There is a growing consensus (heck, it’s an acknowledged fact!) that the U.S. military is overworked, poorly maintained, undertrained, and unready for combat – in other words, a hollow force. People will debate the degree of that hollowness but rarely the reality of it.
The solution espoused by military leaders is, predictably, increased funding. Lack of funding, they say, is at the root of maintenance issues and precludes modernization. Of course, this flies in the face of all data and evidence. Defense spending is at an all time high while readiness is at historic lows. Thus, funding does not seem to be either the problem or the solution!
Civilian military leaders espouse networking as the solution. In the broadest sense, this is the Third Offset Strategy which postulates battlefield superiority thanks to networking, data links, surveillance, and unmanned vehicles of all types. Of course, the very foundation of this Strategy is suspect in the face of enemy electronic and cyber warfare activities as demonstrated in
and the pages of this blog. Ukraine
Casual observers espouse bigger, longer range missiles as the solution. Some see a large buy of frigates as the answer, at least for the Navy.
And so it goes. The list of combat readiness solutions is long but they almost all share one common attribute: they’re all “things” that must be purchased which, again, leads back to funding as the solution. However, as we just stated, funding is neither the problem nor the solution.
Okay, so if funding is not the solution, what is?
What can restore our combat readiness without requiring massive funding?
The answer is simple: fundamentals. Fundamentals are not just a readiness solution, they’re actually force multipliers.
The Navy and, more generally, the military, talks about force multipliers such as the Third Offset Strategy which theorizes that vast networks of shared data will greatly enhance our military effectiveness over and above the mere capabilities of the individual ships, aircraft, and weapons. You know what? It would. The Third Offset Strategy would be a force multiplier, and a potent one at that, IF it worked perfectly.
Therein lies the rub. It won’t work perfectly. In fact, it will barely work at all. It will fail for two broad reasons:
- Inherent weaknesses
- It can be taken away from us
The kind of vast networking that the Third Offset depends on is inherently unstable and unworkable. We see this today in our day to day lives and we see this in the Navy’s day to day workings. In our daily lives we see the inherent fragility of even simple networks. We all experience network failures at home and at work. Networks fail “spontaneously” on a regular basis. In addition, they’re inherently too complex to maintain. They require highly trained people to operate, maintain, and troubleshoot them. These people are rare. In war, networks will fail and we won’t have sufficient numbers of trained personnel to restore and maintain them.
Consider a microcosm example of the kind of network the Third Offset envisions, the ALIS software that is supposed to run the entire F-35 maintenance and operations. You know that ALIS is supposed to monitor the aircraft, predict failures, and reduce maintenance but did you know that it is also supposed to manage the logistics for the entire F-35 fleet, manage spare parts inventory, and conduct mission planning, among other responsibilities? How is that working out? That’s right, it’s an abysmal failure and that’s just for one aircraft. The Third Offset envisions scaling this up to the entire military. How is that going to work if we can’t even get it to work for one aircraft? The answer is obvious, it won’t work.
I can list example after example of current military mini-networks that are failing. This simply proves that the kind of vast, all-encompassing network that the Third Offset Strategy depends on is inherently not viable.
Worse, the Third Offset Strategy can be taken away from us. It can be taken away by the enemy and it can be taken away by ourselves.
The enemy can take away the Third Offset’s foundation – networks - via electronic countermeasures, jamming, signal disruption, cyber attacks, hacking, false signal generation, etc. The Russians in
are giving us a field lesson in the
power and impact of basic electronic warfare and it’s a lesson we should
heed. The susceptibility of a network to
attack and disruption is fairly obvious and I won’t belabor it any
The Third Offset can also be taken away from us by ourselves through our own incompetencies. We see this every day. We’ve lost our basic seamanship skills to the point that warships are colliding with other ships, basic anchoring evolutions are beyond us, and ships are running aground. It does no good to have a Third Offset Strategy that produces an opportunity for military success if we don’t have the individual ship and personnel skills to execute the required actions. Again, this is fairly obvious and I won’t belabor it.
More generally, it is folly to depend on a strategy that can be taken away from us. What we need are capabilities and, even better, force multipliers that can’t be taken away no matter what the enemy does.
So, again, what are these magic force multipliers that enhance our capabilities and are immune to enemy actions? Well, they’re easy, simple, and obvious. They’re the fundamentals that a military and a Navy should have but that we have lost. Here they are,
Training – We don’t’ know how to effectively use the equipment we already have and yet we think the solution is to acquire more advanced equipment. It’s been reported that the officers entering the Navy’s new surface warfare “Top Gun” school are having to undergo remedial training on the basic capabilities of the very equipment they work with every day. They are inadequately trained. Our officers don’t even know how to get the maximum out of what we have. We’ve lost the ability to even conduct basic seamanship exercises such as sailing, anchoring and determining our position.
Aegis has become degraded fleet wide. We no longer know how to maintain and operate Aegis to get the maximum out of it.
With sufficient training, we could instantly “double” our capabilities just by understanding the capabilities of what we have and fully utilizing them.
The training issue goes back to focus (see below). Our potential training time is being spent on non-warfighting activities.
Tactics – Good tactics can make up for a lot of substandard equipment. The F4F Wildcat of early WWII may be the classic example. On paper, the Wildcat was badly outclassed by the Japanese Zero but the pilots developed tactics that allowed the Wildcat to succeed. Similarly, we currently have ships, aircraft, sensors, and weapon systems that we don’t know how to use to their maximum effectiveness. In large measure, this is because of our set-piece, scripted exercises that don’t allow the participants to exercise any creativity. How can we find the best ways to use what we have if we can’t “play” with them?
We need to begin with an intensive historical study of tactics then move on to intensive study of our enemy’s equipment and tactics and, finally, create realistic, free form exercises to explore our current tactics. Failure in exercises should be encouraged! Failure defines the boundaries. Does this sound a lot like the original Top Gun program? It should! They had the right idea.
Hand in hand with this is the need to create standing opposing force training units (OpFor) whose only job is to study enemy technology and tactics and pass that information on to the fleet using the Top Gun model. Further, we need a different OpFor for each potential opponent. The Russians won’t fight like the Chinese so why would we have a single unit try to emulate both? The cost of an OpFor is miniscule compared to the overall Navy budgt. We can afford as many as we need.
|The Top Gun Model Had The Right Idea|
Effective tactics can enable us to get far more performance out of our equipment than is currently possible.
Focus – A world class athlete focuses 100% on his sport. We need to focus on warfighting to the exclusion of all else. We need to stop focusing on gender equality, sensitivity training, green energy, transgender assimilation, new uniforms every other year, zero-defect witchhunts, etc. Every hour of the day must be spent on some aspect of warfighting. To this end, we also need to stop treating the military as just another branch of the government, subject to the same social demands and laws/rights. The military must be recognized as exempt from the usual social and legal requirements. If women in combat is not efficient then women must be excluded from combat and the military must be excluded from gender equity laws and norms. The military must be exempt from social and legal requirements. A military governed by social requirements is a military that is sub-optimal.
Focus also includes running every decision Navy leadership makes through the filter of “will it enhance our combat effectiveness?”. If it won’t, then we shouldn’t do it. It really is that simple.
Pure, simple, warfighting focus can hugely increase our current effectiveness.
There you have it. Training, tactics, and focus are the fundamentals that can act as huge force multipliers and at no cost, on a relative basis. We need to return to these fundamentals.