America’s Future—Defense Policy Principles, Part IVb

In the post just below, I described some of the force structures needed to help secure our future.  In this post, I complete that description.

We must maintain and improve (not reduce through decimation) a strong “traditional” combat force capability.  Our enemies will continue to include, for the foreseeable future, nation-states fully capable and willing to fight open, pitched war for a variety of reasons, the same reasons such wars have been initiated in the past: resources, land/power grabs, and so on.  The last major war fought, WWII, involved our combat capability for nearly four years (and it had been in progress for more than two years by the time we joined) with roughly 6.5 million men under arms and Defense spending of roughly 37% of GDP and 89% of total federal spending in 1945.  Our force structure must be as capable today of fighting that kind of war for survival, for at least that long.  The People’s Republic of China, for instance, has nearly 2.3 million soldiers under arms today, during nominal peace.  It’s aggressively expanding its naval power projection capabilities and aggressively threatening just the sort of land and resource grabs of past wars today in, among other places, the South China Sea, thereby threatening US allies like the Republic of the Philippines, and potential allies like the Socialist Republic of Vietnam.

Such “traditional” forces, though, need not look like the last century’s forces: indeed, they cannot and fight effectively today.  Today’s forces must be  lighter, faster, and more mobile yet with vastly increased lethality.  To achieve this will take technological improvements, but many of these are already in various stages of prototyping.  This will also take a revision of traditional mindsets of how to equip and fight a “traditional” force.  In the latter regard, Rumsfeld was right to scrap the Crusader “self-propelled” howitzer, even though it could hit a gnat’s left eye from enormous ranges and it was the darling of artillery enthusiasts, procurement officers, and defense contractors alike.  It wasn’t mobile, requiring multiple C-5 sorties to deliver a single howitzer with its supporting systems and initial ammunition load out.  It couldn’t move affectively under its own power in hilly or mountainous terrain.  Not being able to reach an engagement position rapidly, it had very little engagement value.  So it is with the USAF’s F-22 Raptor.  This airplane costs $150 million each (or more if development costs are amortized in), and while loaded with many magic capabilities, must achieve a kill ratio greater than 10:1 to pay for itself compared to the unit cost of its adversary aircraft.  The capabilities of both weapon systems are nice to have, but procurement and defense contractor paradigms—and understanding of the imperatives of speed and mobility—need to shift heavily.  These weapons’ capabilities, unimproved as they truly are, have little value on a modern battlefield or above it.

Our “traditional” forces (at this point I’ll stop discriminating between defense and offense; they are in the end two sides of the same coin) must be capable of winning both long-range engagements and close-in knife fights.  This places an emphasis on long-range weapons such as nuclear-armed ballistic and cruise missiles, conventionally armed cruise missiles, rail guns with 100+ mile range (currently undergoing testing with examples from three developers), torpedo equivalents of cruise missiles, littoral-capable combat ships, and so on.  Additional long-range weapons must include EMP delivery systems.

The close in fight must include close air support capable aircraft.  The A-10 is an excellent example of this type of aircraft, with its highly survivable capability coupled with its precision lethality on the battlefield while friendly soldiers are in close contact/engaged with the enemy.

But there’s more to this knife fight than air cover.  The soldier and Marine himself must be lethally armed, and his pack load out must include, for instance, a single battery type for all of his equipment—the weight savings over the total battery transport must be given over  to such consumables as food and ammunition.  The fighter’s personal weapons need increased lethality.  Entering prototyping development is an example of this: a bullet with terminal guidance capability to improve its target hit likelihood: the bullet (in its current iteration) carries a seeker head and fins to acquire a separately laser-designated target and guide to it.  (As an obvious aside, this technology would greatly improve artillery accuracy, including that rail gun.)  But a knife fight includes shorter ranges than rifle-firing.  These men and women must be able to fight effectively in urban streets, in the rooms of the buildings of these urban areas, in wooded/hilly terrain, and so on.  Their weapons must be optimized for those ranges, as well.  One way to achieve this is with a rapidly changeable set of weapon barrels (no more than three) that can, with literally a minute’s advanced planning, be swapped out for the barrel optimized for the coming terrain.

The Navy will benefit from the improved weaponry, including the rail gun (indeed, it’s the Navy doing the testing mentioned above), and also from combat shipping capable of fighting lethally close in to shore.  Amphibious assaults benefit greatly from the ability of the Navy to deliver artillery and air bombardment in support of the landings.  But the shipping delivering the Marines, soldiers, special operations forces (given enemy discovery of the latter in progress), and equipment should also be able both to fight their way to a contested landing and to support any landing with lethal, close in, fires of their own.  This means, for instance, shallow draft ships armed with those rail guns (with shorter design ranges and so smaller power packs and faster rates of fire) and guided bullets.

The emphasis of our new force structure must lie in our special operations forces, however.  These must cease to be an adjunct to, or an afterthought of, our “traditional” force structure and gain a stature, funding, and purpose of their own.  SOCOM is a good start here, but the command must be beefed up with combat personnel and equipment, without sacrificing the intensive training that special operations forces ordinarily receive.  These are the forces most suited to fighting the amorphous asymmetrical wars that are thrust upon us, as well as attacking and destroying enemy communications, economic, and space facilities without committing “traditional” forces, needed elsewhere, to these targets.  Especially given the costs of modern “traditional” war, the wars most frequently fought will be the asymmetric wars of terror.

While the use of UAVs has expanded, this expansion and their improvement and lethality needs to be accelerated.  Coordination with cyber forces is critical here, especially in terms of hardening the devices’ control and computer systems.  Coordination with communications forces also is critical, in order to protect control of the devices.  Integration with “traditional” forces must increase, also, beyond target coordination.  The surface (and underwater) components of the “traditional” forces will benefit greatly from expanded use of improved unmanned combat vehicles (UCV)—these will greatly multiply the forces committed to battle while not increasing friendly casualties.  EMP delivery must be part of these forces’ capability, just as it is with “traditional” forces.

Finally, while each of these forces must be capable of separate, independent action, they all must be tightly integrated at the same time: equipment load-out and hardening and targeting imperatives overlap far too much for the forces to operate solely without regard to the capabilities and activities of the other forces.  I’ve mentioned above areas of overlap and integration; those are merely illustrative, not exhaustive.

In sum, we are still going to have to fight yesterday’s set-piece war, hence the need for powerful “traditional” forces.  But that war will be fought from the start with modern weapon systems of vast lethality.  The ability to guts up a war machine from next to nothingness, as we did for WWII, no longer exists: that lethality will overwhelm and crush our forces—and our nation—if the forces in being at the initial attack are inadequate.  Yet we’re also going to have to fight a new style war, against an amorphous, non-national entity whose own forces are diffuse, hard to identify, even spread across a range of nation-states.  The present war on Terror is only the beginning of this blaze.  Such wars will demand an emphasis on a new set of forces—those special operations forces.  Moreover, the high ground has moved into space.  We must control that high ground. Finally, the speed of a modern war also demands sound, secure, reliable, fast computational capability and communications—hence an emphasis on cyber and communications forces that warrants their separation into distinct entities, while remaining tightly integrated with the other forces.

Update: Corrected the name of the howitzer that Rumsfeld cancelled.

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