Archive for the 'Strategy' Tag

11th

The Cyber Dragon

July 2016

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An excerpt of this article was published in the July issue of Proceedings. The full article is provided here for further context and explanation. This article does not reflect the views of the Department of Defense, Department of the Navy or U.S. Cyber Command.

China and the United States appear to be engaged in a long-term competition, and one area of particular concern is cyberspace. What used to be considered a significant, overwhelming advantage of U.S. military capabilities relative to the rest of the world, including China, has recently been called into question. Recent Chinese military writings confirm the centrality of cyberspace operations to the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) concepts of “informationized warfare.” This paper examines Chinese writing on these concepts. It proposes that China has been actively seeking to position its sources of information power to enable it to ideally “win without fighting” or if necessary, win a short, overwhelming victory for Chinese forces. It concludes with some recommendations for how the U.S. might counter China’s informationized war strategy.

Chinese Strategic Thinking and “Informationized War”

There’s a war out there, old friend. A world war. And it’s not about who’s got the most bullets. It’s about who controls the information. What we see and hear, how we work, what we think… it’s all about the information!

-Cosmo, from the movie “Sneakers”, 1992

You may not be interested in war, but war is interested in you.

-Leon Trotsky (1879-1940)

Chinese military and strategic thought is markedly different from Western tradition. Fundamentally, China views the natural state of the world as one of “conflict and competition” rather peace and cooperation. The goal of Chinese strategy is to “impose order through hierarchy.”[1] The natural conclusion is that due to this state, the world needs global powers, perhaps even a super power, to manage the conflict and competition and bring harmony. Timothy Thomas has identified several components to Chinese military thinking, to include: [2]

  1. A more broad and analytic framework that holistically incorporates information-age strategy;
  2. While remaining prominently Marxist, it “examines the strategic environment through the lens of objective reality and applies subjective judgment to manipulate that environment to one’s advantage”;
  3. The use of stratagems integrated with technological innovation, creating a hybrid combination targeting the adversary’s decision-making process to induce the enemy to make decisions China wants;
  4. The constant search for shi, or strategic advantage. Shi is thought to be everywhere, “whether it be with the use of forces, electrons, or some other aspect of the strategic environment”; and
  5. The object of “deceptively making someone do something ostensibly for himself, when he is actually doing it for you.”

Shi is the “concept born of disposition … of a process that can evolve to our advantage if we make opportune use of its propensity.” Chinese military thought seems to differ from Clausewitz, becoming focused on shi where Clausewitz finds “ends” and “means” as the most important. Shi aims to use “every possible means to influence the potential inherent in the forces at play” to its own advantage, before any engagement or battle takes place. Therefore, the engagement never actually constitutes the decisive battle that Clausewitz envisions, because it has already been won.[3]

Chinese military writing contemplates war transitioning to an “informationized” state “in which informationized operations is the main operation form and information is the leading factor in gaining victory.” Information is a resource to be harvested and exploited, as well as denied to the enemy or manipulated for advantage. Nations and militaries “can be wealthy or poor in this resource. Overall wealth in information is what will ultimately matter most in peacetime competitions, crises or military conflicts.” [4]

China considers herself at an information disadvantage, so her use of information harvesting and exploitation in cyberspace align with her strategic intention. Thomas likens it to three faces of a “cyber dragon”: peace activist, spook and attacker. The peace activist is the face of the dragon concerned with internal and external soft power (improving China’s image, respect and perhaps fear or awe of China abroad, while remaining on guard internally against a Chinese version of an “Arab Spring” or “Orange Revolution”). The spook is the uses of cyber techniques to not only acquire information but also to reconnoiter adversary information systems, perhaps laying the groundwork for future attack or deterrence capabilities. The attacker face uses offensive capabilities and concepts to deter, or if necessary, paralyze the information capabilities of the adversary. The goal is that these three faces “work in harmony to achieve dominance over any potential adversary.”[5]

People’s Liberation Army (PLA) books such as the Academy of Military Sciences’ Science of Military Strategy and Ye Zheng’s Lecture on the Science of Information Operations “reflect a consensus among Chinese strategists that modern war cannot be won without first controlling the network domain.” This tracks with current U.S. doctrine that emphasizes dominance in the network domain as “central to deterring Chinese forces and protecting U.S. interests in the event of crisis or conflict.”[6]

Importantly, PLA writers emphasize first strike and first mover advantage in the network domain to “degrade or destroy the adversary’s information support infrastructure and lessen their ability to retaliate.” This creates strong incentive to strike in the network domain just prior to the formal onset of hostilities.[7] China’s lines of effort in support of this strategy include:

  1. Gaining information through reconnaissance of cyber systems, and manipulating or influencing Western or American perception and technology to establish strategic advantage;
  2. Using that reconnaissance information to position its forces, to locate vulnerabilities, and be in a position to conduct system sabotage;
  3. In a crisis, using system sabotage to either render information technology systems impotent, or expose strategic cyber geography to establish offensive cyber deterrence.[8]

Chinese writers publicly state that China lacks the ability to successfully launch a first strike at the present time. This is because they believe that Chinese networks are constantly penetrated by adversaries, and because of U.S./western control of most of the Internet’s core architecture. PLA writers do recognize the vulnerabilities of relying on Western technology supply chains for hardware and software operating systems.[9]

Chinese writings suggest information is the bonding agent for strategic action from which China will be able to amass enough power that it will be unnecessary for her to use military force to accomplish her objectives. If force is necessary, China will be in such an advantageous position that the military conflict will be a forgone conclusion. Consider the game of chess. Andrew Marshall, former Director of the Office of Net Assessment, noted that “most of the game is not directly aimed at checkmating the opponent’s king. Instead, the early and middle parts of the contest are about building a more advantageous position from which checkmating the opponent almost plays itself out.”[10] Indeed this is why most competitive games of chess end not in checkmate, but rather concession or a draw. The player on the losing end knows that he or she will lose, perhaps in a finite number of moves.

Recently, the Chinese political and military leadership established a new unit within the PLA to enhance its cyber operations capabilities, space operations and cyber espionage. This new unit, called the “Strategic Support Force,” is part of a larger military reorganization program. In some ways, it might be seen as a counter to the establishment in the United States of U.S. Cyber Command. Along with hoped for improvements to China’s already formidable cyber offensive and defensive capabilities, the unit will also focus on space assets and global positioning services, as well as interference with RADAR and communications.[11] This is a clear sign of the importance that the leadership places on fighting and winning in the information domain.

Beyond its military activities, China’s information control system remains critical to ensuring regime survival. However, understanding this system is made more difficult by the fact that the PRC goes to great lengths to “deliberately and systematically attempt to control how China is understood by both foreigners and Chinese alike,” according to Christopher Ford.[12] He goes on to note:

The modern Chinese information space remains a controlled one, subject to pervasive government monitoring and censorship, widespread and increasingly sophisticated methods of media-savvy opinion management, and the ever-present possibility that the citizenry will face penalties for venturing too far beyond the bounds of the CCP’s official line.[13]

Diplomatic and international policies are also built around giving China maneuvering room to interpret norms, rules and standards to serve domestic needs, principally through the primacy of state sovereignty. China must constantly seek to balance economic growth with maintaining the Party’s grip on power. Not only is Internet usage controlled and censored, but it is also a tool for state propaganda.[14] Chinese “journalists” are, to a large degree, arms of the Chinese propaganda system, transmitting the official “party line” to the population, while at the same time providing feedback “to the leaders on the public’s feelings and behavior.”[15]

Chinese authorities use a number of techniques to control the flow of information. All Internet traffic from the outside world must pass through one of three large computer centers in Beijing, Shanghai and Guangzhou – the so-called “Great Firewall of China.” Inbound traffic can be intercepted and compared to a regularly updated list of forbidden keywords and websites and the data blocked.[16]

Within China, the government heavily regulates and monitors Internet service providers, cafes and university bulletin board systems. It requires registration of websites and blogs, and has conducted a number of high profile arrests and crackdowns on both dissidents and Internet service providers. This “selective targeting” has created an “undercurrent of fear and promoted self-censorship.” The government employs thousands of people who monitor and censor Internet activity as well as promote CCP propaganda.[17]

While the CCP retains the ability to shut down entire parts of the information system, to include Internet, cell phone, text messaging and long-distance communication, it truly prefers to “prevent such incidents from occurring in the first place. And here lies the real strength of the system.”[18] The “self-censorship that the government promotes among individuals and domestic Internet providers is now the primary regulating and control method over cyberspace and has experienced great success.”[19]

China has long been rightfully accused of being a state sponsor of cybercrime and intellectual property theft . This has led to a high level of domestic cybercrime “due in large part to rampant use and distribution of pirated technology,” which creates vulnerabilities. It is estimated that 54.9 percent of computers in China are infected with viruses, and that 1,367 out of 2,714 government portals examined in 2013 “reported security loopholes.”[20] Chinese networks themselves, by virtue of their size and scope, may represent a gaping vulnerability.

Options for the U.S.

Both the 2015 National Security Strategy and 2015 DoD Cyber Strategy state that the U.S. desires to “deter” or “prevent” China from using cyberspace to conduct malicious activity. To do so, the United States may want to consider strategies which have the following desired outcomes:

  1. Build up Chinese confidence that they are achieving their goals and devote resources to attacking networks where the United States wants them to be;
  2. Increase ambiguity in China’s understanding of the information they are able to acquire;
  3. Introduce doubt in China believing it has the ability to disrupt American information networks; and
  4. Force China to expend more resources focused inward to controlling information within China that threatens Communist Party control.

Unlike the other domains, cyberspace is entirely man-made and the physical properties which characterize it can be altered, almost at will and instantaneously. Traditional geographic constraints do not apply, and we can alter the cyber strategic geography to reinforce American competitive advantages that can aid in achieving some of the goals mentioned above.

For example, many American networks that interest Chinese cyber forces reside on public and commercial Internet service provider (ISP) backbones, such as those owned by Verizon and AT&T, and use commercially available equipment, like Cisco routers. We like to think of “cyberspace” or “the Internet” as being a “global commons,” (see the 2015 NSS), but in reality, nearly all the physical infrastructure and equipment is privately owned and subject to manipulation. The information itself travels on electrons, which can also be manipulated.

The U.S. might develop alternative information pathways and networks, perhaps solely owned and operated by the government or military and not connected to the public ISP backbone. By keeping the existence of a separate network a secret, China may continue to devote resources to attacking and exploiting existing government networks residing on public ISP’s. Alternatively, the U.S. could permit China to acquire access to this surreptitious network in order to feed it deceptive information. In either case, the Chinese regime’s confidence in its ability to disrupt or deceive U.S. information networks could be placed in doubt at a time of our choosing.

Existing information networks could be made more resilient. Peter Singer recommends that we think about resilience in terms of both systems and organizations. He identifies three elements underpinning resiliency: the capacity to work under degraded conditions, the ability to recover quickly if disrupted, and the ability to “learn lessons to better deal with future threats.”[21]

The DoD can also play a role by establishing more consistent network security standards. Cleared defense contractors (CDC), such as Lockheed Martin, Northrup Grumman and Boeing for example, are priority targets for espionage. The DoD can leverage its buying power to mandate accountability, not only for the products developed by the contractors, but also for the security of the information networks they use. It can work to bring “transparency and accountability to the supply chain” to include using agreed-upon standards, independent evaluation, and accreditation and certification of trusted delivery systems. It should address supply chain risk mitigation best practices to all contracting companies and the Department.[22] Resiliency, risk mitigation and security can reduce China’s confidence that it can successfully execute system sabotage or offensive deterrence.

Another strategy might be to develop capabilities that permit the U.S. to execute cyber blockades or create cyber exclusion zones. A cyber blockade is a “situation rendered by an attack on cyber infrastructure or systems that prevents a state from accessing cyberspace, thus preventing the transmission (ingress/egress) of data beyond a geographical boundary.” Alison Lawlor Russell has researched the potential of blockades, carefully examining case studies of Russian attacks on Georgia in 2008 and Estonia in 2012, and comparing them to more traditional maritime blockades and “no fly zones.” She notes that it is a “legitimate tool of international statecraft … consistent with other types of blockades” and can be, though not always, considered an act of war.”[23] Cyber exclusion zones seek to deny a specific area of cyberspace to the adversary, sometimes as a form of self-defense.[24]

As previously stated, China’s information strategy is designed foremost to ensure regime survival. It has erected a massive information control system for the purpose of monitoring, filtering and controlling information within China and between China and the world. The Chinese Communist Party spends more money and resources on domestic security and surveillance than the PLA.[25] Clearly, in the minds of the Chinese Communist Party, information control is a critical vulnerability. Therefore strategies which seek to keep China focused inward may be advantageous. The U.S. might invest in technologies which can be easily inserted into the Chinese market that encrypt communication or permit Chinese users to bypass government monitors. Targeting China’s information control regime should align with current and historic cultural proclivities. For example, environmental degradation, corruption and an urban-rural divide are areas of concern for the Chinese people. Sophisticated highlighting of these issues put pressure on the Communist Party.

The U.S. will not be as successful if does not address the modern, “informationized” concept of war. This should not be taken as a call to change our understanding of war or its nature. War remains violent and brutal, and should be avoided when possible. But the use of information to exploit the adversary and achieve strategic advantage is not being addressed by strategic and military planners as well as it might. Information capabilities in the electromagnetic spectrum, cyberspace, and elsewhere remain stove-piped and walled off from planners. The Department of Defense (and the U.S. government) continues to treat information as a separate compartmented capability rather than treat it holistically – a resource that supports our national security.

The 2015 DoD Cyber Strategy does make mention of force planning, to include the training and equipping of cyber forces. However, cyberspace is just one part of the information domain. We need to better integrate the growth in advanced technology into planning, not just acquisition. We need to consider the impact of dual use technology and its proliferation worldwide, not just to China. We must consider the implications of Chinese information technology companies providing goods and services in the U.S. – especially to the U.S. government. The DoD should develop human capital investment strategies that leverage America’s strengths, and consider new ways to recruit, train and keep the best and brightest in the military, intelligence and national security communities. Just as the “space race” of the Cold War ushered in the modern “Information Age,” .

Conclusion

China’s use of cyberspace operations to support her strategic goals is like the canary in the coal mine. While the U.S. maintains several competitive advantages, it is clear that China is investing large amounts of time, energy, people and resources to achieve her strategic desires, probably within our lifetime. Yet there is reason for the U.S. to be hopeful. It engaged in a long-term competition with the Soviet Union, and was ultimately victorious. This competition was not so long ago, and America has a wealth of talented veterans in the military, civilian and academic worlds who know what it takes to engage in a long-term competition with a rival while trying to avoid a shooting war.

 

[1] Jacqueline N. Deal, “Chinese Concepts of Deterrence and Their Practical Implications for the United States,” (Washington, DC: Long Term Strategy Group, 2014).

[2] Timothy L. Thomas, “China’s Concept of Military Strategy,” Parameters 44, no. 4 (2014-15).

[3] Francois Jullien, The Propensity of Things: Toward a History of Efficacy in China (New York: Zone Books, 1999). p. 34-38.

[4] Barry D. Watts, “Countering Enemy Informationized Operations in Peace and War,” (Washington, DC: Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments, 2014).

[5] Timothy L. Thomas, Three Faces of the Cyber Dragon: Cyber Peace Activist, Spook, Attacker (Ft. Leavenworth: Foreign Military Studies Office, 2012).

[6] Joe McReynolds et al., “Termite Electron: Chinese Military Computer Network Warfare Theory and Practice,” (Vienna, VA: Center for Intelligence Research and Analysis, 2015).

[7] Ibid.

[8] Timothy L. Thomas. China’s Cyber Incursions. Fort Leavenworth: Foreign Military Studies Office, 2013.

[9] Ibid.

[10] Watts, “Countering Enemy Informationized Operations in Peace and War.”

[11] (Rajagopalan 2016)

[12] Christopher A. Ford, China Looks at the West: Identity, Global Ambitions, and the Future of Sino-American Relations (Lexington: University of Kentucky Press, 2015). p. 13-14

[13] Ibid.

[14] Rebecca MacKinnon,. “Flatter World and Thicker Walls? Blogs, Censorship and Civic Discourse in China.” Public Choice 134 (2008): 31-46.

[15] Ford, p. 19-21.

[16] Michael Wines, Sharon LaFraniere, and Jonathan Ansfield. “China’s Censors Tackle and Trip Over the Internet.” The New York Times. April 7, 2010.

[17] Thomas Lum, , Patricia Moloney Figliona, and Matthew C. Weed. China, Internet Freedom, and U.S. Policy. Report for Congress, Washington, D.C.: Congressional Research Service, 2013.

[18] Ford, p. 32.

[19] Ibid. P. 38

[20] Amy Chang. Warring State: China’s Cybersecurity Strategy. Washington, D.C.: Center for a New American Security, 2014.

[21] P.W. Singer and Allan Friedman, Cybersecurity and Cyberwar: What Everyone Needs to Know (New York: Oxford University Press, 2014). p. 170-171

[22] Ibid., p. 202-205.

[23] Alison Lawlor Russell, Cyber Blockades (Washington DC: Georgetown University Press, 2014). p. 144-145.

[24] Ibid., p. 146-147.

[25] Chang.



The centre pieces of the future Royal Navy, without enough Type 26 Frigates to provide for wider presence and escort, or combat aircraft, they will be very much limited in terms of providing the capability Britain needs from them.

The centre pieces of the future Royal Navy, without enough Type 26 Frigates to provide for wider presence and escort, or combat aircraft, they will be very much limited in terms of providing the capability Britain needs from them.1

In 1814, when the Napoleonic Wars were coming to an end, British Defence expenditure accounted for 21.8% of Gross Domestic Product (GDP) and 64.9% of Total Government Expenditure (TGE).2 In 1914 at the beginning of World War I it accounted for 3.2% of GDP and 40.1% of TGE. In contrast, in 2014, after years of fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan, with pirates operating on both the East and West Coasts of Africa attacking ocean trade, a greatly more pro-active Russia, on-going disputes and troubles affecting key allies in the Middle East and Far East, and territorial disputes in the Falklands and Gibraltar constantly recycling, British Defence Expenditure accounted for 2.1% of GDP and 4.4% of TGE. The difference of course reflects, the growth in other areas of government expenditure, i.e. National Health, and welfare, but also a change in the subject of the defence debate.

In the early 1800s the debate was whether to pursue a ‘Continental’ (Army to fight in Europe) or ‘Blue Water’ (Navy to blockade Napoleon and his allies in Europe, while transporting the Army around the world to acquire colonies, and other resources) strategy; these were ideas which divided the nation, and that caused much heated discussion – not only in parliament, but also across the great houses, coffee houses and ale houses of the whole country. In the early 1900s, the age of Dreadnought battleships, machine guns and high explosive, but alongside this often very technical discussions of specific weaponry, there was still the strategic debate going on – of whether to focus resources on Europe or to look to the rest of the world. On both occasions, the reality that was perceived, was that it was necessary to be able to do both, to a lesser or greater extent and this is reflected in the relative budgets allocated to the two services.

Recently the defence debate in Britain has stopped the discussion of strategy, and equipment (baring Trident), instead it is an almost constant discussion of the % of GDP allocated to defence. Furthermore, this debate often revolves around the figure of 2%, the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation minimum, and any difference from this figure is obsessed over – whether positive or negative. The reality though is this is an artificial debate, its focusing on spending as aim in itself, rather than spending in terms of what is procured, and as such obscures the debate which should be taking place. In actuality, for defence (as with all government spending), Britain needs to debate, and then decide what is needs to do, and what it would like to do; only when these things have been decided must the decision as to what needs to be paid for and how much should be paid be decided.

The first question is the most difficult, as it can depend upon perspective, after all it can be reduced to the just the territorial integrity of the nation; which at its base point, could be defended on an international level by the strategic deterrent, and some form of reserve army – to deal with possible internal disruption caused by extremists. That though is rather simple, and relies upon a nation resorting to nuclear weapons the moment they are threatened – a powder-keg situation, that could come to put the nation at more risk than protect it.

The situation becomes even more complex when factoring in the island Britain’s reliance upon imported food and energy,3 as well as its economic reliance upon global trade;4 defending these is more difficult and requires a wider range of military capabilities. It requires a global presence (if decisions are made by those who show up; interests can only be protected by those who are present) which can be provided simply by suitably equipped ships, but in certain regions may be judged to require a larger commitment, i.e. a port agreement, air base or even possibly a garrison. It could also require allies, which of course entails further capabilities and political agreements being necessary; as collective defence is only truly effective when all members of the collective contribute – there will be some members more capable than others, but it will only work if all members are able to live up to their commitments. Ultimately, the capabilities required for this are some form of presence, and some form of ‘reach’ – i.e. a capability such as that offered by aircraft carriers, and amphibious forces, a deployable force that is capable of providing assistance allies, reaction to events and an escalation in presence to deter potential aggression.

The second question, comes down to choice, what does Britain want to be able to do? Does it want to be able to conduct conflict stabilisation operations? In which case should the number of infantry battalions, and military police be maintained or even supplemented further by reservists? Does Britain want to be able to provide significant ground forces for allied operations? If so then should then cutting the number of main battle tanks would seem illogical. Does it want to be able to conduct interventions independently? In which case, the decision has to be made as to what level of opponent is anticipated, and from there what composition/quantity/quality of forces will subsequently be required. These are decisions which have to be made, not muddled, as once they are made then the personnel, the equipment, the training has to be made, undertaken and paid for.

The third and fourth questions are in many ways the most to address, as they put to one side the almost traditional belief that British governments have practiced since 1918 – that the best defence is a strong economy. They put aside this idea, because the decision makes defence not an issue of economy, but an issue of security and strategy. By asking these questions it is acknowledged that no matter how successful the bank is, if it doesn’t pay its taxes, and support a decent police force, it will get robbed. The final amount that needs to be paid may be less than 2% of GDP, it will probably be at least slightly more, but it won’t be being spent because of some artificial logic based on treaty – but will be being spent because of a proper, thorough, public debate that has decided what is necessary, what is needed and therefore what should be done. Unless Britain’s defence debate learns from its past, and returns to strategy, technology, in other words capability! Instead of the simplistic and false debate about % of GDP; the British Armed Forces, will never have a hope of being what they are needed to be, when they are needed.

Such a debate though is not only required by Britain, it also required by allies; in an age of austerity, where the cost of everything is debated it becomes more important than ever that the value is also understood. This can not be provided by a debate taking place in the abstract and focused on %, it can only be done by a thorough and open debate that goes into the detail, of interests, of capabilities and of technicalities.


  1. Clarke, Alexander. 2014. “We have the centrepiece…but what about the rest of the board?” European Geostrategy. 4 July. Accessed February 17, 2015. http://www.europeangeostrategy.org/2014/07/centrepiecebut-rest-board/, and Clarke, Alexander. 2015. “What to do about the Disappearing Royal Navy….” U.S. Naval Institute Blog. 22 January. Accessed February 17, 2015. https://blog.usni.org/2015/01/22/what-to-do-about-the-disappearing-royal-navy 

  2. Mitchell, B. R. 2011. British Historical Statistics. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, and Chantrill, Christopher. 2015. ukpublicspending.co.uk. Accessed February 13, 2015. http://www.ukpublicspending.co.uk/ 

  3. Wright, Oliver. 2014. “Britain’s food self-sufficiency at risk from reliance on overseas imports of fruit and vegetables that could be produced at home.” The Independent. July 01. Accessed February 13, 2015. http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/politics/britains-food-selfsufficiency-at-risk-from-reliance-on-overseas-imports-of-fruit-and-vegetables-that-could-be-produced-at-home-9574238.html 

  4. Osborne, Alistair. 2011. “Britain’s reliance on sea trade ‘set to soar’.” The Telegraph. August 12. Accessed February 13, 2015. http://www.telegraph.co.uk/finance/newsbysector/transport/8696607/Britains-reliance-on-sea-trade-set-to-soar.html, and Duncan, Hugo. 2013. “British exports to countries outside EU soar to record £80BILLION as economy reduces dependence on Europe.” Mail Online. August 9. Accessed February 13, 2015. http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2388429/British-exports-countries-outside-EU-soar-record-80BILLION-economy-reduces-dependence-Europe.html 



seacontrol2Tiago Alexandre Fernandes Maurício, associate editor for our Forgotten Naval Strategists Week, joins us from Tokyo to discuss Fernando Oliveira and our other Forgotten Naval strategists – as well as how these strategists become “forgotten.” There’s a bit of Peloponnesian War thrown in too… just because.

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Note: Thanks to Sam LaGrone for the kickin’ new tunes.



A couple of weeks ago the U.S. Naval War College hosted the Current Strategy Forum, 2014. It was a two day conference which brought the soon-to-be graduates of the War College programs together with fleet planners and strategists, some of the world’s top scholars, and a few of us strap hangers to discuss maritime and military strategy in the 21st century. The lectures and panels were all livestreamed and then posted to Youtube, so you can watch them yourself here.

One of the things Admiral Greenert said, and was repeated a number of times by the other Admirals, was that the OPNAV staff is looking for help in working on the new iteration of the Cooperative Strategy for 21st Century Seapower (CS21). One of the things the organizers of the conference failed to offer, however, was an obvious outlet to provide the feedback. This is reflected in some of the internet “after action” writing, including a post written with obvious frustration by a War College student and published at Steeljaw Scribe and CDR Salamander.

Luckily, the anonymous student stumbled upon the perfect way to provide the feedback: writing about it. CAPT “Barney” Rubel (ret), the outgoing Dean of Naval Warfare Studies in Newport, points this out in his recent monograph “Writing to Think.” He tells us that taking the time to sit down and write about professional subjects like strategy has the ability to clarify and organize things, making our thoughts more useful.

Dispositions of Navies

One of the names which came up a few times at Current Strategy Forum was Alfred Thayer Mahan. One of the godfathers of the Naval War College and professional military education, his name has also become a nearly mandatory cliché when discussing naval strategy. Much of the Mahanian discussion focuses on “The Influence of Sea Power Upon History.” Because of the book’s focus on the age of sail we hear that it’s a shame he didn’t write something more useful for us in the 21st century. If only he had written something relevant to navies with engines instead of sails, that discussed how to dispose of a global fleet in a time of relative peace, with rising great powers. If only.

In 1901 Mahan wrote an essay for the British journal National Review entitled “Considerations Governing the Dispositions of Navies.” It was a study of why, where and how a nation should exercise their naval forces in times of relative peace, “for the dispositions of peace should bear a close relation to the contingency of war.” While the essay is little known compared to his seminal book, the noted strategist of the 1930s and 1940s Herbert Rosinski wrote it was probably some of Mahan’s best work. It gets directly to the heart of the questions a document like CS21 must answer, what are the ideas which govern how we deploy and use our fleet today?

Three Thoughts from The Prophet

The first thing Mahan calls for in his essay is “an antecedent appreciation of the political, commercial, and military exigencies of the state.” At the turn of the 20th century the world was experiencing globalization with an unprecedented scale and speed. Mahan believed any strategic appreciation of how or why to use navies had to be informed by that reality. Because naval power plays a role in military affairs, commercial or economic interests, and the political or diplomatic interaction between states, they should be seen as “an articulated whole,” and all three must be addressed by today’s strategic thinkers. The drafters of a strategic document like CS21 must consider these three factors, and should explain how the Navy views its interaction with each of them individually, as well as a whole, around the globe today.

Another area of the essay for today’s writers to consider is Mahan’s discussion of forward deployed naval forces. Mahan believed America was safest when threats were dealt with far from our own shores. That required not just a navy, but a forward deployed navy which was able to respond quickly because it already had presence around the world. He also highlighted the relationship between offense and defense in naval war, a balance that was a bit different than the way land power strategists have thought about it.

Mahan reminds his readers, “he who has but half way to go does double the work.” Because of this, he writes that the locations for overseas bases are critical and must be selected with strategic elements in mind. He touches on the maintenance of allies and partners as well as the facilities needed to repair and resupply ships in theater, rather than always having to bring them back to the United States. In modern terms he’s talking about the value of forward basing and forward stationing and some of his ideas will likely have direct relevance to those who are working on CS21.

The final element of “Considerations Governing the Dispositions of Navies” I will point out is Mahan’s discussion of technology and fleet constitution. One of the pieces of conventional wisdom about the great navalist is that he was a bit of a Luddite and did not understand the advance of technology, or its importance to naval operations. Thinking about it for a moment, it seems a bit silly to suggest an officer whose career straddled the shift from sail to steam wouldn’t understand how technology impacts naval affairs. In his essay Mahan’s writing also helps to dispel some of that myth.

The airplane and the tactically useable submarine were still a few years away when he wrote the piece. However, he does discuss the importance of the new wireless telegraph technology. He suggests that by using their radios ships could network together and cover much larger distances. Scouting (or what we today call ISR) could be impacted dramatically and the wireless would present the ability for numerous small ships to come together and operate as a massed and coordinated group when needed, but also provide the ability for them to disperse for presence operations.

Importantly, Mahan also discusses the constitution of the fleet. The kinds of ships a naval force needs, the balance of numbers or types, is a vital part of any vision for naval affairs or sea power. In the 21st century we add aircraft, submarines and other platforms and systems to the question as well. Starting with Mahan’s outline isn’t a bad idea. We are commonly taught he was a battleship man and was focused on big guns and big ships. His writing in this essay clears up some of that conventional wisdom as well. Mahan wrote a Navy needed three elements which made up a balanced fleet. The battle fleet was the obvious starting point and required battleships and armament which could defeat another nation’s fleet. Mahan also wrote that a navy needs numerous cruisers to work with the battle fleet, but which can also deploy independently for the protection of commerce and naval diplomacy. Finally, Mahan suggested a balanced naval force required small craft which could serve as scouts as well as move toward the shore and serve in close to the enemy’s coast.

Mahan was writing about ships, but obviously today aircraft and submarines can complete some of the tasks he discusses, though not all of them. A new version of CS21 will require a discussion of fleet constitution and technology, but it must focus on the “why.” At the very end of his essay Mahan points out that after the qualitative must come the quantitative. Establishing how many ships and assets you need is a vital part of peacetime naval policy.

Sea Power and the 21st Century

Reading Alfred Thayer Mahan’s work will not provide a prescription for today’s issues or a checklist the drafters of a new CS21 should follow. One of the other great myths about Mahan is that his purpose was to provide step by step instructions for maritime success. He is frequently called the Jomini of naval strategy. But Mahan didn’t believe in checklists, he didn’t believe in maxims as hard and fast rules. When he used words like principles or maxims, he was describing historical precedents providing naval officers and strategists with ideas to consider. He wrote the purpose of studying and learning historical principles isn’t to tell you exactly what to do to get things right, it’s to give you a hint that you’re about to do something wrong.

The officers working on the new document likely already have many of these concepts in mind. However, there is a great deal more in “Considerations Governing the Dispositions of Navies” which the modern navy can learn from. I’ve just highlighted three elements I think are particularly interesting and relevant to CS21. But don’t trust me, read Mahan himself. You can find the essay either in Chapter 2 of “21st Century Mahan: Sound Military Conclusions for the Modern Era” or you can do a little bit of searching on the internet and probably find it for free download. Mahan’s great value isn’t in telling us what to do or think; it is in helping us ask the right questions. As he told us in another essay, “the instruction derived from the past must be supplemented by a particularized study of the indications of the future.”



seacontrol2RADM Foggo, Assistant Deputy Chief of Naval Operations for Operations, Plans and Strategy, joins us to discuss the creation of strategic literacy within the Navy’s officer corps. discusses the Current Strategy Forum, a strategy sub-specialty, education, and the mentors that engaged his interest in strategy.

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Sea Control 35- RADM Foggo and Developing Strategic Literacy

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(This article originally appeared at RealClearDefense on October 24th, 2013.)

ROK-Navy-2010

In an earlier article for the Center for International Maritime Security (CIMSEC), I argued that in order for the U.S.-South Korean alliance to effectively counter threats emanating from North Korea (DPRK), South Korea (ROK) must gradually move away from its Army-centric culture to accommodate jointness among the four services. In particular, as Liam Stoker has noted, naval power may offer the “best possible means of ensuring the region’s safety without triggering any further escalation.”

The appointment last week of former ROK Chief of Naval Operations Admiral Choi Yoon-hee as the new Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff seems to augur a shift in focus in the ROK’s strategic orientation. Given that the ROK’s clashes with the DPRK have occurred near the contested Northern Limit Line throughout the late 1990s and 2000s, President Park Geun-hye’s appointment of Admiral Choi as Chairman of ROK JCS seems to be appropriate. Indeed, during his confirmation hearings two weeks prior, Admiral Choi repeatedly vowed retaliatory measures in the event of another DPRK provocation.

Furthermore, by tapping Admiral Choi to head the ROK JCS, President Park also appeared to signal that she is mindful of the feverish East Asian naval race. The ongoing naval race among three East Asian naval powers (China, Japan, and South Korea) is rooted in historical grievances over Japan’s wartime atrocities and fierce competition for limited energy resources. These two factors may explain the ROK’s increased spending to bolster its naval might.

General Curtis Scaparrotti (left), head of USFK, and ROK CJCS Admiral Choi Yun-hee (right)

General Curtis Scaparrotti (left), head of USFK, and ROK CJCS Admiral Choi Yun-hee (right)

Indeed, the ROK Navy has become a great regional naval power in the span of a decade. The ROKN fields an amphibious assault ship, the Dokdo, with a 653 feet-long (199 meters) flight deck. The ship, named after disputed islets claimed by both the ROK and Japan, is supposedly capable of deploying a Marine infantry battalion for any contingencies as they arise. Given that aircraft carriers may offer operational and strategic flexibility for the ROK Armed Forces, it is perhaps unsurprising that “funding was restored in 2012” for a second Dokdo-type aircraft carrier and more in 2012 and that Admiral Choi has also expressed interest in aircraft carrier programs. Moreover, the ROKN hassteadily increased its submarine fleet in response to the growing asymmetric threats emanating from North Korea and Japan’s alleged expansionist tendencies. As the Korea Times reported last Wednesday, the ROKN has also requested three Aegis destroyers to be completed between 2020 and 2025 to deal with the DPRK nuclear threats and the naval race with its East Asian neighbors.

Thus, at a glance, it would appear that the ROK has built an impressive navy supposedly capable of offering the Republic with a wide range of options to ensure strategic and operational flexibility. However, this has led some analysts to question the utility and raisons d’être for such maintaining such an expensive force.

Kyle Mizokami, for example, argues South Korea’s navy is impressive, yet pointless. He may be correct to note that the ROK “has prematurely shifted resources from defending against a hostile North Korea to defeating exaggerated sea-based threats from abroad.” After all, at a time when Kim Jŏng-ŭn has repeatedly threatened both the ROK and Japan, it may be far-fetched to assume that Japan may “wrest Dokdo/Takeshima away by force.” It would also make no sense to purchase “inferior version of the Aegis combat system software that is useless against ballistic missiles” which does not necessarily boost its naval might.

roknavydestroyers

However, what Mizokami may not understand is that the seemingly impressive posturing of the ROKN does not necessarily mean the expansion of the Navy at the expense of diminishing Army’s capabilities. As my January piece for the Georgetown Journal of International Affairs and Michael Raska’s East Asia Forum article argue, the greatest barriers to service excellence for the ROKN may be South Korea’s uneven defense spending, and operational and institutional handicaps within the conservative ROK officer corps. One telling indication which bears this out may be the fact that the expansion of the ROKN and Admiral Choi’s chairmanship of the ROK JCS did not lead to the reduction of either the budget allocated for the ROK Army or of the existing 39 ROK Army divisions in place.

Moreover, if, as Mizokami argues, the ROK seems bent on pursuing strategic parity with Japan—and to a lesser extent, China—I should point out that it does not even possess the wherewithal to successfully meet this goal. As I notedin late August, in order for the ROK to achieve regional strategic parity with its powerful neighbors, South Korea must spend at least 90% of what its rivals spend on their national defense. That is, the ROK’s $31.8 billion defense budget is still substantially smaller than Japan’s $46.4 billion. If anything, one could argue that the ROK’s supposedly “questionable” strategic priorities have as much to do with political posturing and show aimed at domestic audience as much as they are reactions to perceived threats posed by its powerful neighbors.

Finally, neither the ROK military planners nor Mizokami seem to take into account the importance of adroit diplomatic maneuvers to offset tension in East Asia. In light of the fact that the United States appears reluctant to reverse its decision to hand over the wartime Operational Control (OPCON) in 2015, the ROK may have no other recourse but to deftly balance its sticks with diplomatic carrots to avert a catastrophic war on the Korean peninsula.

In short, it remains yet to be seen whether the ROK will successfully expand the scope of its strategic focus from its current preoccupation with the Army to include its naval and air capabilities. One cannot assume that this transformation can be made overnight because of an appointment of a Navy admiral to the top military post, or for that matter, because it has sought to gradually bolster its naval capabilities. Nor can one assume that they are misdirected since a service branch must possess versatility to adapt to any contingencies as they arise. Instead, a balanced operational and strategic priority which encompasses the ground, air and maritime domain in tandem with deft diplomacy may be what the ROK truly needs to ensure lasting peace on the Korean peninsula and in East Asia.

Photo credit: U.S. Forces Korea, SinoDefence, ITV



On August 6th, the Center for International Maritime Security (CIMSEC) ran a feature on the latest Japanese helicopter destroyer, the Izumo (DDH-183). CIMSEC contributor Miha Hribernik observed that the Izumo, which is supposedly capable of carrying an aviation squadron and boasts a 814 feet-long (248 meters) STOBAR (short take-off but arrested recovery) flight deck, is “sure to cause concern in China…[since the launching of the ship] presents a potent addition to the operational capabilities and strategic reach of the JMSDF.”

22ddh-comp

Aircraft carrier classification and comparison according to globalsecurity.org

According to Business Insider, the launching of the helicopter destroyer “came in” shortly after China’s recent statement that it is in “no rush [to sign the proposed Code of Conduct] since [Southeast Asian nations involved] harbor unrealistic expectations.” Japan’s territorial row involving Diaoyu/Senkaku coupled with threats emanating from the DPRK (Democratic Republic of Korea) might have triggered increased defense spending. However, the two aims of Japan’s burgeoning defense spending, pre-emptive strike capabilities and the creation of an amphibious assault unit similar to the United States Marine Corps, have made its East Asian neighbors uneasy. As for America’s reaction, Zachary Keck believes that while it is “unclear” how the Obama Administration will respond to Japan’s pre-emptive attack on its “adversary’s bases,” the Obama Administration could become “vocal” should Japan act upon its “threats to review [its] past apologies.”

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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.

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12th

Knowing your place

December 2011

By

It is always difficult when people you greatly respect find themselves in conflict; physical or in this case intellectual. Then again, it can be very healthy to the larger effort.

In a great example of “creative friction” at its highest level of practice, we find ourselves with the authors of Red Star Over the Pacific on one end – and a great naval mind, Dr. Norman Friedman, on the other.

In the latest edition of the U.S. Naval War College Review in an article titled The Tip of the Iceberg, Norman Friedman reviewed Toshi Yoshihara and James R. Holmes’s book mentioned above.

Not very happy with his review, to say the least, Toshi and Jim responded in The Diplomat with a counter article, The Meaning of Sea Power.

I think good people can fall on either side of the arguments presented – and I encourage you to read both articles to decide for yourself even if you have not read the book in question. That isn’t what this post is about though.

In their response to Dr. Friedman, the authors brought up a topic that will have everyone with an Operational Planning background nodding their heads. Especially those who have taught Operational Planning or better yet have had to lead an Operational Planning team – their words will ring true, and might even open up a scar or two – or even trigger a migraine.

Friedman’s worst sin, though, is to succumb to (if not revel in) what the late Michael Handel termed the “tacticization of strategy.” Battlefield commanders and many civilians are prone to become spellbound by technological and tactical wizardry. In so doing, they lose sight of the higher – and ultimately decisive – levels of competition and warfare. Since World War II, observes Handel, “technological means have started to wag the strategic dog.” Andrew Krepinevich strikes a similar note in The Army and Vietnam, faulting the U.S. Army for prosecuting a “strategy of tactics.” U.S. forces seldom lost a tactical engagement with Vietnamese regular or irregular forces, yet they were unable to derive strategic or political gains from these engagements. Conflating equipment and tactics with strategy rendered an unbroken string of battlefield triumphs largely moot.

Knowing your place; a concept even more difficult to accept in the era of the “Strategic Corporal” and all the implications of it. To keep your place takes discipline, knowledge, and better yet a command climate that allows someone to pull you back when you drift away from your proper place.

Strategic planning does not need to concern itself with tactical details (AKA 3,000 nm screwdriver) if all three levels function properly. Not just a Strategic level problem, the temptation is even greater at the Operational level where the tendency to drift down to the Tactical is greatest. People plan where they are the most comfortable, and if you just came back from the Tactical level and haven’t mentally adjusted to the fact you now have to think and plan at the Operational or Strategic – you are setting yourself up for disruptive planning, intrusive direction & guidance, and eventually Tactical level paralyses.

Worse that that – if you are in a decision making position at the Strategic or Operational level – and you are not doing that job from that perspective – who is? The answer is, no one. That is where historians have their fun.

Adding to that problem is the amplifying effect. A poorly constructed or ill-disciplined Strategic guidance results in disjointed and inefficient Operational level direction & guidance. That in turn leads to Tactical anarchy. Where does that lead? Well, not to the “W” column.

Fun stuff … fun stuff. As a side note, if you are interested in hearing the authors discuss their book and China in general, EagleOne and I interviewed them back in Jan; you can hear the archived show here. We’ve also interviewed Dr. Friedman twice, once in 2010, and again earlier this year.



Last Sunday, fellow USNIBlogg’r EagleOne and I had a little something for everyone on Midrats. If you missed it, head on over and download the archive and give it a listen.

Our guest for the first half of the hour was Douglas A. Macgregor Col. USA, (Ret), the author of USNI Press’s Warrior’s Rage: The Great Tank Battle of 73 Easting, and Transformation Under Fire: Revolutionizing How America Fights. We covered DESERT STORM, OIF, the influence of Counter Insurgency on today’s Army, and how the US Military may want to restructure in the future.

For the second half of the hour, we pivot and update a subject we last covered in Episode 7 this February. Our guest was retired Navy Reserve Commander Zoe Dunning, Board Co-Chair of the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network. We discuss the whole spectrum of the challenges of repealing Don’t Ask Don’t Tell, how the lobbying effort has evolved, and what hiccups there may be in a post DADT military.

Don’t forget – if you want to make sure and never miss a Midrats – subscribe to the podcast on iTunes.



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