CSBA has published a new “offset” strategic vision for the
military (1). Let’s take a look at it. US
Before we go any further, I have to state up front that the CSBA study is widely reported to have been directed and orchestrated to some extent by Deputy Secretary of Defense, Robert Work. This is the man who assured us that the LCS was the greatest warship ever built and that the Navy got pretty much exactly the ship it wanted with the capabilities it wanted and at the price it wanted. Not even the most ardent LCS supporter believes any of that. Further, Mr. Work has made it his mission not just to “sell” the LCS but to demonize anyone who offered the slightest bit of criticism. As regular readers of this blog know, ComNavOps considers Mr. Work to be totally incompetent and an active threat to the effectiveness of our military. With that in mind, I will attempt to be as objective as I can in assessing this report but I can’t completely rule out the possibility of a negative bias. Moving on …
The term "offset" refers to the mechanism needed to counter, or offset, an enemy's numerical advantage. The
has opted to pursue quality rather than quantity in military procurement and force structure, and technology has been the means to ensure a qualitative advantage. US
The report claims that for us to try to counter enemy threats on a "missile for missile", "fighter for fighter" basis is "impractical and unaffordable". Really? Why? How do we know that to be true? In fact, history suggests the opposite conclusion. The
Soviet Union imploded in large measure due to its failed attempt to match or overmatch the numerically. US ’s attempts to match its military to ours (and North Korea ’s) has rendered that country bankrupt and on the verge of collapse. Does South Korea , in this modern instance, possess some inherent ability that ensures that it can sustain and win a "missile for missile" arms race with us? Is it not equally, or even more plausible that China is the one that would be at a disadvantage in such a race over time? China
In addition, the problem with consciously declining to match numbers is that the quality advantage must be overwhelming in order to compensate. Such has been the case when fighting in
, Serbia/Bosnia, Iraq , and the like. The problem comes when contemplating combat with Afghanistan which not only has superior numbers but is nearly on par in terms of quality. Parity means combat attrition on a one-for-one basis and then numbers become the arbiter of victory. While we still maintain an overall technological edge over China , the gap is closing quickly. Indeed, in several key areas China has a significant edge on the China such as mine warfare, long range missiles, and conventional ballistic missiles. Other areas such as ground forces, amphibious forces, and aircraft are nearly on par. US
The document suggests that the
should adopt a new strategy based not on direct response but on asymmetric denial and punishment whereby enemy high value targets would be struck anywhere in the world. Thus, we would not seek to directly reclaim captured land but would seek to punish the enemy and make the cost so high that the enemy would, presumably, voluntarily give back the captured lands or, ideally, never engage in the capture to begin with due to the fear of punishment and cost. While this might sound plausible on paper, a study of history demonstrates a strong tendency for the US to avoid striking enemy targets that are not directly threatening US forces. For example, consider the US refusal to enter US or bomb Laos during the Hanoi conflict. The likelihood that the Viet Nam will attack targets outside the immediately threatened area or even outside the enemy country's borders is remote, at best. The political ramifications and world wide public relations aspects of such actions all but rule out their execution. As a result, adopting such a strategy would only encourage bolder enemy actions with the feeling that the US will not carry through on its strategy (Line in the Sand, anyone?). US
Put another way, the document suggests that the
needs to focus on a strategy designed to make the enemy believe that the cost of their victory is too high and, therefore, the attempt is never made. In addition to the problem noted above, a second problem is that our enemies seem to consistently ignore our “strength” and their own resulting cost. US
Consider Sadaam’s invasion of
. Sadaam had to have been well aware of US strengths but opted to initiate hostilities anyway. Kuwait made the same mistaken calculation in initiating WWII despite overwhelming evidence of an inability to defeat the Japan . US and North Viet Nam were both unimpressed by overwhelming North Korea military strength. The Serbia/Bosnia conflict occurred in the face of overwhelming US military strength. More recently, US has opted to invade multiple countries in the face of Russia military strength. US
With that kind of history of hostilities initiated in the face of
strength, why would we believe that a strategy based on exactly that flawed premise will now work? Those who will not learn from history are doomed to repeat it – and I’m talking about the US , now, not our enemies. If we’re going to attempt to build a deterrent strategy on a premise that has been repeatedly proven false, we’re just encouraging war rather than deterring it and setting ourselves up for combat failure. US
The document sums up its strategic implementation premise with this statement.
“The centerpiece of that strategy is the development and fielding of a [Global Surveillance and Strike - GSS] network for projecting US military power rapidly, in multiple locations, and with dramatically reduced reliance on vulnerable forward bases and significantly increased reliance on unmanned systems that promise significant life-cycle cost savings.”
Consider a couple of key phrases from that quote.
Reduced dependence on close-in theatre land and sea bases is a great idea – the report recognizes the severe lack of area bases and the vulnerability of those that do exist. It also recognizes the political difficulties inherent in attempting to improve the basing situation to any appreciable extent. All that is good. What the report fails to clearly lay out is how to operate without such bases.
Shifting the focus of combat to areas where the
holds an advantage, such as undersea warfare, is, again, a great idea. One can’t help but wonder, though, what happens if the enemy opts to shift the focus to their advantages such as land combat. For example, the physical occupation of US or other land areas would require us to engage in ground combat if we wished to reclaim the land. Simply saying we’ll shift the focus and expect the enemy to blindly follow us into those advantageous realms is wishful thinking unbacked by any degree of realism. Now, that’s not to say that we shouldn’t emphasize areas of advantage but we have to do so while also recognizing that the enemy is going to attempt to shift the focus to their advantage and we may have little choice but to go along. Thus, we had better be able to fight in their realm while we attempt to shift the focus into ours. Taiwan
Unmanned systems that promise significant cost savings is a concept that is totally without supporting evidence. In fact, just the opposite has proven true so far. The MQ-4 Triton costs around $193M each. Where’s the savings? The minimally manned LCS has runaway operating costs, as we previously documented. And so on …
The report goes on to list a variety of observations and needs that support the GSS concept.
- recognizes the likelihood of loss of space based assets and space-derived capabilities like GPS
- recognizes the growing imbalance between “cheap” attacking missiles and “expensive” defensive systems and identifies this as a dead end road – yet fails to recognize the enemy’s targeting challenges
- develop counter-space capabilities
- expand the use of UUVs
- develop a a submarine-launched, conventional ballistic/boost-glide missile, whatever that is
- expand the use of undersea networks
- develop and modernize mines
- develop an unspecified long range ASW weapon
- emphasize rail guns and lasers as economical alternatives to AAW missiles
- develop counter-sensor weapons
- develop an automated aerial refueling capability
- develop and expand the procurement of a Long Range Strike Bomber (LRS-B)
- develop a penetrating surveillance UAV
- develop a strike UCAS
- develop expeditionary, land based A2/AD systems
- develop an array of new networks, communications, and battle management systems
- develop a towed, undersea missile pod that can lie dormant for years until activated
To pay for these new systems, many existing weapons and systems would be eliminated or scaled back including,
- non-stealthy ISR aircraft
- short range strike fighters
- heavy mechanized ground forces
- one aircraft carrier
- reduced Army Brigade Combat Teams
- cancellation of the amphibious combat vehicle
Scanning through the list, there are some items that are sorely needed and some observations that are quite insightful. On the other hand, there are some idiotic items and some observations that demonstrate a complete lack of a solid grasp of reality. I’m not going to attempt to analyze every single item due to a lack of space in the post and the fact that we’ve covered most of them in previous posts.
On the plus side, the report offers a lot of ideas that ComNavOps completely agrees with. On the minus side, the underlying strategic premise of punishment leading to the enemy’s recognition of the cost of misbehavior is illogical and contradicted by most of history. Further, the means of implementing that strategy, the GSS, relies heavily on unproven and, probably, unachievable technology. It’s the LCS writ large. Given the fundamentally flawed premise, it’s amazing that the report got as much right as it did – and it did get a lot of individual items and observations right.
This report would have us give up a great deal of heavy combat power in exchange for a currently non-existent and probably non-achievable global system designed to influence enemy behavior but without the combat power to dispute the enemy’s actions. That’s a mammoth size gamble that history has clearly shown will fail and if it does fail we’ll be left without the combat power to recover from that failure.
To put it as succinctly as possible, the data points in the report are generally right but the conclusions are wrong.
(1) Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments, "Toward A New Offset Strategy", Robert Martinage, Oct 2014