Saturday, November 22, 2014

Offset Strategy Follow Up

We just recently discussed the CSBA proposed offset strategy but it warrants a bit of a follow up.  It’s become clear in recent days that Hagel and Work are going to commit the US to exactly this offset path and that greatly worries me. 

Setting aside the asymmetric punishment aspect that is highly questionable and renders the entire strategy suspect, the execution of the strategy seems to be focused on information, networks, data, and surveillance at the expense of high explosives.  Consider where the armed forces are already heading. 

  • The Marines are shedding tanks and artillery in favor of lighter weight, mobile vehicles.
  • The AF wants to drop the A-10.
  • The Navy has terminated production of Tomahawk missiles with no replacement.
  • The mainstay of future aviation is a lightweight, short ranged surveillance and communications node rather than a kick-butt combat aircraft.
  • The AF has only 19 B-2 bombers and 180 F-22 fighters.
  • The Navy is prematurely retiring combat stores ships that are needed to support sustained combat operations.
  • The Navy has dropped another air wing, down to 9 now.  That’s effectively dropping a carrier since a carrier is useless without an air wing.
  • The Navy is retiring the SSGN submarines with no replacement.
  • The Army is being gutted in terms of personnel.
  • And so on …

The trend is clear.  The armed forces are getting lighter and moving their emphasis away from high explosives and towards information and mobility.  Don’t get me wrong, information is extremely valuable – critically so, in fact.  The problem is that at some point you still have to blow things up.  Taking the current trends to their logical conclusion, we’re running the risk of having a force that can observe with perfect awareness while the enemy crushes us because we don’t have enough armor and big enough explosives.

Now consider where the rest of the world is going.  Not a day goes by without reading about another country buying/developing main battle tanks, supersonic missiles, more and larger artillery, theatre ballistic missiles, long range bombers, highly capable frigate/destroyers, etc.  The rest of the world is gearing up for serious, high end combat.  We’re gearing down for information, mobility, crisis response, and humanitarian assistance.

Lastly, bear in mind that this offset strategy and implementation is being overseen by Hagel and Work.  I would be hard-pressed to name two less competent people.  Work, in particular, has demonstrated that he will ruthlessly crush any opposition.  As we proceed down the offset path and it becomes evident that there are flaws in the strategy and implementation, will we or the military leadership hear about them or will people in the military be so intimidated that they’ll meekly and quietly go along while our military capability goes down the drain?  This is exactly what happened with the LCS which was Work’s pet project.  He demonized opposition despite the overwhelming evidence that the program was badly flawed.  Is this the leadership we can depend on to take us down an already suspect path?

The risk in all of this is that we wind up with an entire military that’s essentially the LCS.  Remember all the things the networked, nodal, information-centric LCS was going to do?  It was going to dominate littoral combat for generations to come.  The reality is that it turned out to have no combat power, whatsoever.  Now, we’re looking to strip down our military combat power in favor of information, networks, and surveillance.  Do you see the parallel?

Let’s be fair, here.  The offset strategy is not an official program, yet, and even if it were there are no specific details published.  Perhaps I’m jumping the gun and worrying about nothing or worrying about things that aren’t going to happen the way I’ve laid out.  Perhaps we’ll talk about this for a year or two, not much will happen, and then new leaders will take over and things will go in a different direction.  On the other hand, what if I’m right?  Time will tell. 


  1. It is a mystery to even me how punishment works without long range high explosive projection, lots and lots of lrhep.

    Arsenal subs and arsenal ships with lots of long range, accurate, destructive missiles are pretty much essential in my mind.

    1. Totally agree . . . almost.

      I've been wondering about the size, cost and manpower requirements off the Arleigh Burke Destroyers. Whats the point off having a very powerful, expensive and difficult to maintain radar system on a large ship holding large numbers of very long range missiles? The greatest threat posed is sea skimming missiles that cannot be seen due to the curvature of the Earth till about 26 miles out. I'd like to see a greater number of smaller air defence ships.

      The other problem being that while these ships seem too big and expensive for defending against sea skimming missiles, their radars are not big enough to adequately detect ballistic missiles. Big ships please!

      Dave P

  2. Well, they haven't terminated tomahawk production and won't in the near future.

    1. Has there been some massive advance in radar that terrain following cruise missiles are suddenly very visible? I thought the flight profile of the Tomahawk was to fly low and (relatively) slow to mask its signature. As radar is LOS it would seem that this would still be effective, yet I hear the Tomahawk getting bashed because it isn't 'stealthy'. To me 'Stealth' isn't just airframes and coatings. Its also tactics and mission profiles.

      I think retiring the Tomahawk would be very stuipd. Retiring the SSGN's without something of similar hitting power is similarly so. Even at their size the Ohio's stand a much better chance of getting into the A2/D2 area than a 'Burke or a Tico.

    2. About SSGN's can they 'unplug' the tomahawk launch clusters and add them to another Ohios or other subs that can handle the size of a trident?

      About missiles , just take a look at the russian aproach, it's more flexible and pragmatic , they make super sonic missiles while still producing sub sonic cruise missiles.
      The US on the other hand relies only on sub sonic.

    3. Tomahawks are no less stealthy than they have ever been, but they are no more so, and defences are better.
      Low flight offers no defence against airborne radar.

      Once spotted, its a slow target that doesn't dodge.

      1000 would be a knock out blow
      100 might barely scratch the paint

  3. "The AF has only 19 B-2 bombers and 180 F-22 fighters"

    Yeah, but neither china or russia won't have so many stealth aircraft of this type operational in the next 10-15 years.

  4. There seems to be a good parallel between US leaders today and Germany's (Hitler's) obsession with wonder weapons. Hitler was convinced his technological weapons would win the war, but it was the American's and the Soviet's ability to leverage their industrial capabilities to out-produce the Germans that won the day.

    There's a definite need for very high end system's and it would be foolish to throw the US lead away, but I would like to see a focus on producing weapon systems at a cheaper price. A back to basics approach that sees as much emphasis on training and maintenance and good strategy as super weapons.
    Strategy needs to come from the government and be translated into effective weapon systems at a reasonable price.

    Having seen what another example of big business is capable of doing to us, ie Banking, are we surprised that big defense firms would equally screw us over for profits? More competition is needed combined with less political interference in acquisition.

    One high end system I feel is necessary is a new long range naval/air force air superiority fighter (basically a new F-22 with the all-round situational awareness of the F-35). Not only are the Russian's and Chinese producing some good examples, but the US has not invested enough in the ability to conduct high, or low, intensity operations without air superiority without major problems.

    Dave P

  5. ComNavOps, now that SECDEF Hagel has announced his resignation, there is talk of three possible candidates as his successor, Michele Fluornoy, Ashton Carter, or Bob Work.

    In light of your comments here concerning the Offset Strategy, which of these three would you like to see, and why?

    My own vote would be for someone else, Christine Fox, but I doubt she would ever come under serious consideration by the Obama Administration.

    1. Scott, what a terrifying question. I'm afraid that the choice is going to be Work. I can't imagine a worse choice to lead defense than a man who is absolutely intolerant of any questions or criticism. Talk about stifling creativity and initiative!

      I don't really know much about the other choices you mentioned. My choice, considering it has to be a left-democrat person would be recently retired Senator Carl Levin from Michigan. He headed the main defense committee for many years and had a reputation as being reasonable with both sides of the political spectrum. Beyond that, anyone I would suggest would be totally unacceptable to a Democrat administration.

    2. This is Bryan McGrath's take over at Information Dissemination:


      On the Hagel Firing
      Bryan McGrath, Information Dissemination

      Monday, November 24, 2014

      Secretary of Defense Hagel was shown the door today in one of those classic Washington scenes that reminds one of a Soviet show trial. We are led to believe that Mr. Hagel initiated this process himself, and that is entirely possible, given the recent revelations from former Defense Secretaries Panetta and Gates about the degree to which the White House staff's micromanagement and meddling had become intolerable. Presumably, Mr. Hagel encountered similar conditions, as the message mismatch between what came out of the White House and what came out of the Pentagon was hard to ignore.

      And so, the President will now look for a new Secretary of Defense, and it is likely that one of the conditions of hiring will be that this person will have to go the distance. Second terms are famous for the degree to which senior people seek employment elsewhere, tired from the grueling jobs they held and aware of the half-life of their value on the open market. Several names dominated the news this morning when the job opening was announced, but the two most often named were Senator Jack Reed (D-RI) and former Under Secretary of Defense (Policy) Michele Flournoy.

      In Senator Reed's case, I simply could not see why he would take the job. He is likely to be returned to office every six years until he decides not to (a good thing, as he is a superb Senator), and leaving that job now to spend two years across the testifying table from John McCain is probably not high on his bucket list. His staff put the kibosh on this fairly quickly, so it looks like he is out. As for Flournoy, I imagine her chances of taking the job are only a tiny bit higher, as she knows first hand the degree to which the White House staff dominated policy-making. Additionally, Secretary Flournoy is a close confidant of Hillary Clinton, and is certain to be on the short list for this position (and others) in two years if Mrs. Clinton is elected.

      Some have suggested Information Dissemination favorite (and a favorite of mine) DepSecDef Bob Work for the job, and I think he has a good chance for a couple of reasons. The first is that he is ultra-competent. Maybe one of the most competent men I have ever been around. But more importantly--and this is not an insult, just reality--he is relatively unknown and he has no independent power base. A White House that seems intent on protecting its prerogatives and minimizing static from across the Potomac might see Work as their kind of guy. They would underestimate him at their own risk.

      But, I have a feeling Bob won't get the nod. The White House will cast about a bit looking for someone with some profile, but not too much profile, and a resume of government service in their background, likely on the Hill. This person will be a team player, and will understand the rules under which they are appointed. My dark horse prediction: Secretary of the Air Force Deborah Lee James.


    3. Foreign Policy magazine reports today that Michele Fluornoy has decided to stay at CNAS. She will not consider being nominated to replace Chuck Hagel as SECDEF-- probably a wise move on her part.


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