Small Wars Journal

The Third Offset Strategy in Historical Context

Thu, 01/29/2015 - 8:12pm

The Third Offset Strategy in Historical Context

SWJ interview with Robert Martinage

Robert Martinage is a senior fellow at CSBA where he returned after five years of public service in the Department of Defense (DoD). From 2010-2013, Mr. Martinage served as the Deputy Under Secretary of the Navy, providing senior-level advice on foreign and defense policy, naval capability and readiness, security policy, intelligence oversight, and special programs. Appointed Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Special Operations, Low-Intensity Conflict and Interdependent Capabilities in the Office of the Secretary of Defense (OSD) in 2009, Mr. Martinage focused on special operations, irregular warfare, counter-terrorism, and security force assistance policy.

SWJ: Historically, what is the role of offset strategies in broader US grand strategies?

Robert Martinage: Since the end of the Cold War, there have been at least two occasions when the United States pursued an offset strategy. The first was President Eisenhower’s “New Look” in the 1950s and the second was the “Offset strategy” promoted by the Secretary Harold Brown in the 1970s. In both cases the fundamental challenge was the same: to offset the numerical advantage of Warsaw Pact forces by using a US technology advantage.

SWJ: What is the role of the offset strategy in deterring a competitor? How crucial was the second offset strategy in deterring and changing the calculation of the Soviet mass superiority vis-à-vis NATO? What was the effect of the second offset strategy for the Soviet perceptions?

Robert Martinage: The second offset strategy clearly influenced Soviet perceptions about deterrence. By demonstrating the capability to “look deep and shoot deep” into Warsaw Pact territory in the 1970s and 1980s, NATO called into question the underlying Soviet operational concept at the time for combined arms ground maneuver. Our growing ability to see deep into the Warsaw Pact territory and hold Soviet second echelon forces at risk caused a great deal of angst.  The Soviets not only wrote about the problem in military journals, they also made focused investments and conducted field exercises to mitigate the impact of NATO “reconnaissance-strike” networks. It is very clear from the historical record that the Soviets were very concerned about these developments and actively took steps to counter them.

SWJ: In his latest book, Harold Brown remembers the fact that when he became Secretary of Defense in 1977 he concluded that “America and its allies needed to be able to deny or at least reduce Soviet confidence that it could roll over Western Europe in thirty days. (…) The US considered how to change the Soviet calculation that its military could accomplish a blitzkrieg victory in Western Europe.” Was the offset strategy the crucial variable that changed the Soviet calculus and stabilized the balance of power?

Robert Martinage: Based on historical documents that are now available, it did influence Soviet calculations about the balance of power and bolstered deterrence along the Central Front in Europe. It certainly sowed doubt in their minds about the feasibility of achieving the timelines underpinning their operational plans. Was the offset important in terms of stabilizing the situation in Europe? Yes, I think that is the case. The second offset strategy, however, was focused on a relatively narrow operational problem; specifically that NATO forces were outnumbered by roughly 3 to 1 along the Central Front in Europe. That said, it was a major strategic concern given the uncertain credibility of the US threat to escalate to the nuclear level in defense of Western Europe. In terms of addressing the underlying problem, the NATO conventional imbalance in Europe, the offset strategy was effective.

SWJ: Why is the traditional US power projection model in crisis? Why is the conventional US power projection challenged?

Robert Martinage: In large part the monopoly that we had on the second offset strategy (the networking of the intelligence surveillance and reconnaissance systems with precision strike capabilities) is slipping away. Prospective adversaries have watched how we project power over the last several decades, identified vulnerabilities and fielded reconnaissance-strike networks of their own to target US weaknesses. And this new environment has troubling implications for the way the US has preferred to project power since the end of the Cold War. We now have four core operational problems that we have to address: one is that close-in theater bases (airfields, ports, ground installations) are increasingly vulnerable to precision attack; second, surface combatants including aircraft carriers operating in littoral waters are easier to detect, track, and attack at range; third, networked integrated air defense systems (IADS) are becoming more lethal in terms of both of their reach and their ability to counteract our defense systems that we may try to use (as a result non-stealthy aircraft are increasingly vulnerable to attack); and lastly, space (used for ISR, precision navigation and timing, and communication) is increasingly vulnerable to both kinetic and non-kinetic attack, and thus, is no longer a sanctuary. These are the four core problems that we need to address and that is why, in my view, countering them should be the focus of the third offset strategy. We need to “offset” the fielding of disruptive technologies, and anti-access and area-denial (A2/AD) systems in particular, by prospective adversaries to restore and sustain US conventional power projection capability.

SWJ: To what extent are these maturing A2/AD bubbles a threat to the US ability to deter aggression vis-à-vis US allies? Is the credibility of US resolve/deterrence capital weakened?

Robert Martinage: It is absolutely a problem in terms of maintaining a credible deterrence posture and preserving the confidence of our allies in our ability to meet our security commitments. This is something that we need to address. The heart of deterrence is an adversary’s perception of our capability and willingness to carry out whatever our deterrence threat is. That deterrence threat is now being increasingly called into question because of the anticipated costs and the mounting risk associated with the “traditional” US approach to power projection. So to reassure our allies and deter prospective adversaries it is imperative to think how we might project power differently to mitigate, neutralize, or evade A2/AD threats.

SWJ: You have emphasized that the credibility of US deterrence is a function of the existence of capability and the political will to use these capabilities. Today, in a world of maturing A2/AD regional bubbles, the capabilities so crucial to US deterrence capital are increasingly in question. We have a capability gap. In addition, lately we’ve seen US unwillingness to use force in particular crises like Ukraine or Syria. Can these trends (maturing A2/AD coupled with US unwillingness to use force) shape a perception that the US credibility in general and the credibility of US deterrence in particular are in question?

Robert Martinage: I am not sure that our power projection capabilities are the reason why we were reluctant to engage in either Syria or Ukraine. There are other factors at play in those regions. But to your point, if it is perceived that our capability to project power is waning for whatever reasons and the apparent cost of US intervention increases over time because of these growing threats, there is a possibility that adversaries may believe that the United States may be self-deterred from engaging in conflicts around the world. When it comes to deterrence, perception is reality. So whether the United States in fact lacks the capability and willingness to honor its security commitments matters less than what our prospective adversaries believe to be true.

SWJ: How would you assess the threat that A2/AD capabilities pose for the global commons placed in the proximity of anti-status-quo competitors?

Robert Martinage: Because of the reach of the systems associated with an A2/AD network, they definitely pose a threat to the freedom of operations in the global commons: at sea, in the air, in space and cyberspace. All of these domains are threatened.

SWJ: To what extent can the regional commons (like sea lanes) be disrupted under an A2/AD umbrella? Can an anti-status-quo competitor, under an A2/AD shield, disrupt the freedoms associated with the global commons?

Robert Martinage: Current and anticipated A2/AD capabilities could be used to target the commons on a regional basis. While A2/AD networks are often thought about in terms of their impact on military forces, they could also be used to threaten or disrupt commercial traffic in heavily travelled sea-lanes, as well as in international airspace. Indeed, they could also be used to disrupt civilian communications through space and under the sea, as well as critical information-enabled civilian infrastructures.

SWJ: The outcome of the democratization of PGM technology is that many regional powers have been able to develop A2/AD bubbles to counter the US traditional approach to projecting power. Should we perceive this 3rd offset strategy effort as aimed to overcoming the A2/AD bubbles, to defeat them, to demonstrate that you have the ability to breach/break the A2/AD shield?

Robert Martinage: I think the core question is how do we project power credibly and effectively. In some cases that may mean countering and rolling back an adversary’s A2/AD capabilities, their reconnaissance-strike networks. But this may not always be the case. In some other cases, it could be rendering A2/AD networks irrelevant by projecting power in a different way. The third offset strategy should not be a symmetric response to A2/AD challenges, but rather a coherent  concept along with associated enabling capabilities to restore and sustain conventional US power projection capability. Countering A2/AD threats may be necessary, but it is not sufficient; it is a means to an end—and that end is holding at risk targets that the adversary values or his war-fighting capabilities.

SWJ: In the ‘70s we were talking about the Air Land battle doctrine. Now we are talking about Air Sea battle concept. But these are operational concepts that by themselves are not enough to make a difference. They need game-changing capabilities. Should we see the offset strategies as necessary complements of these operational concepts?

Robert Martinage: In my mind the core question is what is the operational problem that we are trying to address? What are we trying to offset? In my view, what we are trying to offset are our adversaries’ capabilities (including A2/AD) that call into question US power projection capability. If that is the problem then there are many potential operational concepts for addressing it, of which Air Sea battle is one. Once you’ve decided on how you want to deal with that problem, you need the enabling capabilities to make that operational concept real. So the first step is to correctly identify the problem, come up with operational concepts for addressing the problem, and develop and field whatever capabilities are needed to implement those concepts.

SWJ: Deterrence is a two-level game: deterrence by denial and deterrence by punishment. Should the US master both levels? Have US resources to do both? Should we have a balance?

Robert Martinage: The bedrock of deterrence is increasing an adversary’s perceived costs of taking some actions and reducing the perceived benefits of attempting to do so. And there are various ways to do that. I think there is merit in putting more reliance on deterrence by denial, reducing a prospective aggressors’ confidence that they can achieve their war ends in the first place. But another tool in the toolbox is increasing the anticipated costs of aggression in other ways, thereby affecting both sides of the cost-benefit calculus. I think that, in most respects, the force that you build to have the capability to deter by denial can also be leveraged to deter by a credible threat of punishment.

SWJ: Do you see also for NATO the need for starting to think in these terms and even develop its own offsetting strategy? My sense is that its power projection model is based on the assumption of a highly permissive environment.

Robert Martinage: NATO and other US allies and partners around the world will hopefully be integrated into whatever this third offset strategy becomes and will be part of the solution of how we can project power effectively around the world together. At the same, we need to remember that this is not a national defense strategy or a national security strategy. The objective of the “third” offset strategy, at least in my view, is not to address every national security challenge that we and our allies face, but rather to restore the credibility of conventional U.S. power projection capability. There may be some challenges that are better suited to the skill sets of our allies, some that we address together, and others that are tackled primarily by US forces. There is a panoply of national security challenges out there. We need to look at what makes sense across the whole spectrum.

SWJ: I am asking this question related to NATO because the outcome of the latest summit of the alliance in UK was very interesting. In order to strategically reassure its Eastern Flank, the alliance promised a very fast reinforcement force that will be able to project its power in 48 hours in case something is happening. I am combining this particular outcome with the crisis of the traditional power projection model, including the crisis of the assumptions at the center of it. In the end the assumption of a highly permissive environment is also at the core of the NATO’s power projection model. In particular NATO assumes that will have enough time to project its power in a highly permissive environment. But Russia is developing its own A2/AD reach in the Baltic and Black Seas, across NATO’s Eastern Flank. How appropriate do you see this traditionalist power projection model compared with what Russia is fielding?

Robert Martinage: Russia is developing a number of capabilities that appear to be aimed at countering the traditional US approach to power projection. To the extent that an offset strategy down the road provides options for projecting power that are more difficult for Russia to counter, that would be very useful. It would strengthen conventional deterrence. I am agreeing with you, but I think that the challenge that Russia is presenting right now in Europe is more at the sub-conventional threat level, and thus, can’t be answered adequately through conventional deterrence and power projection capabilities alone. This is another type of challenge that we need to address--not just in Europe, but also in the South China Sea.

SWJ: Yes, but a sub-conventional, little green men type of scenario in the Baltic States under the protection provided by an A2/AD umbrella is not unreasonable, it is not out of the question. And in that particular case a NATO Response Force (NRF) might not be able to be projected on the ground because of a highly A2/AD non-permissive environment. At that point NATO deterrence capital will be in question. NATO needs to be able to put at risk the A2/AD capabilities of the competition and must be able to access the theater. At the same time, as you have emphasized, sub-conventional type of scenarios shouldn’t necessarily be answered through power projection, but this means that NATO should forward station sub-conventional capacities in the Baltic States. On the other side, if NRF is not forward deployed before the actual crisis, to deter a crisis, it may never be able to be deployed because of the A2/AD umbrella, so giving Russia the opportunity of a territorial fait accompli that would be difficult to reverse.

Robert Martinage: I agree with the core logic of your argument. Current and emerging Russia A2/AD capabilities threaten nearby ports, airfields, and fixed ground installations—which could make NATO reinforcement in a crisis risky, difficult and almost certainly time consuming. “Rolling back” Russia’s A2/AD network could not be achieved quickly and would be fraught with escalatory risk as well. Accordingly, the best option to deter Russian sub-conventional aggression in the region might be to enhance the self-defense capabilities of the Baltic States and other regional allies and partners. This might be achieved through smart investments in their own “A2/AD” capabilities like SOF and paramilitary forces, mobile air defenses, coastal defense networks, advanced mines, and man-portable anti-tank weapons that could be bolstered in peacetime by forward-deployed NATO assets. The most relevant NATO forces will likely be those that are on the ground prior to a crisis. While the U.S. military, and the Army in particular, has shifted from a forward-based garrison force toward an expeditionary one since the end of the Cold War, the maturation and diffusion of A2/AD threats may cause the pendulum to swing back in the other direction—especially for ground forces.

SWJ: We see the salami-slicing tactics that China is employing in South China Sea using sub-conventional and civilianized means. But if we look in the Black Sea, especially after the annexation of Crimea, Russia is aiming to transform the Black Sea in a some sort of A2/AD lake, a no go area for NATO naval presence. Having in mind what happened in South China Sea and having an A2/AD umbrella over its head, can Russia be emboldened to try insidious/crippling aggressions in territorial waters and the EEZ of the Black Sea territorial states (for whatever reasons-energy is just one such reason) or against the regional commons? A kind of little green men scenario on the sea. Can an A2/AD actor feel emboldened to use unconventional tactics when it is confident enough that the other part doesn’t have the right strategy or capabilities to counteract this?

Robert Martinage: Prospective adversaries could develop A2/AD capabilities to provide an umbrella under which they could conduct sub-conventional operations and use the subversive tactics that you suggested. The goal would be to deter conventional intervention by external powers by driving up their anticipated costs of doing so. This is a very reasonable observation. The solution might be a different type of ground force that is survivable and can fight that subversive, sub-conventional aggression underneath an adversary’s A2/AD umbrella. Such a force—probably comprising a large proportion of SOF and paramilitary units—would survive through mobility, dispersion, camouflage, concealment, decoys, and selected active defenses. I think it would be valuable, however, to also develop options to hold an adversary’s A2/AD umbrella at risk, so if the stakes were high enough, you could dismantle it, enabling allied operations at both the sub-conventional and conventional levels. In general, it makes sense for smaller countries facing military coercion by larger powers, like Russia or China, to invest in local A2/AD capabilities of their own in order to raise the costs of any potential aggression against them.

SWJ: You have emphasized this ability of putting in danger the A2/AD umbrella of the competition. Doesn’t this ability of holding at risk core land-based capabilities of the competitor makes the security dilemma more unstable by providing incentives for preventive strikes?

Robert Martinage: Can you credibly execute whatever your deterrent threat is? Do you have the capabilities and the means to do what you say? If you don’t have that, it is unlikely that your prospective adversaries will be deterred. The second question is: what are the implications for crisis stability of the current situation? If an adversary has a strong incentive to strike preventively in a crisis to gain an advantage that is clearly not a desirable strategic situation. And I think that increasingly may be the situation we find ourselves in because of our vulnerability in space, because of the vulnerability of close-in bases and ports, and because of the vulnerability of surface ships in nearby littoral waters. This is a situation that increases crisis instability. The steps for reducing that vulnerability have the second-order effect of increasing crisis stability. Right now, however, if we are faced with a serious crisis in the Western Pacific or Europe, we will surge forces into vulnerable forward bases. Instead of being stabilizing, reassuring allies, and deterring aggression, a surge deployment may actually incentivize an adversary to strike US forces preemptively to prevent them from being brought to bear.

SWJ: It took a cycle of 10 years to develop the capabilities that restored US deterrence capital. So we might have another 10 years cycle in front of us. Does this mean that A2/AD adversaries might use this window of opportunity for probing how far they can go with their crippling/insidious aggressions under the shelter of their A2/AD bubble?

Robert Martinage: They could be and I think, to some degree, the third offset strategy it is late to need. It is something that we should have initiated at least a decade ago. So it is time to get going. There are things that we could do in the near term that would steadily improve our situation, things that would put us on the right road forward.

SWJ: In both East China Sea and South China Sea we can see maturing a very interesting trend-the civilianization of revisionism or better said the using of unconventional/irregular ways and means for advancing low-cost revisionism. China is using “civilian” elements and the cabbage strategy “in the vanguard of offensive military operations designed to seize and hold territory” (as Robert Haddick put it). But in both cases we can’t really point to a traditional category of a lawful combatant that can trigger a conventional response. What can be done in order to deter and counteract such measures short of war, without escalating to the conventional level and in way that preserves the credibility of US resolve?

Robert Martinage: I agree that China’s use of “lawfare” and civilianized, gray-zone aggression is a growing strategic concern. In my view, this is a challenge that is beyond the scope of the “third” offset strategy, which again, I believe should focus narrowly on restoring US conventional power projection capability and capacity. To deter and counter gray-zone aggression, our regional allies and partners may need to expand their options for responding with civilian means by, for example, expanding their coast guard fleets and paramilitary forces. That said, conventional power projection forces are still relevant. It is not an accident that China’s Coast Guard vessels in the South and East China Seas are routinely shadowed by gray hull warships. US and allied conventional power projection forces need to provide a survivable, credible “backstop” to “civilian” units responding to gray-zone aggression.

SWJ: But can this sub-conventional civilianized, gray-zone aggression be emboldened and incentivized by an environment shaped by a growing A2/AD umbrella and the impossibility of power projection in a conventional way?

Robert Martinage: It would only embolden sub-conventional or gray-zone aggression if the opposing power (and its allies) lacked either countervailing “gray zone” capabilities OR their own A2/AD umbrella at the conventional level. As a general rule, with deterrence, it is strategically ill-advised to allow an adversary to have unmatched access to rungs on the escalatory ladder. If two large powers, for example, possessed roughly comparable conventional surveillance-strike capabilities, which can be used offensively or defensively, they might well be deterred from attacking each other directly. Under those circumstances, the perceived probability of achieving one’s war aims at an acceptable cost and risk would likely be low. Either power, however, could resort to sub-conventional aggression, irregular warfare, and proxy wars to advance their security interests and secure their political aims less directly. Their temptation to do so, however, would depend upon their estimation of their rival’s ability and willingness to match them at that level of conflict.

SWJ: Which are the US competitive advantages that if leveraged wisely could give the foundation of a new offset strategy?

Robert Martinage: The core problem is that adversaries that have developed reconnaissance-strike complexes able to target the key nodes upon which our current conventional power projection model is based. The question is: how do we regain our advantage? My view is that we have enduring advantages in five areas: unmanned operations, extended-range air operations (with a focus on long-range capabilities), low-observable air operations, undersea warfare and complex systems engineering. We need to play to our strengths by building upon and leveraging those advantages.

SWJ: The balance between short range and long-range capabilities favors massively the short-range platforms. Should this reality be massively changed in favor of long-range capabilities?

Robert Martinage: Everything is a function of balance. We are out of balance between short- and long-range air power. We are out of balance with respect to capabilities that can operate in permissive vs. non-permissive environments. We are probably out the balance between manned and unmanned to some degree as well. The question is how far should the pendulum swing in the other direction to strike a more appropriate balance? We need to reduce investments in force structure and modernization in capability areas where we are oversubscribed, where we have more capacity than we need, and funnel those freed up resources to areas where we are underinvested. So it is more of a portfolio shift rather than just an addition.

SWJ: Forward deployed forces remained a key signature of US regional postures. Will this core feature remain the case under what you referred to as the GSS?

Robert Martinage: A global surveillance strike or “GSS” architecture will need a high-low mix of capabilities, just like in the 1970s offset strategy. There are places around the world where forward-based forces and non-stealthy platforms will be perfectly adequate. There are other places in the world where we may need more stealthy, longer-range platforms and increasingly operate under the sea. Again it should be a balance. But if we look at our defense portfolio, what we have and what we are planning to build for the next 20 years, it is mostly focused on permissive environments and not enough on non-permissive ones.

SWJ: The US military does not face only a capability (operational) problem, but also a capacity (size) problem. Will the US military have the resources to remain full spectrum, able to respond both to insurgency/asymmetric type of scenarios (so not repeating the mistakes that it did after Vietnam focusing mainly on Soviet Union) but also to high-end A2/AD threats?

Robert Martinage: The Joint Force should remain full spectrum capable. The Joint Force should provide as many options as possible to senior political and military leaders. We need to maintain ready crisis response forces, counterinsurgency capabilities, ones for sub-conventional warfare for scenarios that we see in the South China Sea and Ukraine, SOF for global CT operations, a balance between permissive and non-permissive conventional capabilities, and so on. Ultimately, it is not a matter of either or, but a question of balance and equilibrium in the Joint Force portfolio across the spectrum of conflict.

SWJ: A lesson of the past offset strategies is that the White House, DoD and the Congress were on the same page. It’s true that those were also bipartisanship-oriented times. We have a wonderful offset team at the top of DOD today. Through their background Ash Carter (he is to some extent the apprentice of William J. Perry) and Bob Work are uniquely qualified to drive and lead an offset strategy. Do you see today the political foundation that could provide a sustainable foundation for the third offset strategy?

Robert Martinage: I am cautiously optimistic. I think the big challenge is going to be articulating a compelling strategy and vision over the next 18 months to 2 years. Whatever the third offset strategy turns out to be, it is not going to be fully realized by any stretch of the imagination over the next 2 years. If the strategy is compelling and decision-makers are convinced that it makes sense, then I think that regardless of whether the next Administration is Democratic or Republican, it will continue to be developed and implemented. But this means that we need to get the strategy right in the first place. That is why the work that DoD is engaged in right now with the Defense Innovation Initiative and the third offset strategy, in particular, is so critical.

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.


Geoffrey Demarest

Wed, 06/17/2015 - 8:54pm

In reply to by Move Forward

Move Forward, that was a tour de force comment. Really. It was a superior answer. I back off, a bit, from my enthusiasm, not being as capable with facts about the individual systems and their effects. Let me try and rest a couple of points back, however. My buy-in to Mr. Martinage’s vision isn’t based so much on his historical narrative about the Cold War, and while I’m not dismissing the importance of a best interpretation of that history, I accuse you (mildly mildly) of niggling a bit regarding the Mr. Martinage’s rendition of that history. Mr. Martinage made a reasonable assertion regarding America’s historical perception of a set of strategic disadvantages and regarding the general answer. We don’t need to make much of a logic leap to agree with him that similar disadvantages reign today, plus perhaps some that accompany new technologies. Regarding his specific list of advantages to be optimized I deferred (and added), and, OK, maybe there is drama and salesmanship in his list of systems about which I was guileless. Regardless, Mr. Martinage’s outline of the nature of global strategic competition was impressive – including the need to respond to and initiate multiple moves in disparate places -- to be able to place opponents’ interests at risk and simultaneously attack impunities. I feel his overall sense of the developing strategic necessity is valid as a contextual argument for the further development of our special operating capacity, as well as the support it needs from the entire array of weapons and intelligence systems. Whether or not he is keying on just the right systems is indeed a consequential matter, and in that regard your comment is sobering. I think we should focus tertiarily on historical analogical precision, however. After all, a lot happened during the period of the Cold War that caused nations and empires to win and lose, but that were at best tangentially related to weapons or militaries. On the other hand, did I tell you how I personally won the Cold War in Central America? Well, anyhow, nice comment.

Move Forward

Mon, 06/15/2015 - 8:49am

In reply to by Geoffrey Demarest

Before buying too heavily into how “offset strategies” won the Cold War, review my other comment at the bottom about how this think-tank’s arguments omit mention of decades of NATO close combat forces and their related deterrent trip-wire and defensive effect. Also, started under President Carter and reaching fruition under President Reagan we saw new close combat and fighter aircraft assets the Soviets could not match.

The study mentions 3:1 ratios favoring the Soviets and the desire to avoid tank-on-tank and missile-vs.-missile engagements. Yet that ratio is acceptable in the defense while new (at the time), advanced M-1 tanks and AH-64s could defeat multiple older T-72s per lost friendly system. Don’t forget new (at the time) Patriot missiles, A-10s/F-15s/F-16s, and an attempted 600-ship primarily surface Navy that faced a far greater naval threat than China has. You cited the five special U.S. advantages from “Toward a New Offset Strategy,” but let’s see how currently planned and existing systems already address the four core operational problems also mentioned in the study without spending excessively on new un-programmed air and sea systems:

<blockquote>More specifically, the U.S. military now faces four core operational problems:

1. Close-in regional bases (e.g., ports, airfields, and ground installations), in a growing number of countries around the world, are increasingly vulnerable to attack;</blockquote>

Two issues here. First, anything more than a limited war with China would be economically detrimental to China and its future relations and trade in the Pacific and worldwide. Therefore, limited war over small islands and areas <strong>other than Taiwan</strong> are the sole conceivable areas of conflict that would not jeopardize China’s future growth. For that reason, you would suspect that a China that is anything but stupid would not invade Taiwan or launch a thousand missiles out of the blue at adjacent nation territories, thus alienating them forever.

Second, even in an unfathomable larger war over Taiwan, the Second Artillery Corps only has an estimated 1000-1200 short-range ballistic missiles unable to reach Guam or parts of the Philippines, Australia, or Singapore near the Straits of Malacca. The medium-range assets are far more limited and likely less accurate. A major dilemma for China then is: 1) do they use multiple missiles simultaneously in a surprise attack to <strong>temporarily</strong> overwhelm air and missile defenses on Taiwan, in Japan, and in South Korea creating moderate damage---and have few missiles left to combat U.S. and allied reinforcements after runways are repaired, or 2) do they hold onto those missiles as a contingency to target deployments and runways repeatedly over time and risk allowing most of our deployed forces to arrive and disperse away from multiple ports/airfields. After all, we don’t need to be physically on Taiwan initially to influence it and later conduct forcible and assisted entry from neighboring areas.

Also consider how China consolidates gains from any initial missile salvo onto Taiwan. They must invade over a distance far greater than the WWII Normandy effort that Germany never attempted in the opposite direction. How would China mass forces and ships to mount <strong>and sustain indefinitely</strong> a Taiwan invasion without upfront indications. The early warning would allow us to prepare our own and Taiwan air and missile defenses, leading to dispersion from close-in bases, and Taiwan preparations for an amphibious defense.

Aside from these factors, all five U.S. advantages with near-term equipment allow <strong>us</strong> to attack Chinese “close-in regional bases (e.g., ports, airfields, and ground installations)” <strong>not just once</strong> (unlike the PLA that expends all its missiles and becomes largely powerless afterwards), but continuously for months thereafter using repeated air sorties from afar, not just close-in. The five special areas identified in the study are areas we already have huge leads in exploiting to include:

<strong>Unmanned Operations.</strong> No need for new stealthy high-altitude long endurance and a USAF and Navy versions of stealth penetrating drones. Our Global Hawk, Triton, and Reaper/Predator/Gray Eagle already have substantial capabilities good for 99.9% of the time for peacetime ISR because even with a stealth drone we would not penetrate China in peacetime. In war, if China shoots them down, it’s one less missile to shoot at a manned aircraft, and such aircraft could always be equipped with jammers and aircraft survivability equipment.

<strong>Extended-Range Air Operations.</strong> We already have penetrating B-2s and our B-1/B-52 can launch stand-off missiles. Aerial refueling can support F-22/F-35 flights that hit China’s shores, the Taiwan Straits, and defend Taiwan, Japan, South Korea and the Philippines.

<strong>“Low-Observable” Air Operations.</strong> See comments under extended-range operations. F-35s, given their extensive sensor arrays and data links/radars, easily could be converted to unmanned aircraft at some point once they are high hour airframes, plus future small diameter bomb II does not rely on GPS.

<strong>Undersea Warfare.</strong> Los Angeles and Virginia class subs are unmatched by China’s diesel-electric subs if we stay a blue water Navy for most of the conflict. We also can establish distant blockades ala T.X. Hammes, sink China’s ships using fighter aircraft, and mine the Taiwan Straits and China’s ports.

<strong>Complex Systems Engineering , Integration, and Operations.</strong> All this has been demonstrated extensively in two wars while China’s capabilities largely are theoretical, speculative, and untested. Neither China nor Russia have truly demonstrated abilities to build reliable jet engines, or for that matter advanced automobiles. The Chinese in particular are knock-off kings who copy and steal other’s designs. As for Russia, a recent article cited illegal French night-vision device supplying the new Russian Armata tanks because their technology lags our own.

Most of these capabilities already are programmed and exist. We do not necessarily need to alter current air and sea procurements much to realize these advantages. Yes, we need some LRS-B but can we afford 100 when we know they will cost substantially more than $550 million each and can’t loiter deep over China or Russia without being shot down visually by fighters? These aircraft <i>would</i> benefit current shorter-range stealth fighters if they employed fuel pods in the bomb bay the size of a 30,000 lb ground penetrators to aerial refuel using a built-in drogue hose for stealthy Naval/Marine F-35B/C aerial refueling closer to China.

But let’s move on to the second challenge cited:

<blockquote>2. Large surface combatants and aircraft carriers at sea are becoming easier to detect, track, and engage at extended range from an adversary’s coast;</blockquote>

The ISR assets required for China’s kill-chain to make the DF-21D effective are very vulnerable to U.S. attack. Over-the-Horizon radars are large and easily identified before our own ISR is degraded/destroyed. As emitters, we don’t necessarily need satellites to identify them. Their UAS assets that would need to operate unprotected deep at sea will also no doubt lack serious stealth allowing AWACS and E-2Ds to detect and vector attack aircraft toward them. The data links between such distant UAS and the Chinese mainland also are vulnerable.

Thus, China’s challenge attempting to find distant carriers in thousands of square miles of open ocean with degraded ISR assets is a far greater problem than that of a U.S.-led coalition attacking known general land locations, and Chinese air and sea assets crossing a 100-mile Taiwan Strait. Chinese diesel-electric subs are poorly suited for blue water searches unlike our own subs. Chinese surface ships won’t get close to our carriers. As long as our aerial refuelers can get our stealth fighters to Taiwan and those Straits and attacking China’s mainland ports and Taiwan beachheads, the fait accompli of a PLA invasion and subsequent reinforcement thereof is anything but assured.

<blockquote>3. Non-stealthy aircraft are becoming more vulnerable to being shot down by modern integrated air defense systems (IADS); and</blockquote>

CSBA’s study cites old non-stealthy H-6K bombers with land-attack cruise missiles and talks of longer-range non-stealthy Chinese fighter jets. In your cited CSBA study, they show a page 30 illustration that depicts the Su-27/30/J-11 all outranging our F-35s and F-22s. Unmentioned, is China’s problem getting those older non-stealthy fighters and bombers to survive to reach our tankers and Guam while AWACS is vectoring our F-22s, F-35s, and F/A-18s to intercept them, and Aegis destroyer standard missiles are shooting them down.

It will be somewhere between decades-to-never before China and Russia possess hundreds of stealth fighters while we will have thousands, and theirs probably will not be as stealthy. Yet, even stealth aircraft can be seen visually which is why fighter escorts are required for bombers. The speculation that an unescorted LRS-B or exquisite UCLASS unmanned aircraft could loiter over enemy territory and survive fighter attacks is unsound. The Chinese would know the general areas we would attack and have fighter caps looking for bombers and exquisite UCLASS to shoot them down by getting on their six.

<blockquote>4. Space is no longer a sanctuary from attack.</blockquote>

Two can play that game. We see small X-37B U.S. unmanned space shuttles staying in space for nearly two years and who knows what they can do and what else we have. Decades ago, even an F-15 shot a satellite with a missile and more recently an Aegis missile got the job done. Space is a vital ISR, data link, communication, and navigation venue for detection of any moving distant carrier or large ship for attempted DF-21D attacks. In contrast, Chinese ports and airfields do not move and their locations are well known. Taiwan and its Strait are fixed defendable locations not necessarily requiring ISR and navigation assistance.

Reasonable men would wager that Chinese satellites will be destroyed if ours are attacked and that lacking the combat experience of our pilots, the Chinese will be disadvantaged in any force-on-force conflict over/near Taiwan. In contrast, we can rely on non-space-based ISR such as AWACS, JSTARS, Rivet Joint, and UAS that can be used to vector fighter aircraft to targets for beyond-visual range and if necessary visual engagement. Cyber may be a major future challenge, but one would suspect that given the EA-18G and jamming capabilities of the F-35 that we can play that game just as well.

Finally, we agree that land force forward deployment will continue to have a major role. Your emphasis is SOF, and if you noticed, Mr. Martinage specialized in SOF a few years back yet does not include that in his offset strategies. Perhaps that is because SOF is not enough to take on China or Russia, and it already is proving insufficient against lesser threats such as ISIL, Iran, Yemen, Somalia, and North Korea. So while SOF could be air-assaulted to Taiwan to fight PLA invaders as guerillas, one might propose that regular Marine and Army airborne and air assault forces could, as well.

However, Ukraine, Poland and the Baltics, and the Middle East illustrate that heavy armor still has a major role. For the foreseeable future that implies regular forces and lots of them. Because it takes time to deploy such forces, multi-theater prepositioning (see recent headlines) and rotating forces will be essential along with means to protect and disperse such prepositioning and training elements. Do we need a new “lend-lease” offset strategy allowing foreign forces and contractors to maintain, disperse on short notice, and if necessary employ our ground equipment until our own Army arrives in a new version of Reforger?

Geoffrey Demarest

Wed, 06/10/2015 - 10:41pm

I’m buying in. In addition to Octavian's excellent interview, my commentary keys off a reading of the online version of Toward a New Offset Strategy and part of a VTC Mr. Martinage recently gave. I would place applicability of his strategy under two questions. The first concerns the contribution it can have to American power and security, more specifically to the SOF role. In other words, would the strategy positively influence American SOF effectiveness? The second question is, ‘Can Mr. Martinage’s approach, premises, logic and strategy assertions profitably inform a parallel (and compatible) SOF-oriented ‘offset’ type of strategy?’ My short answers are yes and yes.

Mr. Martinage poses as a guide the historically relevant understanding that the United States must prepare itself to overcome greater distances, face unfavorable troop numbers and respond in more parts of the world than do our potential adversaries, and that to offset such disadvantages we must first take stock of our country’s comparative advantages so that we might exploit them. Mr. Martinage claims five special advantages, which you can find in the online document. I propose we have other comparative advantages, among them a complementary pair that are non-technical and intimate to SOF. America enjoys a superior ability to deliver expensive, elite training and education to a well-selected population of military competitors. In addition, we are the beneficiary of good-will within a large number of allied countries toward those competitors. To me, that suggests the possibility of a kind of forward deployment, but not in the form of bases per se. Rather, we could achieve, and benefit from, an expansion of the breadth and density of familiarization/education engagements worldwide. That is to say, the number of overseas SOF ‘stays’ should be greatly increased (within the welcome of host countries on whose diplomatic and informational security we can still count), even if the numbers of actual missions does not go up accordingly. By creating a geographically and demographically more robust preparatory presence around the globe, we could increase the immediacy of available SOF strength, especially of culturally-geographically tuned and well-connected operators. Combined with a few actual installation changes (to enhance regionally located options for safe marshaling) the effect on reaction times, distances and the potential for the creation of necessary mass could be enhanced. Yes, yes, it’s been said and heard before -- ‘More SOF, First Sergeant’, but I’m focusing here on just a part -- refreshing the basic institutional/installational apparatus for honing and sustaining larger numbers of elite forces in disparate geographical areas.
How does the above suggestion of increased SOF engagement deployments fit Martinage’s offset? The vision he expresses is one that includes full-game-board interactions. Not to lean too heavily on pith, but the ability to ‘besiege Wèi to rescue Zhào’ or ‘make a sound in the east, then strike in the west’ depends on having many disparately employable elements of power projection. That power cannot solely be delivered by air and sea. We have to be prepared to deliver it on the ground as well, even while we depend on the same air and sea power to do so. To prosecute military strategy on a fully global scale means being situated to strike with many of many elements (not merely a capacity to react to two or two-and-a-half or one-and-a-half ‘contingencies’). We must be prepared to both react and initiate in dozens of instances to generate deterrent threat of, or the imposition of, risk and pain. We cannot dismiss the large formations, but we have been turning inexorably to a standard unit of engagement that is smaller, faster, stealthier -- and for use in many places simultaneously. In order to do this well, we need more ‘elite’ without the elite being less elite. To achieve that, we need a much more robust footprint for the preparation of people, places and alliances. In other words, our human resource effort should match what Mr. Martinage presents as a technological one, and by the same strategic reasoning.

This topic deserves more attention than it can be given even at SWJ, but before dancing off I want to mention one potentially negative seed Mr. Martinage may have planted. He disparages or at least takes a swipe at forward basing, and I do not quite understand the allusion. He might be right, but what/where exactly? Forward basing still makes sense to me, depending on what we are putting forward and where. I don’t want to end the comment on a negative note, however, I think the Martinage offset strategy is solid.

From the standpoint of the perceptions of our people here at home -- and re: the perceptions of governments and populations throughout the world -- the following distinctions and representations, between the Cold War and the Present Day, may be important:

I. Cold War:

a. The strategy is defense: "Containment" (of the other guys ideas, his beliefs and his corresponding way of life).

b. AirLand Battle, also, appears to be defensive in nature.

c. Likewise, the "offset strategies" -- adopted in those days -- looked to have a defensive character; this, in that they were designed to overcome our opponent's power-projection capabilities and strategy.

II. Present Day:

a. Strategy is offense: "Expansion" (of our ideas, our beliefs and our corresponding way of life).

b. AirSea Battle, also, appears to be offensive/first strike in nature.

c. Likewise, the "offset strategy" -- now being contemplated -- appears to have an offensive/first strike character; this, in that it is designed to overcome our opponent's ability and strategy (A2/AD) to prevent, in our case today, the United States from projecting force.


a. Via this change in our image, narrative, strategy and focus -- from what might be called "defender/champion" during the Cold War to "aggressor/bully" today -- via this process

b. Are we losing legitimacy -- and "losing" the world audience -- an audience that may not only be sad, but also scared, to see our such disappointing metamorphosis -- post-the Cold War -- play out on the world stage?

"In terms of addressing the underlying problem, the NATO conventional imbalance in Europe, the offset strategy was effective."

Thus, during the Cold War -- when we were essentially on "defense" (see "containment") -- the offset strategy looked to deter/defeat the enemy (the Warsaw Pact) re: its offensive capabilities and associated offensive strategy.

Today, post-the Cold War -- with the West now essentially being on "offensive" (see "expansion") -- the current offset strategy looks to deter/defeat our enemies (the Rest) re: their defensive capabilities (for example: A2/AD) and associated defensive strategies.

Interesting turn of events.

Move Forward

Fri, 01/30/2015 - 9:58am

<blockquote>Since the end of the Cold War, there have been at least two occasions when the United States pursued an offset strategy. The first was President Eisenhower’s “New Look” in the 1950s and the second was the “Offset strategy” promoted by the Secretary Harold Brown in the 1970s. In both cases the fundamental challenge was the same: to offset the numerical advantage of Warsaw Pact forces by using a US technology advantage.</blockquote>
The first New Look was bomber-based strategic nuclear deterrence because we were broke and tired after the costly WWII and the Korean wars. The U.S. GDP and tax-base were a fraction of the current one and according to Martinage’s CSBA paper, Eisenhower (ever the bluffer referring to nukes in 1955) once stated “I see no reason why they shouldn’t be used just exactly as you would use a bullet or anything else.” When the Soviets started getting many hundreds of their own strategic “bullets” and MAD evolved, a New “New Look” involving tactical nuclear weapons and the failed Pentomic Division were the order of the day. Despite the presence of those wide area A2/AD destructive nuclear weapons the U.S. still forward-deployed extensive conventional ground forces in Europe for over 50 years. Even if the first offset strategy was effective there remains a certain insanity in spending so much on nuclear weapons both then and now ($350+ billion over next decade) that nobody in their right mind will ever use in numbers lest mankind cease to exist.

The second offset strategy involved space-based, AWACS, and JSTARS ISR, precision strike munitions, the stealthy F-117, and ATACMS missiles. However, these were hardly the all-inclusive aspects of the AirLand Battle doctrine that evolved. We also never will know whether our planned conventional deep air attacks into Soviet-controlled territory would have provoked a nuclear response fearing the unknown weapons being carried by our aircraft. Martinage touches on that in this quote implying we would not necessarily use tactical nukes…while not mentioning that the Soviets might have:
<blockquote>The second offset strategy, however, was focused on a relatively narrow operational problem; specifically that NATO forces were outnumbered by roughly 3 to 1 along the Central Front in Europe. That said, it was a major strategic concern given the uncertain credibility of the US threat to escalate to the nuclear level in defense of Western Europe. In terms of addressing the underlying problem, the NATO conventional imbalance in Europe, the offset strategy was effective.</blockquote>
AirLand Battle was all about “fight outnumbered and win.” Mr. Martinage’s CSBA paper identifies the deep aspect that assisted AirLand Battle. But he omits that AirLand Battle included a close and rear battle--not just the deep challenge. At the same time that the ATACMS and air interdiction assets like the F-15, F-16, and F-117 were being fielded, so too were the Abrams tank, Bradley fighting vehicle, Apache and Blackhawk helicopters, and Patriot missile. New MLRS rockets also would have been useful defeating Soviet artillery assisted by our counterbattery radars. These vastly improved “close combat” capabilities coupled with the A-10 and Stinger were such that a 3 to 1 ratio in the defense against less capable Soviet T-72s, fewer Hinds, and obsolete fighter jets (many still in the Chinese, Iranian, and North Korean fleets) was now less a threat. In fact, in the defense a 3 to 1 ratio typically is acceptable to the defender before adding advantages of superior close combat assets. Look at how easily the U.S. and allies dealt with the world's 4th largest Army (500,000) in Desert Storm and a still capable armored force the second time during OIF.

<blockquote>Our growing ability to see deep into the Warsaw Pact territory and hold Soviet second echelon forces at risk caused a great deal of angst. The Soviets not only wrote about the problem in military journals, they also made focused investments and conducted field exercises to mitigate the impact of NATO “reconnaissance-strike” networks. It is very clear from the historical record that the Soviets were very concerned about these developments and actively took steps to counter them.</blockquote>
”Actively took steps to counter them” implies our future near peers would adapt with mitigating steps of their own to our attempt to foil their A2/AD capabilities. Robert Haddick recently wrote a great, but flawed, article for “Breaking Defense” describing one possible means of countering transporter erector launchers (TELs) that characterize 2nd Artillery short and medium-range missiles. Read it and then think of likely Chinese responses to defeat his proposed Miniature Autonomous Search and Strike Missile (MASSM):…

In his article, Mr. Haddick downplays Chinese capabilities to hide mobile TELs in urban areas, off-road under canopy, in barns and warehouses, under overpasses, and underground unless actively in firing positions for a very brief time. He does mention at the end the ship container look-alike Klub-K missiles which disguises the TEL. In addition, the same mobile launchers also support PLA nuclear capabilities so any proposed deep “offset strategy” conventional weapon would place at risk the Chinese mid-range nuclear deterrent, leading to a potential “use or lose” dilemma.

A LRS-B bomber with many autonomous loitering missiles hunting for short and mid-range missiles ignores that initially, a massive surprise Chinese or Russian launch would occur long before any bombers are present in great numbers launching MASSMs. Thus many hundreds of targets already would have been engaged followed immediately by reloading/hiding well before the “hunt” for such missiles begins. The MASSM idea of a modified Miniature Air-Launched Decoy (MALD) that Haddick proposes would have 900 kms range but only a 45 minute endurance which is not long to search, find, and engage without collateral damage in a large area with the fuel available. He uses a cost estimate of closer to $400,000 and postulates a MALD-like weight of 300+ pounds for a new MASSM. Haddick also mentions the similar actual stealthy JASSM-ER that flies over 1000 kms yet is 2250 lbs (admittedly a larger 1000 lb. warhead) and costs $1.3 million.

However, autonomous missile and swarm theorists underestimate the fuel required for endurance adequate to search for targets, particularly when jet-powered. For instance, an Army prop Gray Eagle UAS has a max gross weight of several thousand pounds; but a large portion of that weight is dedicated to fuel alone despite the very fuel efficient nature of its engine moving the car-weight aircraft. A much smaller, lighter jet-powered loitering missile might have nearly a thousand miles of range due to speed but it would fly only a brief period of time. To cover 3000 square kilometers as Mr. Haddick speculates would require numerous sharp 180 degree turns for a systematic search that would deplete endurance and slow the speed/range. The missile’s speed and altitude also would complicate advanced sensor abilities to find and engage targets that don’t wish to be found. A fast-moving missile increases sensor difficulty in finding its target in ground clutter or hidden between buildings. Even if found, the missile then must turn and return to target potentially down urban canyons, amongst trees, or near rural structures using artificial intelligence to determine no civilians are nearby and that the TEL is not a bus (remember Serbia) or civilian truck.

Even if a single LRS-B could carry 100 missiles as postulated, an equal argument could be made that 25 F-35s and F-22s carrying 4 missiles each could carry the same 100 missiles near enough to multiple target search areas. That would provide greater survivability and a simultaneous air cap versus asking a single LRS-B to fly many places to launch loitering missile groups since their missile endurance and resultant true search area would be limited. If each stealth missile could be kept at $400K each despite costly MMW, imaging IR, and LIDAR sensors (not on MALD), a LRS-B or B-2 carrying 100 of them would be carrying $40 million worth of short endurance missiles with questionable ability to find hidden or exposed targets in the 45 minutes to an hour that endurance allows. What if after the initial surprise salvo the PLA exposes and launches only a few TELs per day in widely spread out areas of the country? And if an offset strategy is supposed to be cost-effective, perform this mission with just a single LRS-B or B-2 and in 100 days you spend $4 billion on missiles plus 24 hours per mission at $100,000 per flight hour for 100 days which is another $240 million in bomber flying costs not including the aerial refueling.

And of course when a Chinese J-20 or Russian T-50 visually spots and shoots down several of our likely $700 million LRS-B the cost increases. At that “cheap” R&D-included price (compared to the $2 billion B-2), recent articles indicate that LRS-B may be significantly smaller than the B-2 and thus not able to carry 100 missiles. That means more than just the 7 LRS-B that Mr. Haddick postulates are required with perhaps as many as 20 needed per day or 1/5th the 100 LRS-B fleet or every B-2 assuming an impossible 100% operational readiness. At $240 million cost per day for 20 LRS-B flying 100 days, that is $4.8 billion in flying hour cost to launch 700 missiles daily for nothing more than finding TELs. That requires production of 70,000 missiles ($28 billion) added to the $70 billion for the 100 LRS-B just to cover a 100 day search period keeping in mind that the Chinese PLA may well have fired off half their 1500 missiles well before the first LRS-B sortie arrives.

And just what do 1600 Chinese cruise, short, and mid-range missiles represent in terms of explosive power? It is a tiny fraction of the precision ordnance dropped in Desert Storm, against Serbia, in OEF, and OEF. The F-117 alone during Desert Storm flew 1300 sorties against 1600 high value targets (Wikipedia) which is pretty comparable to the entire short and mid-range missile capability of the PLA’s 2nd Artillery. Now add all the other ordnance dropped by other U.S. and coalition aircraft to understand the limited-trick pony that exists in the A2/AD Chinese missile threat. Since so many PLA or Russian missiles would be fired in a surprise salvo, this “offset strategy” seems a rather undue, costly, and ineffective response.