Sea Control from Ashore

The following, written by guest author Niel Kaneshiro, is an abstract from a US Naval War College Directed Research Project of the same name submitted in response to our call for Amphibious Warfare articles. Please direct response articles to nextwar(at)

The United States faces an increasingly complex security environment in the Indo-Pacific. In the event of a crisis, China’s growing Anti-Access/Area Denial (A2AD) capabilities will allow it to challenge U.S. military access to the region, as well as raise the risks and costs to the U.S. should it intervene on behalf of a regional ally or partner.

By leveraging security treaties and access agreements, the United States can employ ground forces in cooperation with partners to secure maritime choke points and littoral areas, denying their use to an adversary during a crisis or hostilities. These land forces can also create protected areas from A2AD capabilities for combined and joint military operations, ensuring continued access into the region. Furthermore, ground forces can allow naval and air forces to concentrate on operations in areas outside the reach of land based weapon systems. Ground forces can help address the problem of sea control in the Western Pacific in the context of A2AD challenges in several ways. First, ground forces can provide persistent control of choke points and littoral areas using anti-ship missiles, helicopters, and drones. Second, ground forces can conduct maritime intercept operations by employing heliborne troops who can board and capture merchant shipping. Third, ground forces can create protected areas for friendly forces, keeping them clear of adversary air, missile, and surface ship threats.

Ground forces also provide reassurance to allies and partners – indicating U.S. commitment to the region and to its treaty obligations. “Boots on the ground” have significant symbolic and practical importance. For many countries in Asia, the most important military service is their army. Ground forces, specifically the U.S. Army and Marines, can develop important and enduring partnerships with those services, even assisting them with building their own military capability.

U.S. military planners and theorists have proposed strategies and operational concepts that take into account China’s A2AD capability, thus allowing U.S. forces to perform their missions despite an increasingly hostile environment. “Air Sea Battle” (ASB) is an operational concept that proposes to employ closely coordinated air and naval power to defeat A2AD threats. A primary tenet of ASB is the habitual coordination of U.S. Air Force and Navy assets to mount joint attacks on various A2AD systems, which include anti-ship ballistic missiles, over the horizon sensors, long-range bombers, and cruise missile equipped surface ships and submarines while defending U.S. naval forces and bases from attack. The actions inherent in the ASB concept would be one part of a larger strategy to address a crisis. [i]

An alternative to conducting ASB operations is “Offshore Control”, a proposed strategy wherein U.S. forces conduct a “distant blockade” against China, avoiding the A2AD problem by remaining out of the range of ballistic missiles and bombers. Offshore Control emphasizes sea control outside of what China refers to as the “first island chain” – the islands that consist of Japan, Taiwan, the Philippines, and Borneo – with the objective of interdicting China’s maritime commerce. This concept would result in a more protracted conflict that would use largely militarily induced pressure on China’s economy to de-escalate a crisis, and would avoid destabilizing attacks on the Chinese mainland; such attacks could lead to escalation, a serious problem when dealing with a nuclear power.[ii]

Neither of the concepts involves significant use of ground forces. The roles for ground forces typically are limited to supporting activities, mainly the defense of ports and airfields from missile attack. Other U.S. military writings suggest joint forcible entry operations, which could consist of air or amphibious raids and assaults against A2AD capabilities or to seize key terrain.[iii] However, a forcible entry operation in the face of A2AD capabilities and the strength of the Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) is likely a risky and costly proposition. U.S. forces operating in close proximity to the Asian mainland will have to face the same A2AD capabilities that they propose to defeat.

Land power defined is “the ability – by threat, force, or occupation – to gain, sustain, and exploit control over land, resources, and people.”[iv] By extension, land power means the ability to exploit land areas for other purposes. U.S. military thinkers largely conceive of the Pacific as primarily a U.S. Air Force and Navy theatre; however, there are key islands that make land power relevant to any military campaign in the region. The Second World War in the Pacific was fought for and around islands. Geographically important islands became bases for continuing naval operations and served as unsinkable aircraft carriers for long-range bombers.

The geography of the Western Pacific has not changed. Modern missiles, sensors, unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV), and helicopters allow ground forces to project combat power out to sea in a way that was not possible before. American ground combat forces – Army or Marine, have the potential to conduct sea control operations and contribute substantively to an offshore control strategy or an ASB type campaign. In other words, land power can be exploited to gain sea control.

Niel Kaneshiro is a former United States Navy and current United States Army analyst as well as a student of the US Naval War College.

[i] Air-Sea Battle Office, “Air-Sea Battle: Service Collaboration to Address Anti-Access & Area Denial Challenges”, May 2013: 4.

[ii] Hammes, T.X. “Offshore Control: A Proposed Strategy for an Unlikely Conflict”, Institute for National Strategic Studies . June 2012: 4-5.

[iii] U.S. Army and U.S. Marine Corps, “Gaining and Maintaining Access: An Army-Marine Corps Concept”, March 2012: 6.

[iv] U.S. Department of the Army, “ADRP 3-0 – Unified Land Operations” 2012: Glossary-4

Front Page Oct 9

With EF21, Marines Struggle to Remain Relevant

This article by Lloyd Freeman is in response to our call for articles on Amphibious Warfare. Also, an editor’s reminder, we DO accept response articles at nextwar(at)


The Marines are no longer America’s 911 force…and it gets worse: If the Marine Corps continues on its current trajectory of developing unrealistic operational concepts and platforms, it risks becoming irrelevant in light of much more capable U.S. warfighting organizations and platforms. The Marine Corps’ decision to go “all in” on the F-35B Joint Strike Fighter and its corresponding failure to embrace new, game-changing technologies and corresponding doctrine and tactics will result in a force that is ill-suited for next-generation warfare and will ultimately become subservient to other, much more capable U.S. military fighting forces.

The Marine Corps Goes It Alone

Over the past few years, the Marine Corps has started down a dangerous path of developing tactically and operationally unsound vision statements that are designed to protect their outlandish and expensive platforms. The Marine Corps recently rolled out their Expeditionary Force 21 (EF21) “vision,” which states that Marines will need to be able to conduct ship-to-shore operations from 65 nautical miles away—an incredible distance for any kind of surface assault. The analysis (or lack thereof….EF21 was developed independent of the U.S. Navy) behind EF21 is the belief that amphibious ships will be susceptible to coastal-defense cruise missiles (CDCMs). Rather than adhere to joint doctrine, for some inexplicable reason the Marine Corps has decided the way around enemy capability is not to neutralize but rather to swim right through it with future high-speed amphibious combat vehicles (ACVs). In light of U.S. technological dominance, this is puzzling. China has dug thousands of miles of tunnels and has constructed massive fuel-storage depots deep underground for a very obvious reason. Our potential adversaries know that if the U.S. military can see it, it can and will kill it. The Marine Corps refuses to accept that the U.S. Navy and the joint force will first set conditions for any possible future amphibious assault in accordance with Joint and Naval Doctrine, which currently allows for the first amphibious assault wave to be launched within 12 nautical miles (or closer)—not 65 nautical miles. Moreover, the Marine Corps does not consider the possible contributions of unmanned systems to future amphibious assaults. There is no need to place a single Marine into harm’s way if an autonomous system can swim onto or fly over the beach and provide the confirmation and subsequent destruction of enemy forces.

A thorough mechanical sweep of objective areas can be conducted with autonomous systems today in preparation for follow-on forces. It’s even possible that follow-on forces may not even be needed in an age of autonomous and unmanned systems. With such technological dominance at our finger tips, why is the Marine Corps still planning for a “Normandy”-type amphibious landing and creating concepts like EF21 that do not adhere to current doctrine and worse, do not attempt to maximize U.S. technological military dominance? The Marine Corps remains fixated on World War II tactics. This drives the procurement of outlandish and expensive platforms such as the Amphibious Combat Vehicle (ACV), or worse: platforms that are not even designed to support your operations and/or tactics….and herein lies the problem.

A 5th-Generation Fighter Mistake

Developing suspect doctrine is bad enough, but the Marine Corps’ procurement of platforms that are not designed to support its service-unique tactics and operating procedures only compounds the challenges it faces today. Although the short, take-off, and landing version of the F-35B Joint Strike Fighter (JSF) is possibly the best fighter jet ever built, it is not a close-air support platform and was never intended to be. The F-35 is designed for high-end, air supremacy operations during the setting of battlefield conditions that occur long before landing forces ever arrive in theater. Rather than pursuing aviation platforms ideally suited for close-air support, the Marine Corps aviation community hitched its wagon to the JSF program and now stands to join the elite-strike aviation community. However, in the joint arena, it is the job of the Air Force and Naval Aviation to conduct air supremacy operations. Marine Corps Aviation should be focused on supporting ground troops; close-air support has always been the ‘bread and butter’ of Marine Aviation….until now. The JSF 5th generation fighter is designed to penetrate enemy air defenses rather than loiter over a battlefield in support of ground troops. It truly is a difficult to understand how the Joint Staff and Congress approved such an expensive platform for procurement by the Marine Corps.

As a result of procuring a 5th-generation strike fighter, Marine Corps aviation has logically pursued employment options that actually match this new aircraft’s impressive capabilities. Marine aviation is currently focusing on turning the general-purpose amphibious assault ship (LHA) and the Wasp-class multiple-purpose amphibious assault ship (LHD)LHA/LHD amphibious ships into JSF platforms—essentially “light” carriers—which would deploy with up to 16 JSF platforms at the expense of rotary wing and embarked ground forces. Such an employment concept would provide true “bang for the buck” compared to the expensive deployment of the JSFs from the nuclear carrier fleet. However, for the Marine Corps, there is great danger in this path.

The Joint Staff and the Office of Secretary of Defense (OSD) are continuously challenged with the problems of sustaining and maintaining the current nuclear carrier fleet. The Marine Corps concept of using LHA and LHDs as light carriers would be a very attractive capability for policymakers, essentially creating a new, national strategic strike asset in support of national tasking vice support to Navy and Marine Corps amphibious ready group deployments. The Marine Corps aviation community has led the Marine Corps down a path of short-term gain with probably lethal long-term effects for traditional Navy/Marine Corps expeditionary missions. These are exciting times for Marine Corps aviation—right up to the point where the OSD and the Joint Staff determine that the LHA and LHD fleet would be better utilized deploying with a squadron of F-35B aircraft in support of national tasking vice serving as the central asset of the Marine Expeditionary Units. Marine pilots will love their new relevance as LHDs/LHAs and F-35Bs become national, strategic assets at the expense of the lost relevance of the Marine Corps as an expeditionary service. The Marine Corps infantry community is aware of the danger of the F-35B and winces at how much Marine capital has been consumed over a fighter platform that will probably rarely ever support Marine ground forces; but they have been disunited and fragmented in their opposition to the now powerful, Marine Corps Aviation community.

A Force Out of Touch

Very soon, the only relevant capability in the Marine Corps could be the JSF while the rest of the force is relegated to conducting low-end humanitarian-assistance and disaster-relief missions. In fact, if you look closely at the most recent Marine Corps commercials on TV that is exactly how the Marine Corps is depicted, a force providing disaster relief and humanitarian assistance, not an elite force closing with the enemy. Instead, the Special Operations Command (SOCOM) has taken on the higher-end, “911” mission sets that require capable, highly trained warriors and it has been extremely successful. SOCOM’s emergence as the new 911 force has been dramatic. It has led the way in leveraging technology with game-changing tactics to maximize technological dominance while employing a very small footprint. While the venerable USMC drill instructor is yelling at his candidates, the Navy SEAL instructor is quietly instructing his candidates how to put two rounds into the center of a target over and over again with devastating consistency. While young Marine lieutenants are learning how to operate and be comfortable in the fog of war, SOCOM operators have figured out how to lift it by using intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR) “orbits” from drones and other platforms to provide clear, battlefield situational awareness through all phases of an operation. While the Marine Corps maintains a training curriculum that lauds the automatic response to orders, SOCOM seeks that rare breed of individual who is smart, in superior condition, and can think his way out of any problem or challenge. In other words, SOCOM wants the guys who don’t need orders.

In a world of game-changing technology, the Marine Corps has decided to keep playing the old, one-dimensional war game of running straight at your enemy yelling and hollering. Conversely, SOCOM has perfected the tactical art of surprise-utilizing stealth where the enemy never hears a sound or sees what hit him. SOCOM’s record, which includes killing the captors of Captain Richard Phillips as well as Osama Bin Laden, is already legendary. It has truly established itself as America’s new 911 force while the United States Marine Corps has been relegated to an outdated force.

The Need for New Doctrine

To be relevant today, the Marine Corps must revise its doctrine. It must outline how it plans to reestablish itself as a tier-one warfighting capability in a new operating environment in which amphibious operations will probably not require Marines to hit the beach in the same way they did over 60 years ago. As discussed earlier, Marine Corps doctrine is noticeably behind the times in leveraging unmanned systems and examining how this game-changing capability can and will be used in any future military campaign. Amphibious and Joint forcible entry doctrine will still be required. However, how we will do amphibious operations in the future probably differs dramatically from how the Marine Corps envisions it in EF-21.

While the Marine Corps continues to pursue costly, high-speed systems (such as JSF and high speed landing craft), it has yet to outline how an amphibious operation could be conducted with unmanned systems. The use of unmanned surface and aerial systems during the first waves of an amphibious assault would most likely dramatically change unit organization and tactics—and save lives. Furthermore, whether Marines want it or not, policymakers and the Joint Staff will probably force unmanned systems into the equation to reduce operational risk. Marines do not need to “hit the beach.” By letting drones conduct the first waves, follow-on Marines can then occupy ‘cleared’ ground and plan for follow-on missions. However, to make such an argument would call into question the wisdom and relevance of current Marine Corps programs such as JSF, which probably explains the silence among Marine Corps leaders when it comes to fostering real change.

Most Marine leaders would acknowledge that we will not fight a future war the same way we fought during World War II or the Korean War, yet they never seem to propose serious efforts to review current doctrine, organization, and what might be needed in light of emerging technologies and capabilities. Publications like EF-21 do not offer new doctrine but instead are repackaging of old strategies that propose the same old requirement for robust platforms that can bring Marines ashore from great distances offshore. Behind the glossy cover page is the same old World War II doctrine of “hitting the beach.”

Start Thinking Joint

The Marine Corps is notorious for ignoring the tremendous assets that are available in the Joint community. Hampering possible change is the Marine Corps’ fixation on the Marine-Air Ground Task Force (MAGTF), a holistic concept that aims to ensure it has an independent ability to logistically sustain a robust ground force with a capable aviation component in an expeditionary environment. The Marine Corps takes great pride in its ability to maintain this organic capability, but this has resulted in a reluctance to think outside Marine-Corps circles. Conversely, SOCOM is probably the most joint organization in the Department of Defense today and their results speak for themselves. SOCOM’s impressive performance reflects the very best capability of joint platforms that comprise its operating forces. Unfortunately, the Marine Corps continues to attempt “going it alone,” which is unfortunate: There are incredible intelligence/surveillance and support platforms that could enable the Marine Corps to conduct higher-end missions along the lines of SOCOM. Joint platforms such as predator drones, the P-3/P-8 Advanced Airborne Sensor, AC-130, or many of the other joint platforms would be much more conducive to supporting Marines on the ground. However, instead of investing in practical platforms ideally suited to supporting ground troops, the Marine Corps inexplicably decided to buy the multi-billion dollar JSF, a platform ill-suited to supporting ground troops.

The Marine Corps probably cannot reverse its commitment to the JSF. However, it can stop constraining itself to its own organic assets and reach out to the joint community to enhance its ground combat capability. The Marine Corps must also begin focusing resources on future platforms that can better support lethal, highly mobile ground forces that can leverage data-centric support platforms—or better yet, start pushing itself to begin operating more jointly during training and deployments as SOCOM presently does. However, to gain access and allocation of high-demand, joint assets, the Joint Staff and senior policymakers will probably want to know how the Marine Corps can contribute in today’s security environment. Focusing on lower-end security missions such as non-combatant evacuation operations and humanitarian assistance are not going to get anyone’s attention.

Change or Become Irrelevant

SOCOM is increasingly creeping into the missions that have historically been the bread and butter of the Marine Corps during peacetime operations. The Marine Corps must assess and revise its current organization from a top-heavy, rigid command structure designed to fight large land campaigns toward a smaller, better trained, highly skilled organization designed to conduct surgical strikes organized around robust ISR and advanced aerial strike assets if it hopes to get in on some of SOCOM’s action. Small high intensity missions will most likely dominate the security environment for decades to come. The Marine Corps could complement the capability of SOCOM by providing a more robust, combat-oriented version of SOCOM. This would of course require much greater cooperation with SOCOM and could affect Marine Corps manpower and training if SOCOM standards are to be met partially or in full. The Marine Corps needs to swallow the bitter pill and recognize that its current World War II organizational structure is outdated, impractical, and increasingly irrelevant on today’s battlefield.

The day of reckoning will come. Eventually, someone will again ask what makes the Marine Corps unique, and the F-35B JSF better not be the answer. The Air Force and Navy will have many more JSF platforms deployable from many more locations. By also failing to adapt ground forces to new tactics and doctrine and by failing to utilize new platforms that can virtually lift the “fog of war,” the Marine Corps is stuck in a time warp. New aspirational concepts such as EF21 that are not grounded in sound analysis and run counter to doctrine make the Marine Corps look even more disconnected and out of touch with modern tactics and technological capabilities. If the Marine Corps does not change and adapt to new technologies and tactics and focus on a clear vision of how it is to operate in the rapidly changing security environment, the future will consist of simply looking good in uniform.


Lloyd Freeman is a retired Marine infantry officer.


Future War Fiction Week 30 Dec – 3 Jan: Call for Articles

For New Years, looking into the future through fiction.

Heinlein, Heller, Macdonald Fraser, Clancy, Haldeman, Drake. The list could go on of great military, science, and strategic fiction. Some of those authors had foresight that now takes on the patina of genius, other had an ability to better convey the emotional history of a moment than those that lived it- all of them raised the collective ability of military thinkers and strategists by leaps and bounds. Whether they inspired you to become an officer, or helped you to understand your experience at war, all  of them gave us  part of our intellectual kit.

Johnson Ting: Oct 24, 2014
Johnson Ting: Oct 24, 2014

In the spirit of those great minds, CIMSEC is hosting a Military Fiction week. Maybe you want to write something forward looking that hopes avoid future tragedy or ensure yet to be won victory. Perhaps you seeks to better describe the what if counterfactuals which could have led to a different world. Either way, fiction provides a wider canvas for strategists to paint their minds onto. The only criteria is that you write an original piece of military fiction, it can be historical or futuristic, that seeks to provide other strategic and security thinkers better context of the problems we did, do, or may face.  Short stories of 1000-5000 words are what we are seeking but, who knows, if something turns out to be gold we can turn it into the next Flashman series.

Read, Think, Write- just this time make sure you pull the stories from inside your head.

SEND ARTICLES TO: nextwar(at)
Length: 1000-5000 words, unless you can reasonably justify otherwise.
Due Date: December 26th

New U.S. Maritime Strategy Coming “Very Soon”

Notes from the U.S. Naval Institute’s Defense Forum Washington 2014

Last week I attended the U.S. Naval Institute’s Defense Forum Washington 2014 – “What Does the Nation Need from its Sea Services?,” which was well attended by fellow CIMSECians. Speakers included legislators, senior researchers, and representatives from the U.S. Navy, U.S. Marine Corps, and U.S. Coast Guard. The full videos of the speakers and an in-depth recap are available here, but I wanted to touch briefly on a few items that stood out.

CooperativestrategyActing Deputy Chief of Naval Operations for Plans, Policy, and Operations, RADM Kevin Donegan, did a good job articulating the questions the sea services have wrestled with in building the forthcoming maritime strategy document known as CS-21R, the revision to the 2007 A Cooperative Strategy for 21st Century Seapower (CS-21). While he didn’t reveal most of the answers to those questions he did acknowledge the conflicting views of what the document should be, or look like. and the difficulty in getting it on the streets, but said it would be published “very soon.” RADM Donegan did note that the underlying assumptions of 2007 in some cases no longer hold true, with a nod to the threats facing Europe. One item he did reveal was that Humanitarian Assistance/Disaster Response (HA/DR) would remain a prioritized mission, something that has been questioned since its inclusion in CS-21, although whether this has a practical impact on budgeting priorities is itself debatable.

There was also some discussion about the manner in which CS-21R will be rolled out to the country, with one audience member asking if there would be educational outreach efforts and town hall meetings – useful components in explaining both the content and its relevance to the American public. But those lines of effort must be just the beginning. If CS-21R is to have the impact that it should, and presuming of course that one agrees with the strategy therein, the release of this document necessitates a full public affairs and internal education campaign plan. This is an important opportunity for the sea services to make their case to the people, Congress, “decision makers,” and their own folks that supporting the nation’s (as Ron O’Rourke put it in a later presentation) maritime strategy must be a priority. In telling the story of why resourcing the Navy, the Coast Guard, and the Marine Corps (as well as other maritime components) should take precedence over other funding priorities, the strategy document owns the part that gives a coherent explanation of what the services want to do with the means requested and why these are the best ways to achieve the ends defined by higher strategic guidance. Luckily there are plenty of recent anecdotes to illustrate the arguments, as VADM Donegan pointed out the practical importance of seapower in the recent Libyan and anti-ISIS campaigns.

A few other items I found interesting:

- CIMSECian ENS Chris O’Keefe asked about both the proper role of and forum for discussing cyber in strategy and was told by the panelists that the answer was cross-cutting in both role and the forum (i.e. blogs, publications, and internal classified discussions).

- RADM Donegan used the term “Indo-Asia-Pacific,” echoing the term “Indo-Pacific” that has in the past two years come into more common usage (typically in place of Asia-Pacific) and views the space stretching from the Indian Ocean through the Pacific as a linked geopolitical concept, particularly in maritime terms.

- The Coast Guard rep, VADM Charles Michel, Deputy Commandant for Operations, noted that the lack of arctic icebreakers hinders not only polar missions but also the ability to clear ice from the Great Lakes and U.S. coasts, forcing a reliance on Canada’s fleet.

- The Marine Corps rep, Brig. Gen. Joseph Shrader, Commander, Marine Corps Systems Command noted that the recently released Expeditionary Force 21 concept requires establishing advance bases for short take-off, vertical launch aircraft operations such as the F-35B.

- The Coast Guard and Marine Corps reps both said that the hardest challenge their Service faces is in balancing the funding needs of readiness and recapitalization (overhauling kit/modernization). Both however gave no indication that intellectual recapitalization was part of this primary concern.

Mellon717_1Over at Chuck Hill’s CG Blog, CIMSECian Chuck takes a look at what was notable from a U.S. Coast Guard perspective, noting that VADM Michel “was the Coast Guard representative on the panel discussion…and did a credible job of representing the Coast Guard.” One of the highlight quotes came in the Q+A session of that panel when, pressed by a reporter for an example of something that the Coast Guard could not do due to budget limitations, VAdm Michel pointed to his time as director of Joint Interagency Task Force-South (JIATF-S). He stated that the lack of vessels to interdict smugglers meant that for 75% of shipments he received intelligence on he could only watch them go by. Chuck goes on to say, in the post entitled “Coast Guard in a Death Spiral?”

But I would like to particularly recommend a portion of the presentation by Ron O’Rourke, who is the Congressional Research Service. He devoted the last few minutes of his presentation to the Coast Guard, beginning about minute 24:30. He does a better job of explaining the crisis in Coast Guard budgeting than I have ever seen done by any Coast Guard representative.

Looking at some of the other speakers, I learned that they have taken the program to replace the Ballistic Missile Submarine Force out of the regular navy shipbuilding budget. I think this is significant, because the effect of the SSBN replacement on the Navy ship building budget, is very similar to the effect of the heavy icebreaker procurement on the Coast Guard budget. Perhaps this might be used as a precedence for a special, separate appropriation for the icebreaker.

Scott Cheney-Peters is a surface warfare officer in the U.S. Navy Reserve and the former editor of Surface Warfare magazine. He is the founder and president of the Center for International Maritime Security (CIMSEC), a graduate of Georgetown University and the U.S. Naval War College, and a member of the Truman National Security Project’s Defense Council.


Sea Control 62: 21st Century Fleet Design, Grand Vision or Ruthless Pragmatism

seacontrol2An academic (Dr. Alexander Clarke), an operator (Cdr Paul Fisher, RN (ret)) and a builder (Douglas Clarke) discuss 21st Century Fleet Design and whether it should be driven by a ruthless pragmatism or a more grand design. Intelligent and all very British, they also mention Germany, The War, and railways. Well worth an hour of your commute this week!
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Members’ Roundup Part 5

Good evening CIMSECians and welcome back to the weekly roundup, where we share with you the great work that other members have published elsewhere. For this week’s edition we present you with articles by regular contributors that take the focus back to high-level policy and strategy debates.

With the recent announcement of Chuck Hagel’s resignation as Secretary of Defense, commentators have been scrambling with their analyses of who the President would tap to become his successor. Many of those whose names appeared in the debate have, however, indicated that they would turn down the position if it were offered to them. Ash Carter, who previously served as Deputy Secretary of Defense, will today take the reigns from Chuck Hagel to become the 25th SECDEF.

Over at Foreign Policy fellow CIMSECian and Dean of the Fletcher School, James Stavridis provides a quirky, but sober, column on what he would say to Carter, if he were the US President. The talking points for that “conversation” include, but are not limited to, challenges concerning Islamic State, Ukraine and Russia, as well as the ‘Third Offset Strategy.’

With Zachary Keck’s move to The National Interest as managing editor, he has been busily contributing in his new post. Future battles between U.S. and Chinese forces would focus on targeting an adversary’s network, writes Keck in a piece summarising a speech delivered by a prominent security analyst. This, of course, is a concern for defense planners when coupled with the release of China’s latest supersonic anti-ship cruise missile, the Chaoxun 1 (CX-1).

Adding to the debate of the United States’ Third Offset Strategy, Keck weighs in with his ‘two cents’ on the matter. Keck neatly summarises the main points in the debate, from arguments presented by the ‘operational concept’ camp to those in favour of having the offset strategy aimed at defeating conventional threats using the United States competitive advantage.

Over at The Diplomat, Darshana Baruah (in a joint article with CNAS Senior Director, Patrick Cronin) writes that Prime Minister Modi’s “Look East” doctrine will face significant challenges in implementation and coordination.

At CSIS’ Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative, new member Mira Rapp-Hooper discusses the prospects for an official end to World War II between Japan and Russia through the resolution of the Northern Territories/Kuril Islands dispute.

Chuck Hill meanwhile covers a new ice-capable research vessel for the U.S. National Science Foundation and the contents/impact of the first draft legislation for the Coast Guard’s 2014 budget at his CG Blog.

Please email to share your great work with us.


Look to the Brits for the Keys to a Successful Offset Strategy

A Geographic Rebalance, Technology, and Diplomacy Must Be Used Together

The challenges of the 2nd decade of the 21st century call for another phase in “strategic asymmetry” in order to preserve the security of the United States’ global strategic interests. The two versions of the successful Cold War Containment strategy; the “New Look” and “Flexible Response” appear on the surface to be completely different approaches. The first advocated reliance on the threat of nuclear war to deter aggressive action by the Soviet Union. The second advanced a graduated series of steps to meet the global Communist threat of which nuclear war was one component and precision-guided munitions one supporting pillar. Both however were committed to deterring nuclear war, maintaining global U.S. strategic interests, and preventing the further spread of the Communist ideology. Each too was relatively well-endowed with financial support from a U.S. government that stood at the military, political, and economic apex of a world otherwise devastated by the effects of two massive global conflicts and associated revolutions and chaos.

Unlike the Cold War period, the present United States cannot exercise the same dominance in all three disciplines of global power. The nation is in a period of relative decline. Many Eurasian nations have recovered from the effects of the conflicts of the 20th century and have assumed positions of global economic, political and in some cases military power. It is a situation similar to the situation challenging the last great liberal democratic power at the dawn of the 20th century.

British Empire 1903

The present U.S. situation is very similar to that of Great Britain at the end of the 19th century. The British faced many challenges to their economic and maritime supremacy. France recovered from multiple Napoleonic disasters and built a rival colonial empire; Japan emerged from centuries of isolation to compete for dominance of the Western Pacific; Germany and Russia tried to develop “webbed feet” and associated maritime ambitions; and the United States turned its energies from “winning the west” to winning the game of global economic competition. Furthermore, the “moral authority” the British had enjoyed relative to much of the rest of the world had been sullied to a degree by atrocities committed by British forces during the 1899-1901 Boer War against Dutch settlers in South Africa. That conflict also had significant financial costs that competed against those of the Royal Navy (RN), the British nation’s traditional strategic guardian, as well as those of a rising welfare state.

The United States confronts a similar scenario. Its traditional Eurasian allies have recovered from the effects of World War II and the Cold War and are now sometimes economic and political rivals. The Russian state born from the wreckage of the Soviet Union now maneuvers to regain lost territory and advantage. China has emerged as the principal U.S. economic competitor and also has maritime ambitions. The moral authority of the United States is now in question, like post-Boer War Britain, after questionable counter-insurgency conflicts in Southwest Asia and a global internet monitoring effort conducted by the National Security Agency (NSA). The wars of the last decade drew money away from efforts to maintain and improve U.S. naval and air forces. The U.S. military also competes with an expanding U.S. welfare state.

The British Grand Fleet

The British solution to their own period of relative decline (well detailed in Aaron Freidberg’s book The Weary Titan) is best described in three steps. British statesmen and military leaders first examined the strategic geography of the British Empire in detail and made a frank assessment of the relative importance of its physical, economic, political, and military components. They conducted a global reduction and re-balance of British naval and military assets that reflected the updated strategic geographic assessment and their own financial limitations. Finally, the British sought accords (both official and unspoken) with a number of nations to implement the new strategic geography. They came to agreements with the French and the Russians on a series of long-simmering colonial competitions, and they signed an alliance with the Japanese in order to secure their Pacific trade lines and possessions. They also accepted the peaceful rise of the United States, a “daughter” liberal democratic power, to its eventual position of leading economic power by 1914 to buttress their own economic system. The end product was a British Empire and associated armed forces better prepared to confront the changing and more volatile 20th century. Britain survived two devastating world wars and although much of its physical empire and supporting military and naval forces declined, that change was demanded and conducted by the British public under far better circumstances than would have occurred in the wake of a military defeat.

There are of course significant risks involved in such a radical re-balancing of forces. Britain’s physical retreat from the Americas and the Pacific in the face of rising American and Japanese power likely pushed the dominions of Canada, Australia, and New Zealand away from direct British influence. British leaders in the late 1920’s, allowed the strength of the British armed forces, especially the Royal Navy to significantly degrade to the point that Britain could no longer provide an effective defense of its Asian possessions. The loss of Singapore and the sinking of HMS Prince of Wales and HMS Repulse was the culmination of 25 years of poor strategic planning. It also wrecked British prestige and was a significant tipping point in the drive for Indian independence and the end of the physical British Empire.

The United States should undertake a similar realistic assessment of its global strategic position. Such a review would include not only land and maritime physical spaces, but also air, space and cyberspace “geography” which equally impact U.S. interests. This review must not be confined to mere budgetary and defense program appraisal, but must carefully examine the nation’s long-term interests. It must determine the most significant threats to the republic, and re-balance naval and military forces within budgetary limits to better confront those perils. Those forces must be both suitable for the geographic areas they defend, highly mobile and able to operationally and strategically re-position as circumstances dictate. While the present threat from both national and non-state actors is complex, some positive changes have taken place in recent years. For the first time since 1942, the United States does not face the threat of an immediate ground war other than on the Korean peninsula. The United States however cannot execute overly draconian cuts and still expect to exercise significant global influence. Some balance must be struck between the needs of the expanding U.S. welfare state, and the military forces that guard its very existence.

Finally, the United States should seek solutions to disagreements with nations and/or non-state actors whose intents and actions do not directly threaten U.S. global interest. The United States should also seek close association with present and rising states that share similar interests, since there is no “heir apparent” waiting to support and perhaps supersede the United States in its role as the defender of traditional liberal values as it was for Great Britain. One potential liberal democratic understudy is India, but other candidates may emerge. Although a rising power with aspirations toward greatness, China cannot be considered as a candidate to replace the United States as guarantor and support of the liberal capitalist system that sustains the global economy. Although perhaps no longer a full-fledged communist nation, China remains an authoritarian corporate state that continues to stifle free speech and expression. China, despite a generally warm welcome in the world economic community has instead chosen to bully its economic partners by needlessly antagonizing its neighbors and contributing to rising instability in East Asia.

US Surface Combatants At Sea

Like Great Britain, the United States can confront challenges to its global interests through an aggressive self-assessment of its strategic goals and means to which they can be accomplished. Unmanned systems, organized in support of traditional manned combat formations in a “Manned and Unmanned” battle concept, offer the United States and Western powers an offensive edge against robust Anti Access/Area Denial (A2/AD) systems. Unmanned systems, however, represent only one component of a greater post-Post Cold War U.S. grand strategy. A technological “offset” alone is insufficient given the expanding threat level that presently confronts U.S. decision-makers. Technological solutions will likely come from civilian industrial sources and be readily duplicated by potential adversaries. Framing the concept of a future grand strategy through unmanned systems, geographic military rebalance, prioritization of threats and movement to accommodate non-threatening, but distracting disputes with others represent the conditions for a successful response to the emerging strategic environment. The United States can still field a capable military force with global reach for a reasonable cost by undertaking such a broad strategic review.

Steve Wills is a retired surface warfare officer and a PhD student in military history at Ohio University. His focus areas are modern U.S. naval and military reorganization efforts and British naval strategy and policy from 1889-1941. He posts here at CIMSEC, and at under the pen name of “Lazarus”.

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