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Army’s Strategy Education Lessons for the Navy

By: Bowen Vernan, Navy Helicopter Pilot

In May 2013, Chief of the Army, General Ray Odierno stood in a small DC area ballroom in front of a few dozen graduates and their families. Central to the crowd were several Army Captains and recently minted Majors as well as the 2013 Class of the Institute for World Politics. General Odierno and the US Army were both familiar friends with IWP, having participated in speaking engagements and sending dozens of students through the tiny graduate school nestled in an old mansion on the outskirts of Dupont Circle in Washington, DC. IWP’s faculty of approximately 30 instructor-practitioners are all leaders in their diverse field of expertise. At no other institute of learning is such a small group constituted of Generals, Ambassadors, and former Intelligence Operatives. The high caliber of experience brought together by the instructors drives the school to focus in a few key areas. IWP’s majors are limited to Master’s Programs is the fields of Statecraft and National Security Affairs, Statecraft and International Affairs, and Strategic Intelligence Studies with an additional Executive M.A. in National Security Affairs.

In a city filled with storied centers of learning such as Georgetown University, George Washington University, and countless military and intelligence centers of excellence, why has the Army invested their time and money in a school of less than 150 students? The Army has simply adopted IWP as a vehicle for training their Officer Corps in a way that no other military or civilian institution can currently supply. Beyond the ever present push for inter-service “jointness” IWP takes the Army’s mid-level leaders to a new level of inter-agency understanding and cooperation. The broad array of government leaders is seen not only in the staff, but also the student body of IWP. A typical class, consisting of only a handful of students could contain of a Captain from the US Army, an analyst from the CIA, and a Foreign Service officer from the State Department, all instructed by a retired Air Force General, Intelligence Community Professional, or former member of the National Security Council to learn the lessons of the past and together share ideas using every facet of the United States Government’s foreign policy resources. In an environment where fiscal resources are being stretched ever thinner among all government agencies, the Army has used IWP as a planning lab for learning how to better achieve mission goals by employing the resources and expertise of all government agencies. Following their time at IWP, many Army graduates are able to take their newfound understanding of inter-agency capabilities and jointness to forge the future of a more integrated and more capable US Army and US Government. It is clear that the Army has found a unique and invaluable resource in a government focused melting pot of higher education. However, the US Army is currently the only branch of the US Military that sends active duty officers to be among the ranks of the student body of this particular school. If the Army has found value from this program, why have the other services not followed the Army’s lead?

The US Army has recognized the importance of strategically focused professionals since the creation of the Functional Area (FA) 59 designation for Strategic Planning and Policy Officers. The Navy is starting to realize a need for a similar expertise to the Army’s FA 59 program. Making strides to create a new US Navy skill set, the Naval War College has recently begun its inaugural year of a Naval Strategy program. While the program is a first step in creating a corps of strategically thinking Naval Officers, it appears to be limited in scope and lacks a “full government” approach. To be prepared for the future of warfare, US Navy military planners will need to be familiar with the realms of conflict that reach far beyond naval engagements and sea power to remain effective.

It is my belief that the US Navy faces an additional hurdle in its pursuit of a strategic level expertise: the stigma that in order to remain relevant an officer must remain tactical. As a junior officer, I have seen my role as a tactical asset in the aviation community quickly diminished by the ever present budget cuts and the ever expanding age of unmanned aerial vehicles fulfilling every role from air-to-air combat to airborne vertical replenishment. However, when I attempted to look to the future and the Navy’s need to focus strategically, I quickly discovered that even inquiring how to shape the next generation of war fighter was frowned upon by the operational environment.

While the US Navy will always have a need to build young officers to sharpen the “pointy end of the spear”, an equal value must be placed on sharpening the young ingenious minds which will shape the strategic picture needed to effectively employ the Navy’s spear alongside the CIA’s arrows and the State Department’s shield in order to maintain America’s role as the preeminent foreign policy leader.

The Operational Art of Air-Sea Battle

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]

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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)

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]

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.

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[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

SUMMARY: CNAS National Security Conference

By: Kiara Earle and Trevor Parkes

On Wednesday June 11, employees of various national security focused companies, agencies, and armed forces branches packed in alongside academics, enthusiasts and students for the eighth annual Center for New American Security’s National Security Conference.  The crowd talked excitedly around the coffee and pastry table in anticipation of the day including panels and presentations on topics from U.S. leadership in the world to the future of the defense industry to robotics on the battlefield, all headlined by addresses from Congressman Paul Ryan and National Security Advisor Susan Rice.

What Does the World Expect from U.S. Leadership?

The opening panel featured Dr. Zhu Feng, German Diplomat Wolfgang Ischinger, and General Amos Yadlin (Ret.), with Judy Woodruff as moderator.  The panel inquired about the role of the U.S. in the world, what it should be doing in the years to come, and strategies of implementation for its foreign policy.

Dr. Feng spoke on the positives of United States leadership in the East Asian region, and the threat of a rising China.  Much of the media proclaims China as the greatest modern rival to U.S. primacy, but the U.S. should not be too concerned because China has little soft power, and is “free riding” on U.S. primacy.

Expressing the sentiment that “America is not listening to us, but listening in on us,” Diplomat Ischinger emphasized the necessity to re-establish trust between Europe and the U.S.  As many of the international institutions experience gridlock, the U.S. should lead an initiative to reform these institutions.

General Yadlin commented on U.S. leadership’s hesitance and critiqued its effect on U.S. diplomacy.  According to the General, diplomacy becomes ineffective once military action is taken off the table.  However, military action should not include occupation of a country.  For U.S. diplomacy to be more effective, U.S. leadership needs to gain a clear direction.

Each panelist was very insightful, and their contributions to the panel gave a clear regional perspective of U.S. leadership continuing, at least, for the next few years.

A Strategy for Renewal

Congressman Paul Ryan said the United States must rebuild lost credibility by improving three sources of our strength: our allies, our military, and our economy.  U.S. credibility with our allies has been shaken by President Obama’s announcement that troops will leave Afghanistan in 2016 and recognition of the Palestinian Authority government including Hamas. We should be pressing NATO countries to invest in a coordinated set of capabilities, make a stand in Eastern Europe, and beef up our Pacific fleet with the refueled U.S.S. George Washington. In regards to the military, the Budget Control Act made progress against the deficit but slashed the defense budget, leaving obsolete equipment and a lack of funding to build technology for tomorrow’s threats.

To strengthen our economy, and therefore our military, we must reform entitlements, balance the budget, and pay off the national debt which is “the greatest threat to American leadership.” Congressman Ryan commented on China’s aggression; China “isn’t trying to bend the rules—it’s trying to rewrite them altogether. It’s stealing our intellectual property. It’s attacking our companies. It’s promoting crony capitalism.” The US has to improve ties with China’s neighbors and show China “it doesn’t pay to break the rules.”  In conclusion Congressman Ryan described himself as Jack Kemp once did, a heavily armed dove, and proclaimed “we constantly renew our strength so we don’t have to use it.”[i]

Creative Disruption: Strategy, Technology and the Future Defense Industry

Panelists, former Deputy Secretary of Defense William J. Lynn III and Admiral James Stavridis (Ret.), with Ben FitzGerald moderating, discussed the future of the defense industry.  The message this panel sent to its audience is that the world is changing, and the defense industry, whether it wants to or not, is changing with it.

Violent extremism and religious warfare increasingly threaten global security as rogue states and terrorist groups are changing warfare itself.  The Department of Defense needs to reform in order to confront these changes.  Admiral Stavridis expressed that some of these changes need to occur by investing more in DoD people.  By investing in language and culture, people within the DoD should be better equipped to approach complex security challenges.

Former Deputy Secretary Lynn shared the same sentiment of reform.  Currently, the U.S. is superior in many fields, such as cyber.  The heavy dependence on cyber technology, however, has created a major vulnerability to critical infrastructure that the U.S. government needs to address.  Evolving strategic challenges threaten U.S. infrastructure, as well as its competitive advantage.

Strategic Risk and Military Power: A Briefing to the Next President

Panelists, General James E. Cartwright (Ret.), CNAS CEO Michele Flournoy, and Roger Zakheim, briefed the 45th president on the strategic risks that will be faced in 2016.  Each panelist presented their reports on how the president should strategically approach new risks and challenges.  The common theme from their reports emphasized ensuring the U.S. would be better equipped with confronting threats posed by non-state actors.  These plans would require not only reform in the DoD’s capabilities and structure, but a more comprehensive economic strategy set by Congress.

Risk and Opportunity in Indo-Pacific Asia

Ambassador R. Nicholas Burns, Dr. David F. Gordon, Stephanie Kleine-Ahlbrandt, Vikram J. Singh, and General James D. Thurman (Ret.) gathered together with moderator Dr. Patrick Cronin to discuss the risk and opportunities that exist for the U.S. in Indo-Pacific Asia.  The instability of the DPRK was discussed, along with the economic rise of China in the region.  China, however, was also discussed as an opportune partner for the U.S.  The panel touched on ASEAN, its potential for highly effective regional governance, and the inefficiencies that limit the organization.  Each panelist shone a different light highlighting various relationships that affect the region and U.S. interests.  The panel collectively expressed that the U.S. has an important role within the region, but this role must work to keep the peace without trying to dominate other countries.

Keynote Address by Ambassador Susan Rice

National Security Advisor Susan Rice echoed President Obama’s West Point Speech and explained that it was not a matter of if the United States would lead the world, but how it would. The U.S. must continue to take a leading role in mobilizing coalitions to handle the toughest problems in the international community such as bringing economic sanctions down on Russia in response to its annexation of Crimea, updating our defense strategies with South Korea and Japan, funding counter-terrorism efforts worldwide, sending humanitarian aid to Syria, and working on a nuclear agreement with Iran.  In addition, National Security Advisor Rice touched on a wide range of issues from stopping disease outbreaks, reversing climate change, and protecting internet security and openness.

Mobilizing coalitions also allows for expanding shared prosperity through trade partnerships, private investment, and achieving the Millennium Development Goals. Finally, coalitions help reinforce universal values that protect human rights, dignity, and health and pressure abusive countries.  National Security Advisor Rice ended by saying “we are stronger still when we mobilize the world on behalf of our common security and common humanity…and that is what’s required to shape a new chapter of American leadership.”[ii]

Visualizing Today’s Veterans Population and Forecasting the Issues of Tomorrow

If the Veterans Administration had seen CNAS Director of the Military, Veterans, and Society Program Phillip Carter’s visualization of the US Veterans Population it might not be a thorn in the Obama administration’s side today.  Director Carter’s project uses data and calculations to show where the veterans population lives, a population projection, what area gets what funding, and how the projection can change given the chance of future conflict. These visualizations show that some counties receive way less or more funding than needed and can help make predictions on what services will be needed in the future.  Given that the VA is under intense scrutiny, Vietnam veterans are hitting the retirement age, and a decade long war is winding down, this information is going to become invaluable as the country moves forward.

Robotics on the Battlefield: The Coming Swarm

Featuring a display of unmanned aircraft, underwater and surface vehicles, and land robotic units taking part in a military operation the Project Director of CNAS’ 20YY Warfare Initiative Paul Scharre laid out the future of robotics on the battlefield.  If a pilot found himself in a fight for his life a swarm of unmanned aircraft could tip the scales.  If a carrier was targeted by long range missiles unmanned vessels carrying anti-missile rockets could protect the ship.  If a landing force faced opposition unmanned robotic units could take the beach without suffering casualties.  Although these projects are still a few years and millions of dollars from deploying, swarming robotics may be the way to overwhelm future challenges with superior numbers and technology while avoiding human casualties.

Energy, Iran and the Future of Gulf Security

The panel of the Honorable Stephen Hadley, CNAS Director of Energy, Environment and Security Program Elizabeth Rosenberg, and Ambassador Dennis Ross discussed continued American involvement in the Middle East. As long as it produces the best crude oil in the world, terrorist groups threaten peace, and Iran defends its nuclear program, America will have a reason to invest interest.  Oil levels worldwide will fluctuate as the shale boom starts and will be exacerbated if Libya and Iran are able to export on the world market.  As Syria is in civil war and Iraq is primed for sectarian violence ISIS has carved out a state for itself, threatening the region.  Looming large is the fact that a nuclear agreement with Iran may not be reached any time soon.   Stability in the Middle East is not in the immediate future and, although the Obama Administration has heralded a Pivot to Asia, it should be prepared to continue its Middle East focus simultaneously.

[i] For Paul Ryan’s Speech see: http://paulryan.house.gov/news/documentsingle.aspx?DocumentID=384106#.U6DyDPldWSo

[ii] For Susan Rice’s Speech see: http://www.whitehouse.gov/the-press-office/2014/06/11/remarks-national-security-advisor-susan-e-rice-keynote-address-center-ne

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.