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Corps Existentialism: Ensuring a Future for the Marines

After more than a decade of overwhelming success in combat operations ashore, the United States Marine Corps is mounting a very public return to its sea faring roots—and the timing could not be worse.  The defense budget is shrinking by billions of dollars each fiscal year, impacting everything from amphibious ship maintenance / readiness / modernization and interoperability to Marine acquisitions and end strength.  In the midst of all this fiscal turmoil, the Department of the Navy (DoN) is further handicapped by an absence of Department level strategic communications coordination evidenced by the distant narratives being communicated from the Blue and Green sides on amphibious operations. With America’s largest Global War on Terror land campaigns wrapping up and with it a shrinking appetite to maintain two land armies, the lack of a coherent, unified justification for the future employment of Marines aboard Navy shipping existentially threatens the Marine Corps. Below are eight major items that the DoN must internally reconcile in this budget cycle to further guarantee future relevancy of the US Marine Corps:

1.       DOCTRINE: Reconsider the Marines new Capstone Document, Expeditionary Force 21 (EF-21).

“EF-21 will not change what Marines do, but how they do it[1].”  To this I would add “and when they will do it, and why they will do it.”  EF-21 represents a unilateral, fundamental paradigm shift in Joint Forcible Entry Operations (JFEO) doctrine that disconnects with existing concepts such as the Joint Operational Access Concept and the Army – Marine Corps Access Concept.  EF-21 asserts the Marine Corps’ preeminence in conceiving Amphibious Doctrine and announces dramatic changes in USN shipping standoff ranges during landing operations (an almost unfathomable 65 nautical miles) as well as a novel sequencing of operations—landing Marines prior to cyber, naval, or air preparation of the battle space in order to conduct USMC counter anti-access and counter area-denial operations.  The Marines have blazed a new doctrinal path, replete with unique assumptions on surface ship missile defense capabilities (underestimated) and surface connector capabilities (overestimated). With EF-21 they have created a schism that—left unreconciled —will call into question Naval / Joint doctrine and acquisitions to support amphibious entry operations.

2.       ORGANIZATION: Re-evaluate the ARG MEU and MAGTF

For well over a decade, the Amphibious Ready Group / Marine Expeditionary Units (ARG MEU) have been operating outside of their normal 3 ship formations. “Split Force Operations” and “Distributed Operations”[2] have been directed by Geographic Combatant Commanders, thereby breaking up the traditional ARG MEU formations in order to distribute the ships and personnel where operationally required.  While the ARG MEU has been historically conceived as an amphibious, expeditionary rapid reaction combined arms force capable of self-sustainment, the proliferation of lesser contingency operations has resulted in the placing of greater preeminence on the pieces parts vs. the whole.  This trend of separating not only ARG-MEUs but also and their Marine Corps combined arms Marine Air Ground Task Forces (MAGTF) will likely only increase in the future (especially with game changing acquisitions like the 5th Generation F-35B Lightning II coming to the Fleet in FY-17).  The cross domain synergy envisioned in the JOAC—“…the complementary vs additive employment of capabilities which enhances the capabilities and compensates for the vulnerabilities of others”—will drive independent elements of the MAGTF further into the Joint arena, and may precede a paradigm shift fundamentally altering the current ARG MEU and MAGTFconstructs.  Getting in front of that bow wave will be essential to maintaining both the MAGTF’s integrity, its capability set and its Joint Force relevency in both fully integrated and split/disaggregated instantiations throughout the range of military operations.

3.       TRAINING: Refine the agility instead of preparing for Tarawa II

Exercise BOLD ALLIGATOR is as much about domestic and international strategic communications as it is a Marine Expeditionary Brigade level exercise.  The Navy – Marine Corps team has used the exercise to host many distinguished visitors (DVs) to demonstrate the capability of amphibious forces to conduct forcible entry operations even after a decade spent waging two land wars and a significant curtailment of practiced amphibious landings on both coasts.  MEB level landings haven’t been employed operationally since the Gulf War—and in that case it was a pump fake at Ash Shuaybah.  What the Navy-Marine Corps Team has done plenty of is split/disaggregated operations, and despite their prevalence over the last decade, there has not been enough concept refinement and exercises to perfect the planning, combat cargo loading, disaggregating and (most importantly) re-aggregating of the force in order to conduct larger scale operations.  Real emphasis on these modern deployment dynamics have to become a priority so that Navy-Marine Corps amphibious forces can maintain their relevance as a scalable, agile force capable of deploying to conduct both distributed, lesser contingency operations and focused, combined arms major combat operations.

 

4.       MATERIEL: Preserve the Assault Echelon by ensuring that the ACV does not become a “Ship to Objective Commuter[3]”

With the current Amphibious Assault Vehicle (AAV) fleet nearing 50 years of age, the Marines are in desperate need of a replacement.  The Expeditionary Fighting Vehicle—previously the heir apparent to the AAV—was cancelled in 2011 after $3 Billion was spent and $15 Billion more required.  The successor to the EFV, the Amphibious Combat Vehicle (ACV), is reported to lack an amphibious capability (it will not swim unlike its predecessors) and will instead rely on US Navy surface connectors (Landing Craft Air Cushion [hoovercraft] and Landing Craft Utility [regular displacement craft]) to get ashore. As stated by LtCol Howard F. Hall in the Marine Corps Gazette, “… regardless of its land capabilities, the [non amphibious ACV] lack of personnel carrying capacity, reliance on connectors, and delayed transition from those connectors once ashore exacerbate operational risks.” Those risks include surrendering the assault echelon writ large: without amphibious capability, the connectors—which are very vulnerable to small arms, coastal artillery / mortars—would be stuck depositing ACVs instead of follow on logistics and supplies.  Once ashore, the ocean becomes a brick wall to Marines embarked in ACVs instead of maneuver space.  EF-21 envisions a 65 nautical mile standoff between Marines on the beach and Sailors on the amphibs.  If that distance is to be honored, an “amphibious combat vehicle” that lives up to its name must be fielded.

5.       LEADERSHIP: Challenge convention, support the Joint Force and the Corps will continue to thrive

The Marines are famous for their institutional paranoia on both Navy support and Army efforts to subsume them.  This paranoia, however, is detrimental to effecting needed change, and often causes a reflexive opposition to anything which threatens existing Marine Corps doctrine—seen as the Corps’ existential guarantor.  The Corps is not without their own innovators, however.  Earl “Pete” Hancock Ellis, as a Major in the Marines, conceived and developed the innovative Operations Plan 712—the basic strategy for the United States in the Pacific that led to the Corps’ modern day monopoly on Amphibious Assault (and in no small part its survival through the twentieth century). If not for Ellis’ own benefactor, General LeJeune, OPLAN 712 may never have received the vetting that drove it to become foundational to the Pacific Campaign.  This same kind of innovation and support, and not just doubling-down of core competencies in more difficult settings, must take place with Marine leadership going forward to ensure that the Corps is positioned strategically to act when the Joint Force requires.

6.       PERSONNEL: Bring back Marines assigned to Navy ships at the platoon level to augment Navy VBSS, security, small arms, ATFP capabilities

The Marines had an illustrious 223 year run on Navy capital ships, which ended in January 1998 as the defense department drew down its end strength as part of the Clinton era peace dividend.  Today, as the Corps is set to shrink once again post Afghanistan and Iraq, there is ironically a pressing need for Marines to return to Navy ships.  Anti-terrorism / Force Protection (ATFP) requirements—sentries, crew served weapons and quick reaction forces—have been on a steady rise since the 2000 USS Cole suicide bombing in Yemen.  These watch stations strain Navy crews and are manned by personnel whose primary responsibility is not the handling of small arms.  Likewise, Navy Visit Board, Search and Seizure teams—while more proficiently trained than their ATFP counterparts—are principally manned and trained for inspection and self-defense; they do not have an assault / counter-assault capability and therefore usually rely on heavily tasked special operations forces (SOF) to conduct opposed boardings.  Returning Marines to Navy ships will bring additional ATFP and VBSS capabilities to the Fleet while insulating the Marine Corps from additional manpower cuts.

7.       FACILITIES: Prepare special units to embark non-traditional shipping (and keep them light)

Commandant of the Marine Corps General James Amos testified in front of Congress on 01 October on his initiative to form a Special Purpose Marine Air Ground Task Force (SP MAGTF) in Kuwait to provide regional Quick Reaction Force (QRF) capability.  Retired Captain Jerry Hendrix of the Center for a New American Security endorsed the innovation in the Wall Street Journal.

“Looking at the Marines as a crisis response force is good in the sense the Corps knows it must develop an alternative mission and a new future.” [4]

However, Amos believes that his efforts are being hamstrung by the lack of amphibious shipping.

“In a perfect world we would rather have these teams sea-based, but we don’t have enough ships.”[5]

Not every contingency warrants a warship.  For lesser contingency operations—everything from embassy reinforcement, snatch-and-grabs to theater security cooperation—the Navy is looking towards employing ships from its “Moneyball Fleet”.  Joint High Speed Vessels, Afloat Forward Staging Bases, Dry Cargo Logistics Ships and Littoral Combat Ships are considerably cheaper to build and operate than their USS cousins, boast considerable cargo space, have sufficient flight deck / boat deck facilities while operating with a considerably smaller “signature.”  In order to ensure that these vessels do not become the exclusive domain of lighter / sexier Special Operations Forces (SOF), Marines must build tailored, scalable packages that can rapidly deploy, integrate, conduct operations and debark as cheaply and as expeditiously as possible.  Throwing down similar communications integration, berthing, and command and control requirements on non-traditional shipping as amphibious shipping is a surefire way to get priced out and left on the pier.

8.       POLICY: A greater role for the Secretary of the Navy in ensuring unity of effort / purpose within DoN DOTMLPF

At the end of the day, Title 10 authority to man, equip and train the members of the United States Navy and United States Marine Corps is invested in the Secretary of the Navy, the Honorable Ray Mabus.  The department’s strategic vision must be clearly defined and communicated at the Secretariat level.  There is no room for competing narratives, especially in an era of ever shrinking fiscal resources and ever expanding operational requirements.  It must become the policy of the Department of the Navy that all Navy / Marine Corps Doctrine, Organization, Training, Materiel, Leadership, Personnel, Facilities conform to the department’s strategic vision and serve in promoting its unity of purpose.  Anything less introduces risk and presents an existential threat to the Marine Corps.

 

Nicolas di Leonardo is a member of the Expeditionary Warfare Division on the staff of the Chief of Naval Operations and a student at the US Naval War College.  The views expressed here are his own and do not necessarily reflect those of the Expeditionary Warfare Division or the Naval War College.

[1] Amos, General James E. et al.  “EF-21,” Headquarters Marine Corps, 04 March 2015, p.5
[2] Disaggregated Operations are defined in EF-21 as “…requiring elements of the ARG/MEU to function separately and independently, regardless of time and distance, with elements under a command relationship that changes/limits the ARG/MEU commanders’ control of their forces.  Distributed Operations / Split Force Operations are defined as “…requiring elements of the ARG/MEU  to function separately for various durations and various distances with the ARG and MEU commanders retaining control of their forces under the Geographic Combatant Commander.”

[3] Hall, LtCol Howard F.  “Ship to Objective Commuters: The Continuing Search for Amphibious Vehicle Capability.”  The Marine Corps Gazette, August 2014
[4] Barnes, Julian E.  “Marines Deploy New Quick Reaction Force in Kuwait.”  The Wall Street Journal, 02 October 2014.
[5] Barnes, Julian E.  “Marines Deploy New Quick Reaction Force in Kuwait.”  The Wall Street Journal, 02 October 2014.

A Chinese warship launches a missile during a live-ammunition military drill held by the South China Sea Fleet last year.

American Strategy in the 21st Century: Maritime Power and China – Part II

This is the second of a three-part series. See Jake’s first article here.

China is a Land Power
While China continues to invest heavily in a navy, it still remains a continental for several reasons. First, China must maintain a large land force for internal stability and as a deterrent to regional competitors such as India, Vietnam and Russia. It faces demographic, economic and social challenges which threaten the Communist Party’s grip on power. Bernard D. Cole states, “Economic priorities and the need to defend the world’s longest land border with the most nations … still argue against [the PLA(N)’s] ambition for a global navy.”[1] That being said, China continues to develop a navy capable of meeting security interests within the first island chain and most of the South China Sea up to 1,000 nm off the coast.

Second, while China has vastly improved “blue water” capabilities, it has not yet capable of protecting maritime interests beyond the first island chain. Investing heavily in “anti-access/area denial” (A2AD) capabilities is a defensive strategy designed to make the cost of U.S power projection too high. However, A2AD is not a sea control strategy. It does little to prevent the cumulative effect[2] of American (and allied) maritime power to strangle China beyond the first island chain, as outlined by Thomas Hammes.[3] Finally, China’s substantial investment in a navy will likely lead to organizational pressure not to risk it to heavy losses, something which Arquilla and others have also noted. [4]

“Quantity has a quality of its own,” and China will enjoy early numerical superiority against forward-deployed American forces. It would take two to three weeks for additional forces to reach the Western Pacific in the event of an unexpected crisis. A comparison of the PLA(N) and forward deployed American naval forces is found below.

Figure 1. 2012 Comparison of PLA(N) and U.S. 7th Fleet Derived from China Naval Modernization (2012)  a-CV 16 “Liaoning”, while commissioned, does not have a carrier air wing. b-Does not include “Jin” class SSBN or “Ming” class SS c-Derived from Table 4, pg. 41 of China Naval Modernization (2012) d-U.S. 7th Fleet derived from public information available at http://www.c7f.navy.mil/forces.htm
Figure 1. 2012 Comparison of PLA(N) and U.S. 7th Fleet
Derived from China Naval Modernization (2012) [5]
a- CV 16 “Liaoning”, while commissioned, does not have a carrier air wing.
b- Does not include “Jin” class SSBN or “Ming” class SS
c- Derived from Table 4, pg. 41 of China Naval Modernization (2012)
d- U.S. 7th Fleet derived from public information available at http://www.c7f.navy.mil/forces.htm
Noting the numerical superiority of the PLA(N) over local American forces, the PRC may miscalculate on American resolve (or that of allies such as Japan and South Korea) and initiate a conflict.

Also, while the U.S. has not fought a traditional fleet action since World War II, the Navy has been conducting combat operations around the globe for the past two decades. China, for all the investment and exercises, has not engaged in maritime combat since 1988 in the Spratly Islands with Vietnam. PLA(N) commanders may assume their combat capabilities are better than they actually are, providing unfounded assurance to their own political leadership, increasing the odds of miscalculation.

American Maritime Power and the Strategy to Defeat China
America’s super power status is preserved through the ability to project power across the oceans. While the most obvious component of maritime power is the Navy, it is in jointness with the land, air, space and cyberspace components that makes it formidable. The “pivot” to the Asia-Pacific region must include a reallocation of forces and capabilities. China has continued to aggressively pursue territorial disputes, which have had the effect of driving many Asian countries to seek a greater American presence in the region. A larger land presence is out of the question, but naval and air assets – especially airborne ISR platforms – are much less intrusive and appealing. Space and cyberspace will play a significant (perhaps decisive) role, not only in sensor capabilities but also in defeating A2AD systems and PRC ISR.

The core of American maritime power is built upon destruction of enemy naval forces while preserving its own. Around this core are five pillars: scouting effectiveness, long-range strike, logistics and supply, amphibious assault and coalition warfare.

The Core – Sea Combat and Survivability
The ability to destroy or render inoperable the enemy’s navy – on the surface, in the air or under the sea – is the sine qua non of maritime power. At the same time, the survivability of forces enables the Navy to follow up on success and execute further operations, such as additional combat, blockade, escort or other sea control/sea denial tasks. The introduction of amphibious forces also requires sea combat and may be undertaken in contested waters. A maritime war with China will pit numerically inferior American forces against a formidable yet untested larger PLA(N). U.S. forces must be able to fight, win and survive to carry the war closer to China’s shores.

The Pillars
Scouting effectiveness. Wayne Hughes defines scouting as “the gathering and delivery of information,” a more compact and encompassing term than the currently used “ISR.”[6] It also includes the processing and analysis of vast quantities of all-source information – including space and cyberspace – to provide commanders the best picture possible from which they can make timely decisions. Scouting effectiveness is judged by how quickly information can be turned into actionable intelligence. If commanders can remain inside the decision-making loop of their enemy, they can have a distinct advantage.

Long-range strike. American military development continues to pursue the goal of projecting power from extreme distances or from a position of stealth or sanctuary. Long-range strike should be thought of as a “family of systems,” including land-based bombers, carrier-based strike aircraft (manned and unmanned), rail guns, cruise missiles and supporting airborne electronic attack aircraft.[7] The ability to strike the PRC’s A2AD systems, which are located not only on the coast but also far inland, will be crucial in a maritime fight. In this case, space and cyberspace offensive operations should also be considered in the family of “long range” strike.

Amphibious assault. War is ultimately decided by the “man on the scene with a gun.” The ability to insert land forces onto hostile shores in contested seas may be the ultimate arbiter in a maritime conflict with China, especially in the scenario described above. Even if not used immediately, the credible threat of an amphibious landing could have the effect of tying down Chinese naval, land and air forces hundreds of miles away.

Logistics and supply. In a conflict with China, we should expect that forward supply bases such as those in Japan, South Korea and Guam will become targets, along with supply ships. The flow of food, fuel, forces and ammunition will be the determining factor in our ability to sustain a long-term conflict, so our defense of “sea lanes of communication” (SLOCs) will be tested. Concurrently, the ability to restrict or deny China’s SLOCs should be an early objective of operational planning. A prolonged conflict will test both American and Chinese logistical capacity. The longer America is able to sustain a conflict while controlling SLOCs, the more untenable the Chinese position becomes.

Coalition warfare. The scenario we introduced highlights the importance of coalition and allied warfare. From a perspective of legitimacy, American national security policy has largely adopted the position that the unilateral use of force, while retained, is undesirable. World, and more importantly American, public opinion matters significantly in our ability to conduct and sustain military operations. More importantly, the participation of allies is necessary to offset the quantitative advantages of the PLA(N). The Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force (JMSDF) and the Republic of Korea Navy (ROKN) are significant forces in their own right, and combined with the U.S. Navy, would match up well against the PLA(N). Third, while some of our coalition partners and allies such as the Philippines, Thailand, Australia, New Zealand or Singapore may not directly participate, they may provide critical logistical hubs or basing. The pillars described above – scouting effectiveness, long-range strike, amphibious assault and logistics and supply – will hinge on the participation and/or support of our allies and friends.

Preparing to Pivot – Restructuring Forward Deployed American Forces
Former Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta suggested that approximately 60 percent of the U.S. naval forces will be postured toward the Pacific region by 2020. How those forces are configured remains a central question.[8]

A Chinese warship launches a missile during a live-ammunition military drill held by the South China Sea Fleet last year.
A Chinese warship launches a missile during a live-ammunition military drill held by the South China Sea Fleet last year.

Current maritime forces are centered on the USS George Washington carrier strike group and a large amphibious task force, CTF 76. The Air Force, Army, Marines and special forces also have a significant presence in the region in Japan, South Korea and Guam.

Future force realignment in the region should include an increase in the number of forward deployed U.S. submarines. The immediate availability of subsurface assets would tip the balance against the numerical advantage of the PLA(N) and allow commanders the option to operate immediately in the first island chain without risking large surface combatants.

In that vein, the development and construction of small fast and stealthy surface missile combatants would provide another avenue to commanders for operations closer in to Chinese waters.[9] Significant investment has already been made in both the littoral combat ship (LCS) and joint high speed vessel (JHSV), which represents a starting point. If equipped with next-generation anti-ship cruise missiles (ASCM’s) such as the Harpoon Block III, advanced capability (ADCAP) torpedoes and SM-2 missiles, these surface combatants could sortie into the East China and Yellow Seas conducting “hit and run” attacks on the PLA(N) surface units as well as protect Japanese and Korean home waters. Further out from the first island chain, they can also be utilized from the Philippines to the Spratly Islands and Singapore to participate in off-shore blockade of the Malacca strait.

Much like the Navy, the Air Force will operate at a numerical disadvantage to the Chinese air and naval air forces. It will fight further from bases, requiring tanker support making them vulnerable and limiting their attack depth. Both the Navy and Air Force will depend on advantages in electronic warfare to blind China’s air forces and air defense systems while fifth generation stealth fighters, such as the F-22, will be critical to achieve air superiority.

Land forces in a maritime conflict are naturally built around maritime assault. However, the presence of a significant force on the Korean peninsula serves as both a deterrent to North Korea attempting to take advantage of a conflict as well as representing a pool of forces to draw from to conduct amphibious operations. Soldiers and Marines stationed on Okinawa, Guam, Korea, Japan and Australia, have to be sufficient in number to conduct a forced entry and capture of any number of island-war scenarios, whether in the tiny Spratly, Paracel or Senkaku Islands to larger ones such as Taiwan.

Land forces also have a role in our own ability to contest the seas and defeat PRC A2AD systems. They can be used to station our own ASCM capabilities among the many islands and littorals in the East and South China Seas. Coupled with land-based rail or traditional gun systems, they could provide an effective deterrence against a PLA(N) sortie and give the PRC leadership pause before initiating conflict.

The opening stages of a maritime conflict with China will be a contest of sea denial. Large American surface combatants will not be operating within the first island chain until Chinese land-based ASCM capabilities are sufficiently neutralized. Control of the undersea, air and space will be bitterly contested. The PRC will attempt to “blind” American ISR and “command and control” capabilities using cyber attacks and anti-satellite (ASAT) missile systems.

U.S. submarines will play a crucial role attriting Chinese naval forces as well as executing strikes against ports and logistic facilities. U.S. land-based and carrier aircraft will begin to contest the skies. With stealthy, fast missile boats, surface forces could sortie out into contested seas. America will not have initial sea control within the first island chain, but should pursue sea denial to limit the PLA(N)’s freedom of action.

At the same time, larger surface action groups made up of guided missile destroyers and cruisers can begin to choke off China’s economic lifelines, especially south of the Spratly Islands and in the Western Pacific. Long-range strike platforms and airborne electronic attack, coupled with space and cyberspace warfare operations, will attempt to roll back China’s formidable integrated air defense (IAD) and A2AD systems. This will create an ever-tightening grip on Chinese economic activity and achieve air superiority in areas critical to the conflict.

About the Author
LT Robert “Jake” Bebber USN is an information warfare officer assigned to the staff of the United States Cyber Command. He holds a Ph.D. in Public Policy from the University of Central Florida. The views expressed here do not represent those of the Department of Defense, Department of the Navy or the U.S. Cyber Command. He welcomes your comments at jbebber@gmail.com.

Sources

[1] Cole, Bernard D. The Great Wall at Sea: China’s Navy in the Twenty-First Century (2nd Ed). Annapolis: Naval Institute Press, 2010. Pg. 201.

[2] Wylie outlined two types of strategies: sequential and cumulative. A sequential strategy is one in which each success is built upon the other in a march toward victory. He suggests the “island hopping” campaign in the middle Pacific as an example. A cumulative strategy is “made up of a series of lesser actions” which are not “sequentially interdependent.” See pg 22-27 of Military Strategy.

[3] Hammes, T. X. Offshore Control: A Proposed Strategy for an Unlikely Conflict. Washington DC: Institute for National Strategic Studies, National Defense University, 2012.

[4] However, this risk aversion may apply only to newer, modern platforms. The PLA(N) may be more willing to sortie older surface combatants which are still heavily armed anti-ship cruise missile (ASCM) platforms

[5] O’Rourke, Ronald. China Naval Modernization: Implications for U.S. Navy Capabilities – Background and Issues for Congress. CRS Report for Congress, Washington, DC: Congressional Research Service, 2012.

[6]Wayne P. Hughes, Jr. “Naval Operations: A Close Look at the Operational Level of War at Sea.” Naval War College Review, 2012: 23-47. Pg. 32.

[7] Gunzinger, Mark A. Sustaining America’s Advantage in Long-Range Strike. Washington DC: Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments, 2010. Pg. ix.

[8] Neisloss, Liz. U.S. defense secretary announces new strategy with Asia. June 2, 2012. http://edition.cnn.com/2012/06/02/us/panetta-asia/index.html (accessed December 1, 2012).

[9] Huges, op cit., Pg. 29.

Source: NATO Press Release, 'Allied leaders pledge to reverse defence cuts, reaffirm transatlantic bond' 08 Sep. 2014 09:23

NATO Defense Spending, Past and Present: Part 1

Discussions and data presentations surrounding the recent NATO summit on member state spending levels on defense and the now-metronomic domestic squabbles over the United States’ own military budget have centered on the percentage of gross domestic product (% of GDP) benchmark. GDP is a hoary and problematic macroeconomic metric in its own right. Further, % of GDP offers no natural rationale for defense or any other budgetary programming, per se. Indeed, because of its fuzziness, GDP is thus dually ambiguous in its role as a primary measure of economic viability and as a stake in the ground for national planning. Is NATO’s goal to get military spending up to 2% of GDP in the coming decade plausible?  This question inspired a look at the alliance’s GDP and defense budget history.

The following essay is the first in a three-part series which together provide a macroeconomic overview of the 55 year old defense alliance. This first essay presents the history of NATO member nation defense spending since the alliance was founded in 1949. Eleven of the twelve founding members (Iceland is excluded from the analysis in this series for a lack of defense expenditure data) and four Cold War additions (Germany, Greece, Spain, and Turkey) are plotted individually because their longevity provides substantial history for member and alliance defense spending context. The twelve post-Cold War enlargement members are grouped into a single category in this first essay but are considered individually in the second and third papers.

The second paper will look a little closer at the defense spending history and trends of individual member nations and selected sub-groups. The third will examine the concept of command spending models such as setting a goal for each member to spend “2% of GDP” via a look at several other hypothetical spending models.

The source for NATO member nation defense spending for 1949-2013 is the SIPRI Military Expenditure Database. The SIPRI dataset also has a table containing most—but not all—of the expenditure data computed as a percentage of GDP. In order to fill in some of the missing information, for example for Turkey for the 1953-1959 period, an analytical dataset for member nation population and GDP was created from the Penn World, International Monetary Fund World Economic Outlook (IMF WEO), and Maddison Project datasets, using Bureau of Labor Statistics Consumer Price Index and World Bank Purchasing Power Parity conversion factor for currency conversion to a constant dollar baseline reference. All currency data in this series have been converted into 2014 U.S. dollars (US$2014).

As mentioned at the outset, “GDP” is ambiguous because it can be computed many ways according to the assumptions underlying a given dataset. The Penn World, IMF WEO, and Maddison data sets demonstrate strong correspondence in most cases where their datasets overlap but in some cases they diverge significantly. The Penn World purchasing power parity (PPP) PWT8.0 dataset was supplemented and adjusted with the other datasets and currency conversion sources to provide data for as many years of each member nation’s participation in the alliance as possible. Information on the adjusted dataset assumptions and methodology is available at this link.

The four graphs shown below present NATO member % of GDP spent on defense in direct comparison to, respectively, GDP, per capita GDP, and member share of cumulative NATO defense spending in a scatterplot format. Both horizontal and vertical axis categories are independent and the time-series/chronology is implied in the data rather than explicitly annotated (typically as the independent axis). Thus the entire history of NATO defense spending—who spent how much historically—is available at one glance.

The first graph shows % of GDP verses GDP. Although specific years are not listed, we can infer approximate chronology from the knowledge that constant dollar GDP has generally grown since 1949. Thus, the more recent years are found higher up the vertical logarithmic axis. The basic pattern is a right hook: as a member’s GDP rose, % of GDP spent for defense typically decreased, though, in some cases, there are notable abrupt shifts, as can most noticeably be seen in the last dozen dots for the United Kingdom (dark orange) and the United States (aqua). These shifts to higher % of GDP spending on defense reflect these nations’ budgetary adjustments to the wars of the past decade.

nato_defspnd_part1_img1-1_mbrgdp_v_pergdpMember defense spending as % of GDP v. member GDP (billions)

The second graph plots % of GDP against per capita GDP. This chart in particular illuminates at least one problematic aspect of a %-of-GDP basis for defense spending when per capita national affluence, rather than aggregate national affluence, is emphasized. One may ask why if %-of-GDP is an admittedly arbitrary but plausible defense spending goal, wouldn’t a progressive per capita defense spending rate be more in line with most modern taxation models? Hypothetically, should those individuals who make more, and presumably benefit more from NATO security, perhaps pay more? This and several similar questions about hypothetical defense spending models are briefly examined in the third essay.

nato_defspnd_part1_img1-2_mbrpercapgdp_v_pergdpMember defense spending as % of GDP v. member per capita GDP (thousands)

The second graph shows that defense spending has congregated in the low single digits of % of GDP as per capita GDP has risen. However, several long-serving members have remarkably vertical %-of-GDP defense spending trends: Italy (Kelly green), Luxembourg (lavender), Spain (pink), and Turkey (dark grey) have remained within a relatively tight bracket of from 1-4% of GDP for defense spending throughout their history in the alliance.

The third graph compares % of GDP to the share or percentage each member nation has contributed to annual cumulative defense spending. The U.S. (aqua) and Luxembourg (lavender) are the obvious outliers in terms of magnitude. Generally, the NATO members show fairly consistent behavior, contributing approximately the same relative proportion over time. Only the contributions of Greece (blue-grey), and Italy (Kelly green), Luxembourg (lavender), and Turkey (dark grey) have varied by more than 300% over the duration of their participation in the alliance.

nato_defspnd_part1_img1-3_mbrshareofnato_v_pergdpMember defense spending as % of GDP v. member per share or percentage contribution to cumulative annual NATO defense spending

The format of the fourth graph sets up the more detailed focus on individual member nation spending patterns which will follow in the next two essays. The fourth graph repeats the same data from the third graph but in a simplified format. In place of the dot scatterplot, the centroid or average of each member nations’ data is represented by a single large dot. The data for 2013 is shown as a smaller dot and the 2013 dot is anchored to the average dot to maintain the relationship. The line connecting the two could be interpreted as a curve but keep in mind the log scale of the vertical axis. The dot-connecting lines are primarily a graphical device.

We see in the fourth graph that, in all cases, 2013 defense spending as a % of GDP is significantly lower than the historical average. This is not to advocate for a return to the arbitrary metric of historical average, merely to account for the present in the context of the alliance’s past.

In 2013, the U.S. spent about 4% of its per capita GDP on defense, everyone else paid less than 3%, and some were in the neighborhood of from 1-2%. One may also note by the relative vertical position of the dot pairs that with the exceptions of Luxembourg (lavender), Norway (dark blue), Portugal (light green), Turkey (dark grey), the U.S. (aqua), and the collective post-Cold War group (plum), the other members’ 2013 contributions were also smaller proportions of the NATO whole than their historical averages (smaller dot lower than large dot).

nato_defspnd_part1_img1-4_mbrshareofnato_v_pergdp_simpMember defense spending as % of GDP v. member per share or percentage contribution to cumulative annual NATO defense spending. This is the same information as the third graph simplified.

In sum, any particular member nations’ defense spending in a particular year in terms of historical averages is not necessarily meaningful in the context of the value of the NATO alliance to either the particular member or to the whole. But the history can be useful for framing questions on apportionment, return on investment (in a very broad sense, of course), and the reasonableness (or not) of command spending “requirements” based on gross macroeconomic parameters.

In the next essay, we’ll move from the 30,000′ view and take a more detailed look at the individual members military spending history.

 

Dave Foster is a civilian analyst for the U.S. Navy. He is a former Marine Corps officer and holds degrees in engineering, history, and management. The views expressed here do not represent those of the Department of Defense or the Department of the Navy.

9781612512129

Leading Where? Reflection on “Saltwater Leadership”

By Erik Sand

In his book Saltwater Leadership, Rear Admiral Robert O. Wray admits that he is not trying to add to the body of leadership knowledge. He seeks to provide a condensed, tailored, leadership primer for junior sea service officers. He includes tidbits from 35 books and stories and advice from hundreds of seagoing leaders. Wray limits his explicit advice but implicitly portrays his vision of successful leadership through the excerpts and anecdotes he includes. While the leaders he envisions would succeed as junior officers, I am left wondering if they would have the skills needed to guide an organization in to the future.

Wray begins by asking, “What is leadership?” He determines that “leadership is the process of getting people to do things.”[1] This simple idea encapsulates the daily tasks of a junior officer. Whether on watch or working with a division, new junior officers must ensure the completion of tasks for which they lack the training to complete themselves. They can complete few of their responsibilities without the work of others.

Yet, Wray quickly muddies the water in answering his next question: “What is the difference between leadership and management?” He provides his own answer along with answers from various scholars and practitioners. In several cases, Wray’s definition of leadership sounds more like what these experts consider management. Wray writes, “Some say that leadership is deciding what to do, and why, while management focuses on how.”[2] The “how” of management seems more like the “process” of his leadership definition than what or why. Similarly, he quotes a leadership expert who states, “A leader knows what’s best to do; a manager knows how best to do it.”[3]

Wray’s original definition of leadership is not wrong. Indeed, it reflects exactly the qualities that earn promotion in today’s Navy. Rather, the contradiction between Wray’s original definition of leadership and his discussion of leadership and management demonstrates that eventually leaders must do more than get things done. Leaders must choose the right things to do.

Wray would likely agree. Leadership is prone to lists, he explains, because many traits and skills are required for success. The exclusion of certain traits from his core definition should not mean those traits are unimportant. The omission of “what and why,” however, continues through the book. Wray surveyed 380 naval leaders from senior enlisted to admirals asking what traits were most important for junior officer success. Integrity, character, and trustworthiness topped the list. Summarizing the overall result, he describes successful junior officers as “ honest, hardworking teammates.”[4] No one should downplay these virtues. They are essential for successful leadership, but they tend toward “how.” The respondents deemed traits needed to make determinations about “what and why” less important. Analytical thinking came in at 18 of 76, and inspiration, vision, scholarship, insight, inquisitiveness, and conviction fell in the bottom third.

The book may emphasize “how” over “what and why” because it targets junior officers. Junior officers spend more effort on the process of doing than on deciding what to do and why to do it. If, however, the skills needed for successful leadership change as a career progresses, the book does not mention it. At some points, it suggests the opposite. Wray writes that “leadership lessons and concepts can be universal.” [5] When he provides caveats, he compares the boardroom and the battlefield not the deckplates and the Captain’s chair. Moreover, several of the stories he includes, such an aircraft carrier captain facing an unconfirmed report of a man-overboard, describe situations a junior officer would almost never face. These stories teach valuable lessons about leadership and life at sea, but their inclusion reinforces the sense that the while the book is tailored for junior officers its view of leadership is not.

 

The Navy has used checklists and written procedures for decades. Today, however, units receive more direction from headquarters than ever before. Type commanders not only direct what training evolutions ships must complete and when, but they also provide detailed grading rubrics specifying exactly how those evolutions must be accomplished. Time dedicated to growing administrative requirements distracts officers from core competencies. Just as Saltwater Leadership seems to focus on the undoubtedly important “how” at the expense of the equally important “what and why,” so too does our Navy.

Admiral Wray has produced a useful compilation of leadership advice for junior officers learning how to lead and how to get things done, but unless those new leaders also learn to make decisions about what must done and why, our future Navy will find itself underway but adrift.

Erik Sand is an active duty U.S. Navy Surface Warfare Officer stationed at the Pentagon. His views do not reflect those of the Department of Defense or the U.S. Navy. He is indebted to the contributions of Midshipman Amanda Assenmarcher for providing a perspective from this book’s intended audience.

 

[1] Wray, Robert O., Saltwater Leadership: A Primer on Leadership for the Junior Sea-Service Officer (Annapolis, MD: Naval Institute Press, 2013), 5.

[2] Wray, Saltwater Leadership, 6.

[3] Wray, Saltwater Leadership, 6.

[4] Wray, Saltwater Leadership, 85.

[5] Wray, Saltwater Leadership, 11.

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Sea Control 56 – Forgotten Naval Strategists

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.

DOWNLOAD: Sea Control 56 – Forgotten Naval Strategists

Considering leaving a comment and five-star rating on Itunes, Stitcher Stream Radio, etc… Remember to subscribe and recommend us to your friends!

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

141009-N-SQ432-032

The U.S. Navy at 239

The Navy is Decatur and Farragut and Mahan and Nimitz.
The Navy is Vahk and Garcia and Nguyen and Smith.
The Navy is Monitor and Enterprise and Nautilus and Cole.
The Navy is Tripoli, Midway, Leyte Gulf, and the Blockade of the South.
The Navy is Arizona and Maine and Vincennes and Pueblo.

1280px-USS_Arizona_in_New_York_City_Crisco_edit
USS Arizona on the East River

The Navy is the Quarantine of Cuba.
The Navy is the Great White Fleet.
The Navy is the death of Osama bin Laden.
The Navy is the first strikes on ISIS.
The Navy is counter-piracy operations off the Horn of Africa.

The Navy is a missile shield in Europe.
The Navy is a missile shield in Asia.
The Navy is the most survivable leg of the nuclear triad.
The Navy is disaster relief to Japan, to the Philippines, to Pakistan, to Haiti.

The Navy is fighting in Syria.
The Navy is fighting in Iraq.
The Navy is fighting in Afghanistan.
The Navy is fighting in Somalia.
The Navy is fighting in Libya.

Scott-anacondaThe Navy is capability no one else can deliver, when no one else can deliver it.
The Navy is the first called in a crisis, the nation’s first responder.
The Navy is the most versatile branch of the military, the nation’s Swiss Army Knife.
The Navy is preserving the rule of law at sea in the face of authoritarian decrees.
The Navy is defending the nation’s lifelines and economic vitality.
The Navy is the most important branch of military for meeting the nation’s 21st-century demands.
The Navy is the sons and daughters of all 50 states, all American territories, and the District of Columbia.
The Navy is the nation’s least appreciated military Service.1

The Navy once navigated by the stars.
The Navy now navigates by man-made constellations it helped put in orbit.
The Navy has reinvented its mission, its strategy, and its concepts of operation countless times.
The Navy will need to do so many times again.
The Navy restricts the academic pursuits of its officer corps.2
The Navy is unparalleled in its openness to self-criticism.

US_Navy_061015-N-5334H-179_USS_Fitzgerald_(DDG_62)_Commanding_Officer,_Cmdr._David_Hughes_and_Executive_Officer,_Lt._Cmdr._John_Tolg_hold_up_the_ship's_banner_with_children_and_adults_from_the_Cub_Scouts_Tokyo_GroupThe Navy is filled with some of the most driven, intelligent, and innovative Americans.
The Navy is active, reserve, civilians, and contractors striving to harness their creativity.
The Navy lacks all the tools needed for a 21st-century workforce.

The Navy is at sea, ashore, in the air, under the waves, in space, and in cyberspace.
The Navy is increasing in capability.
The Navy is facing growing requirements.
The Navy is decreasing in capacity.

The Navy would choose no one but the Marine Corps to have its back in a knife fight.

The Navy is a ship named America 3 days old.
The Navy is a ship named Constitution 217 years old.
The Navy is 1775.
The Navy is 2014.
The Navy is 239 today.

————————————————————-

1. http://www.gallup.com/poll/170657/americans-say-army-important-branch-defense.aspx

2. http://www.nrotc.navy.mil/scholarship_criteria.aspx

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.

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TLAMs and ISIS: Insane and Cynical Ways to Blow Things Up

Several days ago (Tuesday September 23), I drove to work listening to the report of the United States’ government’s latest military adventure in the area of the Levant at the confluence of northeastern Syria and western Iraq.     The National Public Radio (NPR) announcers intoned dryly on the launches, among other things, of 50—yes fifty—tomahawk land attack cruise missiles (TLAM) as part of a major strike against the threat de jour of this season, the brutal Islamic State.[1]   At 1.4 million dollars a pop, tomahawks[2] are a very very expensive way to kill people and blow up their sinews of war, the most expensive of which were captured from the Syrian and most recently Iraqi armies—in other words less expensive stuff (like towed artillery and armored personnel carriers) that originated mostly in Russian and US factories.[3]

 

USS WISCONSIN launches a BGM-109 Tomahawk missile against a target in Iraq during Operation Desert Storm.
USS WISCONSIN launches a BGM-109 Tomahawk missile against a target in Iraq during Operation Desert Storm.

23 and a half years ago the US launched its first TLAMS as a part of the opening air campaign of Operation Desert Storm, the combat phase of the US-led coalition’s successful effort to liberate Kuwait from the military forces of Saddam Hussein’s Iraq and to restore stability, of some kind, to the Persian Gulf region.[4]   That use was part of an overall suppression of enemy air defense (SEAD) campaign that built on the lessons learned from Vietnam in 1972, the Yom Kippur War in 1973, and finally the Israeli Bekka Valley SEAD campaign in 1982. TLAMS served as a means, along with electronic countermeasures like radar jamming and use of anti-radiation missiles (ARM), to suppress Iraqi air defenses. Their use made sense because they were part of an overall campaign to achieve air superiority before launching the ground war that quickly liberated Kuwait under skies dominated by US and coalition aircraft.

Since then, TLAMs have been used in a similar fashion in Bosnia (Deliberate Force, 1995), Kosovo (Allied Force, 1999), Iraq again (Desert Fox, 1998, and Iraqi Freedom, 2003), and most recently in Libya (Odyssey Dawn, 2011).[5] One sees a trend here, with the exception of Iraq in 2003, of using these weapons as a means to show resolve without risking the lives of US service personnel on the ground.     Arguments can be made to support this use, although similar arguments can be made against their use, especially in the air-only campaigns. Today, they are again supposedly a part of a larger air campaign against the thug-regime of the Islamic State (for our purposes here ISIS).   One supposes that they were being used because of the air defense capabilities of ISIS, especially captured surface-to-air missile (SAM) equipment, anti-aircraft artillery, and radars.   Some of this concern for both manned and unmanned aircraft attacking ISIS is also directed at the Syrian regime, which has not guaranteed that its air defense system will remain silent during this expansion of the air war into Syria to attack the “capital” of the ISIS caliphate at Raqqa. However, ISIS’s air defenses have been assessed by some as being “relatively limited.”[6]

One must ask the question, why expand the war, both geographically and in terms of means, for the purposes of this essay, the means equating to TLAM use?   Has anyone done a cost benefit analysis (CBA) of this usage or is their use more an informational tactic meant to show sexy pictures of TLAM use to convey the seriousness of the intent by the Obama Administration?   A CBA notwithstanding, these other things may all be true to varying degrees, but it points to a more troubling suggestion. Is the use of TLAMs, like the use aircraft carriers to deliver the air power to these land-locked regions, simply a reflection of the strategic poverty of American thinking?

There are very few positive benefits in all these results.   Strategic poverty? Or cynical public relations campaign? Or wasteful expenditure of high technology smart ordnance against a very weak target (the ISIS air defense “system”)?   None of these choices offers much in the way of reassurance to this writer.

Further, the criteria for the use of these expensive “kamikaze drones”—my characterization for TLAMS—seems to be lower and lower. More and more, in the 1990s and since, when the US government wanted to blow up some meaningless bit of sand or dirt to display US resolve it sent these weapons in to do the job—or not do the job in most cases. We think we are sending a signal of resolve but our enemies, like the North Vietnamese during the ineffectual Rolling Thunder campaign, “hear” us sending a message of weakness, lack of resolve, and even cowardice.[7]   A friend of mine, who shall remain anonymous, refers to the TLAM as: “the 20th Century equivalent of a diplomatic note, meant to convey disapproval without really doing anything.”

 

Alcoholics Anonymous—among others—has a saying: “doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result is the definition of insanity.”   This latest gross expenditure of US tax dollars by the US Navy at the behest of its strategic masters to blow things up in a remote corner of the globe provides more evidence that US policy is either insane, impoverished, cynical, or all of the above. Let us hope it is impoverished, because that we can change; one day, and one election, at a time. But first the US must quit its knee jerk reactions to these sorts of events, like an alcoholic going on another binge.

 

John T. Kuehn’s views are his own and do not reflect the official policy or position of the Department of the Army, Department of Defense, or the U.S. Government.

 

[1] http://news.usni.org/2014/09/23/implications-expanding-isis-airstrikes-syria, (accessed 9/23/2014).

[2] http://fas.org/man/dod-101/sys/smart/bgm-109.htm, (accessed 9/23/2014).

[3] http://www.infowars.com/isis-is-taking-over-iraq-using-captured-american-weapons/, (accessed 9/23/2014).

[4] Ed Marolda and Robert Schneller, Jr., Shield and Sword: The United States Navy and the Persian Gulf War (Annapolis, MD: Naval Institute Press), 167-183.

[5] http://www.navy.mil/submit/display.asp?story_id=59476, (accessed 9/23/2014); and http://fas.org/man/dod-101/sys/smart/bgm-109.htm, (accessed 9/23/2014).

[6] http://news.usni.org/2014/09/23/implications-expanding-isis-airstrikes-syria, (accessed 9/23/2014).

[7] LCDR Douglas M. White, USN, “ROLLING THUNDER TO LINEBACKER: U.S. FIXED WING

SURVIVABILITY OVER NORTH VIETNAM,” 2014, unpublished masters thesis (Fort Leavenworth, KS: Combined Arms Research Library, 2014), passim.

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