Tuesday, June 19, 2018

War Short of War

How long has ComNavOps flatly stated that we are at war with China (and losing)?  How long has ComNavOps advocated a much more robust, confrontational response to Russia, China, Iran, and NKorea (see, "Island Showdown")?  How many times has ComNavOps stated that our policy of appeasement is only encouraging further aggression? 

Well, it appears that the military is beginning to come to the same realizations, if far later than they should have.  Breaking Defense reports on the conclusions of a high level military meeting that took place in April at Quantico. (1)

China and Russia are outmaneuvering the US, using aggressive actions that fall short of war, a group of generals and admirals have concluded. To counter them, the US needs new ways to use its military without shooting, concludes a newly released report on the Quantico conclave. The US military will need new legal authorities and new concepts of operation for all domains — land, sea, air, space, and cyberspace.” (1)

One of the problems is that the US military, and government in general, do not recognize the kind of actions being undertaken by our enemies as war.

“Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, Gen. Joseph Dunford, has publicly warned that our adversaries don’t abide by our doctrine, with its clear distinction between war and peace and its tidy phases of escalation. The American military operates in phases, with Phase 0 being peace (officially, “shaping” the environment) and so on. Traditionally, actions other than war are just that to the US and do not merit a military response, let alone a kinetic one.” (1)

““We’re stuck,” Freier [Nate Freier, a researcher at the Army War College] told me [Freedberg]. “We are still institutionally and culturally stuck in this five-phase model of operations. Our adversaries certainly aren’t.” (1) [emphasis added]

For example, using intimidation, harassment, and just plain ignoring international laws and treaties, China has accomplished a de facto annexation of the entire South and East China Seas, and done so masterfully, while the US simply stood by and watched, unable to recognize the “battle” that was occurring or do anything about it.

We need to recognize that we ARE at war whether we want to be or not.  That we’re at war is no longer even a question.  The only remaining question is how to respond.

Freier describes this kind of non-kinetic war as a sine wave of competition. 

“As tensions go up and down, you always have two goals in mind. “You’re trying to impose costs on the opponent and, at the same time, offer off-ramps to the opponent for de–escalation.”

Freier makes two good points: first, is that we must constantly be imposing costs on our enemies and, second, that we must offer face saving escape outlets for our enemies so that they don’t feel backed into a corner.

Thus far, our competitive responses have been rigid and limited because we have no official response policy for this type of war.  For example, Freedom of Navigation exercises are a laughable joke that has had absolutely no effect on China’s annexation of the East/South China Seas but we don’t really have any other options or, at least, none that we’re willing to use. 

We need to apply some creativity and come up with additional, more effective responses.  The corollary to this is that the responses must hurt our enemies, in some fashion, and that the responses WILL increase tensions (the rise portion of the competitive sine wave).  We need to recognize and accept the increase in tensions – the escalation – and understand that it is not us who are escalating but our enemies whose actions have forced our actions.  The policeman who shoots a bank robber with hostages didn’t escalate the situation, the bank robber did when he robbed a bank and took hostages.  The U.S. has not yet come to grips with this.  Everything we do is run through the filter of NOT escalating which is another name for appeasement and appeasement has a 100% failure record in history.

Freier offers this further insight,

Every ship that sails, every advisor that goes abroad to train allies, every unit that participates in exercises, needs to be part of a larger plan to demonstrate US resolve and capability, Freier said.”

He’s absolutely right and this is the Chinese way of war – the entire country and all its activities are focused on national goals.  War isn’t just the purview of the military, it’s the responsibility of every aspect of our government, private sector, and culture.  War is fought with every tool, not just the military.

Freier continues,

“The ultimate goal isn’t just to respond to what the Chinese and Russians are doing in the grey zone, he told me. It’s to force them to respond to what we’re doing in the grey.”

He could not be more right.  The U.S. needs to retake the lead in managing world affairs including managing the war with our enemies that is currently ongoing.

He concludes,

“The United States has to become less rigid in its view of military operations.”

Unfortunately, while Freier sums up the problem quite astutely, he offers no concrete solutions.

The key aspect to this entire discussion is that we must first accept the sine wave of competition and that tensions will escalate.  What did you expect?  It’s a war, after all.

Once we accept and embrace the escalation and increase in tensions we can begin to formulate effective responses that ALLOW for escalation and heightened tensions.  If our enemies aren’t comfortable with increased tensions then they can dial back their actions.  The responsibility for increased tensions is not all on us.  The responsibility for the increased tensions at the bank is not the police, IT’S THE BANK ROBBER!

We need to make Iran and Russia pay a price for harassing our units.  When a Russian jet makes a pass too close to our ship, let’s “accidentally” eject a chaff cloud or decoy in their flight path.  When Iran sends a drone too close to our carriers let’s just shoot it down and then plead ignorance – that’s the beauty of UAVs, there’s no one to get hurt and they offer good opportunities to make a decisive statement.

We need to build our own artificial island base in the South China SeaChina has set the precedent so let’s follow it and make them respond to us.

We need to flood the South China Sea with ships and let’s be aggressive with them.  Here’s your presence mission.  This is what China has done.  Let’s make it physically difficult for them to build or resupply an island base.  A few dents in the hull are well worth it.

Let’s start isolating and herding Iranian small boats that harass our ships.  Let’s physically cut them off from retreat, surround them, board them, seize everything not welded down, and make it clear that the days of running around like irresponsible children are over.  We have high speed riverine patrol boats (you know, the ones that Iran seized) so let’s start using them productively.

Let’s start using our electronic warfare capabilities to make life difficult for enemy ships, boats, and aircraft.  Let’s jam communications, lock on fire control radars, initiate electronic counter measures, etc.  It’s not like we’ll be giving away any secrets by using the equipment.  Russia and China probably have all our specs, already.

Let’s make sure that any Russian or Chinese intercepts of our high value aircraft are met with our own fighters and let’s fly aggressively.  Let’s also disrupt their version of GPS (GLONASS or whatever they use) and see if their pilots can find their way home.  We should be sending Growler EW aircraft along with high value aircraft as escorts and let’s turn them loose to disrupt Russian intercepts.  Let’s send the message that there are no free intercepts anymore.

Let’s build a base a mile from the Chinese base in Africa.

I can go on with an endless list.  The point is that there are a lot of actions we can take short of direct combat if we just develop the will and courage to do so.  We also need to pursue all available economic, diplomatic, academic, and other measures to impose costs and pain but those discussions are outside the scope of this blog.


(1)Breaking Defense, “Russia, China Are Outmaneuvering US: Generals Recommend New Authorities, Doctrine”, Sydney J. Freedberg, Jr., 15-Jun-2018,


  1. Isn't that exactly what Trump is doing by trying to fix the balance of Payments with China? Slow their economy whilst strengthening the US's?

    1. Exactly. Trump is at least showing the glimmerings of understanding that we are at war and need to fight with all of tools. The question I have about Trump is whether he sees the competition with China as the war it is or just an economic competition in isolation.

    2. With Balance of payments trump has picked a stupid conflict
      One he cant possibly win, and will likely inflict shocking damage on everyone whilst trying.

      "We must do something about the balance of payments"

    3. Trump appears to be less concerned with the trade surplus/deficit (I assume that's what you're referring to) per se, than to the jobs and industrial strengths/weaknesses that are intimately tied to it. Trump is looking to bring jobs back to America, in general, and strategically vital resources and industries back to America, in particular.

      I see no reason why there will be any long term damage to anyone and we've already seen great increases in job retention and return here in the US.

      So far, so good.

    4. They are both important - repatriating jobs may cause some inflationary pressures as things cost more to produce but more people will be employed and earning and that reduces social security, health costs, crime etc. Conversely, China losing jobs will slow down their economy and delay the catch-up with the US. If you can damage the Chinese economy enough, you cause internal disquiet and their focus has to turn inward.

      A constant negative balance of trade will reduce the value of the dollar versus the yen internationally and increase China's monetary power on the international money markets.

    5. "A constant negative balance of trade will reduce the value of the dollar versus the yen internationally and increase China's monetary power on the international money markets."

      Possibly, but all you have proven there is that the balance of payments problem is self correcting.
      The dollar will slip, import costs will increase in relative terms and they will decrease

  2. Good Post and very thought provoking quotes.

    An implementation point though. DO you really want to foster a atmosphere of aggressiveness with a force that hasn't been cultivated to show honesty, integrity, and good judgment?

    Remember everyone is a strategic Corporal nowadays. Look at what happened with the Vincennes. Or the KAL-007 shoot down, or the shoot down of the 2 Libyan fighters, or Abu Ghraib. And remember our ships can't sail near merchants without hitting them.

    While I like the policy concept and modification away from all peace or total war, the implementation has to be carefully thought out and controlled. Un tended consequences could lead to a shooting war if Commanders thing they are going to be rewarded for showing aggression.

    1. Of course it has to be a controlled action. I'm not advocating James Bond, 007, in charge of a warship and running off on his own. Give me some credit.

      I'm saying we need to think through more aggressive responses, give our Captains/pilots thorough training, and then send them to do their defined jobs - just as we do now except with a few more tools and techniques at their disposal.

    2. "Un tended consequences could lead to a shooting war if Commanders thing they are going to be rewarded for showing aggression."

      Right problem
      Wrong conclusion

      Iran, Russia and China should be scared to harass American forces because it might spiral out of control.
      America shouldn't be afraid of responding to their provocations because it might spiral

      America should *relish* the chance to lure Iran in to an ill thought out shooting war.

    3. "Iran, Russia and China should be scared to harass American forces because it might spiral out of control.
      America shouldn't be afraid of responding to their provocations because it might spiral"

      I could not agree more.

    4. Think about, and post, the kind of Mission Order and Rules of Engagement you would give to a Burke Captain. Then think through what could go wrong with a Careerist trying to interpret them and get promoted.

      I agree completely with the proposed change to policy and taking these actions. It is the execution that I do not feel we have thought out well or EVEN IF the forces today could execute them.

      Remember the Patrol boat fiasco? Those kind of people are still in the Navy.

      How'd you like a sinking Burke to be surrendered?

    5. Well, we can either stand at home, paralyzed by fear of something bad happening or we can get to it and make the desired changes happen. Can we execute those changes tomorrow? Probably not. We'd need to train up, first. If you've been following this blog you've seen me repeatedly call for such training. I don't discuss these things in total isolation. Everything in this blog is interrelated.

      We can always come up with reasons not to attempt something. Achievement happens when dare to try.

      If we dare to try and we fail then we've still gained. We've learned which of our people are not suited for naval operations. Do it enough times and we'll eventually find the kind of naval leaders we need. On the other hand, if we sit at home, trembling in fear, we'll never improve will we?

    6. "Think about, and post, the kind of Mission Order and Rules of Engagement you would give to a Burke Captain."

      Iranian vessels are to be considered hostiles and all action to discomfort them is to be exploited, where possible and without suffering undue risk.
      Seek out provocation and respond with force.
      Potential / Simulated / Practice attacks are to be treated as actual attacks, unless specifically ordered otherwise, and responded to by all means, surviving aggressors are to be chased home and their home ports attacked.

      In the event of an attack on another American vessel, you are to consider a state of war to be in effect, and Iranian military units are targets, to be prosecuted with extreme prejudice, until peace is restored and/or you're ordered to cease combat operations.

      Iranian missile boat speeds towards Burke and flashes radar.
      Burke shouts "they're coming right for us", deploys counter measures and returns fire, assuming a stealth missile was launched during the radar blip.
      A state of war is now assumed, and any Iranian ships at sea, aircraft flying, missile batteries deployed or ground units moving are now live targets, to be attacked by ALL US forces, along with the base the attacking vessel came from / is home ported at.

      Iran flagged vessels the world over are to be seized and impounded, resisters are to be sank without further warning.
      Iran is to be placed under blockade and any third nation vessels entering or leaving Iranian waters are to be seized and repatriated, their crews and owners warned of the dangers of transiting a war zone.

      That state continues until the war is resolved, or the last Iranian is dead.

      You know, war.

      "Then think through what could go wrong with a Careerist trying to interpret them and get promoted."
      The US has nothing to fear from a war with Iran.
      That has to be the first thing you concede
      Once you get to that point, its not a problem for the US if a Burke Captain overreacts and sinks 12 Iranian missile boats.

      Iran has EVERYTHING to fear from a war with the US
      If the US starts systematically destroying the Iranian armed forces and the apparatus of the Iranian state, there is nothing Iran can do to stop it.

      Pop culture reference
      Lancel Lanister: Have your man step aside or there will be violence
      Cersei Baratheon: I choose violence

      Cersei Baratheons man proceeds to tear the head off of a religious fanatics shoulders

  3. We are in the thrall of lawyers. They are not.

    1. No one has ever been prosecuted for executing duly defined rules of engagement. We did a lot of this stuff during the Cold War - and probably lots more that we'll never know about. Heck, we stole a Soviet submarine!

    2. "We are in the thrall of lawyers."

      You bring up a good point that ties into the concept of fighting one's enemies with EVERY means at our disposal. The law is one of those tools. In addition to applying the law directly against our enemies (a nearly worthless endeavor since they are not bound by our laws and have demonstrated a willingness to ignore the laws they are bound by) we can use the law (our law) to enhance our military options. If there are legal restrictions that are impacting our actions then we should change them. Let's use the law to help our military fight back.

      The military needs to identify any laws that are problematic and convey to Congress the need to change those laws.

      That said, I can't, off the top of my head, think of any laws that are handcuffing our military actions. There probably are some and I'm just not thinking of them. Even without any legal changes, the military has a great deal of latitude IF WE HAVE THE WILL TO EXERCISE IT.

      The more I think about your comment, the more I like it. There are some potentially deep and significant aspects to it. For how brief it was, it was a thought-provoking comment.

    3. "Brevity is..."etc. I refer, of course, mainly to the lawyer created and interpreted ROE our sharp end people operate under, as well as the "no risk" attitude engendered thereby. But you knew that already.Shakespeare had it right.

    4. Regarding ROEs, our last couple of decades of nation building has led us to ROEs that are more appropriate for police than for combat soldiers. If police ROEs are appropriate then we need to get the Army out of the area and we should be asking why we even are in the area. Policing is not the job of the Army.

  4. The corporatist bipartisan media is out at it again ( judging from the article ) they just want to push The Donald into another foreign adventure.
    They tried twice in Syria and he didn't bend in, some deep state circles are nervous.

  5. Don't we already have have a base a few miles from the Chinese Djibouti installation? Camp Lemonnier has been operational for years and is substantially larger than the Chinese base.

    1. It appears we do. Thanks for that heads up. I don't follow land operations closely enough.

      It appears that we are not to be using it to counter the Chinese who, if reports are to be believed, are aggressively staking their claim and using lasers directed at our aircraft to back up their "claim". The Chinese actions are exactly the kind of military actions "short of war" that we ought to be conducting - but are not.

      China is fighting and winning - we're watching (you know, those of us who don't have lasers shining in our eyes!).


  6. One of the simplest ways of accomplishing what is being discussed is having our warfighters engage in actions all the way up to, but not actually going, kinetic.

    Nothing confirms to a pilot that they are in the vulnerable position like having a fire control radar locked on as they are approaching an enemy ship. It says "I can destroy you right now if I choose to. You chose to come here, you escalated this, I can respond and shred you if I choose to".

    You then do this in your enemies backyard. You are saying i'm here, and you can't do anything about it. It's overt, in your face, but it sends a direct message.

    In 1985 the Islamic Liberation Organisation kidnapped 4 Russian diplomats, and then killed one. The russians responded by killing one of the kidnappers relatives and threatening all of their families. The hostages were immediately released, and no further russian hostages were ever taken in Beirut. A simple but effective response to a micro version of what we're talking about.


Comments will be moderated for posts older than 7 days in order to reduce spam.