Thoughts from Khobar: Where Do We Go from Here?

Having ended our Iraq campaign and fast approaching the end of our Afghan campaign after a decade- plus, we are now looking at a future with dramatically reduced budgets, huge force reductions, and a change in the way we do business….away from “small wars” and “nation-building”, shifting back to the pre-9/11 focus on near-peer competitors, state-on-state conflicts, and, I suspect, running up and down the Central Corridor in southern California.

The recent National Defense Strategy states, among other things, that our forces: will not be sized to conduct large-scale, prolonged stability operations; will operate effectively in cyberspace; will develop innovative, low-cost, and small-footprint approaches to achieve our security objectives, relying on exercises, rotational presence, and advisory capabilities.  The NDS has quite a bit more but, in an effort to think disruptively, I offer the following for consideration in an effort to meet some of our NDS goals:

a.  Private Military Companies - Given that we will continue to prosecute the “Global War on Terrorism” despite reduced manpower and capabilities, consider Ron Paul’s suggestion of issuing Letters of Marque and Reprisal to private military companies (PMC) to help execute this mission (with US and coalition SOF leading all such efforts).  I am not advocating for Mr. Paul’s candidacy nor am I a supporter.  However, this is constitutional and is (overall) cheaper than what we’ve done during the first decade of the 21st Century.

Are there challenges and dangers with this idea?  Yes, but if we were to issue such Letters and identify specific targets, locations, and duration as well craft agreements/ policies that mandate adherence to certain rules of engagement and conduct as well as allowing access to foreign locations where the targets are hiding, this may allow for continued aggressive prosecution of the GWoT without draining our national resources and risk turning any victory into a Pyrrhic one.

b. Carriers for Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAV) – According to a Washington Post article, the cost of the next aircraft carrier has a target price of $5.16 billion, and we like having eleven of these.  Replacing some of our big carriers with smaller amphibious assault ships (at a cost of $750 million) reconfigured for armed UAVs will allow us to maintain an over-the-horizon carrier strike capability while reducing the cost of doing so.  If we are to keep our large carriers, we may want to consider delaying acquisition of new ones in favor of a few smaller UAV carriers and augment our carrier strike groups with these, adding aircraft strike capability at reduced cost.  Smaller ships, smaller aircraft, smaller crews, same kill-capability (no change in the make-up of a carrier strike group other than using a smaller carrier), and more money left over for other concerns, like military equipment upgrades or improvements in medical care for our many wounded warriors.

c. United States Space Force – The US Air Force is unrivaled in air dominance.  While some future adversary may be willing to challenge us in the air requiring us to maintain air-to-air combat capability, we may want to consider doing away with the Air Force as it is currently configured and reorganize it into a service that maintains dominance from space (I confess that I got this idea from author, Ben Bova, many years ago when reading one of his books).

Give to the Army the A-10s, F-15s, & F-16s and let them handle air dominance over their areas of operation (along with the Navy and Marines).  The new Space Force can enhance all of that using their space-based platforms as well as maintain complete, horizon-to-horizon situational awareness of enemy air and space assets, potentially dealing with them before they threaten US & allied interests.  Strategic air capabilities, like bombers, ballistic missiles, and cargo transports, will be retained by the new service since its global perspective is, by definition, strategic.

The Space Force may also be the service of choice to lead cyberspace operations as it will be positioned, literally, to observe all areas of the globe in real-time.  Using the latest in computer and communications technology we can reduce reaction time to any threats potentially by using cyber-capabilities to attack and disarm threat network systems and/ or navigational guidance systems of threat weapons, missiles, etc. that are targeting our assets (like bombers or cargo aircraft).

d.  Counterinsurgency/ Small Wars - Maintain general purpose force (GPF) capability to do irregular warfare & counterinsurgency (IW/ COIN) by keeping Provincial Reconstruction Teams (PRT), Agro-Development Teams (ADT), and Human Terrain Teams (HTT) in our organization, possibly rolled up under Civil Affairs Brigades, or in a new organization that focuses solely on “nation-building” or “stability operations” (or whatever the term of the day is).  This will allow us to maintain and apply the lessons learned over the last decade regarding small wars and whole-of-government approaches to civil-military operations (we can call it the Office/ Bureau/ Division of Strategic Assistance or something akin to that) and rotate military, government, and civilian/ corporate personnel through, sharing their insights and applying their experiences in nation-building & stability operations that we will likely be involved in despite our desire to avoid them.  We saw this during the 1990s….a desire to avoid but constantly involved.  Might as well be prepared to execute.

Some feel this is the purview of the State Department.  But the State Department, our “Foreign Office”, has as their primary mission ensuring good relations between the US and foreign governments, not building/ rebuilding those governments (at least not directly).  Some might feel that the military is the ideal organization for this but they’re better at wrecking foreign countries, not necessarily building/ rebuilding them.  A synthesis of DoD and DoS in the form of the above-mentioned organization (an independent federal agency?)  would allow for an organization that does” more than diplomacy but less than military force”, a capability we’ve needed several times since the collapse of the bipolar world of the Cold War. 

e.   Advisors - Maintain a GPF advisor capability; look at combining 162d BDE and the Security Assistance Training Management Office (SATMO) as proponent for GPF advisory capability.  Our Special Forces remain our primary combat advisor force.  But unless we decide to increase the number of SF Groups and expand SF capacity, we will need more conventional types (GPF) to execute the advisory missions that the NDS addresses.  We currently have GPF advisors in a variety of areas like Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and Columbia.  The Army is standing up regionally aligned brigades (RAB) for advisory and theater-cooperation missions in Africa beginning in 2013.  The advisory mission is a less-expensive yet effective way of maintaining our presence in areas of interest around the globe.  We ought to consider such duty as important as developmental positions (perhaps as important as key/ command billets) given that such duty affords one the opportunity to shape foreign military leaders and potential future national-level leaders (as a result of his previous advisor assignment, current JCS Chairman and former Program Manager for the Saudi Arabian National Guard (SANG) modernization program, GEN Dempsey, maintains good relations with King Abdullah, the current king of Saudi Arabia and former commander of SANG).

I do not consider any of my recommendations as “The Answer” to the potential problems many see with upcoming budget cuts, personnel reductions, and threat focus changes (away from small wars and towards big wars).  But I believe this attempt at “disruptive thinking” may offer some ideas for ways to proceed. 

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The author of this article has asked that a comment he made earlier today be reinserted - it was moved to SWC as a RFI.

'I've read a bit about hybrid air vehicles and airships (blimps) specifically the Navy's MZ-3A and the Army's Long Endurance Multi-Intelligence Vehicle (LEMV). Is anyone familiar with these and how they may be incorporated into future missions? Could these (particularly the LEMV) be used to extend/ enhance current UAV missions perhaps as airborne UAV carriers?'