Small Wars Journal

Defense in the Next Decade

Share this Post

Defense in the Next Decade[1]

Joseph J. Collins

A constellation of stars is falling on Washington.  Not only will we soon have a new Chairman and Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, but all of the service Chiefs, except the Air Force, will be replaced by this fall.  As each of the new chiefs takes his chair, he will have to grapple with the pressing problems of strategy, programs, and budgets.  Before each of them dives into the weeds, it may be helpful for them to review a few facts about the security environment and consider some new ways to do old business.

First, to maintain a balanced perspective on defense, U.S. officials must look at the nation’s defense posture as others see it. The United States has the single largest national economy, and leads the world in defense technological innovation, as well as combat experience.  Its defense budget is bigger than that of the next ten great powers combined. The United States has 60 friends and allies that account for about 80 percent of the global GDP and a similar percentage of worldwide military expenditures.[2]  Russia and China, the near peer competitors, have no powerful allies, not even each other. As the Pentagon moans about billions in future defense cuts and wail about sequestration, others see the United States defense establishment, in the old Italian phrase, as “crying with a loaf of bread under each arm.”

Second, in the next decade, despite vast U.S. capabilities, power in the world will be more diffuse and defense challenges will become more complicated.  As General Dempsey has reminded us, the new Chiefs will have to contend with a security environment that will include stronger near peer competitors in China and Russia, vigorous regional competitors, and a reinvigorated Long War. 

In recent years, both China and Russia have become markedly more aggressive in pursuing their security interests in the face of U.S. objections.  While China is the more robust of these two challengers, both have rising defense budgets.  In the Pacific, China is expanding its naval activities and territorial claims, often against those of U.S. treaty allies.  Russia’s aggression in the Ukraine has again spurred talk of a new Cold War.  Both nations have showcased impressive new military hardware.

In the next decade, the United States and its partners may also face stronger regional competitors in North Korea (possible) and Iran (probable).  Both of these charter members of the axis of evil are developing nuclear capabilities.  Iran in the past decade has also improved its standing as a regional power.  Nothing happens in Iraq, Syria, or Lebanon that isn’t affected by Iranian power.  While Iran is the larger of the two threats, the volatility and unpredictability of North Korea make it the most likely war scenario in the next decade.

Were all of this not enough, the United States will still be dealing with the Long War in Iraq, Afghanistan, the Horn of Africa, North Africa, and Yemen.  ISIS is the latest and most powerful new threat, and after a three year respite, forcing the United States to send forces to Iraq.  While al Qaeda has been dealt crushing blows, the outgoing head of DIA, LTG Mike Flynn, left us with this thought: “in 2004, there were 21 total Islamic terrorist groups spread out in 18 countries. Today, there are 41 Islamic terrorist groups spread out in 24 countries. A lot of these groups have the intention to attack Western interests, to include Western embassies and in some cases Western countries. Some have both the intention and some capability to attack the United States homeland.”[3]  The Long War has become a longer war.  Despite the desire in the Pentagon --- especially in the Navy and the Air Force --- to put it behind us, the Long War may be diminished in size but it is not going away.  The old military axiom --- “the priority of effort goes to troops in contact” --- will continue to exert a strong draw on defense resources.  In all, while defense requirements are growing, government spending will be strapped, and defense resources will be at a premium.  In the next decade, there could well be a widening gap between requirements and resources. 

At the same time, U.S. enemies are thinking beings, always searching for and often finding new ways to frustrate U.S. goals. Among those asymmetric means are: cyber attack, insurgency, lone-wolf terrorism, hybrid warfare and even nuclear proliferation.  A relatively new wrinkle here is that some non-state actors, like Hezbollah in Lebanon and ISIS in Syria and Iraq, have also become conventional military powers as well. Across the globe, irregular conflicts will be the most frequent type of conflicts, but the new Chiefs will have to pursue readiness across the spectrum of conflict.  Maintaining an agile two-contingency force has never been more essential or more difficult.[4]  Inside every future contingency, there may well be wild variations in the intensity of combat operations.

Because of more powerful regional and great power threats, the United States may well be more inhibited in using force in the next decade than it was from 1990 to the present.  As in the Cold War, it will have to figure out how to keep both large numbers of CONUS-based and forward deployed forces ready for combat.  Right now, the Pentagon strategy, with rare exceptions, has been to bring forces to high readiness and then deploy them.  In the next decade, the United States will have to do more for active and reserve contingency forces at home and will have to do it in a resource-constrained environment.

Third, complicating the preparation of the nation for war is the fact that the next war remains unpredictable.  Superior national technical means cannot tell us the intentions of adversaries or insulate the nation from their deception.  In Washington, D.C., imaginations fail with amazing frequency. The United States failed to predict or was largely surprised by: the attack on Pearl Harbor, the start of the Korean War, the entry of Chinese forces into the Korean War, the Cuban Missile Crisis, the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, the onset of the first Gulf War, the 9/11 attacks, the status of Saddam Hussein’s WMD before the invasion of Iraq, the strength of the ISIS phenomenon, etc., ad nauseam. 

Any defense strategy that favors one service, or limits preparation to one kind of war, or mortgages U.S. security to precise warning puts the U.S. long-term interest at serious risk.  Because of the nature of the security environment and the unpredictability of future conflicts, agility and resiliency will be much in demand for planners and fielded forces.  The combatant commanders and the Joint Chiefs will have to meet the Clausewitzian standard: to be both generals and statesmen. 

The issue of regional priorities will be a tricky one. While the Indo-Asia Pacific meta-region is where the United States would like to put more emphasis, the magnets of combat and aggression are keeping much of U.S. forces focused on the greater Middle East, with multiple, new, but usually smaller contingencies in Africa.  U.S. economic power and vast alliance structures, however, can provide some relief.  In the end, initiatives like the Trans-Pacific Partnership will far outweigh a few more ships afloat or a battalion of Marines in Australia. 

This essay will not end with a call for doing more with less.  That’s a fallacy.  When you have less, you can do less.  Instead, what’s required is to optimize the use of resources. The way to do that is to pare back the defense portfolio by the selective reduction of redundancy, while carefully managing future commitments.

The new chiefs should ask a lot of hard questions:  Do we need a modernized strategic nuclear Triad, or would a Diad do? Do we need three versions of the Joint Strike fighter in the quantities postulated? Do we still need MARSOC, Marine special operations forces, the new kid on the block?  Does MARSOC duplicate already existing capabilities, or does it have its own niche?  Do we need five brigades of Army parachute infantry, as well as another brigade-sized force of airborne Rangers?  What’s magic about 10 carrier battle groups?  Would 9 do?  With the VSTOL F-35, could we build small battle groups around amphibious ships?  Can we design a better personnel system with a modernized incentive structure and retirement system?  Can we find new ways to reduce base infrastructure without lengthy congressionally-dominated processes?  The answer to all of these questions is that the Armed Forces can do much better in managing its affairs, but only if it gets outside of the box that it has built for itself.  In the main, what each of the services lack is the imagination and authority to design and implement rapid change. 

The Armed Forces need a new design philosophy. To save money on hardware, the Services need to start designing systems that are not more expensive, advanced versions of their predecessors.  Examples today abound:  3 billion dollar destroyers, 180 million dollar fighters, and the one hundred new Air Force bombers, promised to us at the bargain price of 550 million dollars per copy.  In all of these cases, the defense establishment has taken (or will take) decades to build handfuls of systems that become ultra-expensive jewels that keep the force small and less agile than it needs to be. Maybe the next bomber should be a C-17 filled with 50 autonomous aerial vehicles.  Maybe the “carrier” strike group should be mainly UAVs and autonomous aerial vehicles flown off of big deck vessels.  Maybe the infantry sergeant of the future should command soldiers, as well as robots.  Improving ISR and sensors could well be another key to empowering the ground force commander in the future.     

Overall, these measures can save resources.  Another way to save time and money is to choose missions and areas of deployment more carefully.  There is a finite limit to the places where the United States can and should lead by putting US combat forces on the ground.  In most cases, the host country must be out front.  The United States must demand performance for assistance and insist on a government as effective as U.S. military advice is.  Since 2011, the nation’s leaders have shown admirable restraint for putting large number of regular boots on the ground.  This trend should continue, realizing that as the burden of ground combat shifts from us to indigenous forces, there may be an increased requirement for U.S. trainers and combat advisers.

Amidst all of this cutting, there are areas that require more work.  In the next decade, U.S. aid will have to go beyond kinetic support or even military training.  From time to time, the United States will need to help its partners to improve governance, spark development, or deliver humanitarian assistance.  The anti-model is Libya.  With advice and kinetic support, the West and friendly Arab nations helped the rebellion throw off the yoke of Gaddafhi’s oppression.  The coalition then walked away, leaving Libya to slide into a chaos accelerated by al Qaeda and ISIS. The downsides of post-conflict entanglement are often outweighed by the negatives of abandonment.  If the major powers are not going to follow through, they should consider leaving bad situations alone.  Doing nothing might be preferable to doing half a job.

Sadly, as this article is being written, US capabilities to conduct post-combat stability operations are shrinking.  Many of the lessons learned in Iraq and Afghanistan are evaporating in the face of congressional skepticism and bureaucratic disinterest.  Commonsense notions like a civilian response corps are dead.  Many of the organizations interested in stability operation have been closed or are shrinking.[5] Readiness across the spectrum of conflict demands serious multi-departmental capabilities for irregular conflict and stability operations.  It’s too early to forget the lessons of the last fourteen years.

One final priority requires more resources:  education.  The services should prioritize both joint military education (JPME) and advanced civil schooling.  Whatever the conflict, the United States will benefit greatly from having commanders with wider mental apertures.  Sadly, JPME and some education programs have already been cut under the theory that all must suffer with some degree of equity.  JPME and advanced civil schooling need better funding, but they also need help from concerned unit commanders.  The school houses should be augmented by unit reading programs and seminars, where commanders and their subordinates stay current with trends in relevant disciplines and area studies.  Every officer should have a plan for life-long learning.  Better education programs today will help create commanders and units better able to adapt and overcome our enemies in the next decade.

Joseph J. Collins --- a retired Army Colonel and a former Deputy Asst. Secretary of Defense--- is the

Director, Center for Complex Operations, National Defense University (NDU). The opinions in this essay are his alone and do not necessarily reflect the opinion of his colleagues, NDU, the Department of Defense, or any other government agency.

End Notes

[1] This article is an edited version of the author’s presentation at the USAWC Strategy Conference, April 8, 2014.

[2] Michael O’Hanlon, Budgeting for Hard Power: Defense and Security Spending Under Barack Obama (Washington, D.C.: Brookings, 2009), p. 24.

4James Kitfield, “Flynn’s Last Interview: Iconoclast Departs DIA with a Warning,” Breaking Defense, August 7, 2014.

[4] Richard D. Hooker, Jr., “American Landpower and the Two War Construct,” AUSA Land Warfare Papers, no. 106, May 2015.

[5] For a listing of selected Joint and Interagency capabilities for COIN and Stability Operations, see Linda Robinson, Paul Miller, John Gordon IV, et al., Improving Strategic Competence: Lessons from 13 Years of War (Santa Monica, CA: RAND, 2014), pp. 116-119.

 

About the Author(s)

Joseph J. Collins, a retired Army Colonel and a former Deputy Asst. Secretary of Defense, directed the Center for Complex Operations at the National Defense University, where he has been on the faculty since 2004.  His articles represent the author’s personal views and not necessarily those of NDU, the Joint Staff, the Department of Defense, or any other government agency.

Comments

Move Forward

Wed, 07/01/2015 - 11:09am

CSBA released in June another new “offset strategy”-related report titled “Sustaining Americas Precision Strike Advantage.”

http://csbaonline.org/publications/2015/06/sustaining-americas-precisio…

This report largely shifts emphasis from platforms to munitions which may be less disruptive in upsetting budget applecarts. Prior calls for multiple types of stealthy penetrating autonomous unmanned aircraft and the primary tool of long-range penetrating bombers appear to be less emphasized than lower cost modifications of penetrating munitions for use by currently-programmed and existing aircraft to include our stealth fighter fleet. For instance, the Small Diameter Bomb II and JSOW could be modified to be powered to extend munition range enabling both fighter and bomber attacks.

However, it was puzzling to see an emphasis on what was referred to as a “salvo competition.” Is such a competition required or likely by both warfighting parties, or can the U.S. be more deliberate in its response to limit nuclear escalation risk? Most observers would see “salvo” as implying massive surprise launches of missiles and air attacks. Yet, only the PLA or Russia would initiate such a salvo and most attacks would focus on Taiwan or NATO allies. The U.S. and its allies would not necessarily be fully forewarned or in position to counter that salvo.

Once that salvo is complete, it becomes the attacked coalition’s turn to mobilize/deploy to the Pacific or Europe more easily with most PLA Second Artillery missiles or Russian Iskanders now depleted. This leaves respective fighter and bomber fleets and air defenses as the primary tools of both adversaries which is a battle the U.S. will win. This passage is in the Executive Summary describing the report’s definition of salvos to include the offensive dimension, but does not spell out that our offensives could be more measured and of extended duration vs. our opponents:

<blockquote>Report Purpose and Scope

The dynamic between two militaries that each have PGMs and precision defensive capabilities can be called a “salvo competition.” In this competition, both combatants seek to gain the advantage by improving their capabilities to attack with precision and/or defendvagainst precision strikes.

This report uses a salvo competition framework to assess new operational concepts and PGM technologies that could sustain the U.S. military’s precision strike advantage in future conflicts. To bound the scope of the salvo competition challenge, the report focuses on the U.S. military’s air and maritime strike capabilities. This limitation is not intended to diminish the importance of ground-based strike systems such as the Army Tactical Missile System (ATACMS) in future wars. The report also focuses on the offensive dimension of the salvo competition. Opportunities for DoD to more effectively defend against precision air and missile strikes will be the subject of future CSBA research.</blockquote>

The ATACMS missile reference was puzzling, in a presumed head-nod to land-based capabilities, without explaining why it alone is important during/after any salvo. It is doubtful, for instance, such missiles initially would be in range of China. The other reference to defending against air and missile strikes also will lead to a follow-on CSBA report that includes Army air defenses that also likely will not initially be present in adequate numbers. The exception is against Iran, Syria, North Korea, and Russia where Army air defenses and ATACMS <I>could</I> be present in places like Kuwait, Kurd-areas, and East Europe, and in use by allies. However, the PGM emphasis ignores the value of concepts like Army and Marine offshore blockades and airborne/air assault/amphibious assisted entry onto Taiwan, for instance, from Japan and the Philippines.

However, the report’s largest unrealized discrepancy lies in this passage:

<blockquote>Figure 3 illustrates how degraded PGM PA values could increase the number of weapons needed to strike 100 separate aimpoints.29 A total of 150 PGMs would be needed to attack 100 aimpoints assuming each PGM has a 100 percent PA and a PGM-to-aimpoint ratio of 1.5-to-1, similar to that of Operation Iraqi Freedom. Approximately 750 munitions would be needed to strike the same 100 aimpoints if enemy defenses reduce average PGM PA values to 50 percent.

Extending this argument to a larger target set representative of a major strike campaign brings the implications of a salvo competition into sharper relief. Coalition forces used slightly more than 18,700 PGMs and 9,100 unguided bombs to hit 19,900 targets during the 2003 Operation Iraqi Freedom air campaign. Striking the same 19,900 targets in contested conditions where PGMs have a degraded PA value of 50 per cent would require about 149,250 munitions and approximately five times the number of strike sorties flown during the OIF air campaign (see Figure 4).31 This example illustrates that while PGMs can be force multipliers, countermeasures that significantly degrade PGM probability of arrival values have the opposite effect.</blockquote>

The report’s citing of the OIF air campaign illustrates that a prolonged engagement by our coalition is a more viable option than an initial salvo. This also applies to Desert Storm where fewer PGMs were employed but the bombing campaign was of extended duration. Likewise, the 78-day Serbia air attack was prolonged rather than a “salvo.”

However, most illustrative is the fact that we used <strong>18,700 PGMs and 9,100 unguided bombs to hit 19,900 targets during 2003’s OIF campaign.</strong> Contrast those quantities with the approximate 1600 short and medium range Second Artillery missiles to fathom the vast differences in our respective capabilities. We employed over ten times the number of PGMs realistically available to China and that was before many of our current and programmed PGMs and stealth aircraft even existed in large numbers.

It therefore is implausible to argue that the PLA worst-case invasion of Taiwan could be successful given China’s own A2/AD challenge in crossing 100 miles of Taiwan Straits under constant attack by submarines and stealth fighter aircraft using PGMs like JSOW and Small Diameter Bomb II. Alarmist claims of PGM Probability of Arrival of just 50% are problematic for two reasons. First, what is the basis for such a claimed degradation? If it is air defenses, how quickly will PLA and PLAN missiles deplete facing a sustained and largely effective/survivable barrage from our stealth fighter fleet attacking the Taiwan Strait crossing.

If EW and GPS-jamming is the problem, isn’t that a strong argument to use more direct attack munitions that are laser or MMW-based rather than just GPS? Second, that low PA fails to consider that stealth aircraft and new munitions not available during OIF enhance rather than degrade PA even in a direct attack mode. The study’s Figure 5 shows that 304,750 Direct Attack munitions have been procured between 2001 and 2014. Therefore, even if 750 direct attack PGMs are required to address critical targets using stealth bombers and fighters, that 750 quantity isn’t unreasonable.

Finally, what about our own EW and cyber capabilities to degrade the scant 1600 PLA Second Artillery missiles? What about our stealth fighters, AWACS/E-2D, and air defenses that render China’s Air Force a less than viable alternative to their penetrating missile attacks?

These factors call into question the chapter summary on page 19 of the study:

<blockquote> The U.S. military has become accustomed to fighting militarily weak opponents that lack effective countermeasures against precision strikes. Benign threat environments have allowed U.S. strike aircraft to stage their operations close to an enemy and strike targets with direct attack PGMs without significant challenge. This is unlikely to be the case for all future operations. China, Russia, Iran, North Korea, and other potential adversaries are developing active and passive capabilities to disrupt the U.S. military’s precision strike kill chain.

In the context of a salvo competition, new operational concepts and weapons that cost less and are smaller than very long-range standoff weapons could enable future strike forces to deliver more weapons per sortie. While this report focuses primarily on the PGMs themselves, it is imperative to note that taking advantage of shorter range weapons will require survivable delivery platforms such as the Long Range Strike Bomber (LRS-B), submarines, land- and carrier-based unmanned combat air systems (UCAS), and unmanned undersea vehicles (UUVs).</blockquote>

It is questionable to cite Iran and North Korea as disruptive to the U.S. military’s precision strike kill chain. The nature of nuclear MAD makes China and Russia unlikely to engage in a massive preemptive conventional attack due to risk of a nuclear World War III. If they did attack for whatever reason and succeeded in surprise, our own military response would be dangerous should it involve routine subsequent “salvo” deep penetration of our nuclear-capable adversaries with our LRS-Bs seeking TELs that could launch either nuclear or conventional missiles.

This summary also fails to note that deep penetration is unnecessary to engage ships and aircraft crossing the Taiwan Straits or to engage port targets in China. Also note that F-35 and F-22 delivery platforms are not included in the summary yet are included in later concepts and in this passage on page 21 and 22:

<blockquote>First, the U.S. military does not have enough strike platforms that are capable of penetrating contested areas to deliver much larger quantities of direct attack PGMs. The result of a near-continuous series of force cuts since 1991 is a joint combat air force that is the smallest and oldest DoD has ever operated.35 Moreover, by 2024 the “penetrating” portion of DoD’s aviation portfolio will consist of 20 B-2 bombers that have an average age of just over thirty years, 177 F-22 fighters with an average age of seventeen years, and about 460 more recently acquired F-35s. Only the B-2s will have the range and degree of all-aspect, broadband low observability needed to penetrate and persist in high threat environments. 37</blockquote>

Footnote 37 at the end of the paragraph does not justify the claim that only B-2s have the range and all-aspect stealth required. For starters, the footnote deals with budgets rather than survivability without mentioning the budgeting difficulty in funding 100 LRS-B that are unlikely to cost only $550 million each. Also unaddressed is how LRS-B and B-2 (or stealth UAS) would penetrate China without an F-22 escort to prevent visual shoot-downs. Our overwhelming aerial refueling advantage makes fighter range less a problem in addressing targets crossing the Taiwan Straits—and they are the center of gravity targets most necessary to engage. Our AWACS/E-2D/JSTARS/Global Hawk/Triton/Rivet Joint capabilities would vector aircraft to targets even if other low earth orbit satellite kill-chain aspects were degraded.

Survivability of these aerial ISR platforms and our tankers could be enhanced by developing a fuel-pod the size of the 30,000 lbs massive ordnance penetrator to fit in B-2s and LRS-Bs with a refueling hose and drogue to aerial refuel closer to air defense threats to keep a large CAP from reaching most conventional aerial refuelers and AWACS/E-2D.

There are many great aspects of this study and its smart authors. The emphasis on munitions rather than platforms is less costly as is the idea of extending range of systems like small diameter bombs and JSOWs by powering them so that they have 100-400nm ranges. The recommended employment of Marine F-35B concepts using smaller airfields, additional amphibious carriers, and presumably roads is another near-term solution. The Rapid Raptor concept is another such alternative that fits their offered “cluster bases” with both small and large airfields protected by air and missile defenses and with minimized exposure of aircraft on the ground at both. The use of air-launched decoys and jammers also is viable and budgeted in the near term although use of the term “tunneling” seems inappropriate when used to describe missile penetration rather than the traditional term meaning.

Perhaps this and other think tanks can do a better job of addressing other Joint aspects that are ground-based. The hints about Army ATACMS and air and missile defenses in CSBA’s next study offer some clues, but perhaps even regular MLRS could fire a powered version of Small Diameter Bomb II and a powered JSOW for ship targets. It also would be valuable if future studies addressed how Soldiers and Marines could board and stop/divert commercial shipping and fire on threat ships attempting to cross chokepoints where ground forces are based. Finally, while deep penetration of China seems to be a recurring theme to most think tank studies, how about some ideas for how amphibious/airborne/air assault SOF and conventional forces can help Taiwan and other threatened areas via assisted entry followed by dispersion and guerilla-style attacks and the enabling of CAS and attack helicopter strikes against invaders.

Bill C.

Sat, 05/23/2015 - 11:24am

Defense in the next decade will, I believe, be much the same as in the past decade.

This, due to:

a. "Our" similar/unchanged goal -- then as in the next decade -- of attempting to (1) maintain and/or increase our power, influence and control throughout the world; this via (2) the transformation of other states and societies more along modern western political, economic and social lines. And due to

b. "Their" similar/unchanged goal -- in the past decade as in the future one -- of trying to make sure that we do not (1) accomplish our such political objective via (2) this such method.

That, in a nut shell, is what "Defense in the Next Decade" will, I believe, both (a) look like and (b) why.

In the next decade, will both "we," and "they," adopt different "ways" and "means" to accomplish our such goals and related tasks?

"Us?" Certainly.

"Them?" Maybe so. Maybe not.

This, based on "our" and "their" perceptions of success or failure re: the ways and means adopted and executed in the past decade.

In this context, interesting to consider what the changes/non-changes/counter-changes/differing ways and means might be.

(For "us," anyone thinking less reliance on "soft power" and more reliance on "hard power" and political warfare/counter-political warfare" here?)

Move Forward

Sat, 05/23/2015 - 3:44pm

In reply to by joseph collins

Joe, Bill M, and all Veterans,

Perhaps because neither the wife nor myself have any IW or air-sea battle background, our kids turned out looking pretty normal. Although after seeing SF NCOs and Officers in Dress Blues after a formal in San Destin, FL a few weeks back, the IW-side isn't letting the gene pool down.;)

My article on "New Manned-Unmanned Aircraft Opportunities" appeared in the July-September 2014 issue of Aviation Digest. It relates somewhat to future Joint Operations forcible entry. You get an idea of how we might seize terrain and suppress air defenses using other means before bringing in the airborne in vulnerable C-130s/C-17s or Marine tractors. 173rd Airborne had success in Bashur, Iraq but don't try normal airborne operations like that in East Ukraine against Buks, etc.!

http://www.rucker.army.mil/aviationdigest/images/ADJuly-Sept%20_073114…

Let me take this opportunity to thank the veterans who unlike myself actually went to war and saw buddies killed. The sacrifice of you and yours matters even when we see subsequent events seemingly fall apart in Vietnam and Iraq due to dumb civil leadership.

What we never realize but that remains in the minds of adversaries is that given a reason for the U.S. to react to aggression, we have demonstrated repeatedly that our nation's troops can rectify any wrong. It's up to others to follow through with our help in stabilizing the situation to consolidate gains made.

A month ago, my wife and I ran a 5 km run on Fort Rucker commemorating our fallen heroes. We wore pinned on stars on our backs with names of fallen Soldiers. After researching their names, it appeared that one died of cancer and another potentially from suicide. Please, if any of you need help as a Veteran, you can get it. Don't let VA and other government bureaucracy get you down to the point that you do anything drastic. Your families and friends need you and still honor your service.

Bill M.

Fri, 05/22/2015 - 11:17am

In reply to by joseph collins

I'm not sure what they would like, but I think they would view their parents as dysfunctional and dogmatic bureaucrats, and wonder how they got as far along in life as they did :-).

joseph collins

Fri, 05/22/2015 - 10:28am

"Move Forward and Bill M. ... great comments and hope the two of you collaborate or separately write on the same subject. I would have had a stronger piece if I had read your commentary beforehand. Best line was in Bill M about the advocates of irregular warfare and air-sea battle having to get married. What would the children look like? joe

Move Forward

Fri, 05/22/2015 - 8:48am

<blockquote> Not only will we soon have a new Chairman and Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, but all of the service Chiefs, except the Air Force, will be replaced by this fall. As each of the new chiefs takes his chair, he will have to grapple with the pressing problems of strategy, programs, and budgets. Before each of them dives into the weeds, it may be helpful for them to review a few facts about the security environment and consider some new ways to do old business.</blockquote>

As you know but cannot say given your position, the problem is not getting the Chiefs or Combatant Commanders to find new all-domain ways to do old business. The challenge is getting this or any President and his advisors to think that way.

<blockquote>First, to maintain a balanced perspective on defense, U.S. officials must look at the nation’s defense posture as others see it. The United States has the single largest national economy, and leads the world in defense technological innovation, as well as combat experience. Its defense budget is bigger than that of the next ten great powers combined. The United States has 60 friends and allies that account for about 80 percent of the global GDP and a similar percentage of worldwide military expenditures. Russia and China, the near peer competitors, have no powerful allies, not even each other. As the Pentagon moans about billions in future defense cuts and wail about sequestration, others see the United States defense establishment, in the old Italian phrase, as “crying with a loaf of bread under each arm.”</blockquote>

The problem and partial solution is getting the 60 friends and allies to bear a larger share of defending their theaters. The other reality is that Naval and Airpower systems require a larger share of the procurement budget than Army and Marine systems. The F-35 is one attempt to spread the share of defending theaters to other nations. We need similar efforts for Naval and Army coalitions of the willing. However, it won’t suffice to tell allies that we will help you bomb, but won’t help you with any ground assault. Yet that appears to be the current U.S. policy.

<blockquote>Second, in the next decade, despite vast U.S. capabilities, power in the world will be more diffuse and defense challenges will become more complicated. As General Dempsey has reminded us, the new Chiefs will have to contend with a security environment that will include stronger near peer competitors in China and Russia, vigorous regional competitors, and a reinvigorated Long War.</blockquote>

COL (ret) Collins goes on to talk about Iran and North Korea. These two mid-threats will grow stronger should they work together sharing nuclear weapon and missile technology, to include with Assad’s Syria should it survive. We also suspect Pakistan will sell nukes to Saudi Arabia if Iran and Syria get the bomb. Israel presumably already has it but may feel the need for preemptive strikes, to include nuclear strikes to penetrate buried sites if past raids are any indication. These kinds of threats render most IW/UW somewhat irrelevant as a solution when Islamic zealots feel little fear in using WMD or large scale indirect fire and air attacks.

But this also raises questions about the value of IW/UW language and culture training. How do you know which languages and cultures to teach and learn. Do you teach the SF NCO Pashto or Dari and how proficient will they actually get? What about the guy going to Africa where who knows what dialect and language is being spoken in an unknowable area? Books about past conflicts continue to demonstrate the need for translators which limits the need for language training. Technology can also provide translators. Learning Russian and Chinese likewise has limited value unless you want to be MI or SF because we won’t be attempting to win their hearts and minds. Likewise, the appearance of an SF infiltrator in China, North Korea, or parts of Russia is not going to have much success given American features that a beard won’t disguise.

The Long War need not be so costly in blood and treasure if we surge early and break up nations along logical lines when forcing regime change which should be rare but still an option. Syria and Iraq ultimately could require such solutions. It is ironic that Emma Sky previously worked Israel and Palestine issues yet a three-state solution gets no mention in Iraq in her SWJ interview.

<blockquote>LTG Mike Flynn, left us with this thought: “in 2004, there were 21 total Islamic terrorist groups spread out in 18 countries. Today, there are 41 Islamic terrorist groups spread out in 24 countries. A lot of these groups have the intention to attack Western interests, to include Western embassies and in some cases Western countries. Some have both the intention and some capability to attack the United States homeland.” The Long War has become a longer war. Despite the desire in the Pentagon --- especially in the Navy and the Air Force --- to put it behind us, the Long War may be diminished in size but it is not going away. The old military axiom --- “the priority of effort goes to troops in contact” --- will continue to exert a strong draw on defense resources. In all, while defense requirements are growing, government spending will be strapped, and defense resources will be at a premium. In the next decade, there could well be a widening gap between requirements and resources.</blockquote>

Perhaps we should not hang our hat on the “Long War” term and concept. Instead, we find means to make it shorter through initial surges and more rapid training and transfer to host nation forces. Most militaries won’t need training from scratch as in OIF/OEF. We may need to use greater peacekeeping language rather than “Long War” using the Balkans and Sinai as examples of long term presence without major casualties. Territories such as a new Kurdistan sanctuary would allow our raiding to adjacent areas using Joint airpower and air assaulted forces to support host nation (e.g. separate Shiite, Sunni, and Kurd) forces, and the occasional blitzkrieg armored QRF.

<blockquote>Because of more powerful regional and great power threats, the United States may well be more inhibited in using force in the next decade than it was from 1990 to the present. As in the Cold War, it will have to figure out how to keep both large numbers of CONUS-based and forward deployed forces ready for combat. Right now, the Pentagon strategy, with rare exceptions, has been to bring forces to high readiness and then deploy them. In the next decade, the United States will have to do more for active and reserve contingency forces at home and will have to do it in a resource-constrained environment.</blockquote>

Another way of looking at it is that Syria and the Ukraine could get bad enough that a leader finally is forced to use ground forces to defend and deter. In places like Ukraine, Poland, and the Baltics, rotating deterrence forces can substitute for peacekeeping presence at less cost in treasure vs. having families in theater and permanent facilities. Like China, perhaps we need our own rotating forces on “constructed” islands financed and <strong>allowed</strong> by our allies with legitimate claims. Unless we are willing to share the A2/AD risks and use air defenses, practice rapid dispersal, dig-in forces in bunkers, build tunneled aircraft shelters, use rail prepositioning that moves, and practice runway repair we cannot expect affected allies to do the same.

<blockquote>Third, complicating the preparation of the nation for war is the fact that the next war remains unpredictable. Superior national technical means cannot tell us the intentions of adversaries or insulate the nation from their deception.</blockquote>

This returns to the issue of uncertainty in language training and lack of firepower of SF/SOF against major and mid-level threats. Light SF/SOF are not bullet or artillery proof. If they augment their firepower by training and accompanying host nation forces they become larger indirect fire and air attack targets. Unless more robust regular Army and Marine forces are forward deployed through a combination of permanent basing and rotating forces, we cannot expect to react rapidly when enemies surprise us. However, warnings and indications are more likely to be read if a larger footprint is present patrolling or near a border. For instance, as in OIF, we could have seen ISIS approaching Ramadi in the recent sandstorm if JSTARs aircraft had been on the scene and other SAR/GMTI assets.

<blockquote>Any defense strategy that favors one service, or limits preparation to one kind of war, or mortgages U.S. security to precise warning puts the U.S. long-term interest at serious risk. Because of the nature of the security environment and the unpredictability of future conflicts, agility and resiliency will be much in demand for planners and fielded forces.</blockquote>

Yes sir, and yet the Pacific Pivot or whatever they call it these days has already removed Apaches from Europe where their presence could be critical early. The Russians will have unopposed Hinds, Havocs, and Hokums that are a major threat to any Strykers and dismounted airborne forces we oppose the Russians with not to mention the Russian tanks, BMPs, and artillery they would face.

In a North Korea with nukes and massive artillery, armor will be critical to oppose DPRK forces and withstand their indirect fires. Reliance on airfields that may not be there due to nukes and infiltrators is not a good stand-alone strategy. Nor will Naval or Marine carriers offer much in the way of CAS in the face of strong DPRK AAA guns or Iranian future S-300s and other radar air defenses.

We have Offset Strategy proponents who apparently believe the enemy cannot find ways to hide their missiles from our airpower. This belief exists despite the massive urban areas to hide in and pervasive overhead smog. Collateral damage won’t be a factor they seem to think despite clear evidence that enemies hiding amongst civilians deter air attack. Worse still, since there is little distinguishing conventional and nuclear missiles, such a strategy increases the likelihood of a use-it- or-lose-it attitude if such autonomous missiles are successful in their targeting.

I recall being stationed in Germany at an Army airfield and wondering how long our rows of helicopters would survive a Soviet surprise invasion with air attacks. Likewise, you could see wood lines and German houses within easy range of hidden snipers. Later they installed Patriot air defenses and we always had monthly alerts where aircraft and vehicles would move off the airfield into field locations. That is the kind of approach required facing A2/AD threats that are nothing new. The complete reliance on long range strike simply encourages adversary special ops and other surreptitious attacks to target the few locations where we base such stealthy LRS-B aircraft. They can do that with 100 bombers (which we will never afford) using precision SF mortars and divers/small subs against a few nuclear-launch subs but not thousands of dispersed F-35s and hundreds of Apaches, Cobras, and other aircraft.

<blockquote>The issue of regional priorities will be a tricky one……This essay will not end with a call for doing more with less. That’s a fallacy. When you have less, you can do less. Instead, what’s required is to optimize the use of resources. The way to do that is to pare back the defense portfolio by the selective reduction of redundancy, while carefully managing future commitments.</blockquote>

Easier said than done sir.:) One man’s redundancy is another’s primary mission using a different approach.

<blockquote>The new chiefs should ask a lot of hard questions: Do we need a modernized strategic nuclear Triad, or would a Diad do?</blockquote>

Agree, but which parts of the Diad do we keep? How many miles of tunneled rail could we buy for half the cost of new missile subs? Could we use the same tunneled rail for high speed civil transport from the west to east coast with other rail parts above ground? Alternately, do we make LRS-B strictly conventional and few in number and build the missile subs? Tough call all around. Maybe we just play a shell game with nuke shelters moving warheads around but having fewer overall missiles. I like the partially-tunneled nuke swords-to-plowshares high speed rail approach that we pay for by eliminating both the LRS-B nuke capability, buying fewer bombers and no missile subs. If we must, put a few missile warheads on Virginia class subs and keep the F-35 nuclear capability.

<blockquote>Do we need three versions of the Joint Strike fighter in the quantities postulated? Do we still need MARSOC, Marine special operations forces, the new kid on the block? Does MARSOC duplicate already existing capabilities, or does it have its own niche?</blockquote>

Yes on the F-35. The three aircraft are a sound means to overcome A2/AD risk by not placing sole emphasis on the land, sea, or near shore domains. Won’t touch the MARSOC issue.:)

<blockquote>Do we need five brigades of Army parachute infantry, as well as another brigade-sized force of airborne Rangers?</blockquote>

Believe the LRS-B and Army airborne forces offer an opportunity for <strong>multi-mission</strong> USAF airpower to practice what they preach—unless it’s a bomber. You later mention using C-17s to launch UAS presumably sliding a larger UAS dispenser with parachute out the rear of the aircraft. This could include on board airborne control stations to eliminate satellite dependence. However, a less stealthy LRS-B variant also could be built to <strong>support</strong> both bombing and airborne force initial entry and logistical support. Likewise, perhaps we could place stealthy smaller-cargo optionally manned aircraft inside C-17s and a LRS-B variant with fold-out wings to fly the final leg to deliver airborne troops and supplies. Without such concepts, you would appear correct to note the lack of need for so much airborne capability. With such concepts, you have a ready-made means of circumventing A2/AD challenges for both conventional and SF/SOF units.

<blockquote>What’s magic about 10 carrier battle groups? Would 9 do? With the VSTOL F-35, could we build small battle groups around amphibious ships?</blockquote>

The Navy argues that only a third of the carriers are out on patrol at time which argues that the same crew quantities could rotate through fewer carriers left on station longer. Also, what if we gave some current super carriers to Japan and Great Britain if they agreed to buy F-35s and F/A-18E/Fs and manned them with their own crews or a mix of their and our sailors and retired Navy contractors? Could we have a carrier and other major ships manned entirely by Naval reservists and contractors?

Why can’t we have more coalition airpower units comprising a mix of USAF and foreign pilots along with active and Air Guard pilots? Airline pilots today don’t always make the money they once made and giving younger ones the incentives to join the Air Guard. Civil helicopter pilots likewise make good National Guard MEDEVAC and utility aviators but not necessarily good attack pilots where greater collective training is required.

The small battle group idea based on amphibious ships sounds promising if based solely on MV-22 and future CH-53K transport. But the A2/AD challenge of amphibious assault from well off shore may be a bridge too far given current and future threats and slow water speeds. This supports a stealthy means of getting initial entry airborne forces to shore and via low level air assault. That would secure areas for follow-on ship-to-shore connectors and tractors moving amphibious forces to beaches and transport ships landing in ports already secured by airborne and air assault forces of both the Army and Marines.

Again, why can’t we get countries to finance their version of what China is doing, building up islands for coalition use complete with air defenses, ground-based catapults if necessary, and/or Marine/allied F-35Bs V/STOLs.

<blockquote>Can we design a better personnel system with a modernized incentive structure and retirement system?</blockquote>

Why can’t we have mandatory or lottery military or civil National Service and reduce the cost of pay grades E-1 to E-3 for a two year commitment or longer time in the Guard/Reserves or alternate non-military service? I read that in 2007 we spent about $6 billion annually on grades E-1 to E-3. Cut their pay in half, live in today’s nicer barracks, and use the dining facility and save $3+ billion a year (before complaints I once was enlisted on posts making much less than current E-3s). But modifications of the retirement and Tri-Care systems would pay the largest dividends. Most Police and Fire Fighters do not get free health care. Do the DEA, Border Patrol, CIA and FBI? Why then do Service members as tough as their jobs are? The Affordable Care Act could provide subsidies to lower ranking troops to reduce their costs.

<blockquote>Can we find new ways to reduce base infrastructure without lengthy congressionally-dominated processes? The answer to all of these questions is that the Armed Forces can do much better in managing its affairs, but only if it gets outside of the box that it has built for itself. In the main, what each of the services lack is the imagination and authority to design and implement rapid change.</blockquote>

Agree that future outside the box thinking is required. However, the military is unlikely to embrace many such solutions. In other cases, good current ideas get criticized. When they do such as with the Aviation Restructure Initiative, Congress and the National Guard often seek to block it. To some degree, the same applies to the A-10 replacement as supporters seem nearly oblivious to the radar air defense threats it faces now and in the future.

F-35 haters keep questioning the initial operational capability dates and upfront availability of small diameter bomb II yet seem to ignore how much longer a new-start would take. Exquisite UCLASS supporters don’t comprehend the EW, cyber, satellite, and artificial intelligence collateral damage risks that limit such concepts currently. Future manned aircraft still have a place and can control UAS with shorter directional data links. The F-35 could be converted to a UAS once many hours are on the airframe.

Base infrastructure is another political nightmare but most would acknowledge that interior Army and many USAF bases are less costly than coastal bases in higher cost of living areas. Most Naval and Marine bases are in high cost coastal areas by necessity. These areas also are more likely to have alternate employment available if bases close. These bases also are easily targeted from offshore in a surprise manner with massed assets at risk. So while this may not allow consolidation of bases, it makes it unwise to excessively emphasis Navy and USMC solutions to the exclusion of Army and USAF bases.

On the other hand, initiatives like solar and wind power would save energy and support research into battery power, tide turbines, and water salinization. Greater use of on-post housing also would save money and support the need for greater security for Service members against terrorists.

<blockquote>The Armed Forces need a new design philosophy. To save money on hardware, the Services need to start designing systems that are not more expensive, advanced versions of their predecessors. Examples today abound: 3 billion dollar destroyers, 180 million dollar fighters, and the one hundred new Air Force bombers, promised to us at the bargain price of 550 million dollars per copy. In all of these cases, the defense establishment has taken (or will take) decades to build handfuls of systems that become ultra-expensive jewels that keep the force small and less agile than it needs to be. Maybe the next bomber should be a C-17 filled with 50 autonomous aerial vehicles. Maybe the “carrier” strike group should be mainly UAVs and autonomous aerial vehicles flown off of big deck vessels. Maybe the infantry sergeant of the future should command soldiers, as well as robots. Improving ISR and sensors could well be another key to empowering the ground force commander in the future.</blockquote>

This gets back to the problem of Navy and USAF systems being the most costly. Not sure Secretary Mabus is correct in saying that the F-35 will be the last manned fighter? Until you can assure no cyber and EW interference, that is a bridge too far. Autonomous UAS swarms are an airspace nightmare with limited endurance and no guarantee of finding targets or eliminating collateral damage. Look at Syria where only a quarter of the sorties even launch weapons. Will the autonomous UAS swarm return to land on the carrier or be wasted after a short flight? Remember, these think tank types are the same folks arguing that A2/AD will keep ships well-off threat coasts which will make UAS endurance a challenge that swarms are unlikely to meet.

The big cost for the Army and Marines is the troops themselves. Does the Army need a 9-man squad (or Marines 13!) if they are augmented with ground robots and unmanned aircraft? Could you substitute something like the Switchblade lethal UAS for the Grenadier and some mortars by spreading that system around in backpacks? Could fewer machine gunners and scouts operate multiple robots with machine guns and ATGMs from the safety of cover? Tank loaders theoretically could operate robots and UAS by introducing auto-loaders with tank loader back-up in the event of mechanical failure.

ISR and sensors make perfect sense for unmanned and unattended systems. It eliminates risk and allows longer surveillance beyond human endurance. At some point unmanned ground and airborne sensors will work together although a human most likely should remain in the loop. Flying sensors eventually will be able to land and drive cross-country and park or perch to save fuel. Again, the data links must be foolproof before committing excessive resources in that direction. Electronic line of sight also becomes an issue for ground robots as even autonomous systems need to get the information in real time to affected troops. If that sensor data link exists, why not a man-in-the-loop link for human judgment in targeting and adaptation?

<blockquote>Another way to save time and money is to choose missions and areas of deployment more carefully. There is a finite limit to the places where the United States can and should lead by putting US combat forces on the ground. In most cases, the host country must be out front.</blockquote>

True sir, but the opposite extreme of refusing ground involvement leads to quagmires and Presidential denial-of-reality such as we see in Syria and Iraq right now, and half-measures we see against Russian actions threatening Ukraine and the Baltics. The Army also talks about future mega-cities but it is hard to imagine many Presidents authorizing deployments to such nightmare urban environments.

OEF and OIF indicate that initial combat operations are not the problem. Stability operations are the challenge and only an adequately sized ground military can solve that issue. Troop rotations indicate that an initial surge must be followed by an equally large surge of active and reserve units to stabilize. That is not possible with the smallest Army since before WWII.

<blockquote>The anti-model is Libya. With advice and kinetic support, the West and friendly Arab nations helped the rebellion throw off the yoke of Gaddafhi’s oppression. The coalition then walked away, leaving Libya to slide into a chaos accelerated by al Qaeda and ISIS. The downsides of post-conflict entanglement are often outweighed by the negatives of abandonment. </blockquote>

Agree, but until the anti-model of both Libya and the inadequate-model of Syria and Iraq are further proven, it is unlikely we will return the ground component to its necessary place in stability operations. Both Syria and Iraq likely will prove the folly of doing “nothing,” as well.

<blockquote>Sadly, as this article is being written, US capabilities to conduct post-combat stability operations are shrinking. Many of the lessons learned in Iraq and Afghanistan are evaporating in the face of congressional skepticism and bureaucratic disinterest. Commonsense notions like a civilian response corps are dead. Many of the organizations interested in stability operation have been closed or are shrinking. Readiness across the spectrum of conflict demands serious multi-departmental capabilities for irregular conflict and stability operations. It’s too early to forget the lessons of the last fourteen years.</blockquote>

We have experienced few casualties recently in Afghanistan and Iraq because we aren’t out and about encouraging IEDs, suicide bombers, and snipers. One might disagree with LTG McMaster in saying that perhaps a raiding mentality <strong>can eventually work</strong> with air-assaulted forces used only briefly in Sunni and Shiite territory with the rest of the time holding up in Kurd territory and major air bases. The tragedy of sectarianism is not easily circumvented through wishful thinking that future Kumbaya singers rapidly will evolve.

Every location has different actors and we cannot force them to get along or govern equitably. We cannot understand every culture or right past wrongs whether using SF or regionally-aligned forces. We cannot eliminate night letters, and murder of informants, collaborators, and translators. We cannot halt kidnappings, taxing, death squads, car bombings, and IED attacks that extort, rape, enslave, and kill civilians. We cannot prevent the host nation from releasing prisoners or having Shiite leaders charge Sunni Vice Presidents with serious crimes while substituting good Sunni commanders with incompetent Shiite ones.

We can limit genocide and in-fighting while encouraging better government by creating new borders within old colonial ones. A Shiite or Alawite security force and government will never effectively secure all of Iraq or Syria. Why do we keep insisting that it can?

Borders matter. Aside from internal ones that breed civil war, neighbor borders also matter. East Afghanistan is influenced by cross-border foreign fighters and the Haqqanis. The same thing appears to be happening now with ISIS influencing HiG elements in the north. If continuity is the answer, another SWJ article talks about 3 year tours for the Long War. Is that realistic for most troops and can SF alone control populations measured in millions over large areas? Even in localized environments, Jake Tapper’s book “The Outpost” about COP Keating illustrates that rotating units and changing insurgent threats render the Long War somewhat irrelevant even if successful early on. Different units and SF personnel do things differently. An upfront surge and rapid transition to host nation security with U.S. reinforcement as required may make more sense leaving the hearts and minds efforts to locals.

Early combat outposts during an initial surge may make sense but only long enough to train and man them with host nation forces reinforced as necessary by coalition airpower and air assaulted QRFs. The initial assault to seize terrain may need to be armored as in the first OIF, but the stability operations need not be. Even today, by staying well offset from main highways and going cross country, an initial armor assault paralleling the Tigris and Euphrates could be highly successful followed by armor left behind in Kurd territory and surrounding major Iraq and Syrian cities rather than in their midst permanently tearing up roads and getting ambushed from rooftops and high windows.

I’ve got no clever conclusion. Bill M had great and <strong>more concise :)</strong> comments, as well. Keep up the good work COL (ret) Collins. 2016 will be here soon enough and whether it is Hillary the Hawk or any Republican but Rand Paul, better times for our Joint military may lay ahead. We can only hope that events won’t get too screwed up in the meantime.

Bill M.

Sat, 05/23/2015 - 1:08pm

In reply to by Sparapet

Exactly, allies will stand by our side when it is in their interest to do so, and they won't if it isn't in their interest. I think we behave the same way. This is not only true for relations between states, but also between supra & sub-state organizations as well. What astounds me is our zealots who preach "through, by and with" as though it is a strategy within itself. They also confuse it as an indirect approach at the strategic level (it may or may not be an indirect approach). The underlying assumption is that all these states and sub/supra organizations automatically share our interests and are willing to sacrifice by acting as our surrogates. It requires considerable diplomacy to develop these agreements.

Fortunately, the vast majority of people I have met around the world, both officials and non-officials, have expressed a preference for American leadership over China, Russia, or Islamists. However, that doesn't mean we can walk all over them and impose our political and economic systems. Soft power and hard power are mutually supporting. Our way of life and values tends to attract people, which in turn can lead to them becoming allies and partners (force multiplier). I agree with a recent assessment I read that China, Russia, nor the Islamic State have much in the way of powerful allies (or allies of any strength). I think there are more opportunities than challenges in the world, but if we overreach we can squander those opportunities.

Sparapet

Sat, 05/23/2015 - 12:14pm

In reply to by Bill M.

i recall having dinner with an ally diplomat at a security summit. When i asked her if her country's status as our ally would ensure their support in the following days proceedings she said that though they would prefer to offer complete support, their country would limit comments to those items of direct relevance to them. she then offered that as far as they were concerned they prefer American leadership to anyone else. however, they could not expend their political capital on American priorities. it was an eye opening conversation for someone just starting his diplomatic adventures. allies are circumstantial and their sympathies are not guarantees of their support.

Bill M.

Fri, 05/22/2015 - 11:14am

I think it is fair to state the incoming chiefs are intimately familiar with the security environment, the challenge they face will be thinking anew about how to respond to this environment. I suspect that tradition functions as a ball and chain around the ankles of the services that will make the deep changes suggested culturally unacceptable. Real change in the U.S. military has generally been directed by civilian leadership such as enhanced jointness or the growth and empowerment of SOF. Civilian leaders will find capable officers willing to lead the transformation charge once it is directed, but few officers can afford to jump up prior to that, acting prematurely can be career suicide within the services. Recent example is the Air Force’s push to get all of its officers to conform to the party line on the joint strike fighter and the A-10 issues. Every service has similar pet projects that everyone in that service better support, or risk having a less than stellar career. Tradition has its place, but it is a double edge source, and when it comes to transformation, the edge that cuts us is most prominent.

A couple of points in the article are arguable. No doubt, our defense spending dwarfs every other nation, but so does our defense responsibilities. If our nation’s leaders desire the U.S. to quit being the world’s sheriff, and accept the risk associated with that decision, then we can spend less on defense. If not, then the argument rings a bit hollow to me. The point about our allies and friends is valid for now, but can we assume that our allies and friends will stand with us during a tough fight in the future? Some will, but I suspect others will opt out based on their perceptions of risk versus gain. I think we currently over rely on the through, by, and with paradigm. We need to continue to pursue that approach, but we shouldn't assume we won’t have to go at it alone, or at least with less friends than planned.

His second point about stronger peer competitors and a reinvigorated Long War is unassailable in my opinion. This is where the rubber meets the road, and we have to ask ourselves so what? What problems do we need to solve? That in turn will drive the type of innovation we pursue.

Uncertainty requires agility and sufficient force size. Agility is certainly involves more than technology, it also involves a streamlined decision making process. It also requires the ability to gain understanding quicker, which could mean developing programs for all regions of the world like the Afghan Hands program prior to crises emerging. It could mean pursuing the development of lighter, yet survivable ground vehicles that we can move in mass via airlift. That would require an investment in material (chemistry) research to break through current heavy armor paradigm. In addition to developing resilient space and cyber capabilities, we need systems/processes not dependent upon space and cyber, since our adversaries are increasingly capable of targeting these systems. That would require radical change in the way we conduct operations. It would also require more training time to facilitate training on these alternative methods.

The COINdistas and the air-sea battle special interest groups will need to get married, even if it is a shotgun wedding, because it isn’t either or, it is both, and the same forces will have to conduct both types of operations. What are the implications for training and equipping a force to be agile enough to do both?

I generally agree with his assessment on stability operations. He wrote, “The downsides of post-conflict entanglement are often outweighed by the negatives of abandonment. If the major powers are not going to follow through, they should consider leaving bad situations alone. Doing nothing might be preferable to doing half a job.” This area requires substantial innovation, and fortunately, it doesn’t involve buying billion dollar ships and multi-million dollar aircraft. It will require an honest look that will require accepting facts about human nature that we may find uncomfortable, especially when it comes to our attempts to impose democracy and economic systems that are not acceptable to the region we’re trying to stabilize. We have the ability to do better if we can reign in our ideological zeal. We don’t have to pull defeat from the jaws of victory if we make better choices.