11 June 2019

What Should The U.S. Military Prepare To Do?

The U.S. military wastes money in all sorts of ways. It overpays defense contractors and mismanages defense contracts once they are entered into. It has a money is no object philosophy of purchasing. It is a massive bureaucracy with little financial accountability.

Hammers Looking For Nails

But, probably the biggest problem with our military's organization and procurement is that our military does not have a clear idea of what missions it should be prepared to carry out. So, instead of determining what jobs it has to carry out, and then based upon those jobs, deciding what personnel and equipment resources it needs to accomplish those goals, it is a parade of solutions looking for problems and manufacturing the need to address the problems its tools are best suited to solving, whether those are the actual problems it needs to solve or not. 

Further, the set of tools that are contending for resources are heavily influenced by inertia. The number of fighters the Air Force asks for is driven largely by the number of existing fighters that are getting past their due date. The Navy operates the same way, trying to match retiring ships with new ships to replace them.

The Air Force's elite ranks are disproportionately made up of fighter pilots who trained to engage in air to air combat, and so those are the missions it focuses on preparing the Air Force to carry out, whether that is really what we need to carry out the foreseeable missions the military might be called upon to carry out. Never mind that the U.S. military has had only about two instances of air to air combat in the last twenty years. Other missions have atrophied. The Air Force has again and again tried to shirk its responsibility to provide close air support to ground troops. The Air Force has underinvested in transport aircraft and failed to coordinate with other services to make sure that the planes that carry troops and weapons systems are optimized to the needs to the troops and weapons systems that they carry and likewise ground troops have insufficiently tailored their resources to the aircraft available to carry them. 

Naval air isn't necessarily much better even when it is integrated within a single department and military service. For example, the Marines had to reinvent the WWIII Jeep because none of its other vehicles was small enough to be carried on an MV-22 Osprey.  Notwithstanding the fact that D-Day was an Army operation, the Marines see massive amphibious assaults in the image of D-Day as core to their mission and acquire ships, amphibious armored vehicles, landing craft, helicopters, STOVL fighter aircraft and more to carry out that mission. Never mind that the last time that a large scale amphibious assault was important to the outcome of an armed conflict for the U.S. military was more than sixty years ago during the Korean War. And, neither has anyone else.

In World War II, the U.S. Navy fought a lot of battles in which one blue sea warship tried to sink another blue sea warship. You can count on your fingers the number of times that has happened since then with any military force in the world. But, the U.S. still has a fleet of blue sea warships designed to dominate and vastly outnumber of handful of blue sea navies in the world that still exist. Never mind that aircraft and submarines and cruise missiles and long range missiles and sea mines are almost always better at sinking warships than other warships, which are to a great extent sitting ducks that have avoided catastrophe mostly because no one has wanted to be so definitively at war with the nuclear armed United States. The Navy, like the Air Force, has not given as much attention as it should to sealift, sea basing and coastal firepower support for coastal ground troops.

Another important role of the U.S. Navy is anti-piracy, smuggling interdiction, for which billion dollar destroyers, are expensive overkill, but littoral combat ships may not be very effective.

The Army, which has had more actual combat action than any other military force in raw person hours, has finally come to terms with the fact that a 70 ton M1-A1 Abrams tank can't be delivered to the battlefield promptly, is too heavy for many roads and bridges, is too wide for many narrow old world city streets and mountain passes, requires epic supply lines at 0.5 mpg diesel fuel efficiency, and still have some vulnerability to IEDs, light and mechanized infantry with anti-tank weapons, and enemy aircraft and artillery with guided weapons. It also turns out that just as warships aren't necessarily the optimal means of destroying enemy warships, that heavy tanks aren't the optimal means of destroying enemy tanks. Thirty-five ton Bradley "Infantry Fighting Vehicles" armed with small anti-tank missiles, a variety of fighter and bomber aircraft with "smart bombs" and air to ground missiles, and even infantry with anti-tank weapons all proved to be just as effective at destroying enemy tanks (which largely turned out to be sitting ducks) as 70 ton M1-A1 heavy tanks. 

The Army ended up consigning hundreds, if not thousands of heavy tanks to the bone yard and replacing them with wheeled Stryker armored personnel carriers and wheeled MRAPs (mine resistant ambush protected) vehicles in a variety of sizes, many from foreign military suppliers who wouldn't have been able to get a U.S. military contract at all if U.S. suppliers had been ready to deliver vehicles in that class. The new vehicles 

The ubiquitous Humvee meanwhile, while it was arguably had the greatest off road capabilities of any off road light wheeled military vehicle every built, also proved to be a dud that had to be almost entirely replaced. The broad, low design that was great for traversing hills and gullies made it vulnerable to IEDs. The size and off road maximized engine and transmission meant it guzzled gas when pushed into service driving on paved roads in cities and highways and on military bases where the vast majority of vehicular traffic ended up going anyway. Finally, despite being a military vehicle, it offered no meaningful protection from enemy small arms fire, without being up armored. And, when it was up armored, the vehicle was too heavy for a chassis and transmission designed to carry less weight.

The heavy tank and the Humvee both ended up failing not because they were old designs. Both were mid- to late- 1980s vintage when their problems developed in the 1990s, while the Air Force continued to fly B-52s and A-10s, the Navy continued to operate Vietnam era ship designs, and nuclear forces presided over our nuclear arsenal with 5.25" floppy disks inserted into 1970s era computers with CRT screens. They failed because they were designed by teams that were divorced from the needs of troops in a modern active combat zone, and redesigned when experience made their failures obvious.

Still, the Army has its own woes. It has too much artillery given its modern accuracy. It has too few tip of the spear soldiers and can't deploy many of them very quickly. It has weak language and culture resources and weak nation building capabilities. It is still not comfortable with its counterinsurgency role and has shed a lot of highly experienced veteran NCOs and junior officers whose hard won skills may not be available when needed.

What Wars Have We Fought?

The United States had predominantly participated in peace keeping and counterinsurgency missions, and asymmetric warfare in every conflict it has participated in since the Vietnam War. Beirut. Panama. Yugoslavia. The Gulf War. Afghanistan. The Iraq War. Kosovo. Counterinsurgency operations in Somalia. Intervention in a civil war in Libya. Syria and Norther Iraq against ISIS. It has tried to stay out of sub-Saharan Africa but has had a few engagements with small units supporting local forces. The Gulf War and Iraq War did have conventional warfare components, for less than a month each, after which inferior tank heavy ground forces were annihilated

The U.S. Navy has scuffled ever so lightly with Iran and terrorists in the Persian Gulf, with pirates on Middle Eastern sea routes, and with North Korea. It us employed paramilitary forces, mostly Coast Guard, to take on drug smugglers. Most of that has been asymmetric deployment of forces as well.

We have declined to engage nuclear armed Russia in the Ukraine and Black Sea. We have declined to take the bait in the face of aggressive action from Russian and Chinese naval and air forces.

Nobody with the power to really disrupt bureaucratic inertia in the most expensive military force in the world is in a good position to seriously realign our mix of forces and resources to reflect our contemporary needs.

The U.S. has no reason to fear conventional military invasions over land from either Canada or Mexico. The prospect is laughable. There are only a handful of potentially hostile and threatening navies in the world, but the ones most likely to engage us in anger, Iran, Pakistan, and North Korea, have essentially no capacity to cross  either the Pacific Ocean, or the Indian and then Atlantic Oceans to deliver hostile ships to U.S. shores or anywhere close. There are really only two naval forces that are a potential threat to U.S. territory, Russia and China. And, even of those two, the threat that China poses to Hawaii or Guam, for example, is really modest. China is far more of a threat to our East Asian allies Japan, South Korea and Taiwan than it is to the U.S. itself.

Russia does have a blue sea navy, although it is a mere shadow of the Soviet Union's navy at its peak or the U.S. Navy today. It could seriously interfere with global shipping, make naval warfare with our European allies (as it did with Ukraine in attacks that went unanswered), it could bomb Hawaii and Guam and even U.S. coastal areas, it could menace U.S. warships, and it could even conceivably retake control of some largely uninhabited land in Alaska. But, to do so it would have to risk a global nuclear war between two nations easily capable of not just obliterating each other but destroying most human life on the planet. Russia also has long range bombers and missiles that could destroy any U.S. city or military installation anywhere in the world if they more likely than not got at least some of their forces past U.S. defenses, but with the same risks of all out nuclear war.

But, not many other countries that could conceivably be hostile to the U.S. even have long range bomber or missile capabilities that pose any serious threat to U.S. based fighters and air defense resources. There is really not a single country in Latin America that does. There is no country in the Middle East, Africa or South Asia or Southeast Asia that does. Australia and New Zealand are our friends and always will be. There might be a country or two in Eastern Europe that has those capabilities, but they'd have to go through Western European allies or conspire with Russia to do so.

Iran couldn't manage it. Neither could North Korea. China might conceivably have that kind of capability, but it is marginal at best as a threat to the U.S., it risks the same mutual assured destruction threat that Russia does, and China, to a much greater extent than the U.S., needs sustained trade with the U.S. and other countries to provide its own prosperity. China might be able to squash the Philippines or North Korea or Vietnam or Laos or even Nepal or Mozambique or even Taiwan. But, a Chinese war with Japan or South Korea or the U.S. would be catastrophic to its economy.

This analysis should lead to a conclusion that has long been obvious to anyone paying attention. The U.S. military is not primarily or even significantly a self-defense force (nor for that matter is it a force designed to put down domestic insurgencies).

What missions make sense?

I've broken the missions of the U.S. military into two main categories. The first involve lots of genuinely personnel and equipment. The second involve very small forces or paramilitary forces.

Major Military Missions

* Aid key allies against invading or attacking hostile national military forces, usually as part of an international coalition. Some of the key allies to potentially include in international coalitions or to defend against hostile nations include Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, the Philippines, Thailand, India, Israel, Turkey, and Western Europe. The invading or attacking forces could be North Korea, China, Pakistan, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Russia or certain Eastern European allies of Russia.

Obviously, not all potentially hostile nations are concerns in all locations. In Western Europe, Russia and its Eastern European allies (and perhaps the stray Iranian long range missile) are the only concerns and other threats can be ignored in those areas. Pakistan, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Sudan and Eastern European allies of Russia aren't a concern in East Asia or Southeast Asia. Taiwan is worried pretty much exclusively about China. India is worried pretty much exclusively about Pakistan at the near peer level. Israel isn't worried about North Korea, China, Sudan or Eastern Europe and not really even Russia, instead it nears to bear Iran, Saudi Arabia, Egypt and other neighbors. Focusing on only plausible conflicts between potential enemies and likely allies can greatly focus training and procurement decisions.

* Deter and interrupt threats to shipping (such as blockades) and commerce from a handful of nations with dangerous, short range, coastal navies (e.g. North Korea, China, Pakistan, Iran), and the only other hostile nation with a blue sea navy (i.e. Russia), often as part of an international coalition.

Again, these are very discrete, predictable, potential conflicts that can be addressed one by one with a focused response to a non-hypothetical adversary.

* Depose genocidal or aggressive regimes, usually as part of an international coalition and then build a successor state.

This is one of the harder scenarios to plan for and is likely to include a shorter heavy conventional weapons phase followed by an asymmetric mostly ground warfare phase.

* Assist friendly regimes, usually as part of an international coalition, in asymmetric counterinsurgency, anti-terrorist and peace keeping operations.

These are ranked from most to least intense/most to least near peer in character.

Almost all major military missions are likely to be part of international coalitions (at a minimum of a key ally's own military and the U.S. supporting it, and often a broad multi-national coalition with varying levels of support from different participants), but our military does almost nothing to integrate this reality into its planning regarding the size of the forces it needs, it operational organization, or its logistics needs. Thought should be given in advance to what part of forces defending against a hostile invasion or attack should be provided locally by the country at risk and what forces should be provided by the U.S. in support. For example, heavy ground systems should probably be pre-placed. Defending islands against tanks makes no sense and defensive tanks on islands should be anti-personnel oriented.

Disarmament treaties involving the most threatening naval and air/missile weapons with a handful of potential threat nations could dramatically reduce the global need for military expenditures by the U.S. and its allies.

A great deal of this involves predominantly asymmetric warfare and dispersed forces in small, unplanned engagements or planned raids. Large, conventional, set piece battles are largely obsolete and where they occur are likely to be brief.

The more near peer conflicts at the top of the list will typically call for very rapid responses before there is a fait accompli.

Military training and military equipment can and should be tailored for the bulk of the military that is devoted to these kinds of missions to a very small number of potential opponents in a quite modest range of locations, especially for the more near peer conflicts. Especially in the case of asymmetric missions procurement decision making should be supervised as much as possible by veteran military officers and NCOs with experience in the kind of conflicts in question.

Military Missions That Are Less Personnel/Equipment Intensive

* Maintain an offensive nuclear missile/bomb arsenal and anti-missile/anti-bomber defenses for a strategic nuclear warfare capability and defense against non-state actors and rogue nations with small nuclear weapons arsenals.  Also defense of space based resources.

This might be a dozen ballistic missile submarines, two or three dozen nuclear bombers, a number of fixed missile bases, some fighters/anti-missile aircraft to interdict enemy aircraft and bombers, some point defense anti-missile/anti-air batteries, and some anti-missile cruisers that would operate close to rogue nations intended to intercept missiles not long after they are launched. This force as a whole might have 50,000 or less active duty military personnel.

* Put down non-state piracy and smuggling (mostly of people, drugs, and weapons), often as part of an international coalition, via lighter naval forces in distant seas.

This might be dozens of small, fast naval ships, associated aircraft (patrol aircraft and helicopters), air based drones, and unmanned surface craft, plus small units for boarding parties. It might have less than 10,000 active duty military personnel. A critical part of this mission is being more cost effective in carrying it out for sustained missions so that there isn't loss via attrition and expense.

* Rescue U.S. citizens abroad and citizens of allied nations.

Marine amphibious ships have taken a lot of this role, but it should be accentuated more clearly. This might have a few thousand active duty military personnel and possibly civilians as well.

* Training and arming allies.

* Protect U.S. trade and business interests and those of our allies abroad from asymmetric opponents and terrorists.

* Protect U..S. embassies.

This involves a few thousand Marine guards who might also be involved in some of the three previous missions.

These missions, while calling for fewer personnel, are still very important and should have integrated forces with specialized training and equipment designed to carry out these missions.

* Provide international aid in all manner of disasters, chaos, outbreaks and violent occurrences, such as providing hospital ships, food and clean water.

This could be done with a few thousand active duty personnel and a civilian aid worker corps.

Domestic Paramilitary Missions

* Respond domestically to rogue aircraft attacks such as 9-11, air piracy, hijackings and attacks with armed aircraft (when small in number, rather than an all out large fleet of near peer aircraft or modern bombers) via the Air National Guard.

This should involve purpose built equipment for this cost sensitive, low level opponent capability mission, such as homeland defense interceptors with no air to ground capability, no stealth, less extreme speed and maneuverability, smaller complements of offensive weapons, if possible non-lethal weapons, lower operating costs and training costs, also anti-missile/anti-aircraft capabilities.

* Put down non-state piracy and smuggling (mostly of people, drugs, and weapons), domestically via the Coast Guard.

This is largely in place.

* Respond to domestic disasters, wild fires and SAR needs via the Air National Guard, National Guard and Coast Guard.

This is largely in place. Also hurricane chase planes.

* Respond to riots and uprisings via the National Guard and Air National Guard.

The National Guard should be specially equipped and trained for these missions rather than for near peer conventional warfare of second or third string round out troops. The Air National Guard should provide short distance transportation of forces and reconnaissance.

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