Category Archives: Strategy

Then What? Wargaming the Interface Between Strategy and Operations, Pt. 3

Read Part One. Read Part Two

By Robert C. Rubel

Filling the Gap

It might seem, from the discussion so far in Parts 1 and 2 of this series, that effective gaming of the operational/strategy interface is infeasible. It is certainly the case that if the matter was approached using regular gaming methods, it may very well be. However, the importance of the issue in the real world demands an attempt be made to incorporate it into the overall gaming posture of the military as a whole, not to mention games run by the State Department and other national security organizations. To understand the prospects for incorporating the interface of levels, we must examine how something, whether a phenomenon, factor, issue, etc., can be addressed in a game. There are three ways: simulation, representation, and discussion.

Simulation and Representation

Simulation involves an attempt to recreate some aspect of reality as an aspect of the game. Certain things are understood well enough to be accurately modeled mathematically and simulated in computer programs. But the simulation approach can also be used when computer modeling is not possible or appropriate. A frequent instance in gaming is command and control. Where multiple command echelons are involved, human players act as commanders and staffs. The game designer attempts to create the essential elements of a C2 environment, including organization of player cells and communications equipment, such that in the course of a game the process of C2 unfolds in a manner sufficiently like it would in the real world to allow lessons to be learned that are applicable outside of the game. Such simulations can be very instructive, especially when new communications concepts or technologies are involved.

The problem that commonly arises in games of this design is that such simulation occurs only on the Blue side. Red consists of a relatively small team of players that sit in a single seminar style cell, so C2 issues are obviated – not simulated. This introduces a profound asymmetry to the game irrespective of whether Red gets to engage in free play. Red can easily amalgamate strategy and operations in a way that is impossible for Blue. Creating a symmetrical C2 structure runs up against a number of feasibility issues. First is finding a sufficient number of Red players with the requisite knowledge of Red capabilities and doctrine. Second, simulating the cultural dynamics involved in foreign, multi-echelon interactions is normally beyond our intelligence capabilities. The third problem involves the inherent imponderables of free play at the strategic level. Even the real Red likely does not know what it would do in a crisis situation, and gaming experience has shown a reluctance of strategic level players to initiate hostilities on their own in a rational actor environment – with Red being played by U.S. personnel. All of this leads to the conclusion that the interface between the operational and strategic levels of war cannot be gamed via the simulation approach.

Those things that are well understood or whose effects are relatively simple and straightforward are susceptible to being represented by a rule. An easy example from board gaming is a rule that reduces a unit’s (say an Army armored regiment) movement factor if it enters hexes (six-sided cells that overlay the game board’s map) that depict forests. This represents the difficulties that real world units experience moving through such terrain. Some phenomena are more difficult to represent by rules. An example is command and control (C2). For a board game the author had used to support his wargaming theory and practice class, C2 was represented by a budget metaphor. Players had fixed numbers of C2 points that had to be spent in order for their pieces to move or fight.1 Players did not have unlimited numbers so they had to make decisions on where to spend them. This simulated the pressures on a commander’s ability to focus. In other cases, again commonly in board games, a unit’s combat strength factor might be reduced to reflect deficient training or morale. In some cases, such representations can be useful, but the problem is that they are at best impressionistic – like the simple brush strokes an artist might use to represent foliage – and unable to capture what might be qualitatively different effects in different situations.

A notable example of a game using a set of rules to represent political dynamics is Persian Incursion, a commercial board game that explores the consequences of an Israeli attack on Iranian nuclear facilities. In it a series of cards and look up tables produce a way to integrate operational actions and political effects. Its goal is not to determine whether Israel should attack Iran, it “… is an exploration of the consequences. What are the odds of it working? And what are the costs – to the attackers, the defenders, and everyone on the sidelines?”2 The game’s focus is limited, but the notion of superimposing a set of rules that provide a defined set of political inputs or outputs (rigidly assessed, in Francis McHugh’s terminology3) on an otherwise free-assessed operational game merits some consideration.

If such an approach is to have either analytic or educational value, it seems to require iterative gaming. The outcomes of a single game cannot be used as reliable indicators of future reactions. However, multiple games employing the same rules might produce insights into how various factors relate to one another. The challenge lies in mounting multiple games, especially large, detailed operational games that often characterize service gaming. On the other hand, some useful insights might be gained if the same rule set were to be used by all the services and its effects on each game were well documented.4

Discussion

The final approach to incorporating something into a game is simply talking about it. While this may not appear at first to be a gaming technique at all, there is ample precedent for doing so. A good example involves cyber warfare. There are any number of obstacles to subjecting it to either of the first two approaches, including it being highly complex, new, and not well-understood. However, in a series of deterrence games, the Naval War College brought in cyber experts to advise umpires on how cyber might be manifested in the assessment of player moves. Nuanced, qualitative judgments replaced rules and simulation as the mechanism by which the effects of cyber were inserted into the game. This seems to be a useful way that the complex, cybernetic interactions that characterize the interface of the strategic and operational levels of war can be incorporated into games.

To understand and appreciate the utility of “talking about” the strategy/operations interface we can use a concentric ring framework similar to that adopted by Clausewitz for the purposes of what he called kritik, the historical analysis of battles and campaigns to arrive at a judgment of the relative merit of command decisions.5 We will proceed from an inside-out orientation.

The beginning and most narrow focus is that of the individual game. We have already established the difficulty of trying to address, via representation or simulation, the interplay of the strategic and operational levels. To assess the worth of talking about the interface, we must first break down the potential purposes of games. Broadly speaking, they can be categorized as research, education, training, and influence, admitting nonetheless that any game can have multiple purposes and effects. Research games are conducted to learn something about a potential military situation that cannot be learned any other way.6 Educational games support teaching of some sort, most often the curricula of the military war and staff colleges. In the training realm, games tend to be substrates for the principal teaching objectives including weapons systems operations, staff procedures, tactics, etc. Influence games are conducted to create consensus on an issue, build teamwork, or convince external parties of the position the game sponsor holds on a matter.

In training and influence games, any inclusion of the strategy/operations interface would likely constitute a distraction and serve to undermine game objectives. The role of the game as a substrate in training makes any auxiliary discussion of the interface irrelevant and superfluous. In influence games, unless the interface is central to game objectives, it would constitute a distraction and possibly interfere with the achievement of game objectives.

The situation is fundamentally different for research and educational games. Research games, especially those that focus on the operational level of war, require a degree of plausibility to stimulate player buy-in and realism sufficient to establish an intellectual link with the real world. This is sometimes termed validity. Both of these attributes could be enhanced by the inclusion of the strategy/operations interface via discussion in all phases of game design, execution, and analysis. The interface should permeate the game as both enhanced context and direct influence on player decision-making. Sufficient attention to developing a “road-to-war” scenario, including discussions between scenario writers and political scientists, would tee up more nuanced play, including move assessments. A dedicated “interface” control cell could inject political considerations into the game as both guidance to umpires and injects to players, keeping the “whys” of the conflict as visible as the “hows” as the game unfolds. This cell would be well-placed to conduct an end-of-game session on the direction of the conflict beyond where the game ended, otherwise described as the “then what?” question. The research insights and lessons learned would be colored and enhanced by doing this, and its demands on time and manpower would be manageable. The main ingredient would be an organizational commitment to the idea that the interface matters. The inclusion of the interface in educational gaming would use a similar approach, to include a more completely thought-out road-to-war scenario, an interface-oriented control cell, and a “then what” session included in the hot wash.

The discussion approach might also benefit from iterative gaming. Using the methods just discussed, a series of games featuring the same general scenario but with different “strategies” adopted by control would allow analysts to see how different sets of presumed political conditions and dynamics could affect approaches to military operations. However, due caution must be exercised if different players and methods are used in each game. Nonetheless, patterns may emerge that could provide valuable insight into the potential dynamics of the strategy/operations interface.

Conclusion

There are a number of reasons that the exploration, via gaming, of the strategy/operations interface may not yield directly actionable insights. Any game conducted in peacetime can only speculate on why a war would start, thus making gaming of the interface across the span of that conflict equally speculative. Moreover, the intellectual complications Clausewitz discussed are always present, further clouding any predictive value the game might have. However, well-run games can have indicative value; that is, they can reveal possibilities. But even in this realm, the narratives that emerge from gaming the interface cannot be directly distilled for principles. If this is the case, what value is obtained from the cost and effort of including the strategy/operations interface in gaming?

The value of gaming the interface is admittedly indirect, but nonetheless real. It would be manifested in the minds of game participants and eventually in the corporate reflexes of the national security enterprise. If the interface was routinely incorporated into the appropriate games, over time, individuals would start to reflexively consider it in their real-world tasks, whether developing plans, policy, or making real-time decisions. In the best case, experience in such gaming would inoculate practitioners and policymakers against mystical, “sure fire” concepts of wa and perhaps keep them from yielding to emotion in the heat of conflict. In this sense, it is like superimposing an influence game on a research or educational game.

Military officers and civilian national security professionals who experience the competitive narrative of a wargame are likely to be more aware of the strategy/operations interface, and adopt more nuanced approaches to their various national security tasks. In other words, just talking about something in the context of a wargame can have widespread and important effects, not the least of which is developing a reflex of asking the important question, “then what?”

Professor Emeritus Rubel is retired but serves as an advisor to the CNO on fleet design and architecture. He spent thirty years on active duty as a light attack and strike fighter aviator. After leaving active duty he joined the faculty of the U.S. Naval War College, serving as Chairman of the Wargaming Department and later Dean of the Center for Naval Warfare Studies. In 2006 he designed and led the War College project to develop the concepts that resulted in the 2007 Cooperative Strategy for 21st Century Seapower. He has published over thirty articles and book chapters dealing with maritime strategy, operational art and naval aviation.

References

[1] Peter Perla and Michael Markowitz, Wargame Construction Kit, a one-off game produced at the author’s request.

[2] Larry Bond, Chris Carlson, Larry Dougherty, Persian Incursion, Rule Book, (Sassamansville, PA: Clash of Arms Games, 2010) p. 4.

[3] Francis J. McHugh, The Fundamentals of War Gaming, Third Edition, originally published 1966,(Washington, DC: US Government Printing Office), p.14.

[4] Robert Rubel, “Connecting the Dots: Learning from Multiple Wargames,” Phalanx, December 2016, (Arlington, VA: Military Operations Research Society).

[5] Clausewitz, Book Two, Chapter Five, p. 156 for a general explanation and pp. 159-161 for an example of his widening circle analysis concerning his moves in the 1797 campaign leading to the peace of Campo Formio.

[6] Robert C. Rubel, “The Epistemology of Wargaming,” Naval War College Review, Spring 2006, (Newport, RI: Naval War College Press), p. 111.

Featured Image: NEWPORT, R.I. (May 5, 2017) U.S. Naval War College (NWC) Naval Staff College students participate in a capstone wargame. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Jess Lewis/released)

Then What? Wargaming the Interface Between Strategy and Operations, Pt. 2

Read Part One here.

By Robert C. Rubel

Gaming and the Levels of War

The Prussian military theorist Carl von Clausewitz famously observed that war is a continuation of politics by other means, an aphorism that is universally taught at the nation’s war and staff colleges. It implies that there is an intimate relationship between what happens on the battlefield and what happens in the capitals of the warring states, as well as those of neutrals and allies. In later chapters he expands on the idea, laying out various situations of relative strength and motivation among combatants and the way that the policy/strategy interface is affected.1 Given the prominence of this idea in his book, Clausewitz admits the difficulty of grasping the logic of how policy and warfare interact with one another, stating that in strategy “…what is more difficult to grasp are the intellectual factors involved. Even so, it is only in the highest levels of strategy [presumably where military strategy meets policy] that intellectual complications and extreme diversity of factors and relationships occur.”2 Having made that admission he goes on to simplify the matter by making an assumption about the coherency of the political level: “Once it has been determined what a war is meant to achieve and what it can achieve, it is easy to chart the course.”3 If only things were that straightforward.

Clausewitz thought that a good way for military operations to be harmonized with national strategy and political imperatives was for the strategist to lead the forces in the field, ala Frederick the Great.4 Abraham Lincoln actually dabbled with the idea when he took a trip down to the James River to check up on McClellan during the Peninsular Campaign.5 However, since that brief excursion, American practice has been for the president to stay close to the political front, even though being Commander-in-Chief, and choosing to delegate field command to a senior military officer. Depending on the president’s approach, factors such as policy, politics, and military strategy could be coordinated in Washington or perhaps, as in World War II, at allied conferences such as Arcadia, Casablanca, and Tehran. In theory, as Clausewitz presumes, the purpose and objectives of the war are outcomes of the political process and military strategy that are concocted, ideally, in consultation with senior military leadership. The resulting strategy would be converted into orders which the fighting forces would carry out.

However, history teaches us that coherency in the relationship between policy and the military instrument (which is somewhat simplistically termed here as the strategy/operations interface) is both an aspiration and an assumption on the part of most governments. The intellectual complications and diversity of factors Clausewitz mentions often put such coherency beyond reach. This represents a serious challenge to historians seeking to document causes and effects, but even more so it is an obstacle to game designers seeking to incorporate the interplay of both levels of war.

In order to prepare the way for a discussion of potential game methods to explore the interface, we will work our way through the levels of war in a temporal manner, proceeding from the beginning of war, through its execution, and then to the endgame. The relationships of the levels (the people and organizations responsible at each) and the challenges to gaming them change a bit at each stage.

Combining Strategy and Operations in Wargames

It is often the case that scenarios for operational-level wargames include a “road-to-war” section that offers a plausible narrative of how the crisis or an attack that starts the game came about. As routinely as such narratives are produced, their influence on the game tends to wane as the game proceeds. Players and umpires become immersed in operational moves and counter-moves. Moreover, the road-to-war narrative may lack sufficient discussion of factors that would be needed to power analyses or move assessments farther downstream in the game. The bottom line is that unless a game is designed such that it includes specific measures to examine the matter, the strategy/operations interface gets short shrift in current gaming practice.

Of course, no plan survives contact with the enemy, so inevitably, once a war starts, a strategy/operations feedback loop of some sort must be established. Such loops automatically raise the issue of the degree to which operations are subject to detailed management from Washington. In some cases, such as Vietnam, operations such as air strikes into North Vietnam were micromanaged from the White House. In others, such as Desert Storm, General Schwarzkopf went into cease fire negotiations with little in the way of guidance from the president. In between those extremes are any number of cases, such as Lincoln and Grant, in which we find a good balance of delegation and oversight.

At this point it should be mentioned that each level of war contains its own logic and its own set of imperatives. The fundamental purpose of each higher command echelon is to coordinate and support the staffs and units that report to it. However, there is also the inherent requirement for higher echelons to override or sub-optimize the logic of lower echelon operations. If tactical victory was all that mattered, operational-level staffs would not have to worry about harmonizing strategy and tactics and could only focus on coordinating the tactical units below them. Similarly, if operational logic governed things once war broke out – a view that was widely held in earlier times – then political oversight would be unnecessary and likely counter-productive. The point is that there frequently arises occasions in which higher commands must impose guidance on lower level forces that exposes them to higher risk or reins them in somehow in order to protect or achieve higher level objectives.

In current operational-level gaming practice across the Department of Defense (DoD), Blue (U.S.) players generally have a free hand once they are given the starting scenario and perhaps a campaign plan. Any guidance from either the game control cell or a “council of elders,” while frequently advertised as guidance from higher authority, is almost always based on regulating the progress of the game rather than an attempt to explore the strategy/operations interface. The net effect of this “strategic vacuum” is the tendency for players to focus at the tactical level, which is what most Blue players, regardless of service, are most comfortable with. Control tries to keep them oriented on the operational level by various means, including by providing broad move feedback vice detailed battle reports.

On the other hand, for any number of reasons it is common for Red (the enemy, whoever that might be for the particular game), especially free-play Red, to pitch their moves at the strategic level. One reason is that Red is frequently weaker in conventional military power than Blue and so seeks asymmetric avenues of advantage. Red also tends to be represented by fewer players who are organized into a single cell, thus facilitating multi-level thinking. This creates a problem for game umpires who must reconcile asymmetric move inputs: operational from Blue, and strategic/tactical from Red. The frequent response is to factor out Red’s stratagems, perhaps informing Blue of them, and concocting operational-level assessments based on presumed Red moves at that level. If Blue’s political-level responses and resulting guidance to operational-level players is not provided in the feedback, an opportunity to incorporate the strategy/operations interface is lost.

Regardless of how the strategy/operations gap takes form in operational-level games, perhaps the biggest vacuum is in addressing the endgame – how the war ends, a major gap in the planning for OIF. True also for strategy games, the arena of what might be termed “Phase IV”6 is surrounded by a moat of technical and intellectual difficulties that all but isolates it from routine incorporation into gaming. Regardless of how and why a war starts, actions by both sides might serve to transform the nature of the conflict, thereby confounding any pre-war calculations of how it might end. Among the difficulties is how long the war lasts. Desert Storm terminated in roughly the time a week-long wargame would run. Seventeen years after its onset, Afghanistan still simmers. Wars are propelled by disputes, the nature of which heavily influences how long hostilities drag on. Successful military operations, in and of themselves, are not always a sufficient cause for war termination. This therefore presents procedural difficulties for gaming. Even if a game is played out until one side achieves some kind of military checkmate, the matter is not necessarily settled.

Recreational wargames, especially the game board style, can be played out to a decision. In fact, that is the whole idea behind them. However, the decision is usually a function of victory points accrued via operational success, thus the operations/strategy interface is hardwired into the experience.7 In free-assessed games, typical of most large military professional games, it is rare for a game to arrive at a strategic decision. One of the reasons is mechanical, in that the game is arbitrarily limited in moves by the amount of time players have, usually several days to a week. Moreover, game objectives normally focus on specific operational-level issues, obviating any motivation to press for strategic closure. Then too, the technique of free assessment, the use of human umpires to assess moves based on their judgment, makes “who won” either moot, or at least a subjective matter.

Professor Emeritus Rubel is retired but serves as an advisor to the CNO on fleet design and architecture. He spent thirty years on active duty as a light attack and strike fighter aviator. After leaving active duty he joined the faculty of the U.S. Naval War College, serving as Chairman of the Wargaming Department and later Dean of the Center for Naval Warfare Studies. In 2006 he designed and led the War College project to develop the concepts that resulted in the 2007 Cooperative Strategy for 21st Century Seapower. He has published over thirty articles and book chapters dealing with maritime strategy, operational art and naval aviation.

References

[1] Carl von Clausewitz, On War, edited and translated by Michael Howard and Peter Paret, (Princeton, NJ: The Princeton University Press, 1976), Book Eight, Chapters 5-8, pp. 601-616.

[2] Ibid, Book Three, Chapter 1, p 178

[3] Ibid, p. 178.

[4] Ibid, p. 177.

[5] Craig L. Symonds, Lincoln and His Admirals, (New York: Oxford University Press, 2008), pp. 145-153.

[6] Joint Publication 5-0, Joint Operations Planning, 11 August 2011, p. III-41.

[7] There are some games that do address the operations/policy interface, an example being Persian Incursion, a board game designed by Larry Bond, et.al. that employs cards depicting various political conditions attendant to Israeli strikes on Iranian nuclear facilities. See https://clashofarms.com/files/PI_Sample%20Rules.pdf for a description of game mechanics.

Featured Image: NEWPORT, R.I. (June 28, 2018) Military officers from various countries participate in the first international wargaming course held at U.S. Naval War College (NWC). (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Jess Lewis/released)

Then What? Wargaming the Interface Between Strategy and Operations, Pt. 1

By Robert C. Rubel

The Problem

Wargaming is ubiquitous throughout the U.S. Armed Forces as a tool for research, education, training, and influence. It is a flexible tool, adaptable to different scenarios, purposes, and levels of war. It is in this last arena, levels of war, that gaming organizations and their sponsors can bump up against the limits of wargaming.

The inherent nature of wargaming requires delineation and focus in game objectives and design. A game to address all three levels of war, strategic, operational, and tactical, is simply not feasible, requiring too many players, too much money, and too much time. The normal approach is to pick a level of war to play, with the other levels being either scripted, managed by the control cell, or ignored altogether. Even when a game is designed to incorporate free play at two levels, some kind of pruning of factors – frequently time – must occur to make the game feasible within budget and schedule constraints. The net result is that a robust exploration of the relationships among the levels of war becomes a casualty, missing in action.

Among the consequences of this gap in gaming could be a failure of communication and coordination among policy, strategy, and operational decision-makers, such as occurred in Vietnam and Iraq. This series will discuss the nature of this gaming gap and will offer some suggestions for closing it.

The Real World Gap

The doctrinal partitioning of war into three levels in the U.S. is a relatively recent occurrence. The Army’s 1982 Field Manual 100-5 Operations introduced the notion of an operational level in between strategy and tactics.1 The operational level, according to doctrine – and subsequent practice – is the level of command at which campaigns and major operations are planned and directed. This doctrinal development simply provided a theoretical basis for a command structure that had existed since World War II. Between fighting units and their direct commanders in the field and at sea, there were established theater headquarters that not only oversaw, coordinated, and supported large and widely dispersed forces, but also coordinated theater strategy – the campaigns – with the national command authorities in Washington. In WWII the emergent arrangement in which theater commanders such as Eisenhower, Nimitz, and MacArthur worked with an ad hoc joint staff that consulted routinely with President Roosevelt worked well enough in the context of a total war against the Axis. Deft political management during the war and especially in the end game produced, if not a perfect post-war world, at least good outcomes in West Germany, Italy, and Japan. Operations were governed by strategy, set in Washington, which was where political and military feasibility met.

After the war, the U.S. established a permanent globe-girdling theater command structure to coordinate a potential global war versus the Soviet Union, manage the geopolitical strategy of containment, and execute the oversight and support of limited wars that broke out, such as in Korea and Vietnam. The problem, as compared to World War II, was that those wars were conducted in the shadow of the U.S./USSR nuclear standoff, thus taking certain military options off the table. Moreover, those two wars and all subsequent ones were fought for limited objectives. These factors called for a more detailed interaction among policy, military strategy, and operations than was required in World War II. Sometimes this resulted in micromanagement, as in Lyndon Johnson’s approach to bombing in Vietnam. After that war, the services, especially the Army, embarked upon an effort to revamp their doctrine and cultures, including the notion that Washington should delegate more authority for running operations to theater commanders. The development of the operational level of war aided in this change.

However, the development of operational art as a key pivot of U.S. military doctrine had the effect of turning theater commanders into regional military “proconsuls.”2 This served, in the view of two Army War College writers, to drive a wedge of sorts between strategy (to include the policy side) and operations (the conception and design of campaigns) to the point where it “… reduced political leadership to the role of ‘strategic sponsors,’ quite specifically widening the gap between politics and warfare.”3 Others have attributed the inability of the United States to achieve definitive victories since 1945 to defective strategic leadership in Washington.4 Both problems have infected U.S. strategy since at least Vietnam, being perpetuated by a gap in understanding of the connections between operations and strategy. One manifestation of this gap is in the vulnerability of administrations to the lure of what might be termed “sure fire” victory concepts.

Since at least the dawn of the air age there have been warfare prophets that assert in an a priori manner that particular technology-based concepts, like strategic bombardment or network-centric warfare, will confer an unassailable advantage to their users and produce rapid victory. Such concepts are alluring to political decision-makers that find themselves under pressure to resolve a vexing international dispute on favorable terms. Skeptics have a difficult time countering the claims of adherents, since there usually exists no historical counter-evidence as the concept and its supporting technology are new.

The most notorious recent example is the 2003 invasion of Iraq. The policy/strategy framework for Operation Iraqi Freedom (OIF) was founded upon Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld’s notion that new technology would produce “shock and awe” and allow the invasion to be carried out with far fewer forces than had participated in 1991’s Desert Storm. “Faster, lighter,” were his buzzwords, and he believed intelligence and hi-tech gadgetry would play a more important role in future conflicts than boots on the ground.Blatantly missing from the strategy was any plan for establishing order after Baghdad was captured, which resulted in chaos and an eight-year counterinsurgency operation. There were indeed people in the national security community that advised caution based on the politics of using military force, such as former Central Command commander Marine General Anthony Zinni and Congressman Ike Skelton, who advised the administration that they should not take the first step without considering the last.6 However, their concerns fell on ears deafened in part by the administration’s idea that the war would be quick and easy.

The susceptibility of both civilian and military strategists to the siren song of new, unproven concepts occurs in part because of a widespread ignorance of the interactions between policy, strategy, and operations. Apart from Congressman Skelton’s injunction not to start a war without considering how it might be brought to an end – and the aftermath – there is little in the way of guidance in the literature on the matter of how, exactly, the strategic and operational levels interact before, during, and after a war. In fact, there are reasons to think that it may not be possible to develop a set of principles or rules of thumb on the matter. As Carnes Lord pointed out:

“The fundamental problem facing American proconsuls is that political and military decision-making are institutionally split. This remains the case in spite of the significant reforms put in place after World War II, especially the creation of the National Security Council. Today, after ten years of war and continuing pressures to improve the integration of the political and military dimensions of American counterinsurgency operations in the Greater Middle East, there remain significant disconnects and tensions between a civilian leadership that is increasingly without military experience and a military establishment (embracing civilian professionals as well as the uniformed military) that is increasingly competent to deal with security-related matters beyond the narrowly military sphere.”7

In other words, it may fall increasingly on the military to reconcile the gap between strategy and operations, a solution far from optimum but likely better than ignorance of the strategy/operations relationship in both Washington and the field. Wargaming is deeply institutionalized within the military, so it is within the military gaming process that education and analysis of the relationship must at least start to occur.

To close the existing gap, national security practitioners, uniformed and civilian, should develop a feel for the dynamics of these interactions such that they can approach decisions to go to war, war strategy, campaign design, and post-war arrangements much more sagaciously. Widespread inclusion of such an interface in wargaming would help close the gap.

Professor Emeritus Rubel is retired but serves as an advisor to the CNO on fleet design and architecture. He spent thirty years on active duty as a light attack and strike fighter aviator. After leaving active duty he joined the faculty of the U.S. Naval War College, serving as Chairman of the Wargaming Department and later Dean of the Center for Naval Warfare Studies. In 2006 he designed and led the War College project to develop the concepts that resulted in the 2007 Cooperative Strategy for 21st Century Seapower. He has published over thirty articles and book chapters dealing with maritime strategy, operational art and naval aviation.

References

[1] U.S. Army, Field Manual 100-5, 1982, p. 2-3, https://archive.org/details/FM100-5Operations1982

[2] Carnes Lord, Proconsuls, (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2012), see Chapter 1, “On Proconsul Leadership,” pp. 1-22 for a discussion of delegated political-military leadership in the American system.

[3] Justin Kelly and Mike Brennan, Alien: How the Operational Art Devoured Strategy, (Carlisle, PA: Strategic Studies Institute, September 2009), p. viii.

[4] Harlan Ullman, “Harlan Ullman: U.S. decision-making lacks strategic thinking,” UPI June 13, 2016, http://www.upi.com/Top_News/Opinion/2016/06/13/Harlan-Ullman-US-decision-making-lacks-strategic-thinking/3231465586081/ 

[5] Richard Saunders, “The myth of ‘shock and awe’: why the Iraqi invasion was a disaster,” The Telegraph, 19 March 2013, http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/middleeast/iraq/9933587/The-myth-of-shock-and-awe-why-the-Iraqi-invasion-was-a-disaster.html

[6] David C. Gompert, Hans Binnendijk, Bonnie Lin, Blinders, Blunders and Wars, (Santa Monica, CA: Rand Corporation, 2014). p. 167.

[7] Lord, p. 231.

Featured Image: NEWPORT, R.I. (May 5, 2017) U.S. Naval War College (NWC) Naval Staff College students participate in a capstone wargame. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Jess Lewis/released)

The Evolution of Maritime Strategy and Naval Doctrines in North East Asia

By Pawel Behrendt

Great power competition and arms races are back, especially in Asia. According to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) Asia and Oceania countries in 2017 were responsible for 27 percent of global military expenditures. In absolute numbers it totalled U.S. $477 billion. Three out of the 15 top spenders are located in North East Asia: China ($228 billion), Japan ($45.4 billion), and South Korea ($39.2 billion).

Given the role of maritime trade for the economies of these three powers it is no surprise that navies are an important part of their military budgets. But maintaining old and ordering new warships is not everything. The shape of naval force employment is dependent on doctrine and strategy. These in turn depend on threat perception, political and economic needs, as well as  ambitions.

Japans’ maritime strategy and naval doctrine has been very stable during the last half century. Recent changes that aim to grow the capability of the Maritime Self Defence Forces (MSDF) are rather minor. On the flipside, the People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) and the Republic of Korea Navy (ROKN) underwent radical development in the past two decades, reshaping them from brown water into green water navies with the eventual ambition to become blue water forces. Many of these changes are, especially in the case of South Korea, surprising and unexpected.

Japan

“Generally, naval power was born from the need to preserve freedom of the seas, enabling sea lanes of communications (SLOCs) and economic growth to prosper and expand.”1 – Admiral Tomohisa Takei (MSDF)

Protecting SLOCs along with “Defense of Surrounding Waters” is the most important task of the MSDF. Given Japan’s dependence on sea trade it is no surprise, however the current doctrine is equally the result of the experience of World War II and post-war pressure by the United States as a political-economic calculation. During the war the effects of unrestricted submarine warfare by the U.S. Navy were devastating to the merchant marine of Japan. The protection of merchant shipping proved to be inadequate, nearly 85 percent of the pre-war tonnage had been sunk.2

After the war the protection of sea lanes was advanced as a priority to be fulfilled by rebuilding the naval forces of Japan. Thus till the late 60s lasted an intensive debate between supporters of a strong navy oriented toward SLOC protection and a limited ant-invasion force. The main potential invader was then the Soviet Union. Finally the dispute resulted in a more balanced fleet, capable of both effective escort operations at range and the defense of its own coast. Such doctrine was supported by the Pentagon. The U.S. Navy needed an efficient ally, able to protect naval bases, but simultaneously able to secure SLOCs in the Pacific. Such a division of tasks would allow the devoting of more U.S. forces for offensive operations.3 At the same time the growing Japanese economy became more dependent on maritime shipping and a better understanding of the importance of SLOCs emerged.4 Japan has become a crucial and indispensable ally of the U.S. in East Asia, fomenting a deep interoperability between the U.S. Navy and MSDF.

Geopolitical changes after 1991 at first did not greatly influence the naval doctrine of Japan. An Escort Flotilla has remained up until today the main unit. Currently there are four such Flotillas (1-4) based in Yokosuka, Sasebo, Maizuru, and Kure. Each unit is grouped around a helicopter destroyer and two Aegis destroyers plus five smaller combatants, usually frigates. Changes came during the 90s and early 2000s. Expanding international activities, terrorism, and the rise of China pressed the MSDF to pursuit new capabilities. The first visible sign of changing attitude was the procurement of Ōsumi-class amphibious landing ships. For the first time since World War II Japan was capable of power projection. Next was the refueling mission during Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan where MSDF logistics ships refuelled coalition ships in the Indian Ocean, and anti-piracy missions off the coast of Somali. This latter mission brought the first Japanese overseas base in Djibouti and a larger appreciation of unconventional threats at sea.5

LST-4003 Kunisaki Osumi-class landing ship. (Wikimedia)

Now the main challenge has become China, who also strongly depends on maritime transportation. The growing quantity and quality of the People’s Liberation Army Navy only strengthened its ability to protect SLOCs. What’s more, fear of potential invasion has returned and is more and more visible in the military planning of Japan.6 This new threat perceptino gained the name of “Counterbalancing China.”7 Hence, despite growing rivalry between both states and Japan’s pursuit of power projection capability, escort tasks and coastal defense continue to be the main duties of MSDF.

The People’s Republic of China

During the last 20 years the People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) has come a long way. Since 1949 there were two main missions for Chinese naval forces: reunification (invasion) of Taiwan and coastal defense. During the 80s lack of funds and concentration on continental threats led Admiral Liu Huaqing8 to the “offshore defense” doctrine. It focused on operations within China’s Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ), what admiral Liu characterized as the Yellow Sea, South, and East China Seas, as well as waters around Taiwan and Okinawa. An additional task was nuclear deterrence. However, the main tasks of the PLAN largely stayed the same in spite of these ambitions. During the 90s economic changes, U.S. led operations in Iraq, Serbia, and the Taiwan Strait Crisis of 1996 gave impetus to change. Admiral Liu and his adherents were given arguments to expand the bounds of maritime capabilities beyond coastal waters. It resulted in the doctrine of “distant sea defense.” It asserted an intensive naval buildup and was defined not by geographical limitations but by the PRC’s maritime needs.9

A turning point for the PLAN was the year 2004, when President Hu Jintao called for pursuit of capability to sustain a maritime presence in strategic locations, in hostile conditions, and for extended periods. The doctrine of “distant sea defense” still encompassed the Taiwan issue and coastal defense but now also the distant protection of maritime sovereignty. This helped intensify the East and South China Seas disputes, and provided China with a long-term goal of effective defense of crucial SLOCs and in the future (perhaps around 2050) of becoming a global naval power.10

Even more attention has been paid to naval forces since Xi Jinping came to power. His “Belt and Road Initiative” greatly emphasizes the value of maritime communication. Under BRI China has invested about $44 billion in port infrastructure both at home and in other countries while further foreign investments of nearly $20 billion were declared for the near future. Especially interesting projects are the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor, along with highways, railways, and pipelines connecting the coastal regions of Myanmar with Yunnan province and Kra Canal in the Malaya Peninsula. All of these aim in part to solve the “Malacca Dilemma” and reduce China’s dependence on the maritime chokepoints of Southeast Asia.11 Still it does not diminish the role of the South China Sea as a crucial waterway leading through the chokepoints in Indonesia and Malaya. Hence strengthening military presence in the region and pursuit for the capability to control it fuels China’s policy in the SCS dispute as well as prestige issues and protecting national resources.

More military-oriented aspects of BRI are growing PRC naval presence in the Indian Ocean and the great expansion of the PLAN Marine Corps which is expected to increase fivefold. This force now numbers 20,000 soldiers organized into two brigades, but the goal is as many as 100,000 troops in six brigades. This does not mean only the formation of new units, as it was reported that two brigades from the Ground Force had been subordinated to the Navy. The main task of this huge force would be the protection of the maritime thread of the New Silk Road and defense of the overseas interests of the PRC. The Chinese Marines are already stationed in Djibouti and have appeared in Gwadar, Pakistan. Both garrisons are rumored to have as many as 10,000 soldiers. Still such a great buildup causes many problems. The PLAN Marine Corps lacks experience in expeditionary missions and does not have sufficient equipment. What is more, a force that has spent years preparing mainly for an invasion of Taiwan and operations in nearby waters of South and East China Seas requires a thorough reorganization to face new, global tasks.12

All of this concerns the whole PLAN as well. As of January 2018 the PLAN had in service 26 Type 054A class frigates13 and 39 Type 056 class corvettes.14 These escort vessels are the real workhorses of the Chinese Navy. Both classes are more developed toward the anti-submarine warfare (ASW) mission. As was unofficially disclosed in the perception of the Chinese admiralty one of the biggest threats to both military and merchant ships are submarines, especially the conventionally-powered vessels of the MSDF. Thus the development of ASW capability has become a top priority.15 On the other hand experience in escort missions was gained during the anti-piracy mission off the coast of Somalia. The permanent presence of the PLAN in the Horn of Africa is also a key milestone in the process of building a blue water navy.”16

Republic of Korea

The Republic of Korea (ROK) is a very interesting case. Despite the location on the Asian mainland, in geopolitical terms it is effectively an island. The Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) separates South Korea from the rest of the Asian mainland. Also in economic terms the ROK is virtually an island nation, 99 percent of its exports and imports go via sea.17 Since the end of the Korean War the main task of South Korean naval forces was the defense of littoral areas against the North and securing the EEZ against intrusions of foreign fisherman.18

Similarly as in China the situation changed in the 90s. One of the results of its economic boom was a deepening dependence on SLOCs as well as growing overseas interests. In 1995 then Chief of Naval Operations Admiral An Byoung-Tae called for the construction of a blue water navy. Admiral Byoung-Ta’s ambitions were endorsed by President Kim Young-Sam and he in effect became to the ROKN the same as Admiral Liu Huaqing was to PLAN.

However, the vision of President Kim remains quite far from the concepts of military planners from China and Japan. Kim defined two areas of operations: East Asia for the long term and the Indian Ocean and the Strait of Hormuz for short term missions. He emphasized participation in multinational coalitions and thus giving South Korea more influence on the international arena and better ability to shape near and far political environments.19

During the last 20 years South Korea has now built naval power second in East Asia only lesser than that of China and Japan. Thanks to several landing ships, three Aegis destroyers, and nine smaller destroyers the ROKN has gained noticeable power projection capability. The recent arming of destroyers with cruise missile has built a credible deterrence capability against not only DPRK but also China, Japan, and Russia.20 However, ASW and mine countermeasure (MCM) capabilities lay far behind. According to the MSDF, South Korean naval forces are unable to protect the crucial link to the ROK’s economy, the Tsushima Strait. The solution to this situation could be closer cooperation with Japan, but it is greatly hampered by strong anti-Japanese sentiment and several territorial disputes.21

Insufficient ASW and MCM capabilities were noticed and addressed by ordering new frigates and mine hunters. Still, in the case of frigates more attention was paid to include them into the national anti-missile defense system than increasing their ASW capabilities. Such a stance is incomplete given the threat posed by DPRK’s midget and small submarines. An example here is the fate of the Cheonan corvette that was sunk by a North Korean submarine.22

Conclusion

The SLOCs are lifelines for the dynamic economies of East Asia. As CSIS estimates any long closing of the Strait of Malacca would generate costs, about $350 million after one month, that would have an impact not only in regional but also in global scale.23 Thus the protection of merchant shipping and the secure delivery of hydrocarbons remain crucial tasks of nearly all mentioned naval forces.

Pawel Behrendt is a Political Science Ph.D. candidate at the University of Vienna. He is an expert at the Poland-Asia Research Center and is the deputy chief-editor of konflikty.pl. Find him on Twitter @pawel_behrendt.

References

[1] Tomohisa Takei, Japan Maritime Self Defense Force in the New Maritime Era, Tokyo 2008, p. 2.

[2] Takei, p.3.; more on SLOCs in the doctrine of Imperial Japanese Navy: Euan Graham, Japan’s Sea Lane Security, 1940-2004: A Matter of Life and Death?, New York 2006, pp. 63-89.

[3] Graham, pp. 118-120.

[4] IGraham, pp.123-129

[5] Graham, pp.185-200, Alessio Patalano, Japan as a Seapower: Strategy, Doctrine, and Capabilities under Three Defence Reviews, 1995–2010, in: Journal of Strategic Studies Volume 37, 2014 – Issue 3: Rising Tides: Seapower and Regional Security in Northeast Asia, pp. 403-441.

[6] Yuji Kuronuma, Japan’s military chief warns on China naval expansion, Nikkei Asian Review, 19.01.2018 (www.asia.nikkei.com/Politics-Economy/International-Relations/Japan-s-military-chief-warns-on-China-naval-expansion)

[7] Bjørn Elias Mikalsen Grønning, Japan’s Shifting Military Priorities: Counterbalancing China’s Rise, in: Asian Security Volume 10, 2014 – Issue 1, pp. 1-21.

[8] Liu Huaqing (1916-2011), known as the father of modern Chinese Navy, more about his life and theories: Daniel Hartnett, The Father of the Modern Chinese Navy—Liu Huaqing, Center for International Maritime Security (www.cimsec.org/father-modern-chinese-navy-liu-huaqing/13291)

[9] Office of Naval Intelligence, The People’s Liberation Army Navy. A Modern Navy with Chinese Characteristics., Suitland 2009, pp. 5-6.

[10] Hartnett; Office of Naval Intelligence, The PLA Navy. New Capabilities and Missions for the 21st Century, Suitland 2015, pp. 5-9.

[11] Pawel Behrendt, The Maritime Silk Road, Centrum Studiów Polska-Azja, 10.08.2017 (www.polska-azja.pl/analiza-cspa-13-morski-jedwabny-szlak/).

[12] Pawel Behrendt, The Growing Dragon: The Radical Reorganization of the PLA, 03.05.2018 (http://cimsec.org/?s=growing+dragon)

[13] Gabriel Dominguez, PLAN inducts Type 054A frigate into North Sea Fleet, Jane’s 360, 15.01.2018 (www.janes.com/article/77048/plan-inducts-type-054a-frigate-into-north-sea-fleet).

[14] Henri Kenhmann, Bientôt 40 corvettes Type 056 dans la marine chinoise, East Pendulum 16.01.1018 (www.eastpendulum.com/bientot-40-corvettes-type-056-marine-chinoise).

[15] Kenhmann, La marine chinoise multiplie les moyens anti-sous-marins, East Pendulum 20.11.2016 (www.eastpendulum.com/marine-chinoise-multiplie-moyens-anti-sous-marins)

[16] Emanuele Scimia, Anti-piracy mission helps China develop its blue-water navy, in: Asia Times 08.01.2018 (www.atimes.com/anti-piracy-mission-helps-china-develop-blue-water-navy/)

[17] Mingi Hyun, South Korea’s Blue-water Ambitions, The Diplomat 18.11.2010 (www.thediplomat.com/2010/11/south-koreas-blue-water-ambitions/)

[18] Paul Pryce, The Republic of Korea Navy: Blue-Water Bound?, Center for International Maritime Security 28.01.2016 (www.cimsec.org/the-republic-of-korea-navy-blue-water-bound/21490).

[19] Hyun.

[20] Adam M. Maciejewski, Skrzydlate pociski manewrujące Republiki Korei, in: Wojsko i Technika 12/2017, pp. 30-37.

[21] Pryce.

[22] Pryce

[23] CSIS China Power Project, , How much trade transits the South China Sea? (www.chinapower.csis.org/much-trade-transits-south-china-sea/).

Featured Image: Chinese Navy sailors take part in an international fleet review to celebrate the 60th anniversary of the founding of the People’s Liberation Army Navy in Qingdao, Shandong province in this April 23, 2009. (REUTERS/Guang Niu)