Category Archives: Capability Analysis

Analyzing Specific Naval and Maritime Platforms

Navy Quilt #2 (in progress) ©2010 Ayn Hanna, ~40"x40", Textile Painting (dye painted on cotton fabric)

The Operational Art of Air-Sea Battle

CDR John Callaway, U.S. Navy, is a strategic planner assigned to the Air-Sea Battle Office. He is a graduate of Georgetown University, Harvard’s Kennedy School, and the National War College. The opinions expressed here are his own.

Navy Quilt #2 (in progress) ©2010 Ayn Hanna, ~40"x40", Textile Painting (dye painted on cotton fabric)
Navy Quilt #2 (in progress) ©2010 Ayn Hanna, ~40″x40″, Textile Painting (dye painted on cotton fabric)

Air-Sea Battle is described as a limited objective concept by the Department of Defense.[1] Some critics have argued that Air-Sea Battle must be more than a limited objective concept, possibly a war plan or a strategy. Others have argued that it is less than a concept and is just a meaningless set of buzzwords. From a military planner’s perspective, Air-Sea Battle is a piece of art – operational art that describes the “broad actions the force must take to achieve the desired military end state.”[2]


Joint doctrine uses operational art to begin the military planning process by developing an “operational approach.” An operational approach is based on an understanding of the military environment and the problem facing the commander.[3] Air-Sea Battle describes an operational approach to address the anti-access/area denial (A2/AD) problem and is “limited” in objective to the access required to conduct concurrent or follow-on actions, not decisive defeat of an adversary. If faced with an operational A2/AD challenge, a combatant commander may build on the operational approach described by Air-Sea Battle to design a war plan suited to the specific region and situation. This is an important distinction, especially for those who believe Air-Sea Battle is focused on a specific country. No matter what specific operational plan is used, Air-Sea Battle’s operational approaches can be applied if access and freedom of action in the global commons is at risk.

Why Air-Sea Battle is Important: The A2/AD Mission. Understanding strategic goals and the military missions that support them is an important first step in developing an operational approach.[4] The 2012 Defense Strategic Guidance assigned the ability to project power despite anti-access/area denial challenges as a distinct mission for the U.S. armed forces.[5] Countering A2/AD challenges is separate from and in addition to the traditional, conventional mission to deter and defeat aggression because of the complexity and paradigm-breaking challenge created by A2/AD capabilities. The Defense Strategic Guidance directs the implementation of the Joint Operational Access Concept as one of the ways to address A2/AD challenges. Joint Operational Access Concept begins to describe the A2/AD environment and then refers to the Air-Sea Battle Concept to address specific aspects of A2/AD.

The Air-Sea Battle Concept in turn applies military operational art to A2/AD: an understanding of the A2/AD operational environment, the specific problems posed by A2/AD, and an operational approach that envisions how a commander can mitigate the risks of the A2/AD environment and continue to operate in the global commons. The name “Air-Sea Battle” is derived from the air and maritime domains traditionally associated with the global commons and the new assumption that U.S. forces must fight to achieve and maintain access in those domains.[6] This simple etymology of the Air-Sea Battle Concept in Department of Defense writings clearly defines the intent of Air-Sea Battle and should not be confused with think tank and other commentator “sources.”


Envisioning the A2/AD Operating Environment. Air-Sea Battle was directed by Secretary of Defense Robert Gates to shake-up the institutional inertia generated by uncontested access.[7] The A2/AD operating environment will be one where U.S. forces will not only fight to get to the fight but also fight to sustain access and the ability to maneuver in all domains. A2/AD presents a layered, multi-domain, integrated system-of-systems that gives potential adversaries a new dimension of strategic depth. While U.S. forces have always expected to be contested in theater when they maneuver within the operating range of adversary organic capabilities, the ability to merely move and sustain forces from homeports and bases to and across distant theaters will now be contested as well.


In addition to the increased technological sophistication of military capabilities on land, at sea, and in the air, the nascent development of potentially hostile space and cyberspace capabilities expands the access challenge across all five warfighting domains. Friendly forces in the air, sea, land, space and cyberspace domains are now threatened not only physically but also through the electromagnetic spectrum and cyberspace. The expectation that command and control structures will be attacked through the disruption of friendly communications and decision-making architectures is probably the most-significant change from today’s warfighting paradigm. In short, our traditional understanding of the phases of conflict, the definition of battlespace, our access to and ability to maneuver within domains, and our expected operational tempo will all be challenged.


Maintaining freedom of action in the global commons requires overcoming the physical threats of long-range missiles, torpedoes, mines, and other threats as well as maintaining our ability to command, control, and communicate with the forces from the strategic to the tactical levels. Initial analysis led some to conclude that only through striking the land-based hosts of these threat capabilities would the U.S. be able to maintain access.[8] The Joint Operational Access Concept acknowledges the risks associated with that approach.[9] To provide national leadership and military commanders with an array of viable options, Air-Sea Battle promotes operational art, not prescriptive solutions and advocates the innovative use of existing technology and potential future developments as the means to maintain U.S. qualitative superiority in the global commons.


Defining the A2/AD Problem. The Air-Sea Battle Concept defines the A2/AD problem and desired end-state as “capabilities (that) challenge U.S. freedom of action by causing U.S. forces to operate with higher levels of risk and at greater distance from areas of interest. U.S. forces must maintain freedom of action by shaping the A2/AD environment to enable concurrent or follow-on operations.”[10] In short, the A2/AD environment consists of threats to movement, threats to maneuver, and threats to command and control.


For example, capabilities in space and cyberspace as well as terrorist tactics may threaten the movement of deploying forces, logistics forces and follow-on forces from home bases to theater. These threats will challenge our understanding of the phasing of conflict. In addition, increased area denial capabilities are directly and indirectly challenging the long-range air and missile capabilities of U.S. forces, specifically to negate U.S. stand-off capability and driving a change to our understanding of battlespace and operating areas by making our current frames of reference obsolete. Finally, adversaries are preparing to contest the domains of space and cyberspace, and the electromagnetic spectrum in order to create a degraded or denied communications environment that directly challenges U.S. reliance on ”reach back” communications and theater level command and control. This will greatly impact our ability to dictate the tempo of battle. The effect of these A2/AD capabilities is summarized in the Concept: “(t)he range and scale of possible effects from these capabilities presents a military problem that threatens the U.S. and allied expeditionary warfare model of power projection and maneuver.”[11]


An Operational Approach to A2/AD. An operational approach is a “commander’s description of the broad actions the force must take to achieve the desired military end state.”[12] It is a “visualization of how the operation should transform current conditions into the desired conditions at end state.”[13] The Joint force uses operational approaches to provide the foundation for planning guidance, to provide a model for execution and assessment and to enable a better understanding of the operational environment and of the problem.[14] Air-Sea Battle provides an operational approach to A2/AD.


Air-Sea Battle’s operational approach to the A2/AD challenge in the global commons is a networked, integrated force capable of attack-in-depth to disrupt, destroy and defeat adversary forces (NIA/D3).[15] As defined above, the A2/AD problem at its core is about sophisticated threats to movement, maneuver and command and control. Readers of the Concept document will find the broad framework of Air-Sea Battle as it addresses A2/AD threats. The individual parts of Air-Sea Battle are briefly summarized as follows, but the reader is cautioned to view them not as individual lines of effort but as strands woven together when a commander is designing a plan:


Networked. “Networked” describes not only the communications pathways but also the authorities and relationships needed to enable commanders faced with threats to their decision-making process. Cross-domain operations are conducted by integrating capabilities from multiple interdependent warfighting domains to support, shape, or achieve objectives in other domains. The Joint Operational Access Concept advocates for cross-domain synergy, which goes beyond the merely additive, de-conflicted capabilities of today where commander’s must “reach back” for space, cyber and long-range fires.[16] Cross-domain operations will go a step further to exploit asymmetric advantages in specific domains to create positive and potentially cascading effects in other domains, as commanded at the operational level.


Integrated. “Integrated” reflects three emerging trends that will challenge the current U.S. understanding of the opening phase of war with A2/AD adversaries. First, an adversary can initiate military activities with little or no indications or warning. Second, forward deployed friendly forces will likely be in the A2/AD environment at the commencement of hostilities and, third, adversaries will likely attack U.S. and allied territory supporting operations against adversary forces. In other words, the U.S. will no longer have the luxury to build up combat power in an area, perform detailed rehearsals and integration activities, and then conduct operations as desired.[17] To overcome this, forces must train against A2/AD capabilities together, as an integrated Joint and combined force, for cross-domain operations prior to deploying to theater. This pre-deployment Joint and combined training is called pre-integration.


Attack-in-depth. “Attack-in-depth” includes offensive and defensive fires and includes both kinetic and non-kinetic means to attack an adversary’s critical vulnerabilities without requiring systematic destruction of the enemy’s defenses. This is a significant departure from today’s rollback methodology that relies on uncontested communications and the ability to establish air superiority, or dominance in any other domain. The attack-in-depth methodology seeks to create and exploit corridors and windows of control that are temporal in nature and limited in geography. At the tactical level, Air-Sea Battle’s attack-in-depth methodology provides a unique lens to consider the A2/AD threat. Air-Sea Battle analyzes adversary effects chains, or an adversary’s process of finding, fixing, tracking, targeting, engaging and assessing an attack on U.S. forces. The insight from this analysis contributes to the operational approach of Air-Sea Battle.


Disrupt C4ISR. “Disrupting” adversary effects chains focuses on impacting an adversary’s decision-making ability, referred to as Command, Control, Communications, Computers, Intelligence, Surveillance, and Reconnaissance (C4ISR). Ideally, friendly efforts to disrupt an adversary’s decision-making will preclude attacks on friendly forces. For example, commanders faced with threats to planned “movement” into theater should consider disruptive offensive operations to combat the adversary’s ability to track and locate forces in transit using all five domains.


Destroy and Defeat. The “Destroy and Defeat” operational tasks focus the commander on adversary A2/AD platforms and weapons systems that threaten forces in theater as they maneuver.[18] Destroying or neutralizing adversary weapons systems enhances friendly survivability and provides freedom of action. In terms of access, destroying adversary platforms regains access and defeating employed weapons sustains it.


The Air-Sea Battle Concept document, and not the blogosphere, should be read in detail for a deeper understanding of how the operational art of Air-Sea Battle addresses the A2/AD problem. As stated in the unclassified version of the concept, for those with appropriate clearances and need to know, there a growing body of work that explores subordinate tactical concepts and mission essential tasks that will be required for Air-Sea Battle to evolve from operational art, to operational design, to concepts of operations and operational plans.


Historical Analogy: War Plan Orange. Air-Sea Battle is not a strategy or a war plan; however, there is a particularly appropriate analogy to Air-Sea Battle in the development of War Plan Orange during the interwar years. There are striking similarities in the institutional changes driven by the changing operational environment as well as the specific time-distance-resistance military problem confronted by planners in the Pacific then and in the global commons today.


First, the era of uncontested power projection for U.S. forces may well be over – Air-Sea Battle assumes U.S. forces will have to fight to get to the fight – an assumption also made by the planners of War Plan Orange. Similar to the historical evolution of War Plan Orange, Air-Sea Battle’s development is driving institutional changes to better understand the challenges of potential future fights. Edward Miller’s book, War Plan Orange, explores what he called “the American way of planning” in detail and perhaps future historians will compare the “color” planning efforts of the pre-World War II era and the overall effort to explore the anti-access and area denial challenge through the Air-Sea Battle Concept, the Joint Operational Access Concept, and others.[19] War Plan Orange’s many iterations included the Through Ticket and the Royal Road, evolutions in the plans that accounted for better understanding and new insights between the Services. Air-Sea Battle represents a similar evolution in 21st century warfare.


Second, the defining military problem faced by Army and Navy planners working on War Plan Orange in the decades preceding World War II was largely one of geography, where access to the high seas and international airspace was defined by the air and maritime distance between bases and the Pacific islands. The same geographic considerations bound Air-Sea Battle in the global commons, but with the added complexity of access to non-sovereign cyberspace, space, and the electromagnetic spectrum. Air-Sea Battle is in the vanguard of a likely long-term effort to address a similar problem of time, distance and resistance associated with A2/AD.


In conclusion, Air-Sea Battle describes an operational approach that, for military planners, helps make sense of the A2/AD operating environment, defines the military problem of A2/AD, and describes the characteristics needed in the future force and the broad actions U.S. and allied forces must take to achieve access in the global commons. For every complaint about Air-Sea Battle generated inside the Beltway, there are numerous requests for support from the Fleets and Forces in how to approach the growing challenge of advanced A2/AD capabilities. Further, the operational approach of Air-Sea Battle promotes mutual understanding and unity of effort not just forward in the Fleets and Forces but among the Services in their Title 10 force development roles. Air-Sea Battle’s operational framework is being used to find the solutions necessary for the U.S. military to continue to operate forward and project power wherever an A2/AD challenge emerges.[20]

[1] Air-Sea Battle: Service Collaboration to Address Anti-Access & Area Denial Challenges, May 2013, p.4

[2] Joint Pub 5-0, Joint Operation Planning, 11 August 2011, p.III-5

[3] Joint Pub 5-0, p.III-6

[4] Joint Pub 5-0, p.III-7

[5] Sustaining U.S. Global Leadership: Priorities for 21st Century Defense, January 2012, pp.4-5

[6] The “Air-Sea Battle” name is attributed to various sources, including former Secretary of Defense Bob Gates, Andrew Marshall, Andrew Krepinevich’s “AirSea Battle” or to Admiral James Stavridis’ 1992 war college paper. While it does not take much imagination to jump from AirLand Battle to Air-Sea Battle, perhaps the credit really belongs with the Atari Corporation which launched a video game called Air-Sea Battle in 1977.

[7] Air-Sea Battle, p.1

[8] See reports authored by the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments on this topic. These reports preceded and are often confused with the actual Department of Defense Air-Sea Battle Concept.

[9] Joint Operational Access Concept, Department of Defense, 17 Jan 2012, p.24 (footnote) and p.38

[10] Air-Sea Battle, p.3

[11] Air-Sea Battle, p.2

[12] Joint Pub 5-0, p.III-5

[13] Joint Pub 5-0, p.III-5-III-6

[14] Joint Pub 5-0, p.III-13

[15] Air-Sea Battle, p.4

[16] Air-Sea Battle, p.5

[17] Air-Sea Battle, p.2

[18] Air-Sea Battle, pp.7-8

[19] Miller, Edward S., War Plan Orange: The U.S. Strategy to Defeat Japan 1897-1945, (Naval Institute Press, Annapolis, MD: 1991.) As an interesting aside, and potentially a strategic message about the willingness of the United States to work with those formerly considered competitors and adversaries, planners from more than one country targeted by a “color plan” are included in the Air-Sea Battle implementation effort.

[20] Air-Sea Battle, p.13


Sea Control 43: RADM Rowden – Sea Control, LCS, and DDG 1000

seacontrol2We are joined by RADM Rowden: OPNAV N96 (CNO’s Director for Surface Warfare), future Commander, Surface Forces, and author of the CIMSEC Article Surface Warfare: Taking the Offensive. We discuss his concepts for Sea Control, the development of LCS, perspectives on DDG 1000, and his plans as incoming Commander, Surface Forces.

DOWNLOAD: RADM Rowden – Sea Control, LCS, DDG 1000

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Easy to learn. Easy to play. Now, much easier to win.

AFRICOM’s Chinese Satellites: How To Lose At Mastermind


Easy to learn. Easy to play. Now, much easier to win.
                                   It gets easier with practice.

For many, the game Mastermind is their first adolescent introduction to cryptology.  A code-breaker is given limited turns to discover the encrypted signal of the code-maker.  By choosing to put AFRICOM bandwidth over state-controlled Chinese satellites in 2012, the U.S. Defense Department decided to extend their PRC opponents exponentially more “rounds” to win the game.  The U.S> has won a tactical convenience at the cost of strategic peril.

Defense Department representatives claim the use of the satellites was secure due to the encrypted nature of the transmissions.  However, as in Mastermind, more exposure reveals more information, with which the code-maker can be beaten.  With an unrestricted treasure-trove of data, the cyber-battle proven Dirty Data Dozen of Chinese cyber-warfare will have plenty of material to compare and contrast until base patterns are found and exploited.  This vulnerability is especially worrisome in an area of responsibility rife with corruption issues and general penetration by state-associated Chinese assets.  That access to the satellite transmissions might be doubly useful because of the potential access to the pre-transmitted data, further easing decryption efforts.  This undermines force-wide communications, providing information that will end up not only in the hands of the Chinese, but the actors with whom their intelligence services cooperate.  The U.S. stands not only to lose one game of Mastermind, but most of the tourney.

You must accept that you won’t always have attractive alternatives. The Big Picture may demand tactical sacrifice.

It was only last month that the CNO, ADM Greenert, said that the cyber-EM environment isso critical to our national interests, that we must treat it on par with our traditional domains of land, sea, air, and space…”  The EM-cyber spectrum may be invisible, but they have the same space constraints as those traditional domains.  During the Cold War, if the berths at Bremerton were full, the U.S. Navy would never have requested berthing space in Vladivostok; if the U.S. Army found itself under-equipped, they would never request use of radio towers in East Germany to communicate with West German patrols.  Resources are limited and must be rationed; put simply by Raymond Pritchett, “If this wasn’t the point to tell someone ‘no’ when they ‘needed’ bandwidth, what point is?”  Refusing to prioritize the strategic long-term viability of U.S. communications security over temporary tactical comfort is the laxity alluded to by the CNO when he highlighted the need for a new attitude.  We can start with the lessons learned from a 1970′s board game.

Matt Hipple is a surface warfare officer in the U.S. Navy.  The opinions and views expressed in this post are his alone and are presented in his personal capacity.  They do not necessarily represent the views of U.S. Department of Defense or the U.S. Navy, although he wishes they did.


Why Intelligence Matters, And Nations Need Think About Collection Methods

In the military sense, intelligence means something approximating a combination of knowledge and understanding of others – whether they are friends or foe. In the modern risk averse world the temptation has been to rely upon more and more distant observation methodologies; using satellites especially to monitor communications, movement and equipment – prima facie the what, the where and the why of information available.

The trouble is that knowing that an order has been given does not give the why – it does not give the thought process, or even more than a glimmer of the thought process, that has gone into the decisions made leading to that moment. Without such understanding of the decision, judgements are not actually judgements or even estimates, they are guestimates – they are hopes that the enemy repeats the same thought process, the same conclusions, and same actions without having any idea why. This is all ‘Human Intelligence’, and unfortunately not something that can be acquired with a satellite or the snippets of conversation  normally accessible in terms of other nations’ (or really any actors on the world stage) command personnel.

Although there is a lack of human intelligence, it is not due to any real failure of intelligence services – they would never have the resources to be able (for want of a better phrase) ‘stalk’ all the people necessary. So as the intelligence services can’t be expected to do a job so big, the question is why does the lack of it matter? What effect can the lack of it have on operations?

The impact is simple: with increasing costs, budgets being cut, and the consequently shrinking force structures (as well as the roll on effect in presence and response), the armed services are being expected to do more with less. The potential risks of making the wrong decision are multiplied as any losses equate to a larger proportion of total forces. Furthermore, loss does not need to be destruction, but could mean being in the wrong part of the world – as again a man, a tank, a plane, a ship, whatever is considered can only be in one place at any one time. Yes, ships can be moved easily as they are self-contained and self-propelled; aircraft can be moved (if there is logistics/suitable air base/support personnel) – the same goes for men and tanks. The moves are not instantaneous; though it seems that each generation of leaders has to relearn this for themselves.

Many ministers (some of whom had themselves served in WWII or other conflicts[i]) were shocked when they discovered the time it would take to deploy forces from the UK to take part in the 1982 Falklands War; ultimately, it took 47 days from the first ships of the Task Force departing from the UK on April 5th to the San Carlos landing commencing in the Falklands on May 21st[ii]. More recently, HMS Illustrious, which was conducting counter piracy operations in the Indian Ocean at the time, was ordered to provide support for the 2013 Typhoon Haiyan aid mission November 14th; however, after picking up over 500tons of supplies at Singapore, it did not arrive until the 25th of November[iii]. Apart from being a salutary example of the fact that navies do not have peacetime/war time difference in operational tempo, it again shows the realities of time. This makes the requirement for gaining as full an intelligence picture as possible—including both the knowledge and the understanding thereof—a premium; the better the intelligence picture, the lower the likelihood of a country being caught by an unanticipated surprise. This is not to say a nation will not be caught by surprise, but that it will be more prepared for that surprise when it comes. Thus, how can a nation’s understanding be increased to allow for this if the intelligence services cannot be turned into ‘stalkers anonymous’?

This solution largely depends upon the service and their national requirements; for navies, it becomes about presence, the concomitant diplomacy of port visits, and the training/interaction opportunities that occur. These roles build relationships between practitioners; yet if people do the same the job and fulfill the same role (even when using different equipment, and representing different nations), then they are usually half way to understanding the other anyway. Whilst it does work both ways—giving understanding to the other nation/actor as well as gaining it for their own—it still provides a better overall position and a level of understanding than that which no interactions provides. But as a proposed measure for improvement, how can it be implemented?

For the navies of nations which are local or even regional powers, this naturally represents less of a challenge (and less of a strain on limited resources), since the operations can, for the most part, be supported from home ports, and could utilise shorter range vessels such as patrol boats[i]. However, for the navies of nations with national interests of a range that require a broader interaction—a global approach—it becomes more difficult. The emphasis such navies often experience, on building first rate, top of the line vessels for all roles, means their ships are often too expensive for them to build in the numbers that would be required for a proper presence[v].

This presents a problem for those navies and in a way it requires both a greater acceptance of the role of services in ‘peacetime’[vi] from leadership (supported by navies finding a way to highlight this more, perhaps by being less reticent about what they do, perhaps by borrowing some of the showmanship exhibited by other government organisations to demonstrate why they matter); it also needs those navies to look at building ships for which in warfighting terms would be described as ‘Task Group vessels’. Ships which could never be a picket, either for anti-submarine or air defence, but which can provide extra security for auxiliaries, aircraft carriers and amphibious ships. Ships which will have small crews, but good range and very good wining & dining facilities. Ships which will probably carry a small helicopter, some drones, boats and marines[vii] in order to maximise their presence wherever they are. They would not need to be big, but they would need to be flexible. Most of all they would need to be cheap, not cost effective, cheap; they must cost not a lot to build (so everything should come off the shelf) and not a lot to run.

For example the solution for the RN is quite easy to see:

  • Hull/design- a slightly enlarged River class vessel, with a hangar,
  • Sensors – a suitable radar,
  • Naval Gunfire Support (for helping out with amphibious or littoral operations) – A medium calibre deck gun,
  • Defensive weapons – a Close in Weapon System such as Phalanx plus a small number of Sea Ceptor (the RN’s name for its new Point Defence Surface to Air Missile System, which is part of the tri-service Common Anti-Air Modular Missile) to help it with defending itself if caught by surprise, but most importantly defending the ships as described above
  • Offensive weapons – perhaps some Stanflex modules[viii] (or other equivalent of the shelf modular system) could be acquired from Denmark to support torpedoes, towed sonar array and anti-ship missiles; if not decisions have to be made about what is necessary, rather than trying to fit it all, perhaps the route of the Type 12 Leander class would be best where each batch was focused on a different mission for the task group[ix], so some could carry torpedoes (or maybe as a class would rely upon their helicopters entirely for that), some anti-ship missiles and some perhaps land attack weapons (or a system could be chosen which was capable of both missions on an equal or nearly equal basis).

Going into such detail makes this example sound bigger than it reality is[x], but this goes to demonstrate how capable and how complex even a cheaper ship would have to be fulfill its role as a presence/task group ship; the fact is though that if everything was bought ‘off-the-shelf’ rather than developed fresh, then the costs would drop dramatically. This would happen because it’s the research which costs the money (especially as unit numbers have fallen at the same time as complexity increased, accelerating cost-per-unit growth), not the hardware. Such ships though would not be an easy sell, as their role would not be to replace anything, but to support it[xi]; therefore the case would need to be made well as, whilst not much (in the context of what services they would provide), new money would have to be found.

For navies that succeeded in making the case, in securing some more of their national budgets and then acquiring them then these vessels would be of huge benefit. In Peacetime they would be the vital global presence[xii], they would provide a much needed supplement to the first rate ships of the escort force (as well as the modern Capital Ships, the Aircraft Carriers and Amphibious Ships) as representatives of their nations and its national interests around the world. They would act in peacetime, as escorts always have, as their nations diplomats of the sea, police of the maritime highways, eyes and ears of the homeland in distant quarters[xiii]; whilst in war time they would again take a supporting role that would free up the more capable ships for pickets, providing the inner layers of defence to help protect those vessels upon which their nations primary capability projection rests.

As an intelligence paper, this paper should conclude with a focus on exactly that: intelligence matters because, when properly conducted, it will make leaders’ decisions easier and safer. The best way to increase understanding is to improve the level of interaction so as to allow those expected to make the decisions to learn it first-hand. For navies, this means cranking up the presence abroad, which will necessitate increasing the ‘presence’ at home to secure the funding necessary – something which will be even more crucial for those navies which serve nations with extensive global interests, as they will need to acquire the resources to build these vessels in the numbers necessary without compromising on crucial existing projects; a very tricky task in the modern world.

Dr. Alexander Clarke is our friend from the Phoenix Think Tank and host of the East-Atlantic edition of Sea Control. He recently received the rest of the paperwork necessary to put a well-deserved “Dr” at the beginning of his name.

[i] For example in 1982 the Deputy Prime Minister & Home Secretary William Whitelaw (1st Viscount Whitelaw) had served in the Scots Guards with 6th Guards Tank Brigade during WWII,,_1st_Viscount_Whitelaw (06/07/2014), the Defence Secretary Sir John Nott served with the 2nd Gurkha Rifles in Malaysia, (06/07/2014), and the Foreign Secretary Peter Carington (6th Baron Carrington) served throughout WWII with the Grenadier Guards,,_6th_Baron_Carrington (06/07/2014)

[ii], (05/07/2014)

[iii]{271126E5-06D3-4721-BEA9-9F8011615CE3}&page=6 &{271126E5-06D3-4721-BEA9-9F8011615CE3}&page=5 (both 05/07/2014)

[iv] The other factor to be increased alongside visits will be the quantity of reports; i.e. all Officers, NCOs and even some ratings should provide write ups of their experience that could be provided to the intelligence/command communities – they may have nothing useful, but it’s the overall picture that the information helps to create which will be of service; the more details gathered the greater the understanding that should be gained.

[v] (06/07/2014)

[vi] With Counter-Piracy, Counter-Narcotics, Counter-Human Trafficking, Counter-Terrorism, Freedom of the Seas, Fishery Protection, Search & Rescue, Humanitarian Aid, Allied Training, Maritime Security (including national and allied standing patrols), Constant At Sea Strategic Deterrence and of course various Diplomatic duties (naming just the major mission clusters) for ‘peacetime’ read even more for navies to do, but more than li

[vii], & (all 06/07/2014)

[viii] (06/07/2014) – on the face of it a system with a lot to offer that has been around a long time, if it had been developed and used by a larger navy then more than likely more nations would be using it.

[ix] (06/07/2014) – a total of 44 of these ships were built, 26 for the RN which were built with a range of capabilities, a state which was expanded as time went on and they were upgraded (06/07/2014); for more information (06/07/14)

[x] Possibly have gone into too much detail for what this work is supposed to be, but it seemed necessary to help illustrate the point.

[xi] Although arguably they could be said to be taking on what was traditionally a significant part of the peace-time cruiser role (06/07/2014)

[xii] (06/07/2014)

[xiii] Just recently for example the RN has met the Russian’s of the West Coast of Scotland, (06/07/2014), exercised with the Indian Navy in the Indian Ocean, (06/07/2014), and has taken command of a multi-national Maritime Security Task Force East of Suez, (06/07/2014).


China’s Conventional Strikes against the U.S. Homeland

Bruce Sugden brings us this dour scenario, representing the last of our “Sacking of Rome” series.    

With its precision-strike complex, the United States has conducted conventional strikes on enemy homelands without fear of an in-kind response. Foreign military developments, however, might soon enable enemy long-range conventional strikes against the U.S. homeland. China’s January 2014 test of a hypersonic vehicle, which was boosted by an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM), suggests that it has designs on deploying a long-range conventional strike capability akin to the U.S. prompt global strike development effort.[1] If China pushes forward with deployment of a robust long-range conventional strike capability, within 20 years Americans could expect to see the U.S. homeland come under kinetic attack as a result of U.S. intervention in a conflict in the western Pacific region. With conventional power projection capabilities of its own and a secure second-strike nuclear force, China might replace the United States as the preponderant power in East Asia.

The implication of Chinese long-range strike is that U.S. military assets and supporting infrastructure in the deep rear, an area that is for the most part undefended, will be vulnerable to enemy conventional strikes—a vulnerability that U.S. forces have not had to deal with since the Second World War. Furthermore, China would be tempted to leverage its long-range strike capabilities against vital non-military assets, such as power generation facilities and network junctions, major port facilities, and factories that would produce munitions and parts to sustain a protracted U.S. military campaign. The American people and the U.S. government will have to prepare themselves for a type of warfare that they have never experienced before.

Emerging Character of the Precision-Strike Regime

            What we have become familiar with in the conduct of conventional precision-strike warfare since 1991 has been the U.S. use of force in major combat operations. The U.S. precision-strike complex is a battle network, or system, of intelligence surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR) sensors designed to detect and track enemy forces and facilities, weapons systems to deliver munitions over extended range (e.g., bombers from the U.S. homeland) with high accuracy, and connectivity to command, control, communications, and computers (C4) organized to compress the time span between detection of a target and engagement of that target.[2] Since the 1990s weapons delivery accuracies have been enhanced by linking the guidance systems with a space-based positioning, navigation, and timing (PNT) system.

            China’s People’s Liberation Army (PLA) has studied the employment of the U.S. precision-strike complex and has been building its own for years. Since the 1990s, China has been increasing the number of deployed short- and medium-range ballistic missiles, many of which U.S. observers tend to believe are armed with conventional warheads.[3] China has also been improving the accuracies of its missiles by linking many of them to its space-based PNT system, Beidou. In addition, the PLA has been deploying several types of land-attack and anti-ship cruise missile systems.[4] These weapons systems are part of a layered defense approach that the PLA has adopted to keep foreign military forces, mainly U.S. forces, outside of China’s sphere of interest.

There are indications that China is expanding its precision-strike complex to reach targets further away from Chinese territory and waters. First, as the most recent DOD report on Chinese military power notes, China is developing an intermediate-range (roughly 3,000-5,000 kilometers) ballistic missile that could reach targets in the Second Island Chain, such as U.S. military facilities on Guam, and might also be capable of striking mobile targets at sea, such as U.S. aircraft carriers.[5] Second, the PLA Air Force has developed the H-6K bomber, which might have a combat radius of up to 3,500 kilometers and be able to carry up to six land-attack cruise missiles.[6] Third, as mentioned above, China has tested a hypersonic vehicle using an ICBM.

China’s Interest in Hypersonic Vehicles

            In the previous decade, one American observer of the Chinese military noted that the Chinese defense industry was showing interest in developing long-range precision strike capabilities, including intercontinental-range hypersonic cruise missiles.[7] Drawing from Chinese open-source literature, Lora Saalman believes that “China is developing such systems not simply to bolster its regional defense capabilities at home, but also to erode advantages of potential adversaries abroad, whether ballistic missile defense or other systems.”[8] Moreover, compared with the Chinese literature on kinetic intercept technologies, with “high-precision and high-speed weaponry, the Chinese vision is becoming much clearer, much faster. Beyond speed of acquisition, the fact that nearly one-half of the Chinese studies reviewed cover long-range systems and research low-earth orbit, near space, ballistic trajectories, and reentry vehicles suggests that China’s hypersonic, high-precision, boost-glide systems will also be increasingly long in range.”[9]

            China’s attraction to hypersonic technologies seems to be related to U.S. missile defenses.[10] As many U.S. experts have believed since the 1960s, when the United States first conducted research and development on hypersonic vehicles, such delivery systems provide the speed and maneuverability to circumvent missile defenses.[11] These characteristics enable hypersonic vehicles to complicate missile tracking and engagement radar systems’ attempts to obtain a firing solution for interceptors.

How a Future U.S.-China Conflict Might Unfold

            Although we cannot be certain about how a future military conflict between the United States and China might develop, the ongoing debate over the U.S. Air-Sea Battle concept suggests that alternative approaches to employing U.S. military force against China could persuade the Chinese leadership to order conventional strikes against targets in the U.S. homeland. On the one hand, in response to PLA aggression in the East or South China Seas, an aggressive forward U.S. military posture would include conventional strikes against targets on the Chinese mainland, such as air defense systems, airfields and missile operating locations from which PLA attacks originated, C4 and sensor nodes linked to PLA precision-strike systems, and PLA Navy (PLAN) facilities and ships.[12] These strikes would threaten to weaken PLA military capabilities and raise the ire of the Chinese public and leadership. Even assuming that China opened hostilities with conventional missile strikes against U.S. forces at sea and on U.S. and allied territories (Guam and Japan, respectively) to forestall operations against the PLA, the Chinese public and the PLA might pressure the leadership to respond with similar strikes against the U.S. homeland.

            A less aggressive U.S. military posture, on the other hand, such as implementation of a distant blockade, would focus military resources on choking off China’s importation of energy supplies and denying PLA forces access to the air and seas within the First Island Chain.[13] While this approach might play to the asymmetric advantages of the U.S. military over the PLA, the threat of being cut off from its seaborne energy supplies over an extended period of time might convince Beijing that it needed to reach out and touch the United States in ways that might quickly persuade it to end the blockade.

Targets of Chinese Long-Range Conventional Strikes

            Although many recent PLA doctrinal writings point to the use of conventional ballistic missiles in missions to support combat operations by PLA ground, air, naval, and information operations units, a stand-alone missile campaign could be designed to conduct selective strikes against critical targets.[14] Ron Christman believes that the “goals of such a warning strike would be to display China’s military strength and determination to prevent an ongoing war from escalating, to protect Chinese targets, to limit damage from an adversary’s attack, or to coerce the enemy into yielding to Chinese interests.”[15]

            The PLA’s ideal targets might include low density/high demand military assets, major power generation sites, key economic and political centers, and war-supporting industry.[16] More specifically, with U.S. forces conducting strikes against PLA assets on mainland China, sinking PLAN ships at sea, and blocking energy shipments to China, PLA military planners might be tempted to strike particular fixed targets to weaken U.S. power projection and political will: Whiteman Air Force Base, home of the B-2A bombers; naval facilities and pierside aircraft carriers at San Diego and Kitsap; facilities and pierside submarines at Bangor; space launch facilities at Vandenberg Air Force Base and Cape Canaveral; Lockheed Martin’s joint air-to-surface stand-off missile (JASSM) factory in Troy, Alabama; Travis Air Force Base, where many transport aircraft are based; and major oil refineries in Texas to squeeze the U.S. economy.

Effects of Conventional Strikes against the U.S. Homeland

            It is plausible that Chinese conventional precision strikes against targets in the U.S. homeland would set in train several operational and strategic effects. First, scarce military resources could be damaged and rendered inoperable for significant periods of time, or destroyed. Whether at Whiteman Air Force Base or the west coast naval bases, such losses would impair the conduct of U.S. operations against China. Furthermore, damaged or destroyed munitions factories, logistics nodes, and space launch facilities would undermine the ability of the U.S. military to conduct a protracted war by replenishing forward-deployed forces and replacing lost equipment. The U.S. military might have to re-deploy significant numbers of forces from other regions, such as Europe and the Persian Gulf.

Second, the American people, if they believed that fighting in East Asia was not worth the cost of attacks against the homeland, might turn against the war effort and the politicians that supported it. Even if a majority of Americans were to remain steadfast in support of the war, however, public opinion would not protect critical assets from being struck by Chinese conventional precision strikes.

Third, the operational effects might sow doubt in the minds of U.S. allies about the survivability and effectiveness of the U.S. power projection chain, while American protests in the streets against the U.S. government would undermine allies’ confidence in the resolve of the United States. If the allies judged that the United States lacked the capability or the will to wage war across the Pacific Ocean against China, then they might accommodate China and cut military ties with the United States. The loss of these military alliances, moreover, could result in the disintegration of the international order that the United States has built and sustained with military might for decades.[17]

Fourth, facing damage from strikes against the homeland and perhaps lacking the conventional military means to defend its allies and achieve its war aims, the United States might have to choose between defeat in East Asia or escalation to the use of nuclear weapons to fulfill its security guarantees. U.S. nuclear strikes, of course, might elicit a Chinese nuclear response.

Measures to Mitigate the Effects of Conventional Strikes

            Three approaches come to mind that might mitigate the effects of conventional strikes and, perhaps, dissuade China from expending weapons against the U.S. homeland. The development of less costly but more advanced missile defense technologies that could be deployed in large quantities could protect critical assets. The technologies might remain beyond our grasp, however. Directed energy weapons, for example, would still need to find and track the incoming target for an extended period of time, and then maintain the laser beam on one point on the target to burn through it.[18]

            If missile guidance systems remained tied to space-based PNT in the 2030s, then ground-based jammers might be able to divert incoming hypersonic vehicles off course. Without accurate weapons delivery, the conventional warheads would be less effective against even soft targets. Future onboard navigation systems, however, might enable precise weapons deliveries that would be unaffected by jamming.[19]

            The final and possibly most effective approach takes a page from China’s playbook: disperse and bury key assets and provide hardened, overhead protection for parked aircraft and pierside ships.[20] Because burying some facilities would be cost prohibitive, another protective measure might be to construct hardened shelters (including top covers) around surface installations like industrial infrastructure and munitions factories (though this measure might be cost prohibitive as well).

            This preliminary discussion suggests that cost-effective remedies are infeasible over the next few years, yet the threat of distant conventional military operations extending to the U.S. homeland will likely continue to grow. Therefore, more comprehensive analysis of active and passive defenses as well as other forms of damage limitation is needed to enable senior leaders to make prudent investment decisions on defense and homeland security preparedness against the backdrop of a potential conflict between the United States and China.

Bruce Sugden is a defense analyst at Scitor Corporation in Arlington, Virginia. His opinions are his own and do not represent those of his employer or clients. He thanks Matthew Hallex for valuable comments on earlier drafts of this essay.


[1] On China’s January 2014 test of a hypersonic vehicle, see Benjamin Shreer, “The Strategic Implications of China’s Hypersonic Missile Test,” The Strategist, The Australian Strategic Policy Institute Blog, January 28, 2014; on the U.S. prompt global strike initiative, see Bruce M. Sugden, “Speed Kills: Analyzing the Deployment of Conventional Ballistic Missiles,” International Security, Vol. 34, No. 1 (Summer 2009), pp. 113-146.

[2] For a broad overview of the evolving precision-strike regime, see Thomas G. Mahnken, “Weapons: The Growth and Spread of the Precision-Strike Regime,” Daedalus, 140, No. 3 (Summer 2011), pp. 45-57.

[3] Ron Christman, “Conventional Missions for China’s Second Artillery Corps: Doctrine, Training, and Escalation Control Issues,” in Andrew S. Erickson and Lyle J. Goldstein, eds., Chinese Aerospace Power: Evolving Maritime Roles (Annapolis, Md.: Naval Institute Press, 2011), pp. 307-327.

[4] Dennis Gormley, Andrew S. Erickson, and Jingdong Yuan, “China’s Cruise Missiles: Flying Fast Under the Public’s Radar,” The National Interest web page, May 12, 2014.

[5] Office of the Secretary of Defense, Annual Report to Congress: Military and Security Developments Involving the People’s Republic of China (Washington, D.C.: Department of Defense, 2014), p. 40.

[6] Ibid., p. 9; and Zachary Keck, “Can China’s New Strategic Bomber Reach Hawaii?” The Diplomat, August 13, 2013.

[7] Mark Stokes, China’s Evolving Conventional Strategic Strike Capability: The Anti-Ship Ballistic Missile Challenge to U.S. Maritime Operations in the Western Pacific and Beyond (Arlington, Va.: Project 2049 Institute, September 14, 2009), pp. 33-34.

[8] Lora Saalman, “Prompt Global Strike: China and the Spear,” Independent Faculty Research (Honolulu, Hi.: Asia-Pacific Center for Security Studies, April 2014), p. 12.

[9] Ibid., p. 14.

[10] Office of the Secretary of Defense, Annual Report to Congress: Military and Security Developments Involving the People’s Republic of China, p. 30.

[11] William Yengst, Lightning Bolts: First Maneuvering Reentry Vehicles (Mustang, Okla.: Tate Publishing & Enterprises, LLC, 2010), pp. 111-125.

[12] Jonathan Greenert and Mark Welsh, “Breaking the Kill Chain,” Foreign Policy, 16 May 2013; and Department of Defense, Joint Operational Access Concept (JOAC) Version 1.0, January 17, 2012, p. 16.

[13] T.X. Hammes, “Offshore Control: A Proposed Strategy,” Infinity Journal, Vol. 2, No. 2 (Spring 2012), pp. 10-14.

[14] Christman, “Conventional Missions for China’s Second Artillery Corps,” pp. 318-319.

[15] Ibid., p. 319.

[16] Ibid.

[17] Stephen G. Brooks, G. John Ikenberry, and William C. Wohlforth, “Lean Forward: In Defense of American Engagement,” Foreign Affairs, Vol. 92, No. 1 (Jan-Feb 2013), p. 130.

[18] Sydney J. Freedberg Jr., “The Limits Of Lasers: Missile Defense At Speed Of Light,” Breaking Defense, May 30, 2014.

[19] Sam Jones, “MoD’s ‘Quantum Compass’ Offers Potential to Replace GPS,” Financial Times, May 14, 2014.

[20] Office of the Secretary of Defense, Annual Report to Congress: Military and Security Developments Involving the People’s Republic of China, p. 29.


The Fall of Pax Americana

This is the third article of our “Sacking of Rome” week: red-teaming the global order and learning from history.

“Thus, what is of supreme importance in war is to attack the enemy’s strategy…Next best is to disrupt his alliances…” Sun Tzu, tr. Samuel B. Griffith

This week, we are asked to consider what might bring down America’s global hegemony, considering for comparison the threats faced by Rome’s imperium over the course of its history.

The exact historical causes of the Roman Empire’s final fall (officially in A.D. 476, with the abdication of the last emperor, but arguably in A.D. 410, with the Visigothic sack of Rome) have been the subject of dispute since at least Edward Gibbon’s famous History was published, and will not be resolved here, but it is worth looking at some of the more plausible explanations. A rough consensus emerged in the late 20th century that by the end the Empire was bankrupt and unable to pay for its own defense. This led the anthropologist Joseph Tainter to argue the collapse happened when Rome’s subjects had the opportunity to defect to invading barbarians: the Roman state was too expensive to maintain and could not be made affordable, and the ferocious and appalling tax burden it placed on its citizens (which in extremis caused them to sell their children as slaves to pay their bills) caused them to look for any chance to join a different system; the barbarian incursions in the end were unopposed because, relative to the oppression of the Roman state, they posed less of a material threat. In Tainter’s view, the final collapse was, for the average Roman, a step up rather than down.

Despite the undeniable evidence (though we are, admittedly, working with archaeological specimens that are literally fragments and a handful of literary sources) that Rome was experiencing financial troubles throughout the era of the Empire (which caused it to debase its coinage in an attempt to get through seignorage what it could not through taxation), there is a contrary view, articulated most recently by the Oxford historian Peter Heather. In Heather’s argument, the Empire was doing relatively well financially at the end (the really burdensome taxation may have occurred more in the constant civil war of the 3rd century A.D. than the more peaceful 4th century, and may have had more to do with the depredations of marauding armies than the peacetime needs of the state), and was finally experiencing some domestic tranquility and normalcy. What brought it down was not its own internal rot, but a few well-timed heavy blows: just as Rome was having to arm itself to deal with a resurgent Persia, the Huns arrived in Europe, pushed Germanic barbarian tribes southward, and the combination of this and ineffective Roman diplomacy led to barbarian armies knocking at the gates. In Heather’s formulation, the final crash was simply the result of Germanic tribes operating in larger groups with larger armies in the field than they had previously, having been pushed in that direction by the Huns. Rome could not withstand the pressure, and it was defeated on the battlefield.

One could also point to the classic argument, which began with Edward Gibbon, that Christianity had made Romans less warlike, and that this, in turn, had made the Empire easy prey. This has been questioned in more recent times, but it may have had some effect.

Whatever brought Rome down, one can come up with a reasonably good synthesis of these proposed factors as a means of understanding what challenges await the U.S. One need only suppose that these explanations were all, to some extent, correct. Put in simple terms, the recipe for the downfall of imperium involves increasing need for defense spending, structural inability to cut costs, and a generalized apathy on the part of those within the “empire’s” bounds, combined with a changing geostrategic environment and war weariness at home. A few good, sharp knocks are then quite enough to bring it down. If one were looking for trouble for the U.S. in the near future, this is what one would look for.

At present, the U.S. is having difficulties maintaining its primacy and hegemony. Its defense budget, relative to its GDP, is in decline. Somewhat like Rome, its internal governing structure makes it difficult for it to avoid waste and intelligently allocate resources: at the moment, its political system is near-paralyzed, and whomever one may blame for this state of affairs, this makes it that much more difficult for it to respond to a changing strategic environment. At the same time, as I have noted in past posts, the U.S.’ geopolitical rivals have been rearming; one need only note the ongoing political maneuvers in the East and South China Seas and Russia’s incursions into Ukraine to discover that these rivals not only possess more power, but are increasingly unafraid to use it. In the face of these developments, the U.S.’ allies have remained apathetic: all of them likewise have internal political dynamics (the tradeoff between welfare benefits for aging populations and rearmament) that make it difficult for them to decide to do more, and in the case of Ukraine, economic incentives work against their involvement. The perception of U.S. weakness and reluctance to protect allies has not helped this dynamic.

The sharp shocks might come in the form of a series of crises in which the U.S. was unable or unwilling to act as the global guarantor that it claims to be. Russia under Putin is widely believed to have designs on the Baltic states, which on the one hand are demilitarized and notoriously difficult to defend, and on the other are NATO members that the U.S. is obligated by treaty to protect (the classic “can’t/must” dilemma personified). And while China’s actions with regard to the Senkakus, the Paracels, and (for that matter) Taiwan have to date mostly involved mere posturing, it is easy to imagine a future scenario in which China’s leaders were forced onto a more hawkish and nationalist path by factional rivalry within the ruling Party or by economic stagnation resulting in the need to distract its population.

What if a series of military moves by China and Russia happened against multiple U.S. allies at the same time? The so-called “two war doctrine” is now a relic, but the U.S. military’s capabilities are formidable, and it might be able to respond to attacks on, say, Estonia on the one hand and Taiwan on the other. If caught unprepared, however, it might be forced to cede initiative at least temporarily in one or more theatres, which might be enough time for either China or Russia to turn its takeover of a U.S. ally into a fait accompli. In effect, there is no guarantee that U.S. forces would be in position to stop an aggressive move before it was made and before it initially succeeded. At that point, the U.S. would face not only the cost of mobilizing for war (particularly if the military’s existing resources were inadequate to the task of retaking the lost territory), but also the risks associated with initiating or renewing a major conflict with two nuclear-armed great powers at the same time, possibly in the absence of immediate and substantive assistance from allies. Depending on the U.S. leadership, political situation, and public mood at the time, it is easy to envision political factions uniting around a dovish policy response, possibly with negotiation or ineffective sanctions used as a face-saving measure.

The consequences of such a policy would be disastrous for the U.S.’ international political position. Although the U.S. would retain its economy and (presumably) its armed forces, its allies would quickly make their own arrangements: a great power guarantor that has been shown to be uninterested in one’s protection is at best useless and at worst an unacceptable risk, and states that had previously relied on the U.S. to protect them from Russia and China might decide that it was safer to appease Russia and China. In two major geopolitical regions, the U.S. might quickly find itself friendless and alone.

Truly destroying a great power is difficult, but knocking it off its political perch can be done given the right mix of initiative and opportunity. The American equivalent of the Fall of Rome would be a world in which Americans awoke one morning to discover that they were no more influential than anyone else, and a good bit less than some in some places. The Pax Americana, like the Pax Romana, would give way to something new.

It must be stressed that this scenario is at the moment far-fetched, and far from inevitable. Avoiding it, however, will require a renewed commitment on the part of the American public to putting up the resources necessary to fulfill the role they want their country to play. A dose of political realism and willingness to compromise for the good of the country would not come amiss, either. Or, in Lord Macaulay’s memorable words about America’s mighty world-ruling predecessor: “As we wax hot in faction, in battle we wax cold.”

Martin Skold is currently pursuing a PhD in international relations at the University of St. Andrews, with a thesis analyzing the strategy of international security competition.


Why Drones Are Not Sufficient in Iraq

President Obama stated last week he will, in consultation with his national security team, weigh a range of options to include possible kinetic engagements inside Iraq. While the U.S. should eschew ineffectual airstrikes, that does not preclude the use of American airpower. Remotely piloted aircraft themselves are ineffective against any modern adversary if the objective is to decimate the enemy and his safehavens.

The U.S. cannot currently provide this capability in Iraq and due to the overreliance throughout the region on remotely piloted aircraft, the role of the carrier strike group and numbered task groups have been overlooked. Carrier Strike Group Two provides the National Command Authority with a wide range of options, most notably offensive electronic warfare, persistent surveillance and precision strike.

Due to the regrettable conditions of the Status of Forces Agreement, the US will at first be unable to utilize existing ground bases built and paid for by the taxpayer. This necessitates the use of standoff platforms, namely but not exclusively the sovereign deck of a modern nuclear aircraft carrier. Prompt global strike will play a role in any kinetic engagement, and the US submarine fleet is the premiere clandestine targeting platform because the adversary does not have submarines. It will be necessary to reconstitute the advise-and-assist mission, the utility a carrier strike group provides policymakers is invaluable. For the first 60 to 90 days of any prospective US military action, the United States will essentially be operating in a denied airspace with the threat of surface to air missile emplacements and offensive and defensive electronic warfare employed by Iranian elements on the ground in Iraq.

While remotely piloted aircraft may provide the administration with a cosmetic military solution for the ongoing crisis, they are at best ineffectual in a real conflict with regional implications such as the calamity that has befallen Iraq. There are select scenarios where Fire Scouts paired with manned rotary wing squadrons would provide US forces with an unfair advantage, but that is the exception rather than the rule. Primarily, the United States will be reliant on raw, unrestrained manned naval air power and the planning and coordination a carrier task group can bring to bear.

As the administration and Congress weigh whether to reach out to Iraqi Kurdistan President Masoud Barzani to explore materially supporting the effective, but underequipped Peshmerga, the naval component will be absolutely critical. There are no status of forces agreements on the deck of a CVN. Similarly, the aircraft the task group can spin up almost immediately after direction comes down from the National Command Authority don’t rely on unreliable partners. Naval air wings don’t need to ask permission to fly anywhere. Most importantly, aircraft carriers decide what is on their deck and what is not. If you decide to covertly support Kurdish forces, naval aircraft can complete the circuit and return to deck. No landing in Turkey or Jordan in plain view of anyone with eyesight. No cell phone pictures from the flightline, which is exactly how the RQ-170 Sentinel was exposed. Whatever you say was in Iraq’s airspace was there, and whatever you deny was in their airspace wasn’t there because you decide what was there. To complement these military missions, national intelligence agency elements will be engaged in area familiarization, reconnaissance and targeting missions. This also will necessitate US Navy support, from E-2D Hawkeyes to Prowlers directly supporting US Special Operations Forces who are in turn supporting national intelligence agency taskings.

Regardless of what policies President Obama ultimately chooses, the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad cannot be closed. Such an abdication would completely cede U.S. influence and cannot be allowed to happen. The strategic communications win it would provide to the militants pillaging Iraq is unacceptable.

Carrier Strike Group Two will play a pivotal role in ensuring Americans stay alive and the adversary meets an untimely end.


Robert Caruso was a special security officer for the United States Navy, supporting the Strike Operations Officer and Operations Officer of a CVN, embarked national mission forces and Commander Carrier Strike Group operations staff. Robert has also served out of uniform with the Department of State, Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction, the Business Transformation Agency and the Office of the Secretary of Defense.