All posts by Jason Chuma

Why Does Air-Sea Battle Need a Strategy?

Some of the criticism that the Air-Sea Battle Concept receives spawns from its developers not articulating what higher-level strategy it supports. Of course they cannot, because operational concepts are not operational plans! If Air-Sea Battle could be linked to a strategy, then either it is not actually a concept or the strategy it was being linked to was a terrible and inadequate strategy.

"Hey, you got air in my sea battle." "No, you got sea in my air battle."
“Hey, you got air in my sea battle.”
“No, you got sea in my air battle.”

Creating a good strategy is hard. Strategy must be tailored to a specific situation and as the situation continues to evolve, so must the strategy. Effective strategy is based in the current geo-political situation, looks at what you want the end result to be, and determines how to utilize all elements of national power (political and diplomatic, informational and social, economic, and military) to accomplish this.

Though a strategy can be simple and elegant, like the Anaconda Plan of the American Civil War, figuring out the correct strategy can be complex and messy. Before figuring out how to fight a war you have to figure out why you are fighting it and how you want it to end. Clausewitz may have said it best that “No one starts a war – or rather, no one in his senses ought to do so – without first being clear in his mind what he intends to achieve by that war and how he intends to conduct it.” No one should fight a war without knowing the strategic aims to be gained from it. Every complex aspect of strategy is compounded by the fact that the enemy always gets a vote in every strategic assumption made.

"To make this work multiple services are going to have to work together." "No one is going to like that concept."
“To make this work multiple services are going to have to work together.”
“No one is going to like that concept.”

Air-Sea Battle, like all operational concepts, has no business trying to be “linked to a strategy.” It is simply one tool we have to confront a potential threat and nothing more. The danger does not come from what Air-Sea Battle is; the potential danger comes if we ever try to make it more than it is. If we find ourselves in a conflict with a peer or near-peer adversary employing anti-access / area denial (A2/AD) capabilities and the only tool in the toolkit that we have prepared fully to utilize is Air-Sea Battle, we are in trouble. Air-Sea Battle in its entirety or key aspects of it absolutely might be the right answer in a future war, but it also might unnecessarily escalate the conflict or we may find it too limited in scope. The challenge is that we will never know this answer until actually faced with conflict. There will never be one golden operational concept with all of the answers and is all encompassing for all needs. Our danger with Air-Sea Battle is not a lack of it being linked to a strategy. Our danger is with our whole strategy being “the war has started; time to throw Air-Sea Battle at it.”

General Eisenhower felt that “plans are nothing; planning is everything.” Similarly, a concept itself may not be that useful, but the new ideas created as a result of developing the concept can be very useful. We may never use the concept of Air-Sea Battle, but in developing and writing it we will learn much about potential A2/AD threats and possible ways to address them. That is the entire point of concepts. Operational concepts are not operational plans. They are high-level ideas on how you could operate. But the ideas within them can and should influence operational planning when it is applicable.

Some could argue that the most likely scenario would be that we never go to war with the People’s Republic of China or that if we did we would never project power inland like described in Air-Sea Battle. Though it is good to know which scenarios are the most likely, strategic thinkers and planners must never limit themselves to the most likely. The most famous colored war plan developed prior to WWII was Plan Orange because it was the one which was ultimately utilized. But what is lesser known is all of the other developed plans that were never tested in combat. For example, War Plan Red-Orange was a scenario where the United States fought against a United Kingdom-Japanese alliance. This scenario seems ridiculous in hindsight and not the most likely scenario when it was being developed, but strategists and planners do not have the luxury of just ignoring certain scenarios which seem unlikely. If it is not an impossible scenario, it should at least be thought about. We know war plan Red-Orange was never used, but its analysis revealed that the United States was not prepared to support simultaneous operations in two major theaters. And though the U.S. did not go to war with the United Kingdom, those lessons were applied to actual operations in World War II.

"Is America thinking about how it would fight us making war more likely?" "No Majesty. But it is a great compliment to be so respected militarily."
“Is America thinking about how it would fight us making war more likely?”
“No Majesty. But it is a great compliment to be so respected militarily.”

The fact that we are thinking about Air-Sea battle is good, and the fact that we are debating the merits of it is even better. Air-Sea battle cannot be a flawed plan because it is no plan. It cannot support a strategy because operational concepts do not support strategies. We are not in trouble because we are thinking about Air-Sea Battle, but we could find ourselves in trouble if it is all we think about.

LT Jason H. Chuma is a U.S. Navy submarine officer who has deployed to the U.S. 4th Fleet and U.S. 6th Fleet areas of responsibility. He is a graduate of the Citadel, holds a master’s degree from Old Dominion University, and has completed the Intermediate Command and Staff Course from the U.S. Naval War College. He can be followed on Twitter @Jason_Chuma.

The opinions and views expressed in this post are his alone and are presented in his personal capacity. They do not necessarily represent the views of U.S. Department of Defense or the U.S. Navy.

A Strategic Thinker Can Bloom from a STEM

Recent U.S. Navy guidance directed at least 85% of new officers must come from technical degree programs commonly known as STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics). This has rightfully generated a fair amount of discussion in Navy circles. What I find surprising, and insulting, is degree to which a good portion of the discussion is one-sided. The superiority of liberal arts and humanities degrees are touted and accusations flow that STEM degree-holders are all socially awkward, pocket protector-wearing poindexters who – when they are not underway – still live in their parents’ basements.

I have the Conn!
I have the Conn!

Some even claim this to be the end of the U.S. Navy officer corps’ ability to critically analyze and think strategically on matters of policy or foreign affairs. They imply that STEM majors could never understand the complexities of the liberal arts while in almost the same breath they claim that any lack of technical knowledge and understanding from humanities majors can be easily overcome with additional studying and on-the-job training.

In an effort to remove as much ambiguity as possible, and for brevity, I will take a moment to directly state some of what I think on this subject:

– Possessing an intellectual curiosity is much more important than what someone already knows when developing as a naval officer.

– Being a naval officer is a diverse and complex profession that changes as you progress in your career, so one single major or type of major does not best prepare someone for the job in its entirety.

– There are an incredible number of open-source resources available (e.g. subscriptions to Foreign Policy, The Diplomat, The Economist, and countless lectures from major universities available on the internet) for someone with a STEM degree to broaden their horizons beyond the technical. In fact, anyone desiring a career as a naval officer should do just that.

– I neither agree nor disagree with the current technical-to-humanities degree percentages required at commissioning. I do not have an adequate enough knowledge of the statistical analysis behind that decision to comment one way or the other on the specific percentage.

– And lastly, although a STEM degree is not the end-all, be-all for developing a naval officer, it does provide a good basis to develop a successful division officer immediately out of college.

It is worth asking what the U.S. Navy needs from the majority of officers immediately after commissioning. It needs them to be division officers. They need to lead a division and a watch team. The U.S. Navy does not immediately need someone to write the next volume of The Influence of Sea Power Upon History. It does need people who can do that within its ranks, so it is important to ensure they are recognized and promoted. That is a long-term issue that should not and cannot be solved by simply adjusting what types of majors are commissioned. It is a separate discussion for how the Navy manages its evaluation processes and selection boards.

The dynamic nature and remoteness of the maritime environment has always made naval warfare more complex than its land counterpart. Present ships and aircraft are extremely complex technical systems, so a firm basis in technical knowledge can be advantageous. To effectively drive and fight a ship, a division officer should have an understanding of topics like buoyancy, stability, sonar propagation, radar propagation, electrical generation and distribution, thermodynamics, and potentially nuclear engineering. Clearly many humanities majors have mastered all of these things in the past and will continue to do so in the future. A STEM degree is not essential to being a successful division officer, but it can help with initial success.

Alfred Thayer Mahan may have possessed one of the greatest strategic maritime minds in the history of the U.S. Navy. There can be no doubt that his works had an incredible influence on naval thought. But just as some assume that too technical of a mind detracts from effective performance as a naval officer, so to can too literary of one. Maybe if Mahan had a more diverse mind he may have been able to avoid such an evaluation when commanding USS Chicago:

“[Captain Mahan’s] interests are entirely outside the service, for which, I am satisfied, he cares but little, and is therefore not a good naval officer.  He is not at all observant regarding officers tending to the ship’s general welfare or appearance, nor does he inspire or suggest anything in this connection.  In fact, the first few weeks of the cruise she [that is, USS Chicago] was positively discreditable.  In fact, CAPT Mahan’s interests lie wholly in the direction of literary work and in no other way connected with the service.”

In closing I will respond to the claim that having an 85% STEM requirement for commissioning will result in the same percentage across the entire officer corps. This is ridiculous because everyone who commissions does not continue to promote. As I discussed above, a solid technical understanding can help at the lower tactical levels, but as one progresses, a much broader understanding of the world is necessary. Individuals with these capabilities and understanding should be recognized and advanced regardless of their academic degree. Performance at lower levels can serve as part of advancement and selection, but previous success does not guarantee effective future performance. This is not a problem to find a solution for at commissioning. It is a dynamic issue to be evaluated throughout the personnel system at all levels of command. Just as the history or philosophy major can end up being the best Engineering Officer of the Watch (EOOW) in the wardroom, so too can the physics or chemistry major end up writing the next revolutionary strategic or operational concept for the Navy.

LT Jason H. Chuma is a U.S. Navy submarine officer who has deployed to the U.S. 4th Fleet and U.S. 6th Fleet areas of responsibility. He is a graduate of the Citadel, holds a master’s degree from Old Dominion University, and has completed the Intermediate Command and Staff Course from the U.S. Naval War College. His current assignment is to the Navy Warfare Development Command where he serves as a member of the CNO’s Rapid Innovation Cell. He can be followed on Twitter @Jason_Chuma.

The opinions and views expressed in this post are his alone and are presented in his personal capacity. They do not necessarily represent the views of U.S. Department of Defense or the U.S. Navy.

Arctic: The Final Frontier

The Arctic environment is changing. These changes can have a major impact on the national security of the nations that border it. New regions of the globe that have never been easily accessible to mankind are now presenting the opportunity to greatly increase economic, political, and military interactions within the Arctic region. Natural resources that have never before been tapped are beginning to be accessible, and shorter and faster routes for shipping of goods and resources are opening.

Uncertainty remains as to the rate and extent of the changing Arctic climate as well as how fast human activity will increase in the area, but what is clear is that both are happening and will continue to happen. History shows that when new global economic opportunities present themselves, the competition for resources and territory can result in conflict. The United States must recognize this and work collaboratively with other nations to develop agreements and understandings within the region. This potential shift in the global geographic and economic picture shows a need for a strategy to meet these security challenges that the United States is currently unprepared and ill-equipped to address.

Does this mean I am going to see you around here more often?
Does this mean I am going to see you around here more often?

Assigning U.S. Northern Command as the single advocate for Arctic capabilities within the DoD in 2011 was a first step in addressing this lack of an Arctic strategy. This is a new region that presents unique problems and opportunities; therefore a tailored approach is necessary for addressing national security concerns while promoting and preserving international stability.

As the United States moves forward as an international partner within the Arctic it is important to continuously remain mindful that there are two sides to this new accessibility to resources. On one side are greater opportunities for international cooperation and strengthening of relationships with current and new partner nations. On the other side there is now an increased potential for dispute and conflict centered on claims to resources and territory. Disagreements among Arctic nations can have a destabilizing effect on the region, so promoting stability in accordance with international laws and norms is within the strategic interests of the United States.

The free navigation through international seas and straits for all peaceful nations continues to be a core aspect of U.S. maritime strategy. This policy should be no different within the changing environment of the Arctic. New sea-lanes are emerging that have the potential to greatly reduce shipping distances and help promote economic growth for all nations. These new sea-lanes are international straits within global commons and the United States must remain within a position to protect these sea-lines as they continue to evolve.

Hey Evgeni, I'll race you from Severomorsk to Vladivastok.
Hey Evgeni, I’ll race you from Severomorsk to Vladivastok.

The Arctic will continue to take on greater economic importance and as a result requires a comprehensive strategy that includes enhancements in our strategic capabilities. Current capabilities in the region – both in terms of technology and force structure – were developed without the Arctic playing much of a role in global matters. The United States is currently facing a great challenge, which if approached and managed properly can in fact be a great opportunity.

The United States is one of a very few nations that directly borders the Arctic. This means that the security of the Arctic is a strategic area directly related to the security of the United States. With the impression of more significant and immediate threats driving greater levels of attention to other areas of responsibility, such as the Middle-East or the Asia-Pacific region, it is only natural overlook, even unintentionally, other areas impacting national security like the Arctic. At the national level, the United States must determine the appropriate security framework to effectively evaluate all emerging security concerns within the region. This framework should utilize the unmatched capabilities and capacities of the military to ensure the United States is in a position to support cooperation among other friendly nations in the region.

Even with a strategy emphasizing the importance of the Arctic region on the global stage, the United States currently lacks the capabilities necessary to ensure it continues to play a leadership role in international affairs in the region. The most directly applicable capabilities would be maritime domain awareness (MDA), search and rescue (SAR), maritime interdiction, humanitarian assistance / disaster relief (HA/DR), and air and missile defense (AMD). These capabilities must fuse with key cooperative partnerships with inter-agency as well as other friendly Arctic nations. This primary goal should be to ensure safety, security, and stability within the region. The right capabilities coupled with support from partners and fused together with effective communications will continue to convey that the United States plays an active and positive role within the Arctic and will continue to for the foreseeable future.

Acquisition decisions will be made to address the core mission areas within the Arctic. Vital to enabling any of these capabilities is the acquisition and proper maintenance of icebreakers to enable operations within the region today. Current capability levels do not even begin to adequately ensure safe and continued operations within the Arctic. A more robust icebreaker capacity and capability is essential to maintaining national presence within the region, enabling military operations, and thus preserving national and economic interests. The United States is significantly behind the icebreaking capabilities of other Arctic nations and this is a gap which must be filled to remain competitive in the region.

Part of the responsibility inherent with assuming a leadership role on the international stage is not only having the capability to respond to conflict if the need arises, but to also have the capability to extend a helping hand if necessary. Even with the changing climate, the Arctic is still an inhospitable place which can be more prone to accidents at sea, which can be more dangerous than in other areas of the world. These simple facts necessitate the United States’ possession of a capable SAR capability in the Arctic.

Current SAR capabilities are based on significantly lower levels of human activity in the region. As shipping, fishing, and drilling activities increase, available SAR capabilities will continue to fall further behind the needs. In more hospitable climates, response times of hours or even days may be acceptable. In the Arctic this is not the case. It is vital to credibility within the region that the United States enhances SAR capabilities through evaluating operating base locations and procurement of specialized equipment to include the navigation and communication infrastructure to make them a credible capability.

As the Arctic climate evolves faster than other more environmentally stable regions, it is even more important to continuously reevaluate posture and capabilities to prevent being caught off guard. Every effort is necessary to be ready in the Arctic at any time.

LT Jason H. Chuma is a U.S. Navy submarine officer who has deployed to the U.S. 4th Fleet and U.S. 6th Fleet areas of responsibility. He is a graduate of the Citadel, holds a master’s degree from Old Dominion University, and has completed the Intermediate Command and Staff Course from the U.S. Naval War College. His current assignment is to the Navy Warfare Development Command where he serves as a member of the CNO’s Rapid Innovation Cell. He can be followed on Twitter @Jason_Chuma

The opinions and views expressed in this post are his alone and are presented in his personal capacity. They do not necessarily represent the views of U.S. Department of Defense or the U.S. Navy.