I wrote earlier about American defense policy here. We saw there, and in my series of foreign policy posts, what war looks like from foreign and defense policy perspectives. At this point, it’s useful to ask what defense policy principles we need to guide our defense behaviors and our force structure. Defense policy itself drives, ultimately, defense strategy, and this drives, ultimately, force structure. (I’ll not get into tactics in this series of posts; although strategy certainly does drive tactics as well as force structure.) In this post, then, I’d like to get into some specific defense principles that I consider critical to our safety and future as they drive our defense policies. In a later post, I’ll suggest some defense policies that both implement these principles and that give sound, concrete guidance to our defense strategies, and after that I’ll suggest some necessary force structures.
The most important principle for our defense establishment is that our defense must be built around the concept winning across the full spectrum of conflict, and across the full spectrum of kinds of enemy combatants. We’ve seen in the Korean and the Viet Nam Wars the failures of fighting merely to hold, or to contain—deliberately fighting solely to a draw. This is the point of having an ability to defend ourselves. The spectrum of conflict runs, in one dimension, from economic war, through cyber war, and a full range of physical combat: low-level conflict (as measured, in one way, by the amount of soldiery and equipment committed to the war relative to the enemy’s or our total military establishment), through terror war, to all-out war. The spectrum runs in another dimension from nation states as the enemy combatant(s), through non-national entities engaging in terror attacks (or other forms of war) and the nation states that harbor, if not outright support these terror organizations. There can be no area of combat, no type of combat that we do not decisively dominate, and we must be able actively to deny sanctuary in any area to our enemy. And there can be no question that decisive victory must be our objective. Less than that simply invites renewed conflict at a later time and place of our enemies’ choosing.
As anyone with any military experience knows, control of the high ground is central to efficient use of force in achieving victory. It’s certainly possible win from the low ground, but that is expensive at best in lives and treasure, and it’s wasteful of those lives and treasure when better alternatives are—or should have been—available. Accordingly, the next principle must be control of the high ground. Assured access is highly important, but it’s insufficient: better to be there already and in control of it; this, in turn, assures that access.
Today’s high ground is in space. However, with today’s technology, and with the technology being developed by the PRC and by Russia (and (for now more slowly) by terrorist nations like Iran and northern Korea), the high ground of space is not earth orbit. This high ground now extends much further: it includes the moon and lunar orbit, and it includes the LaGrange Points L4 and L5, gravitationally stable regions in front of and behind the moon at the moon’s altitude above the earth. The high ground, and the race for it, won’t end here, though: as our enemies’ technology and capability improves, the high ground will move outward, to Mars in the next 20 years, and beyond Jupiter by the end of this century. The advantages of controlling the high ground of space are obvious.
With this control, we can protect our economic infrastructure that relies to increasing extent on space-based assets: our GPS constellation that lets our automobiles navigate in strange cities, among other things; our communications satellites, that let us make cheap, clear telephone calls intercontinentally or let us see and hear first hand the struggles of fellow human beings as they fight against oppression in tyrannical nations; that also support our information access through television and the Internet; that together with our GPS constellation also power such appliances as OnStar®; and so on. With this control we can protect similar systems critical to our government’s and defense’s operability around the globe. With this control, we can deny access to our enemies, including their access for attacks on our systems, at times of our choosing. With this control, we can achieve an additional direction from which to attack their surface to surface missiles and even their aircraft. With this control we can maintain quality surveillance of their surface forces and weapons systems development and disposition. The list goes on.
Our defense policies also need to be built around a principle of flexibility. Flexibility here involves mobility, agility, and adaptability of both the weapons and support systems and of the soldiers themselves. Mobility is especially critical. One of the reasons the Crusader self-propelled howitzer was cancelled, for instance, was because it was so huge and amobile [sic] that a single Crusader required two large transport aircraft to deliver it with its initial ammunition load and its supporting equipment. And it couldn’t go anywhere under its own power in rough terrain, like, oh say, the mountains of Afghanistan. In the end, a weapon that can hit a target 40 miles away but that is unable to move quickly with the tide of battle has no more value than the Maginot Line.
Each of the weapons systems our soldiers are expected to use must be able to operate across a range of terrains, whether physical or electronic or in space, and the systems must be mobile—able to move under its own power quickly or be rapidly loadable onto mobile, cheap transport systems—across the full range of terrain. Each of these systems must also be easily and quickly loadable onto air transports, air droppable into the combat zone, and then able to go immediately into battle. Physically, this terrain includes space, urban, desert, hilly and mountainous, muddy and rocky; sea, river, swamp; and so on. Critical terrain also includes the virtual terrain of cyberspace. Clearly, no individual system can be expected to operate over every type of terrain, but the totality of our systems must be operable over every type of terrain. There can be no sanctuary space for our enemies.
Our systems require agility on the battle field. Our spaced-oriented systems must be highly maneuverable and responsive in space, and our earth-based systems must be similarly very maneuverable on any land or water terrain, across the full spectrum terrain described above.
Our soldiers must be agile. This includes hard physical conditioning, but it also includes their personal equipment—their weapons, batteries, ammunition, supplies, and so on: everything they carry by hand or in their packs. This equipment must be both highly lethal and easily packed and transported in their packs as they travel on foot, as their transportation systems fail through battle damage, cyber attack, even “ordinary” wear and tear-related breakdowns.
Our weapons and logistics systems must be adaptable. This goes beyond an ability to adapt systems to differing fuels availability, or being able to air transport via slings and helicopters, or on trucks, or inside cargo planes, and the like. It also includes things like computer-aided or -controlled systems being able to be controlled manually as the computer systems become degraded or completely destroyed through battle damage or cyber attacks.
Our soldiers especially must be adaptable. This isn’t limited to the need to adapt to the changing combat environment of a fight in progress. It includes adaptability necessary to move from one kind of fight (counterterrorism, for instance) to another kind of fight (stability operations, for instance) to yet another kind of fight (total war, for instance) rapidly and with minimal need for personal equipment change out and similarly minimal need for retraining for the new fight. But the needed adaptability goes beyond this, too. It must also include the ability to adapt their own fighting to the use of their degraded weapons systems as battle damage accumulates, and even (especially) an ability to adapt to using what used to be (at least largely) automated systems manually, as battle damage accumulates yet farther—whether from physical damage to their systems or from cyberwar components of the fight in progress attacking their automating and computational control systems.
Successful implementation of these principles of demanding outright victory, controlling the high ground, and of being highly flexible while maintaining extreme lethality will maximize our ability to win any war that is thrust upon us.
Of course, these principles will need the implementation of defense policies governing more than the physical nature of defense; they’ll need technology and development policies as well. I’ll go into some of those policies in my next post on this subject.