We’ve frequently lamented the lack of a national geopolitical strategy and the resulting military strategy it would engender. As we’ve pointed out, without a military strategy how can we determine what force structure we need? Let’s be a bit more specific about this.
As we contemplate possible conflicts, the obvious enemies are
, Iran N. Korea, and with China a rising possibility. Let’s look at some specifics of conflict in each case, from a naval perspective. Russia
N. Korea – This will be an Army and Air Force effort with access to the battlefield provided from secure bases and ports in S. Korea. This will be the closest thing to classic frontal warfare with a rollback effort proceeding from south to north and with a fairly defined frontline. The Navy’s role will be much as it was in
with carriers providing strikes from fixed operating stations offshore. Viet Nam N. Korea has neither the air, surface, or submarine assets to seriously threaten naval operations.
Regardless of the actual military strategy in a Chinese conflict, I can’t imagine a scenario in which we would attempt to put boots on the ground of mainland
. I’m not even going to bother to list the reasons why that would be the height of folly; it should be self-evident. China
What’s obvious from the preceding discussion is that there are two basic strategic approaches: boots on the ground to seize land or standoff strikes to effect regime change or dictate behavioral modifications. Boots or bombs? Boots or bombs?
Think about this from the Navy’s perspective. The naval force requirements are radically different for the two options.
Boots – This option requires that the Navy (and Marine Corps) maintain a highly capable amphibious assault capability with the recognition that sustained, heavy combat will be required. Unfortunately, this is almost the opposite of what the Marines/Navy are aiming for, as we’ve recently discussed. This would also require a strong inshore protective presence by the Navy while initial forces are landing and for an extended period thereafter while follow-on supplies come ashore. The Navy will be expected to provide initial counterbattery fire, gunfire support, anti-missile protection, etc. and then extended anti-missile protection for the follow-on period. Note that this can’t be done from hundreds of miles offshore as the Navy seems to think. This has to be performed near the beach. Again, this is opposite of current trends in Navy thinking. Further, most of the protective capability does not exist.
Bombs – This option entails inland strikes by Air Force and Navy assets. The Navy’s role would be to provide Tomahawk and, to a much lesser extent due to range limitations, carrier air strikes. While the Navy certainly has some Tomahawk strike capability, it lacks the numbers of missiles needed for a sustained campaign and is planning to retire the most effective Tomahawk platform, the SSGN, with no direct replacement.
Secondarily, the Navy would provide strike protection for Air Force assets to the extent possible. This option calls for a long range air superiority fighter which, again, is not what the Navy is pursuing.
It is obvious that the two general options call for radically different force structures. Until now, the answer to the differing requirements has been to build both because budget was a relatively minor issue. Now, though, budget has become a limiting factor and the answer can no longer be “both”. This underscores the importance of a coherent geopolitical strategy from which to determine a logical force structure.
Having laid out the issue and posed the question, I’ll now provide a partial if unsatisfying answer. As a general statement, boots are just not an option for two main reasons.
First, boots requires the political resolve to seize a land or country and occupy it for a long period of time. The lessons of post-WWII occupied
and Japan are relevant, here. Realistically, the Germany just doesn’t have political will for such an endeavor, at the present time. US
Second, boots requires a large commitment of ground troops and we no longer have those types of numbers. The days of WWII troop levels are long gone and our ground forces are trending smaller, not larger. Admittedly, we could free up significant numbers of troops by pulling out of
Europe and, to an extent, , however, we would still lack the numbers for a successful extended occupation. Korea
The American way of warfare has, for better or worse, become one of attempting to effect regime change followed by nation building and, finally, abandonment. Thus, the bombs option is the only viable path for future conflicts.
Please don’t misinterpret what I’m writing. I’m describing the reality of our current approach to “war”, not the approach I advocate. Regardless, it is the current reality. Accepting this, it becomes apparent that our naval forces are not optimized for the bombs option. We need a high speed Tomahawk replacement, an SSGN replacement, a long range air superiority fighter, and greatly reduced amphibious capability among other needs. Again, though, it all flows from a coherent geopolitical strategy which we currently lack.