A Call for Global Strategic Thinking

BY Herschel Smith
6 years, 8 months ago

Having been a strong proponent of the wise and strategic use of air power in small wars, The Captain’s Journal continues to advocate both retooling and rethinking not only the Air Force proper, but air assets in the Navy, Army and Marines.  The order of the day seems to be small wars and counterinsurgency, and any air support of the efforts in Iraq and Afghanistan are bound to be highly visible.  The Air Force knows this, and the Multinational Force cooperates with the need to publicize the many accomplishments of air power in Operation Iraqi Freedom.  MNF press releases routinely include air power summaries, whether involving precision-guided munitions, A-10 engagements, helicopter gunship engagements, or flyovers to cause a “show of force.”

This advocacy for involvement in small wars on our part can be misconstrued, however, to intend the diminution of the Air Force proper, and some analysts have gone on record advocating not just the diminishing of the Air Force, but the complete reorganization of this branch into the other branches of the U.S. Armed Forces, in a role subservient to the needs of the specific branch to which the assets have been assigned.  But are these calls for busting up the Air Force really strategic, and if so, how forward reaching is the underlying strategy?

In terms of global strategic thinking, Pentagon senior leadership has bigger problems than what to do with the Air Force.  In a stark admission of what repeated and protracted (15 month) deployments have done to the Army, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Mike Mullen weighed in on his view of the current state of the ground forces: “Are the ground forces broken? Absolutely not,? Mullen told the audience at the Center for a New American Security here. “Are they breakable? They are. And I will do everything I can to prevent them from breaking.?

There are also the materiel problems associated with the heavy duty demanded of it in the two campaigns.  After his most recent visit to Iraq, Victor Davis Hanson observed:

The number of vehicles, arms, bases, and American infrastructure in Iraq is staggering. And the wear and tear on it all is evident everywhere. I wouldn’t be surprised that 30% of our equipment is worn out to the degree that it wouldn’t make sense hauling it back, and would be better off left to help transition the Iraqis. Humvees have sprung doors, broken glass, missing pieces, well in addition to the wear from sand and heat. I think the American people should accept that after Iraq we have an enormous tab to pay to reequip the air force, marines, and army. When you ride in a Ch-46 Frog marine helicopter, or a chugging Humvee or see banged up looking semis, you get some idea of the huge refitting job awaiting us after this is over, I’d say $30-40 billion at least.

Yet in light of the hardship to both man and machine caused by the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, in a tip of the hat to half-century old unrepentant cold war thinking, U.S. NATO Command is arguing for an increased troop presence in Europe.

U.S. military commanders have asked the Pentagon to keep more combat forces stationed in Europe to respond to a rising Russia and other potential threats, according to senior military officials.

Plans to cut the number of soldiers based in Europe will leave commanders with too few troops to protect and train with allies on the continent and to stand ready for deployment to hot spots elsewhere, such as Iraq and Afghanistan, said Gen. David McKiernan, head of Army forces in Europe.

“In this era of persistent conflict, we have some fault lines that are there in the European Command (area of responsibility) that we have to pay attention to,” McKiernan said on Thursday.

“We don’t know what’s going to happen in terms of a resurgent Russia,” he said in Washington.

For all of the magnificence of the A-10 – and it is indeed magnificent with its redundant controls, titanium bathtub around the pilot, ability to loiter over the battle space, forward mounted Gatling gun, durability and ability to support counterinsurgency as well as kill tanks – there is a big difference between domination of the local battle space and domination of the regional air space.  The former assists in winning wars, while the later makes the wars possible to begin with.  It is rightly said that the U.S. has enjoyed air superiority for so long that we have forgotten what it is like not to have this superiority on which to rely.

Upon Rumsfeld’s resignation, John Noonan of OpFor had what should go down as the most succinct, deadly accurate assessment of the Rumsfeld era in a large catalog of assessments throughout the military:

To some, his leadership was inspirational. To others, he was the guy who was single handedly dismantling a force that had barely survived eight years of Clinton-era defense cuts. The name for the pain was Transformation, Rumsfeld’s baby. The Pentagon’s “bridge to the 21st century.? And before September 11, it sounded and felt pretty slick. A lighter force, with emphasis on flexibility, technology, and force multiplication. Maximum effect, minimum loss cheered supporters.

In Afghanistan, Transformation was looking pretty good. A couple of hundred SPECOP warriors exploited our new, network-centric approach to warfighting and accomplished what the much-feared Soviet juggernaut could not. Who needs tanks? Who needs divisions? One foward air controller with a horse, a laptop, and a MILSTAR uplink to a B-52 could now do the heavy-lifting of an entire mechanized brigade.

And that’s when Transformation blasted off. The Air Force started delivering Raptors and Global Hawks while BRAC cut our fighter force by 20%. Money poured into the Army’s Future Combat Systems, the Marine led V-22 procurement, and the Navy’s new Littoral Combat Ships. New tankers for the Air Force, new EELV heavy lift rockets to facilitate our budding space weapons program, a new class of aircraft carrier and a new class attack sub. All very useful weapon systems, but all very expensive weapon systems.

Operation Iraqi Freedom was supposed to get the Transformation concept over that final, sizable high-cost hurdle. Afghanistan was mostly asymmetric, fought almost exclusively at the platoon and company level. OIF was Transformation’s real test. State v. State conflict, a real army -albeit ill-equipped and poorly trained- to prove the mettle of the new force. And again, Transformation worked. Less troops, higher tech did the job. Mission accomplished.

And like a Shakespearean tragedy, Rumsfeld’s bold new vision for a brave new military collasped at the height of its success. The insurgency dug-in, and with each IED blast another hole was punched in the Transformation concept. Billion-dollar B2s flew helpless overhead as suicide bombers and roadside bombs took the lives of troops who lacked armor on their Humvees and on their bodies. 100 dollar bombs killed 100,000 dollar weapon systems. The highly touted, highly financed UAV force could only watch as car bombers exploded Iraqi marketplaces. What we needed was more troops. What we got was more gizmos.

Rumsfeld made a serious error in creating an armed forces modeled upon the notion that air power, special forces operators and high tech gadgets can win ground campaigns.  But it is a category error equally as serious to assume that Soldiers and Marines can control the sea and air.  The Russians are making no such errors, with plans for advanced submarine technology and plans to design and build a fighter superior to the F-22.  Ironically for U.S. forces in the European theater, we assume that their presence is a deterrent to a “resurgent Russia,” while Russia makes plans to construct more fighter aircraft.

When thinking seriously about the deployment of U.S. forces across the globe, the paradoxes abound.  The U.S. supports tens of thousands of troops to deploy in a region in which there is no war (Europe) and in which the best deterrent would probably be more air power, while Soldiers in Operation Iraqi freedom are in theater for fifteen months at a time.  Similarly, we position U.S. troops in South Korea allowing that country to pursue their  “sunshine diplomacy” with North Korea for half a century at the expense of the U.S. taxpayer.  We promise Japan and Taiwan that they are under the umbrella of U.S. protection in order to dissuade them from the development of a nuclear program, while questions arise in the United States concerning the real value of the Air Force and Navy since they are not “contributing” to the campaigns in Iraq or Afghanistan.

The thinking concerning the future of the Air Force cannot be seen in a vacuum.  It is a part of the larger penchant for empire building within the ranks, and paucity of global strategic thinking at the highest levels of the Pentagon.  It is the same kind of thinking that led to Paul Wolfowitz having the freedom to bully General Eric Shinseki out of his position when he argued for more troops for Operation Iraqi Freedom.  At its root it is a failure to listen and learn and think in an analytical, questioning and forward looking manner.  This root has omniscience as its arrogant presupposition.

The Armed Forces of the United Stated faces high hurdles and challenges to assure victory in the campaigns currently underway.  The long war is far from concluded, and it is predicted that it will require more than ten years in order for the Afghan forces to be fully capable of national security.  Additionally, these campaigns must be engaged while ameliorating and reversing the effects of aging and wear on existing arms and equipment.

These campaigns are part of more global strategic interests involving the air and sea, as well as expansion of the size of the Army and Marines, all of which requires the application and expenditure of wealth.  Given that it is unlikely that either this or the next Congress will allocate the funds necessary to meet the needs of every perceived armed forces program, moderation and wisdom will become valuable commodities.

Instead of the holy grail of the real-time satellite-connected warrior who knows the locations and engagements of all assets in his battle space, U.S. Joint Forces Command might have to settle for tactical solutions such as innovative adaptations on satellite patrols and better body armor including lighter SAPI plates that have a larger surface area or scalar armor; instead of the number of new destroyers that the Navy would like to have, they might have to settle for the number they need; the Air Force might have to sacrifice a few fighters to refit and refurbish more A-10s to support the current campaigns; the Army might have to realize that their new UAV program will not control the air space for the Persian Gulf; the European command might have to acquiesce to the idea that training with Iraqi troops is better than training with German troops and being deployed in Iraq, Afghanistan or Qatar (the future home of CENTCOM) is more regionally and globally strategic than being deployed in Germany; and this will all have to be done while advancing weapons systems and programs in order to keep ahead of the various enemies of the state.

Empire building and self-preservation is the enemy of efficiency, and leadership, wisdom and foresight must come first from the highest levels of the Pentagon.  For the first time in history, military blogs are read and digested by professional military, and actually have a role to play concerning open communication over everything from global strategy to unit tactics and equipment.

Globally strategic thinking is required, smartly applied to a collection of complex, symbiotic organizations.  Thus far, the best that this community has been able to come up with is to bust up the Air Force and order them to report to the Army.  We are off to a sorry and pitiful start.

Related Sources:

Body Armor Goes Political, TCJ

Body Armor Wars: The Way Forward, TCJ

Time Slams the V-22 Osprey, TCJ

V-22 Osprey Deploys, TCJ

Faster Kill Chain, TCJ

A-10s Aid in Counterinsurgency, TCJ

Air Power in Small Wars, TCJ

Can the Navy Afford the New Destroyers?, TCJ

Abolish the Air Force, The American Prospect

More on the Relevance of the U.S. Air Force, The Tank

Kill the Air Force, OpFor

Disband the DC Punditocracy, Aviation Week

Abolish the Air Force, Small Wars Council Discussion Thread


You are currently reading "A Call for Global Strategic Thinking", entry #755 on The Captain's Journal.

This article is filed under the category(s) Counterinsurgency,Department of Defense,Military Equipment,Small Wars,War & Warfare,Weapons and Tactics and was published November 5th, 2007 by Herschel Smith.

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