Five months after the much-dreaded sequestration went into effect, many defense analysts and military officials alike are worried about the negative repercussions of the drastic budget cuts on military readiness. In his latest commentary, the rightwing commentator Alan Caruba declared that “The U.S. military is on life support.” Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel also argued in his Statement on Strategic Choices and Management Review (SCMR) that “sequester-level cuts would ‘break’ some parts of the strategy, no matter how the cuts were made [since] our military options and flexibility will be severely constrained.”

Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel answers reporters' questions during a Pentagon press briefing on the recent Strategic Choices. Navy Adm. James A. Winnefeld Jr., right, vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, joined Hagel for the briefing. (DOD photo by Glenn Fawcett)

Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel answers reporters’ questions during a Pentagon press briefing on the recent Strategic Choices. Navy Adm. James A. Winnefeld Jr., right, vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, joined Hagel for the briefing. (DOD photo by Glenn Fawcett)

To its credit, the SCMR seemed to hint at operational and structural adjustments underway by offering two options—trading “size for high-end capacity” versus trading modernization plans “for a larger force better able to project power.” Nevertheless, one important question which went unasked was whether or not the US Armed Forces alone should continue to play GloboCop.

The current geostrategic environment has become fluid and fraught with uncertainties. As Zhang Yunan avers, China as a “moderate revisionist” will not likely replace the United States as the undisputed global champion due to myriad factors. As for the United States, in the aftermath of a decade-long war on terror and the ongoing recession, we can no longer say with certainty that the United States will still retain its unipolar hegemony in the years or decades to come.

That said, Secretary Hagel is correct that the United States military may need to become leaner in the face of harsh fiscal realities. To this must be added another imperative: The US Armed Forces must fight smarter and must do so in ways that may further America’s strategic and commercial interests abroad.

So how can the United States military fight smarter and leaner?

COCOMs

Possible Combatant Command Realignments

First, given massive troop reductions whereby the Army personnel may be reduced to 380,000 and the Marine Corps “would bottom out at 150,000,” while at the same, the DoD is seriously considering restructuring existing Combatant Commands (COCOMs), it no longer makes sense to deploy or train troops for protracted counterinsurgency campaigns or foreign occupations. Instead, should another transnational terrorist group or a rogue state threaten homeland security, the United States could rely on SOF (Special Operations Forces) commandos and UAV (Unmanned Aerial Vehicles) to selectively target and neutralize potential threats. While the SOF and UAV surgical raids should not be viewed as substitutes for deft diplomacy, they can provide cheaper and selective power projection capabilities.

Second, since the United States Navy may be forced to “reduce the number of carrier strike groups from 11 to 8 or 9,” it can meet its power projection needs by encouraging cooperation among its sister navies and by bolstering their naval might. One example of such partnerships would be to form a combined fleet whereby America’s sister navies “may share their unique resources and cultures to develop flexible responses against future threats” posed by our adversaries.

Third, the United States may encounter more asymmetric threats in the form of cyber attacks, CBRN (Chemical, Biological, Radiation, Nuclear) attacks, and may also be vulnerable to attacks from within by homegrown terrorists and drug cartels—all of which may wreak havoc and may even cripple America’s domestic infrastructures. As retired Admiral James Stavridis argues, such asymmetric attacks may stem from convergence of the global community. Such threats require that the United States take the fight to its adversaries by cooperating with its allies to “upend threat financing” and by strengthening its cyber capabilities.

Fourth, where rogue states such as Iran, Syria and North Korea, are concerned, the United States could implement what General James Mattis refers to as the “proxy strategy.” Under this arrangement, while “America’s general visibility would decline,” its allies and proxies would police the trouble spots on its behalf.

Fifth, the United States must be prepared to defend homeland against potential missile attacks from afar. The United States may be vulnerable to hostile aggressions from afar following North Korea’s successful testing of its long-range rocket last December and Iran’s improved missile capabilities. Thus, improving its missile defense system will allow greater flexibility in America’s strategic responses both at home and abroad.

Last but not least, the United States Armed Forces needs to produce within its ranks officers who are quick to grasp and adapt to fluid geostrategic environments. One solution, as Thomas E. Ricks proposes, would be to resort to a wholesale firing of incompetent generals and admirals. However, it should be noted that rather than addressing the problem, such dismissals would ultimately breed resentment towards not only the senior brass but civilian overseers, which will no doubt exacerbate civil-military relations that has already soured to a considerable degree. Instead, a better alternative would be reform America’s officer training systems so that they may produce commanders who possess not only professional depth but breadth needed to adapt to fluid tactical, operational, and strategic tempos.

ohmanmarchjpg-4e06c3b3e4dd8566

“The US Military Establishment’s Greatest Foes” By Jack Ohman/Tribune Media Services

Despite the hysteric outcries from the service chiefs and many defense analysts, in the end, the sequestration may not be as dire as it sounds. In fact, Gordon Adams argues that after several years of reductions, “the defense budget…creeps upward about half a percentage point every year from FY (Fiscal Year) 2015 to FY 2021.” Simply stated, one way or the other, the US Armed Forces may eventually get what it asks for–as it always has been the case. Nonetheless, the sequestration “ordeal”—if we should call it as such—offers the US military object lessons on frugality and flexibility. Indeed, American generals and admirals would do well to listen to General Mattis who recently admonished them to “stop sucking their thumbs and whining about sequestration, telling the world we’re weak,” and get on with the program.




Posted by Jeong Lee in Air Force, Army, Foreign Policy, Hard Power, Homeland Security, Innovation, Marine Corps, Maritime Security, Navy, Tactics
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  • CitizenDeux

    One more method for cutting costs, accelerating the transition from manned fighter / CAS aircraft will reduce the cost of carrier wings by an order of magnitude. Arguments can be made for pilot presence, however, these elements can be resolved with networked flights tied to a master control aircraft in theater.

    • Landsnark

      That capability doesn’t exist yet. The capabilities of manned aircraft still far exceed those of unmanned aircraft. We are still probably 10-20 years away from seeing the initial UAVs capable of defeating manned aircraft on a continuous basis.

      • CitizenDeux

        I think the key word was accelerating. And you don’t need UAVs to engage manned aircraft, you simply swarm them and voila (post SEAD of course)

  • Kotaku

    “While the SOF and UAV surgical raids should not be viewed as substitutes for deft diplomacy, they can provide cheaper and selective power projection capabilities.”

    But they are viewed as substitutes for diplomacy by our elected leaders. And that’s ultimately who crafts our national security policy

    “Fourth, where rogue states such as Iran, Syria and North Korea, are
    concerned, the United States could implement what General James Mattis refers to as the “proxy strategy.” Under this arrangement, while “America’s general visibility would decline,” its allies and proxies would police the trouble spots on its behalf.”

    Our allies and proxies are NOT going to police trouble spots on our behalf. They have neither the will nor the capabilities to do so without significant help from the U.S. I don’t know why we keep beating this dead horse over and over again.

  • TheMightyQ

    A good topic to discuss, but the author is incorrect on several points.

    1. “It no longer makes sense to deploy or train troops for protracted
    counterinsurgency campaigns or foreign occupations.” This statement ignores significant amounts of history. These concepts are part of the nature of warfare, not a characteristic of modern war.

    2. “Instead, should another transnational terrorist group or a rogue state threaten homeland security, the United States could rely on SOF (Special Operations Forces) commandos and UAV (Unmanned Aerial Vehicles) to selectively target and neutralize potential threats.” SOF and UAVs can be useful against terrorist groups, but are wholly incapable of dealing with another state, and cannot project power, as this author avers. Power projection can only be accomplished at the end of a gun that other people can see regularly.

    3. “The United States Navy…can meet its power projection needs by encouraging cooperation among its sister navies.” This assumes that other countries’ interests intersect with our own. NONSENSE. It was exactly this kind of wishful claptrap (1000 ship navy) that led us down the path to the relatively tiny, overburdened Navy we currently have. Understand this: we cannot depend on foreign nations to come to our aid in combat unless they also find it in their vital interests as well.

    4. “Under this arrangement (the proxy strategy), while ‘America’s general visibility would decline,’ its allies and proxies would police the
    trouble spots on its behalf.” Again, this statement is nothing but wishful thinking, and for the same reasons described immediately above. Separately, if we can convince other nations to act on our behalf, it would be done through great diplomacy, and would not cost the DoD one red cent.

    5. “Fifth, the United States must be prepared to defend homeland against potential missile attacks from afar.” True, but the strategic risk
    associated with not prioritizing missile defense over the next ten years
    is low.

  • Edgar Bates

    “One example of such partnerships would be to form a combined fleet whereby America’s sister navies “may share their unique resources…”
    This notion is logical, but not practical due to the massive imbalance in technology and capability with sister navies, which permits only rudimentary interoperability. A better alternative is for sister navies to assume responsibilities for less high-end missions, especially those that are characteristically more coast guard oriented, like boarding/search/seizure, fisheries violations and other illegal activities.

    • Jeong Lee

      I would have to disagree with you on this. First, many of USN’s sister navies–the Japanese Maritime Self-Defense Force, the ROK Navy, the Royal Canadian Navy, the Royal Thai Navy and the Royal Australian Navy to name a few–regularly conduct joint exercises with USN and have learned to cooperate together. The counter-piracy campaigns in the Gulf of Aden and RIMPAC, Cobra Gold exercises come to mind. Second, many of the aforementioned navies also possess state-of-the-art technologies on a par with the USN surface warfare components. They may not field nuclear submarines with SLBM platforms or naval fighter strike capabilities, but that does not mean that they are somehow less capable.

      • OhWow

        You are correct that many navies around the world come out and conduct exercises with the USN. However, you can not equally weight the effort of the USN to sail from San Diego to South Korea with the ROK Navy efforts to sail from South Korea to (let’s say) Hawaii. That is why these exercises are conducted in their home waters and not ours. We have experience and infrastructure to support trans-oceanic, multi-month deployments; Thailand (for example) does not nor do many of our European allies.
        For most it is a production to conduct a “deployment” lasting 2-4 weeks; four to six months would require capabilities most just simply do not possess.

      • Jeong Lee

        And again, you are wrong about their capabilities. Many of these Asian navies–including JMSDF, ROKN, and RAN–have deployed to HI for RIMPAC exercises. Also, I should add that many of the aforementioned navies have deployed for extended periods of time in counterpiracy operations with CTF 151. So the basis for interoperability is there.

      • OhWow

        Mr Lee, firstly, this was the first time I saw your opinion piece and commented on it. Secondly,
        you did not read what I wrote, carefully. I did not say these smaller navies have not deployed for exercises or limited deployments. I’ve run across some of these navies, many times, far from their home waters (then again the same goes for the U.S. Coast Guard.) None of that changes the point that for these navies, and many others in Europe, South America, and Africa it is a major production to deploy ships away from home waters. Basis of interoperability is not the issue; equipment, infrastructure, (their) foreign policy and more importantly capability (not to mention desire) ARE the issues.

      • Jeong Lee

        JMSDF and the ROKN possess AEGIS-system destroyers and have sophisticated and robust indigenous defense industries. As for their desire to cooperate, I would argue that but for territorial rows, they have worked well under the aegis of the PACFLT.

        Now, I get the feeling that we’re going around in circles. I’m discussing the implications for geostrategy and here you are repeating yourself on tactical and operational minutiniae of America’s sister navies. Given the fact that the DoD is being forced to pare down some of its capabilities, it has to adapt and make do with this reality. And that means, like it or not, our allies have no other recourse but to pick up the pieces.

        The United States cannot play Globocop forever.

      • OhWow

        Mr Lee, what we were talking about is theory versus reality. Now we aren’t.
        Have a good one.

  • Jeong Lee

    I sincerely thank you all for spirited debates and discussions. While many of you bring up interesting points pertaining to tactical and operational minutiniae, I believe that there is something amiss. That is, you folks fail to ask why the US Armed Forces alone should continue to play Globocop when an adroit combination of deft diplomacy and lighter but smarter military can provide homeland security without the need for massive power-projection.

    That said, I welcome an intelligent, AND thoughtful article that can refute my piece with relevant facts. (And judging from the comments below, you have more than enough ammunition for a debate article!) You know what to do! Collect data, do some HARD research, and start writing on this topic and publish your piece!

    Once again, my sincere thanks.

    JL

    • grandpabluewater

      “an adroit combination of deft diplomacy and lighter but smarter military can provide homeland security without the need for massive power projection”
      Nonsense. Assertion is not proof. Any knowlege of the last sixty years of diplomacy and the effectiveness of “light” forces proves the exact opposite.
      Pt the first: Since 1944 the United States of America has enjoyed the massive economic and diplomatic benefits of decisive worldwide maritime supremacy, on tap. Badly eroded, this will end as a result of sequester and follow on budget cutting, which will drop the number and variety of ships in the Navy below that required to stand up Task Forces of sufficient defensive flexibility; and offensive power and depth on the bench; and endurance in the zone of hostilities – among other factors – to deter regional powers from opportunistic conflict in support of local prestige, economic advantage, and ideology.
      Wars occur when diplomacy is not deft and deterrence is not present in the mind of the opposing nation’s rulers (or NGO, e.g. , Al Queda, et al.). I have seen no evidence of the preponderance of diplomatic deftness in my time. Well, Eisenhower…maybe. It’s not the norm and not the way to bet. Mr. Billy Joel exhibits an understanding of this, have you not at least listened to “We Didn’t Start the Fire”?!
      You should know about when naval force (or the show of it) was used over the last 60 odd years overtly; what about the decisive influence of presence? Or to use your pejorative, “Globocop”. You may rest assured, it has often been the thumb that kept the balance in peace and the nation interest’s favor.
      Pt. the second. Lighter is just a euphanism for more vulnerable to enemy action. There are no awards for keeping a tidy battlefield, or finess. You either perform the mission, by hook or crook, or you lose. The cost is measured in blood and treasure.
      Task Force Smith was light. Inchon was heavy. Lee was light. Grant was increasingly heavy. Lend lease made the Red Army heavier than the Wehrmacht.
      Pt the third. Logistics is decisive; logistics is decisive; logistics is decisive. No bucks, no buck rogers, because no logistics. I could go on, for about a week…
      Human nature has not changed. History has not ended. The shadow takes another shape and grows again….(Tolkien).
      You suggest a return to a post Spanish American war paradigm in terms of readiness. It won’t work, no matter how badly some want the money for something else. This is folly, and it will cost us a thousand times what maintenence of Pax Oceana Americana would have.
      In conclusion, nonsense. Dangerous nonsense. You guys never catch wise.

  • RightCowLeftCoast

    The question about the “GlobalCop”, which is a complaint by PaleoConservatives who favor a more isolationist foreign policy, is do we trust other nations to contain the current open free international trade that is underpinned by the United States, and its regional allies, providing the more then less peaceful and stable trading environment that has allowed international trade/commerce to flourish? Furthermore, if we were to diminish our role in maintaining the stable and peaceful trading environment do we trust other nations to take up the roles which we vacate and at the same time not negatively our global interest?
    If we look at what the United States asks for return of the service we have provided from other nations, it is relatively little IMHO. We have not asked for major trading concessions, treaty ports, extraterritorial rights, and other such things that were far more common before the 20th century. Within this stable trading environment PRC has increased its global holdings, and have surpassed Japan and Germany to become the second largest global economy. So I ask everyone here, if say PRC were to take up the role that we presently hold, what positive and negative impacts will occur?

  • Jeong Lee

    I get the impression from reading the responses that many of readers remain fixated on operational and tactical minutiae without seriously reexamining America’s geostrategic roles.

    • grandpabluewater

      Did you fail to read my comment, or just fail to understand it?

      Or is “reexamine America’s stategic roles” mean cut them to match the money left after entitlements, and abandon the step “define the threat based on possible opponent’s capabilities” a geostrategic “role” in your view?
      Question: What do you see as the threat, and the emerging threat.?
      I am unaware of any geostrategic role which considers an undersized, operationally and tactically ineffective Navy and Marine Corps as geostrategically optimum or even survivable.
      Facts please, not impressions.

      • Jeong Lee

        First, there are plenty of geostrategic threats which threaten homeland security at CONUS. Let’s see. Shall we start with home-grown terrorism wherein you had Islamic extremists attempt to inflict harm on unarmed citizens and American troops by way of suicide bombing and CBRNe attacks? Don’t you remember that much has transpired since 9/11, so that you had then-Senator Tom Daschle and President Obama almost being killed by letter bombs? What of Boston Bombing and Nidal Malik Hasan? That doesn’t even take into account the drug wars with the Mexican and Colombian cartels. All these can be countered by beefing up homeland security.

        Second, given that even former SECDEF Bob Gates has repeatedly warned the DoD that Iran and the DPRK may be five years away from perfecting their missile technology–yes, ICBMs!–it makes sense to bolster missile defense even as we attempt to cajole and flatter them by way of diplomacy.

        Third, the US is likely to encounter more cyber attacks either from China, Iran or DPRK. I don’t suppose you fail to remember that the Chinese and the North Koreans have attempted to hack into our systems? Or do you? That said, we need to strengthen our cyber capabilities.

        The Chinese try to counter our “pivot to Asia” strategy with A2/AD precisely because they feel cornered and threatened–NOT because they want to take over East Asia, or for that matter, CONUS.

        The United States military isn’t going to die out or become paralyzed just because it spends slightly more than what the Chinese spend on defense. It has to adapt and become more agile. It doesn’t have to be all over the map, but selective about where it chooses to fight. Your alarmist reactions just prove that the military may be incapable of imaginative and flexible problem-solving.

        Look, if you want any meaningful discourse with me, I’d appreciated if you show me some courtesy. You wanted facts, so I gladly obliged. Now, I suggest you quit pestering me.

    • Eric J

      No I understand exactly what your saying but I don’t Special Operations & Proxies in & of themselves are enough.

      Proxies are good option but unreliable, look at Tora Bora & countless other actions after, which is why the US eventually had to put grunts on the ground.

      The answer is to move GPF Infantry into Quasi-SOF. Provides more boots on the ground to perform the tedious “Grunt Work” yet still operate in space allowing SOF to concentrate on Specialized Tasks.

      But in the era of doing more with less the USMC must start SELECTING Infantrymen to an Enhanced Infantry & stop FILLING SLOTS!

      • Jeong Lee

        I never said that SOF was to occupy and hold the ground. Even the lame FM 3-24 is correct to caution against that.

      • Eric J

        Not saying you did.

        But when the answer (ground side) for innovation in the era of Sequestration is SOF (harvesting the power of UAVs) & Proxies it over looks the largest opportunity for growth & innovation, the GPF.

        I was pointing out the tendency in think tanks, including this piece, to look to SOF for the Ground Side answers.

        What the early stages of Afghanistan showed was, yes small teams leveraging Airpower is devastating (the USMC had already proved that in ’97 with Hunter-Warrior) along with a Proxy force. But in the end it proved inadequate having to then bring in the Infantry.

        However when the Infantry was brought in it was evident that there was a huge gap in capability & application between the two forces. The fluidity, spacing, & speed of Ops slowed. This is the real opportunity on the ground side to see the most gain.

        Which leads to my point; this period of budget cuts needs to be the catalyst to invest in an Enhanced Infantry. One that can move with the speed of SOF, at distance, with as light a footprint, & can leverage Airpower.

        The blueprint is already there in the form of the Disturbed Ops Plt.

        P.S. That “!” in the previous post was not directed at you but the Marine Corps.

      • Jeong Lee

        Enhanced or light infantry is a solid idea. Especially, more so now that they’re slashing the number of infantry battalions. Which makes me wonder, how do you rate the efficacy and competence of the Marine Special Operations Regiment? Why not convert the infantry battalions into SO Battalions, assuming they work wonders?

      • Jeong Lee

        I cannot reply to your comment as it is still pending moderation. But yes, you should do an article on this subject. You have enough material on this as it is. And I look forward to reading it. Are you a Marine infantry officer, by the way?

  • Eric J

    Just to expand on “The Mighty Q”‘s post. SOF are great in their roles: Clandestine/Covert Actions, Foreign Advisory, Crisis Response; not Power Projection or seizing & holding ground, that’s the realm of Infantry.

    This however leads to a thread I had with ROBERT KOSLOWSKI about the role of an Enhanced Infantry.

    SOF can’t be an end all be all answer, that would move them out of the realm of “Special Operations Forces” & into the realm of “General Purpose Forces”. The problem is there’s currently a gap between SOF & GPFs that needs to be closed by the GPF.

    The USMC can play several roles to close that gap & there by fill current holes in National Security.

    Currently the USMC is geared towards Expeditionary, High Intensity Combat/Major Combat Operations with a Task Organized MAGTF capability built around an Infantry core that can take on Crisis Response  & some Specialized/Low Intensity Tasks. This however won’t be good enough to close the gap both to take the burden off SOF & be a viable option.

    -1st, The USMC could adopt the Distributed Operations Rifle Plt as envisioned by Hagee & Mattis, which deployed to Afghanistan in ’06, as the model.

    -2nd, change to an Infantry Selection process based off of OCS’s Infantry Officers Course Indoc which selects Infantrymen based off of Endurance, Fortitude, & the ability Operate Independently with minimal direction.

    -3rd, make the GySgt the Plt Sgt, move the SSgt to Plt Guide, train the SSgt/Plt Guide as a JTAC,  sustain training as GySgt/Plt Sgt making two trained JTACs per Plt. (the 2006 Distributed Ops Plt had the SSgt/Plt Sgt & Lieutenant/Plt Cmdr both trained as JTACs).

    -4th, Increased trigger time & the Individual Engagement skill in Combat Marksmanship. An Enhanced Rifle Plt should get the same trigger time as a Trailer Plt.

    -5th, provide more Specialized Duty Assignments. A few current examples are: FAST Teams, Embassy Security Group, Marine Security Augmentation Unit, Presidential Compound Security, & the former FMTU (filled the void for SOF trainers which formed on short notice) to name a few.

    Personal Security Details, SOF teams often get bogged down with these missions often, 4-5man tms lead by E-7s & 8s. Some very high profile missions would be better handled by SOF but senior Marines could free up to 60-70% of the missions in the low-mid tier. They would be 2-4 yr Special Duty Assignments.

    Also when you look at Benghazi there were two compounds. One was a CIA Station, the other was a deliberately low key DOS Mission. The sensitivity of the operation didn’t lend itself to the usual overt Marine Security presence. Those PSDs of Senior Marines could also partner with the CIA or State for security at sensitive sites.

    -6th, Enabler Detachments. During Det-1′s Deployment in ’04 SOCOM was impressed with the DA/SR capability of the Reconnaissance section what they really wanted to get their hands on was the Enablers which in the report released by the JSOU stated MAGTF’s routinely deploy with assets only found in Tier 1 SMUs.

    Before anyone says we already deploy Enablers to SOCOM: 1) They’re a very small Det mainly for the support of MSOR, & 2) They’re permanently attached to SOCOM for 5 years. This Det would be Operationally attached to SOCOM on a rotational basis every 6mths.

    • Eric J

      The USMC is about to lose at least 27,000 Marines, 50% will be Infantry. Currently the 1st ones to re-enlist with a clean record gets the boatspace..why?? Why not let an Infantry Selection Process weed out that 10,000+.

      The Commandant recently announced we’re down to 21 Inf BNs. 15-18 Enhanced Infantry BN’s would go a long way into Smart Power smooth flow from SOF to GPF to MCOs, Phases 0-4.

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