USNI News website has posted one of the best articles ComNavOps has read in a while. The author discusses the “Death of Military Strategy”, as he puts it (1). He lays the blame on the 2001 Quadrennial Defense Review’s (2) adoption of capabilities-based planning in lieu of actual strategy.
As the author describes it,
“Because of an “uncertain” global environment in which the Soviets no longer acted as a global counterweight, no more would DOD plan to fight an actual enemy. Instead, it would plan to deal with a collection of enemy capabilities.”
And there you have it: neatly summed up and tied together, the author has identified the root of today’s failures in acquisition, training, doctrine, planning, tactics, force structure, and pretty much everything else. We’ve stopped acting according to the guidance of a coherent strategy and, instead, gone off in pursuit of technology for its own sake. Whether any given piece of technology will actually help us against a specific enemy or in a specific scenario has become irrelevant.
Will the LCS help us in the Pacific? Who cares – it’s new technology and that’s what’s important.
Will the F-35 support our military needs? Who cares – it’s new technology and that’s what’s important.
Will the laser or rail gun actually support our doctrine (to the degree we have any) and tactics? Who cares – it’s new technology and that’s what’s important.
Will the Zumwalt’s gun actually be useful in amphibious assaults? Who cares – it’s new technology and that’s what’s important.
What does the author think of capabilities-based defense planning?
“As a defense procurement strategy, it was intellectually lazy and simple to execute—instead of studying an adversary and dealing with the unique challenges inherent in fighting a specific enemy, it would instead ignore the necessity of accounting for cultural, geographic and strategy aspects of any given opponent and concentrate on technology instead. Capabilities-based planning (CBP) was in. A strategy oriented on a potential enemy was out.”
Well, that’s putting it nicer than I would.
Now, is any of this new? Of course not. ComNavOps has been preaching the lack of, need for, and problems inherent with the lack of a coherent military strategy for a long time. Still, it’s nice to see someone else jump on the bandwagon.
To support his argument, the author documents the best known example of actual military strategic planning which was the Soviet threat in
“This [capabilities-based planning] was in striking contrast to the approach taken 20 years earlier. In 1981, The U.S. Army’s Training and Doctrine Command (TRADOC) unveiled a radical revamping of Army doctrine, by then in development for four years. Titled AirLand Battle, the concept was developed to deal with the preeminent military challenge of the time: how to fight the Red Army and the Warsaw Pact in
Europe, where NATO faced a combined arms challenge backed
with large numbers. This strategy was successfully sold to the Army, the DOD,
Congress and the American public and became the concept that drove acquisition,
training and force posture and led directly to the combined arms force that
fought in Desert Storm.”
“AirLand Battle was not designed in a vacuum or against a generic adversary, and while it relied heavily on technology, the concept never lost sight of the context. Any direct conflict with the Soviets would have
Europe as the central battlefield, if for no
other reason than Europe was the only place with opposing NATO
and Warsaw Pact forces in proximity. The terrain, the approaches, and the
doctrine, equipment, logistical tail and support structure of the Soviet war
machine was well characterized, exhaustively researched, and continually
updated. The Army knew who it was going to fight and where, and set about
answering how the joint force was going to accomplish that task.”
Consider the two key statements in the preceding paragraphs.
1. “…while it relied heavily on technology, the concept never lost sight of the context.”
2. “The Army knew who it was going to fight and where, and set about answering how the joint force was going to accomplish that task.”
The first recognizes that technology does not drive acquisition, planning, doctrine, etc. – strategy does. Technology is useful and important to the extent that it supports the strategy and only to that extent. Technology that doesn’t support the strategy is useless (and a costly waste!).
The second sums up everything right about a strategy-based approach. You know who you’ll fight, where you’ll fight and, therefore, you’ll know exactly what you need in order to fight and win. This ensures that you don’t wind up with technology that isn’t particularly useful such as the F-35 in the Pacific.
I’m running the risk of simply repeating the author’s article but it’s worth quoting one more passage.
“In embracing CBP, we have become focused on a fog bank—the nameless, faceless adversary who may be technologically advanced and may even be a “near peer” in a similarly undefined way. But that adversary has no connections to any geography, culture, alliance structure or fighting methodology. That adversary has no objectives, no systemic vulnerabilities, and no preferred way of fighting. Instead, the enemy is a collection of weapons systems that we will fight with a (presumably) more advanced set of similar systems, in a symmetrical widget-on-widget battlefield on a flat, featureless Earth.”
Can the author paint a picture, or what?! This is exactly what happened with the LCS. We developed a technology to deal with the vague threat of the “littoral” without ever defining who that littoral enemy was, where he was, and what specific threats he presented. As a result, we wound up with a vessel that was of no specific use in any specific scenario. We simply hoped that the LCS would, at some time, prove useful after we got the ship into the hands of the sailors so that they could tell us what it could do (remember that infamous line from Navy leadership?).
I’ll end it here, rather than continue to repeat the author’s article. Please follow the link and read it. It’s well worth it.
(1)USNI, “Essay: Capability-Based Planning and the Death of Military Strategy”, Col. Michael W. Pietrucha, USAF,
(2)Quadrennial Defense Review Report,