Archive for July, 2013
Of all the missions the Surface Navy does, Ballistic Missile Defense (BMD) might be the least sexy. It involves sitting in a small box in the middle of the ocean for weeks, usually far away from land or even any commercial shipping traffic. Ships on station need to be in a specific engineering and combat systems configuration at all times so they can track or engage a target at a moments notice. This means there aren’t many opportunities for training, ship handling, gun shoots, swim calls, and other evolutions. Sometimes, a poor middle-of-the-ocean satellite uplink makes the internet unusable, and “River City” could be set (meaning the internet is turned off completely) for bandwidth constraints or upholding Operational Security (OPSEC) due to mission sensitivities. Depending on the ship’s heading and location, TV-DTS (the Navy’s satellite TV connection) could go down as well. Hopefully the seas aren’t rough, because there’s little chance to get a modified location (MODLOC) to divert for better weather. If it’s a nice day, fishing from the fantail seems to be the most exciting thing to do; although there never seems to be much luck in getting a catch (it seems most fish know how to avoid the BMD box at all costs). Forget port calls, but even when ships aren’t on station, they could still be on a formal or informal “tether” which prevents them from going anywhere too far away from the BMD Theater (yes that means no Australia!).
As the U.S. considers directly arming rebels in Syria, it would do well to heed the lessons of history and examine the positive, negative, and almost entirely unpredictable outcomes of such efforts. History is replete with such lessons including not only the obvious parallels to arming of the mujahedeen in Afghanistan but also the original story of U.S. involvement in Vietnam.
In September 1940, the Japanese took control of French Indochina which had, during the Second World War, been governed by the Vichy government in France. To the north was pre-Maoist China, with Chiang Kai-Shek’s forces working with the U.S. military. General Claire Chennault’s 14th Air Force was based in Kunming, China, along with the area’s headquarters for the Office of Strategic Services (OSS.) The head of OSS, Major General William Donovan, was a highly decorated veteran of the first World War. When it came to Indochina, his direction to the base in Kunming was clear: “use anyone who will work with us against the Japanese, but do not become involved in French-Indochinese politics.”
According to the Yŏnhap News Agency last Thursday, ROK Defense Minister Kim Kwan-jin “confirmed…that he had requested the U.S. government” to postpone the OPCON (Operational Command) transfer slated for December, 2015. Citing from the same source, the National Journal elaborated further by saying Minister Kim believed that the United States was open to postponing the transfer because “a top U.S. government official leaked to journalists” Minister Kim’s request for the delay.
There may be several reasons for the ROK government’s desire to postpone the OPCON transfer. First, the critics of the OPCON transfer both in Washington and the ROK argue that this transition is “dangerously myopic” as it ignores “the asymmetric challenges that [North Korea] presents.” Second, given the shrinking budget, they argue that the ROK may not have enough time to improve its own C4I (Command, Control, Communications, Computer and Intelligence) capabilities, notwithstanding a vigorous procurement and acquisition of state-of-the-art weaponry and indigenous research and development programs for its local defense industries. Third, South Korea’s uneven defense spending, and operational and institutional handicaps within the conservative ROK officer corps have prevented South Korea from developing a coherent strategy and the necessary wherewithal to operate on its own. To the critics of the OPCON handover, all these may point to the fact that, over the years, the ROK’s “political will to allocate the required resources has been constrained by economic pressures and the imperative to sustain South Korea’s socio-economic stability and growth.” As if to underscore this point, the ROK’s defense budget grew fourfold “at a rate higher than conventional explanations would expect” due to fears that the United States may eventually withdraw from the Korean peninsula. It was perhaps for these reasons that retired GEN B. B. Bell, a former Commander of the United States Forces Korea, has advocated postponing the transfer “permanently.“
As the human hand moves further from the throttle and tiller, the nervousness of leadership is unavoidable. Although drones are integral to ISR, OTH strike, and explosives disposal, they remain a force multiplier, never the force. It is an important step beyond that trepidation for the Secretary of the Navy to have illustrated in clear terms the inevitability of unmanned and automated drones’ frontline future in his article, “The Future Has Arrived.”
The key concept change is the discussion of drones as a force that “put[s] fewer sailors and marines in harms’ way, and… push[es] the area of potential action even further from the decks of our ships” particularly from carrier bases. This puts drones on the front lines of America’s on-demand forward deployed forces. The subtle tip of the cap to truly automated platforms is the statement that, “unmanned carrier aircraft do not require flights to maintain pilot proficiency.” Even remote pilots need to “fly” remote aircraft to maintain proficiency. However, automated platforms do not. To mince the point, the Secretary is a bit optimistic. Yes, flight requirements will be far lower. However, drones will ultimately still have to be flown to test the limits of programming and for those programs to learn. Otherwise, we use programming that is too rigid for tactical evasion or air-to-air engagement. That said, the general concept is sound, Drones will become our defense-in-depth, fighting at the front rather than the fringe.
“History does not repeat itself, but it does rhyme.”
– Mark Twain
In the introduction to his book 21st Century Mahan: Sound Military Conclusions for the Modern Era, LCDR BJ Armstrong, USN speaks to a problem with a lot of the foundational thinkers on the military art. Referring to modern policymakers, naval leaders, and analysts who do bring up Mahan, Armstrong states,
These writers and thinkers are mistaken. They focus solely on his most famous work and unthinkingly repeat the analysis taught by some academics. Few of these writers appear to have actually read the works of Alfred Thayer Mahan.
Bingo. Many people have a Cliff’s Notes thick understanding of Mahan because they have never been asked to, or made the independent effort to, read the primary source. As a result, many of them are reading modern commentary run through the intellectual grinders of deconstructionism and critical theory to the point that they aren’t even really reading about Mahan any more. They are reading one academic’s commentary on another academic who read a summary of Mahan.
The utility of Armstrong’s work is really rather simple; in each section he tees the ball up for a few pages and then steps away. He lets Mahan speak for himself in long form; not pull quotes or some temporally transposed mash-up of different works stitched together to make a post-modern point.
Some of the worst commentary on Mahan I have read has come from people who really should know better, and a lot of the fault lies in how we teach Mahan.
If you try to take a short cut about learning about a thinker by simply quoting what other people have said about them using a two-line pull quote followed by 55 pages of pontification – then are you really studying the thinker? Are we teaching from primary sources, or are we letting commentary and conjecture of lesser minds come to the fore?
Live by the gouge … be ignorant by the gouge.
Along those lines, there are other naval and military thinkers out there that most of us know about, but do we really know what they said – have we been provided the primary source in an easily digestible format like we see in 21st Century Mahan? As such, have we had a chance to see what can inform our decisions as we prepare for this century’s challenges?
Who would you like to see given a treatment like Mahan was given by Armstrong? Who should be next in line to be introduced anew?
Put your ideas in comments.
If we want to get serious about putting Warfighting First and Reducing Administrative Distractions, we can start with how we assess training on ships. Our current system is process-based: superior commands issue detailed instructions for the administration of shipboard training and qualification, and then assess compliance by auditing the ships’ records. There is usually a results-based component (observed drills) of assessment which is combined with the audits to produce an overall score—commands with weak performance in drills might be saved if they exhibit fantastic recordkeeping practices.
The process-based approach suffers from two flawed assumptions:
Assumption #1: Performance is the result of directed training processes. I’ll illustrate this assumption with an anecdote from my previous command, when I had just become responsible for the Torpedo Division. I observed divisional training conducted by the Leading First, complete with a PowerPoint presentation and testable objectives in compliance with the Continuing Training and Qualification Manual. The topic, also in compliance with said manual, was the characteristics of various weapon classes, many of which were not employed by our ship.
Join us this Sunday, 21 July at 5pm (Eastern U.S.) for Midrats Episode 185: Getting “Next” Right with John Nagl:
So, which is it? Do we forget our history and are therefore doomed to repeat it, or are we always preparing to fight the next war?
As we finish up the final chapter of our participation in Afghanistan after well over a decade, and reflect on the changes in the arch of the Muslim world from the Atlas mountains to Mindanao – what do we need, intellectually, to retain for what is coming “next?”
With one eye on historical patterns and another on developing economic, demographic, and political trends – what do we need to do to man, train, and equip the armed forces to be best positioned to address what we think we will face, but flexible enough to meet what we don’t know?
Our guest for the full hour will be John Nagl, Lt Col USA (Ret.), PhD, presently the Minerva Research Professor at the US Naval Academy, previously the President of CNAS.
Dr. Nagl was a Distinguished Graduate of the United States Military Academy Class of 1988 who served as an armor officer in the U.S. Army for 20 years. His last military assignment was as commander of the 1st Battalion, 34th Armor. He led a tank platoon in Operation Desert Storm and served as the operations officer of a tank battalion task force in Operation Iraqi Freedom. Nagl taught national security studies at West Point and Georgetown University and served as a Military Assistant to two Deputy Secretaries of Defense.
He earned his Master of the Military Arts and Sciences Degree from the U.S. Army Command and General Staff College, and his doctorate from Oxford University as a Rhodes Scholar.
He is the author of Learning to Eat Soup with a Knife: Counterinsurgency Lessons from Malaya and Vietnam and was on the writing team that produced the U.S. Army/Marine Corps Counterinsurgency Field Manual. His writings have also been published in The New York Times, Washington Post, The Wall Street Journal, among others.
Join us live on the 21st or, if you can’t make it, pick the show up later by clicking here.
In the wake of Hassan Rowhani’s landslide victory as Iran’s new president, some foreign policy mavens now believe that Rowhani’s presidency may augur a positive shift in Iran’s hitherto hostile policy towards the West. However, despite a glimmer of hope that Rowhani’s election may translate into moderate policies towards the West, others have “adopted a cautious ‘wait-and-see’ posture,” citing Rowhani’s past affiliation with the Ayatollah.
For East Asian experts, Rowhani’s election warrants attention because it remains to be seen whether Iran will retain its current alliance with Kim Jŏng-ŭn even if it chooses to reconcile with the West. After all, some have alleged that Iran has played a major role in the DPRK’s successful testing of its Ŭnha-3 rocket last December. More importantly, Rowhani’s future stance towards the West deserves attention because it may determine whether or not the United States must revise its strategy to adapt to new geostrategic realities. Indeed, it can be argued that the aforementioned factors are not mutually exclusive but intricately intertwined.
First off the bat is the best news of the week from SECDEF Hagel. Some may say it is pocket change, but it really isn’t. More than anything else, this sets the tone and has out front who should already be there. Good start and hopefully generates some desired 2nd-order effects. Via Craig Whitlock at WaPo;
Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said Tuesday that he has ordered a 20 percent cut in the number of top brass and senior civilians at the Pentagon by 2019, the latest attempt to shrink the military bureaucracy after years of heady growth.
Hagel’s directive could force the Pentagon and military command staffs to shed an estimated 3,000 to 5,000 jobs. That’s a tiny percentage of the Defense Department’s 2.1 million active-duty troops and civilian employees, but analysts said it would be a symbolically important trimming of the upper branches of the bureaucracy, which has proved to be resistant to past pruning attempts.
Exactly. We went through PTS and ERB while the senior levels floated at anchor. If done in conjunction with Staff restructuring, significant efficiencies on the admin side of the house at least will be in order.
Late Tuesday, Pentagon spokesman George Little estimated that Hagel’s order would result in total savings that “could be in the range” of $1.5 billion to $2 billion over five years. In a statement, he said that the number of job cuts was yet to be determined and that they wouldn’t begin until 2015.
In 2010, then-Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates ordered a three-year freeze on staffing in his office, the Joint Staff and the military combatant commands. But a recent analysis by Defense News, a trade publication, found that the size of those staffs nevertheless has grown by about 15 percent.
You can buy a lot of training for $2.1 billion in 5 years. We’ll take it.
That is the official side – and when you start taking away people’s parking spaces and personal staff – that will create a bit of friction down at the Potomac Flotilla tactical level.
On the unofficial side, the real fireworks will take place when, and I believe it will, as the concept raised by Zachary Keck at TheDiplomat continues to set its roots;
… the different services within the armed forces have long been treated with near perfect equality.
That’s at least one implication of the Golden Ratio principle of defense budgeting, whereby the three different services—the Army, Navy (including Marines), and Air Force—receive a constant and nearly equal share of the defense budget. As Travis Sharp, one of the most outspoken critics of the Golden Ratio, explains: “Since fiscal year 1948, the Army, Navy, and Air Force have on average received 28 percent, 31 percent, and 33 percent, respectively, of DOD’s annual budget. Hot war, cold war, or no war – the allotment of the services’ budgets has remained relatively constant over time.”
However, with the post-9/11 wars winding down, a potential future peer competitor emerging, and austerity taking hold, the U.S. no longer needs nor can it afford to continue obliging the military equality of the Golden Ratio.
For one thing, the shift to the Indo-Pacific, as well as the declining utility of large ground forces, eliminates the strategic rationale of holding the three armed services in equal esteem, at least when it comes to the allocation of resources.
Now THAT is something that will keep a lot of people busy for the rest of the decade.
After the Cold War, many in the defense community explored new ways to leverage the rapid expansion of information technology beyond traditional command, control and communications functions. Naval innovators were at the forefront of this effort. Most notably Vice Admiral Art Cebrowski proliferated the concepts of Net Centric Warfare and Admiral William Owens partnered with Harvard professor Joseph Nye to pen an influential Foreign Affairs piece on America’s information edge. Owens and Nye argued that the US military advantage in intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR), command and control, and precision guided munitions enabled “a general ability to use deadly violence with greater speed, range and precision.” In other words, information would provide a significant advantage in conventional military operations.
At the same time, CDR Randall Bowdish focused his intellectual work on expanding the use of psychological operations in the information age. Bowdish clearly took a different approach in his research and notes, “By combining Clausewitz’s and Sun Tzu’s ideologies, we can discern a goal for information age psychological operations (PSYOP) -to compel the enemy to do our will without fighting. This goal is particularly relevant today in view of an increasing American intolerance for casualties. Information-age PSYOP, more than any other military instrument, may provide us with an increased capability to pursue our national interests without bloodshed.”
- To Defeat ISIS, Hawkeyes Required
- The Independent Review of the Nuclear Enterprise
- On Midrats 23 November 14: “Episode 255: Commanding the Seas -the Surface Force with Bryan Clark from CSBA”
- A Magical Metrical Mystery Tour of Ineffective U.S. Drug Policy
- On Midrats 16 November 14, “Episode 254: John A. Nagl: 13 Years into the War”