-46/KC-135 aircraft as in a fire bucket brigade in this case handing off fuel from one plane to another.

Contrast that with a failed strategy of nothing but long-range bombing and autonomous UAS that have difficulty finding hidden targets in urban areas and under smog, are susceptible to attack by fighter jets, and are vulnerable to attack on the ground stateside by commando precision mortars and ATGMs. Then add the risk of escalation as we chase "archers" that also launch nukes, and the danger of nuclear exchange increases. In contrast, limiting fighter sorties primarily to defending attacked islands and the Straits leading to them would be less alarming to China.

Move Forward

Fri, 06/05/2015 - 9:54am

In reply to by Move Forward

<blockquote>SWJ: What are the implications for the frontline states located in the proximity of regional A2/AD powers that also have a revisionist agenda?

Jim Thomas: First of all we have to have much greater expectations for what our allies will do to optimize their own local defenses. Here they can follow the Chinese model by developing their own anti-access/area denial capabilities both for air-denial which would deny an adversary the ability to gain air cover for its ground forces, or it can conduct land-denial in terms of precision anti-armor systems or sea-denial in terms of anti-ship cruise missiles, mines and submarines.

Another element is related to what the allied frontline states can do to provide to U.S. greater sanctuary within their countries. We need bases, facilities to operate from and in a crisis or conflict we need to be able to flow forces in to what is going to be probably a denied or at least a contested operating area.

The third element is the ability to hold-out the prospect of a protracted conflict to any adversary. This may take the form of an irregular resistance, a high-tech people’s army that could sustain a resistance and counter an occupation armed with PGMs that could really bloody an invasion force.</blockquote>
This all makes sense. We see examples of the first and second paragraph in headlines today that Japan is seeking access to bases and cooperation with the Philippines. That's pretty amazing considering their history, but you also see greater cooperation between Korea and Japan.

Sanctuary in some place may include prepositioning equipment as we see in another recent headline. Such equipment could be vulnerable to long range missiles with submunitions and fuel-air explosives. That may argue for placing some of that equipment on rail cars that move around frequently to deter targeting.

Other secret agreements could include planned wartime use of smaller civil airfields for Marine F-35Bs and C-130/C-17 airlifters, and regular fighter jets on larger civil fields. The Rapid Raptor concept would apply to more than just the F-22.

The irregular resistance described in the final paragraph could go beyond just SF/SOF to include airborne and air assaulted Army infantry elements and Marines described earlier for Taiwan. Potential aggressors must be made to understand that the war won't be "short and sharp" but rather an extended fight even if they temporarily gain ground in the Baltics or Taiwan. That 100 miles of Strait becomes a clear obstacle in a longer war making it difficult to resupply PLA forces. Likewise, white Russian trucks purported to be bringing aid become ATGM, rocket, and machine gun targets once their true nature and intent is made clear by an invasion.

Move Forward

Thu, 06/04/2015 - 3:53pm

In reply to by Move Forward

<blockquote>When we talk about forward-presence we tend to become intellectually lazy. If you think what the word presence means it means visible. That is the message that we wanted to send historically. I am not sure that this is going to be the same in the future. U.S. has certainly has an interest in staying forward because there are real limitations to things like offshore balancing. We want to maintain strong commitments to our forward frontline allies in Asia, in the Middle East and Europe. But how we do that may really differ in the future.

Overall we need to be able to do two things simultaneously: having a more continuous deployment or stationing pattern in the frontline states maybe with more ground based capabilities and in particular air-ground integration capabilities; plus air and naval forces that can fight from range. We are unlikely to have the luxury of the relatively permissive operating environments we’ve experienced in recent decades.</blockquote>

Why did we deploy the 173 ABCT to the Baltics if we did not want a visible presence? Why were the Strykers there and then driven back to Germany? Why the additional tanks and Bradleys brought in? Why was there a parade a few hundred yards from the Russian border with NATO armored vehicles? Why the A-10s and other fighters advertised as brought in? Why extra ships in the Black Sea getting buzzed by Russian fighters?

All these plus our recent flyover of the seized and constructed "Chinese island" with a large vulnerable P-8 indicate that forward-presence does not guarantee threat engagement. We have had a ground and air forward-presence in Korea and NATO for half a century and never were attacked in mass anymore than we attacked Russian forces massing along their western border with Ukraine and the Baltics. Nobody wants to start WWIII and the best means to do that is a massive surprise missile and air attack as Pearl Harbor illustrated. Taking out a 6,000 Sailor carrier would rank right up there as well.

Does Mr. Thomas believe that Europe was a permissive environment for forward-presence ground and air units and forces joining their prepositioned equipment during the Cold War? That is contradicted by his own Mr. Krepinevich's recent study. Yet, nobody ever advocated removal of our ground forward-presence because of the Soviet threat to our ground units and airfields. The DPRK has massive indirect fire capabilities yet we retain a massed forward-presence. Isn't the mass of equipment to be deployed the primary reason why we forward-deploy and preposition ground forces?

Isn't the key to beating anti-access strategies the non-massed employment of multiple ports and airfields and immediate dispersion thereafter. A ground force is easier to make invisible than a large ship or airfield. Will the Russians or Chinese launch a sudden massed missile or air attack out of the blue or will there be warning and indications allowing dispersion of forward-presence forces? Do we really believe that a rising China with everything to lose in terms of exports or even Putin is that dumb? Would an attack and seizure of parts of the Baltics weaken or strengthen NATO, its budgets, and its future ground and air forward-presence?

Move Forward

Thu, 06/04/2015 - 2:57pm

In reply to by Move Forward

<blockquote>We have seen a clear track and tendency over three administrations <strong>(from president Clinton announcement at the start of Kosovo where he talked about no boots on the ground, to the 2001 campaign in Afghanistan with a minimal presence that was special operation forces intensive, to president Obama’s emphasis on not having boots on the ground or conventional combat forces)</strong> to avoid committing large conventional ground forces. This is really a big question for the strategic analysts around the world-does this trend continue in the future?</blockquote>

This is the irritating thing about think tank studies and analysts. They selectively make claims that support their view while failing to mention contradictory facts.

Note the part I've highlighted in bold. There is no mention about large numbers of boots on the ground in the Balkans before and after Kosovo. No mention is made of the tens of thousands of NATO/ISAF and ANSF forces in Afghanistan after the initial UW/Airpower victory of 2001/2002. Hundreds of thousands of coalition forces supported OIF which goes unmentioned despite the reality that they had largely pacified the nation after the Surge until they left in mass in 2011 and everything fell apart.

I'm confident "strategic analysts" will find ways to spin our current war to "degrade and defeat ISIL" as an example of why we don't need boots on the ground---if we continue to experience Democratic Presidents. BTW, it's Joint Terminal Attack Controller, not air controller.

Move Forward

Thu, 06/04/2015 - 2:43pm

In reply to by Move Forward

<blockquote>There was nothing subtle or ambiguous about the unconventional warfare campaign that the United States conducted in 2001 in Afghanistan. There we were very clearly working with the Northern Alliance on the ground to change conditions, but we also integrated special operations forces with them. In particular this allowed air-ground integration where the U.S. really became the Northern Alliance’s air-force and made the force far more effective than it would otherwise be. What we see today in the case of Russian forces in Ukraine is a more insidious form of power projection. One of the things that is really lacking is that the separatist forces within Ukraine do not benefit from the Russian air cover.</blockquote>
The first sentence fails to comprehend that the initial UW and airpower success of OEF was not going to consolidate any gains or stabilize Afghanistan. The Taliban would have come back with or without a NATO/ISAF presence and given the absence of any trained ANSF and the non-guaranteed overland or air access to Afghanistan via Pakistan or other "stans," we would have been back to square one.

The last sentence of his quote brings up the UW aspects that the U.S. and allies could inflict on any Chinese aggression onto Taiwan. Given the natural terrain defilade of the central mountain range, it would not be that difficult to land guerrilla SF/SOF/airborne/air assault forces on Taiwan's east side. This combined with sinking of supply ships replenishing Taiwan PLA forces, and downing of supply and CAS aircraft, our own guerillas coupled with indigenous ROC forces would render PLA gains short-lived at best.

The major so-what aspect of the whole A2/AD argument is not whether the 2nd Artillery can inflict damage on Taiwan with missiles. It is whether they can cross 100 miles of Taiwan Straits repeatedly for perpetuity while simultaneously enduring an offshore distant blockade.

The second unmentioned argument of A2/AD is how many friends and future trading partners does China gain through a sudden surprise missile attack of Japanese, Philippine, Korean, and Taiwan military installations and those hosting our forces. The dilemma for the PLA appears to be either fire nearly all their missiles at once---and then have nothing left against allied reinforcement, or keep their powder dry while we "infiltrate" numerous air, ground, and sea force into multiple points of entry in an un-massed manner, followed by rapid dispersion off the port and airbase.

I'll add that Russian separatists <strong>do</strong> have air cover in the form of Russian UAS that spot Ukrainian units and call in indirect fire strikes. Syria's Assad has air cover against Sunni rebels that is undisputed because we choose not to engage. As a result, helicopters double tap the Sunnis dropping a barrel bomb, followed minutes later by a second one on those coming to assist the fallen victims of the first bomb. I would argue that a Taiwan being protected by U.S. stealth fighter aircraft, monitored by JSTARS/AWACS, and UAS/RPAs would have far greater CAS and intelligence support than the PLAN forces attempting to seize and retain that island.

Move Forward

Thu, 06/04/2015 - 2:20pm

I'm going to grab comments from each of Mr. Thomas's responses to Octavian Manea and work my way down. This first comment references both the U.S. and Chinese response to the perceived RMA success of Desert Storm.

<blockquote>Whereas the Americans were thinking about how they could use PGMs and the reconnaissance strike complex to further their ability to conduct air-control, sea-control or land-control, the Chinese were thinking in a more minimalist fashion in terms of how they could use precision strike systems and other capabilities to contest others’ control of various domains through robust integrated air defenses to deny the skies, coastal defenses to deny the seas, and long-range missile strike forces to hold theater airbases and aircraft carriers – the centerpieces of American power projection – at risk.

Few grasped twenty years ago that the competing interpretations of the Ogarkov’s vision were stoking a long-term contest between the forces of denial and the forces of control. But what really ensued from 1991 to the present has really been such a clash between denial vs. control. At the point where we are now, I think we can start to draw some preliminary conclusions. One is that is going to be far cheaper and easier to deny any domain than it is to control. That is, reconnaissance-strike complexes tend to favor denial over control. That has to inform our thinking moving ahead in terms of the kinds of the preparations that we might undertake. It is probably most difficult for the U.S. military to shift its paradigm from control to denial. Overall, the trends that favor domain denial will affect U.S. capabilities, plans and doctrine the most, since historically it is the U.S. military that has been most optimized to conduct domain control operations: air superiority, naval mastery, land control, space control and information dominance.</blockquote>

Last night, spent a considerable time scanning parts of CSBA's excellent 2014 study by Andrew Krepenivich, "Maritime Warfare in a Mature Precision-Strike Regime."

Items from the study that I found significant were several-fold and it largely was a balanced approach. Krepenivich mentioned and gave historical examples that:

1) A2/AD threats are hardly new to Naval or Land forces given Soviet strengths of the Cold War.

2) The absence of <strong>actual</strong> major sea battles over many decades (really since WWII) indicate that despite fears of Chinese A2/AD threats, we really don't know how successful they would be.

3) The U.S. already had a plan to overcome A2/AD carrier standoff (assuming that the DF-21D and its "Scout" capabilities work--big assumption) called the Outer Air Battle (nick-named "chainsaw") in which our overwhelming aerial refueling advantage could top of carrier planes midway between the objective and carrier. We don't need to penetrate mainland China to defend Taiwan and Japan in the air with short-range airpower.

4) Offshore blockades could work.

I'll add that the absence of Chinese warfare experience in general would amplify their lack of success against an experienced U.S. and equally strong Japanese, Australian, and South Korean military. American strengths in stealth aircraft numbers when added to the aerial refueling advantage now and for the foreseeable future also negate the domain denial capabilities of China expressed in his last sentences of both paragraphs above. Our own space, AWACS, missile defense, plus EW and coming directed energy and cyber capabilities are likely every bit a match if not superior to those of China which further calls into question the sky-is-falling beliefs of PLAN and missile domain denial.

The last point is instructive when you look at the total ordnance that 1600 short, medium, and long range 2nd Artillery missiles could deliver---a fraction of the total ordnance we employed against Serbia, in OIF and OEF, and that Israel used against Gaza and Lebanon's Hezbollah. We also seemingly panic over 2 short range artillery pieces on a constructed island and the presence of Chinese Coast Guard and fisherman vessels. Meanwhile in the Ukraine and West Russia, thousands of armored systems and artillery pieces mass and attack. What does this tell us about where we should be pivoting?

What is the relevance of considering -- and/or discussing -- the 1991 Gulf War and RMA,

Or indeed the relevance of considering and/or discussing the Rumsfeldian way of war and IW,

If, as we know now -- and due to a lack of such things as "universal values" -- these matters are only useful in negative ways,

To wit: As a means to, for example, destroy the states military forces and achieve regime decapitation/regime change?

(Thus, destroying the targeted states ability to [a] remain viable, [b] maintain order and/or [c] protect itself from both internal and external enemies.)

My argument here stated another way:

a. Its not whether you can kill the lion tamer with one cute bullet that counts. But, rather,

b. Whether you would want to do so.

c. This, given the fact that, and as we have recently learned the hard way,

d. "Universal values" (re: man and lion in this case) do not appear to exist.

In this light, to consider the utility/the usefulness of such things as RMA and innovative IW re: such major states as Russia and China?