However, beyond the immediate cost/effectiveness argument, we are forced to spend more in other areas due to the increasing amount of space/weight/weapon systems we dedicate to missile defense on our surface ships. That dedication to defense pushes out offensive capabilities, which we must then buy in other areas. Some might argue that the “need” for the F-35 and its stealth capabilities were, in part, driven by destroyers whose long-range weapons weapons were almost wholly turned over to defense – requiring a carrier for offensive punch. That technological bias towards the defensive has become so extreme that it has required VADM Rowden’s new “Distributed Lethality” effort– a course change back into a realm that should be a natural instinct for the surface force: distributed operations and killing enemy ships.
Of course, the pricetag and weight of kinetic systems has also prevented the fleet from finding more cost-effective ways to increase the ship count – requiring DDG’s or, in the case of the original LCS plan, expanding smaller ships to take on additional responsibilities. With significant investments in defensive systems not requiring a vast VLS magazine, we could build smaller ships with bigger relative punches at a lesser cost. We could more aggressively pursue the Zumwaltian dream of the High-Low Mix: more ships for more effect for less money – every CNO and SECNAV’s dream.
Raid Breaker is a case of finding, and exploiting, competitive advantage. We have been using our best offensive capabilities – the kinetic weapons – for defense. We have let the best defensive options languish, and in so doing pushed expensive requirements into other areas where we must find our offensive edge. A firm dedication to electronic warfare for “soft-kill” options gives us our ships, and our procurement flexibility, back.
In the end, the excitement over Raid Breaker should not primarily involve its awesome war fighting impact if successful – but all the other ideas it will all the Navy to pursue. What makes Raid Breaker so beautiful is that the raid it breaks, in the long-term, is the one on our bottom line.
Five months after the much-dreaded sequestration went into effect, many defense analysts and military officials alike are worried about the negative repercussions of the drastic budget cuts on military readiness. In his latest commentary, the rightwing commentator Alan Caruba declared that “The U.S. military is on life support.” Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel also argued in his Statement on Strategic Choices and Management Review (SCMR) that “sequester-level cuts would ‘break’ some parts of the strategy, no matter how the cuts were made [since] our military options and flexibility will be severely constrained.”
To its credit, the SCMR seemed to hint at operational and structural adjustments underway by offering two options—trading “size for high-end capacity” versus trading modernization plans “for a larger force better able to project power.” Nevertheless, one important question which went unasked was whether or not the US Armed Forces alone should continue to play GloboCop.
The current geostrategic environment has become fluid and fraught with uncertainties. As Zhang Yunan avers, China as a “moderate revisionist” will not likely replace the United States as the undisputed global champion due to myriad factors. As for the United States, in the aftermath of a decade-long war on terror and the ongoing recession, we can no longer say with certainty that the United States will still retain its unipolar hegemony in the years or decades to come.
That said, Secretary Hagel is correct that the United States military may need to become leaner in the face of harsh fiscal realities. To this must be added another imperative: The US Armed Forces must fight smarter and must do so in ways that may further America’s strategic and commercial interests abroad.
So how can the United States military fight smarter and leaner?
First, given massive troop reductions whereby the Army personnel may be reduced to 380,000 and the Marine Corps “would bottom out at 150,000,” while at the same, the DoD is seriously considering restructuring existing Combatant Commands (COCOMs), it no longer makes sense to deploy or train troops for protracted counterinsurgency campaigns or foreign occupations. Instead, should another transnational terrorist group or a rogue state threaten homeland security, the United States could rely on SOF (Special Operations Forces) commandos and UAV (Unmanned Aerial Vehicles) to selectively target and neutralize potential threats. While the SOF and UAV surgical raids should not be viewed as substitutes for deft diplomacy, they can provide cheaper and selective power projection capabilities.
Second, since the United States Navy may be forced to “reduce the number of carrier strike groups from 11 to 8 or 9,” it can meet its power projection needs by encouraging cooperation among its sister navies and by bolstering their naval might. One example of such partnerships would be to form a combined fleet whereby America’s sister navies “may share their unique resources and cultures to develop flexible responses against future threats” posed by our adversaries.
Third, the United States may encounter more asymmetric threats in the form of cyber attacks, CBRN (Chemical, Biological, Radiation, Nuclear) attacks, and may also be subjected to attacks from within by homegrown terrorists and drug cartels—all of which may wreak havoc and may even cripple America’s domestic infrastructures. As retired Admiral James Stavridis argues, such asymmetric attacks may stem from convergence of the global community. Such threats require that the United States take the fight to its adversaries by cooperating with its allies to “upend threat financing” and by strengthening its cyber capabilities.
Fourth, where rogue states such as Iran, Syria and North Korea, are concerned, the United States could implement what General James Mattis refers to as the “proxy strategy.” Under this arrangement, while “America’s general visibility would decline,” its allies and proxies would police the trouble spots on its behalf.
Fifth, the United States must be prepared to defend homeland against potential missile attacks from afar. The United States may be vulnerable to hostile aggressions from afar following North Korea’s successful testing of its long-range rocket last December and Iran’s improved missile capabilities. Thus, improving its missile defense system will allow greater flexibility in America’s strategic responses both at home and abroad.
Last but not least, the United States Armed Forces needs to produce within its ranks officers who are quick to grasp and adapt to fluid geostrategic environments. One solution, as Thomas E. Ricks proposes, would be to resort to a wholesale firing of incompetent generals and admirals. However, it should be noted that rather than addressing the problem, such dismissals would ultimately breed resentment towards not only the senior brass but civilian overseers, which will no doubt exacerbate civil-military relations that has already soured to a considerable degree. Instead, a better alternative would be reform America’s officer training systems so that they may produce commanders who possess not only professional depth but breadth needed to adapt to fluid tactical, operational, and strategic tempos.
Despite the hysteric outcries from the service chiefs and many defense analysts, in the end, the sequestration may not be as dire as it sounds. In fact, Gordon Adams argues that after several years of reductions, “the defense budget…creeps upward about half a percentage point every year from FY (Fiscal Year) 2015 to FY 2021.” Simply stated, one way or the other, the US Armed Forces may eventually get what it asks for–as it always has been the case. Nonetheless, the sequestration “ordeal”—if we should call it as such—offers the US military object lessons on frugality and flexibility. Indeed, American generals and admirals would do well to listen to General Mattis who recently admonished them to “stop sucking their thumbs and whining about sequestration, telling the world we’re weak,” and get on with the program.
Note: This article was originally published in its original form in the Naval Institute’s blog and was cross-posted by permission.
Jeong Lee is a freelance writer and is also a Contributing Analyst for Wikistrat’s Asia-Pacific Desk. Lee’s writings on US defense and foreign policy issues and inter-Korean affairs have appeared on various online publications including East Asia Forum, the Georgetown Journal of International Affairs, the World Outline and CIMSEC’s NextWar blog.
(This article is cross-posted by permission of the United States Naval Institute Blog and appeared in its original form on July 25th here.)
According to the Yŏnhap News Agency last Thursday, ROK Defense Minister Kim Kwan-jin “confirmed…that he had requested the U.S. government” to postpone the OPCON (Operational Command) transfer slated for December, 2015. Citing from the same source, the National Journal elaborated further by saying Minister Kim believed that the United States was open to postponing the transfer because “a top U.S. government official leaked to journalists” Minister Kim’s request for the delay.
There may be several reasons for the ROK government’s desire to postpone the OPCON transfer. First, the critics of the OPCON transfer both in Washington and the ROK argue that this transition is “dangerously myopic” as it ignores “the asymmetric challenges that [North Korea] presents.” Second, given the shrinking budget, they argue that the ROK may not have enough time to improve its own C4I (Command, Control, Communications, Computer and Intelligence) capabilities, notwithstanding a vigorous procurement and acquisition of state-of-the-art weaponry and indigenous research and development programs for its local defense industries. Third, South Korea’s uneven defense spending, and operational and institutional handicaps within the conservative ROK officer corps have prevented South Korea from developing a coherent strategy and the necessary wherewithal to operate on its own. To the critics of the OPCON handover, all these may point to the fact that, over the years, the ROK’s “political will to allocate the required resources has been constrained by economic pressures and the imperative to sustain South Korea’s socio-economic stability and growth.” As if to underscore this point, the ROK’s defense budget grew fourfold “at a rate higher than conventional explanations would expect” due to fears that the United States may eventually withdraw from the Korean peninsula. It was perhaps for these reasons that retired GEN B. B. Bell, a former Commander of the United States Forces Korea, has advocated postponing the transfer “permanently.“
However, the Obama Administration’s reversal of its decision to hand over the OPCON to the ROK military appears unlikely. First, in the face of the drastic sequestration cuts in the upcoming fiscal years, long-term commitment in the Korean peninsula may be unsustainable. Second, since both the United States Armed Forces and civilians suffer from war-weariness after having fought in Iraq and Afghanistan for over a decade, it is unlikely that they will accept long-term overseas commitment of this magnitude. Which leads to the third point that the United States will likely favor diplomatic solutions when dealing with Kim Jŏng-ŭn, since the DPRK has recently expressed its desires to engage in dialogues. Fourth, “[m]ost economic and military indicators show that South Korea has an edge over North Korea in almost all measures of power.” While many opponents of the transition point to the DPRK’s asymmetric threats to make their case, Suh Jae-jung contends that “quantitative advantage quickly fades when one takes account of the qualitative disadvantages of operating its 1950s-vintage weapons systems” which has led “serious analysts [to] conclude that ‘North Korea never had a lead over South Korea.’” Most importantly, arguments against the scheduled transition are weak because they tend to focus only on the military dimensions of the ongoing conflict.
There are several ways in which the US-ROK alliance can enhance security dynamics on the peninsula in the aftermath of the OPCON transfer. One obvious approach would be to seek diplomatic solutions to proactively deter further provocations by Kim Jŏng-ŭn. Despite the deep-seated rancor and distrust between the two Korean states, both Korean states have nevertheless agreed to reopen the Kaesŏng Industrial Complex. The latest inter-Korean talk held at P’anmunjŏm demonstrates more than anything else the need to “cajole and flatter the young ruler…[by] allowing Kim Jŏng-ŭn to save face as sovereign ruler of his country.” As Miha Hribernik and I wrote in June, one way of doing this would be to “accept his offers to discuss arms reduction first.” In addition, the US-ROK alliance could defuse tension on the Korean peninsula by recognizing the DPRK as a sovereign state. Such measures would prevent miscommunication where parties involved are “not talking to each other but rather, past each other.”
Nevertheless, the US-ROK alliance must avoid appearing weak even as it seeks diplomatic solutions to guarantee peace and security for the Korean peninsula. As I wrote earlier, “in order for diplomatic endeavors to be sustainable in the long-run, they must be backed up by a credible threat of coercion.” With or without the OPCON, there are several ways in which the US-ROK alliance can effectively deter future DPRK aggressions. One such option, as I’ve written earlier, would be for the United States Pacific Fleet and the ROKN, along with the JMSDF, to form a combined fleet whereby the three navies “would may share their unique resources and cultures to develop flexible responses against future threats by Kim Jŏng-ŭn.” Second would be to allow the ROK JCS Chairman to assume command of the CFC with the top American general serving as his deputy as was proposed in June during a ministerial meeting held between Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel and Defense Minister Kim Kwan-jin. However, at this juncture, according to the Washington Post, “the 28,500 U.S. troops here will not fall under the command of the South…[since] the United States and South Korea will have separate commands.” Third, to proactively deal with possible DPRK missile attacks, the US-ROK alliance, together with Japan, can develop a collective missile defense system. Fourth, as retired Admiral James Stavridis argues, since the world has converged into smaller communities through globalization, we must take the fight to our adversary by “follow[ing] the money [to upend] threat financing” abroad and at home. Last but not least, since the DPRK’s recent asymmetric attacks against the US-ROK alliance have been waged on cyberspace to cripple their infrastructures, the US-ROK alliance, in tandem with the international community, can work together to enhance their cyber security.
Despite unfounded fears among retired officers and conservative analysts that the OPCON transfer may considerably weaken South Korea’s security, it does not mean that the United States will completely withdraw from the Korean peninsula. Nor does the ROK resemble South Vietnam after the Paris Treaty of 1973. That is, the ROK remains an economically and politically stable nation. With new transition come new opportunities for innovative growth. For the ROK, OPCON transfer just may present such opportunities to protect itself from further aggression by Kim Jŏng-ŭn.
Jeong Lee is a freelance international security blogger living in Pusan, South Korea and is also a Contributing Analyst for Wikistrat’s Asia-Pacific Desk. Lee’s writings have appeared on various online publications, including East Asia Forum, the Georgetown Journal of International Affairs and the USNI Blog.