Once upon a time, the
military engaged in geo-strategic military
planning. This meant that we identified
our potential enemies, studied the geography of the expected battlefield, identified
weaknesses of our own associated with the geography, sought advantages we could
gain from the geography, and planned and equipped for that geo-specific
battle. Thus, our forces and
capabilities were closely aligned with the anticipated battle and battlefield
location. Simple and wise. US
The classic example of this type of strategy was the Air-Land Battle strategy designed to counter a Russian invasion of
understood the geography. We understood
how the geography would dictate the operational planning of both sides, how it
would impact operational execution, and we developed plans and equipment
designed specifically to take advantage of, and work within, that geography.
Now, however, the
military has abandoned geo-strategic planning in
favor of techno-strategic planning.
Rather than develop strategies to counter specific enemies (heck, we
won’t even name our enemies!), we now develop strategies to counter generic technologies
– technologies that any given enemy might or might not have. We have abandoned planning for the geographic
realities associated with any specific enemy and, instead, are planning
generically for opposing technologies.
Thus, our planning overlooks or ignores geographic considerations and
cedes geographic advantages to the enemy. US
For example, a fight with
will occur in a completely different geographical
setting than a fight with Russia and yet we’re treating both the same from a
strategic perspective. We’re attempting
to counter their technologies rather than the geo-military realities. China
Let’s look at a specific example.
The Army has announced that it is adding a seeker to its land based ATACMS (MGM-140 Army Tactical Missile System) missile in order to be able to hit moving ships at sea at a range of 100 miles or so (1). The Army is reviving its coastal artillery concept in order to remain a relevant player in the Pacific Pivot.
Two obvious, related points jump out.
- This is clearly an attempt to remain budget-relevant in a Pacific theater that allows for little use of Army ground forces. Is a ship-attack ATACMS really useful or even viable? It doesn’t matter. What matters is that it can be used to strengthen the Army’s budget position.
- This is clearly a niche capability that has little usefulness in any geo-specific battlefield that we are likely to find ourselves fighting on.
An anti-ship ATACMS suffers from the same challenge that every long range missile system does which is the difficulty in targeting at long range. The 100+ mile ATACMS needs a target and the land based Army has no ready means of providing that targeting. UAVs could be used although they suffer from the same susceptibility to destruction and susceptibility to communications disruption that all UAVs do. Land based radar, unless sited on a significant elevation, can’t detect surface targets at that range due to the limited radar horizon. Targeting data can be provided by Navy or Air Force patrol assets but that not only requires dependence on networking, which we’ve already noted is likely to be degraded and only sporadically available, but it requires dependence on cross-service networking. Intra-service networking (within a single service) is unreliable. Inter-service networking (across services) is a fantasy. We’re still working to get all the services to use the same communications protocols – we’re not going to get cross-service networking to function!
|Army ATACMS - Impressive But Useless|
So, we’re left with a theoretical capability that sounds good on paper but has little likelihood of usage or success.
Now, let’s look at the geo-specific considerations which the military has chosen to ignore, as we’ve noted.
The Pacific-Chinese theater has very little land accessible by the
military within a 100-200 mile range of any likely
battlespace. US already controls the first island chain and is
beginning to eye the second. China is a possibility for siting ATACMS units but 100-200
miles from mainland Japan is not where the main battles are going to occur. Japan
Well, can’t we seize the first chain islands and then place ATACMS on them? Sure, but if we have the power to seize the islands then the likelihood that we can’t totally control a 100 mile range around the islands is miniscule. Look at a map. The first chain islands are generally not within a hundred miles of likely battles. If we’ve seized the islands, there won’t be any Chinese ships remaining within range. They’ll have been destroyed or pulled back to defend the mainland. Thus, there won’t be any use for anti-ship ATACMS.
Now consider a war with
. It will be a
European land war. Russia simply doesn’t have a significant Navy that is going
to operate near land. Their few ships
will be destroyed at the outset by airpower.
There will be no use for an anti-ship ATACMS in a war with Russia . Russia
and NKorea possess no relevant navies for an
anti-ship ATACMS to defend against. Iran
This is nothing more than recognizing the geo-strategic realities and the enemy order of battle. When we consider the potential for use of an anti-ship ATACMS, it quickly becomes obvious that there is no practical use. If there is no practical use then that only leaves its use as a budget leverage gimmick.
Well, why would supposedly intelligent Army leaders want to pursue this if it’s nothing more than a budget leverage gimmick? They pursue it because it does provide budget leverage. Remember, the goal of current military leaders is not the defense of our country; their goal is enhancement of their service’s budget slice. Additionally, this is another symptom of a military that is techno-strategic rather than geo-strategic. The few military leaders that are not blatantly political and bureaucratic have forgotten what geo-military analysis is and know only how to match technologies. An anti-ship ATACMS is cool technology, when considered in isolation from any geo-military reality. The fact that it has no practical use is lost on leaders who have never known any other way to analyze a military problem than by focusing on technology match ups.
Our military leaders have been educated in business management, systems analysis, politics, budgets, accounting, and civilian business practices. They no longer know how to formulate a coherent military strategy. Consider the hundreds of poor military management decisions we’ve highlighted on this blog. They were poor decisions because they were based on factors other than a guiding military strategy. This anti-ship ATACMS is a symptom of a military that has forgotten how to formulate a strategy.
(1)Breaking Defense website, “Carter, Roper Unveil Army’s New Ship-Killer Missile: ATACMS Upgrade”, Sydney J. Freedburg Jr.,