The military gap, or offset, as it has also been called, has, historically, been a transient and ever-changing situation. Whenever one country develops a new technology it is only a matter of time until all countries have it. Thus, the original developer gains a fairly short-lived, transient advantage that vanishes over time.
For example, the US was the first to develop stealth in a workable, mass produced form (F-117 aircraft) and that gave us a significant advantage for a number of years. Now, however, all countries have stealth capabilities. Not only that, many countries are developing counter-stealth technologies. Our stealth-based gap (offset) has ended.
With the end of the
stealth gap, our overall gap has begun to shrink. Decades ago, we committed to a philosophy of
fewer numbers in the misguided belief that we could compensate with superior
technology. Now, though, we’re finding
ourselves being matched in technology and we’re losing the numbers advantage we
once held – the worst of both worlds. US
The narrowing gap is beginning to make an impact.
… during a congressional hearing earlier this month, Rand Corp. researcher and Pentagon war gamer David Ochmanek told senators that “when we run war games against China and Russia, U.S. forces lack the capabilities they need to win … and the gap is widening.” (1)
“I think there’s widespread agreement in the building that our conventional overmatch is eroding,” [Robert] Work [former DepSecDef] said. “The only debate is how long we have.” (1)
Having learned no lessons from history, the US’ solution to maintaining our gap over potential enemies is to develop new technology. For the
technology has always been the answer to everything. Quantity, tactics, training, maintenance,
etc. have been relegated to afterthoughts.
We’re focused on technology for its own sake, assuming that superior
technology automatically grants battlefield success. Unfortunately, history is packed with
examples of low tech forces matching or beating high tech ones. Some examples include, US
- Hamas/PalestineHouthi rebels
Despite history’s lesson about technology, we remain determined to ride the promise of technology. A few years ago, it was the Third Offset Strategy which would use networks and unmanned vehicles to make up for lack of firepower, survivability, and numbers despite the fact that our networks and unmanned communications are highly susceptible to electronic countermeasures, as
has demonstrated in Russia . Ukraine
Now, the Third Offset talk has died down but the pursuit of technology continues unabated. The name may have changed but the Third Offset goals still resonate with the
If, as history teaches us, technology is not the way to maintain our gap, what is?
The answer is firepower. More specifically, effective firepower.
It does us no good to know what color underwear each individual enemy soldier is wearing if we lack the firepower to kill them. Conversely, the enemy doesn’t really care about intel if they can bring massive and incredibly lethal area bombardments to bear. The Russian TOS-1 Buratino self-propelled rocket launcher (an MLRS with 30x 220mm rockets) is a good example of a thermobaric, area barrage weapon.
Firepower makes up for a lot of missing intel.
Now, don’t get me wrong, intel/recon/surveillance is important. However, when it supersedes firepower it becomes counterproductive and intel for its own sake is just wasteful and misleading. Ideally, intel and firepower should operate hand in hand. However, if you can’t have both, consider the two cases where one of the factors is missing.
- Intel without firepower is useless.
On the other hand,
- Firepower without intel is still useful. Area bombardment is effective, if inefficient.
Given the general principal, what specific types of firepower do we lack? Here’s a few,
Conventional ballistic missiles – China, in particular, is building an inventory of such missiles including the much-hyped DF-21 carrier killer. We sorely lack a 1000-5000 mile ballistic missile. Ballistic missiles are causing immense concern in the Navy. Isn’t it about time that we return the favor to China?
Supersonic cruise missiles – We lack supersonic cruise missiles. Even our newest anti-ship missile, the LRASM, is subsonic. Again, we worry greatly about our enemy’s supersonic missiles (every conversation seems to include mention of the ‘unstoppable’ BrahMos) and for good reason. They are very difficult to engage. We need our own.
Stealthy cruise missiles – The Tomahawk is our main cruise missile and, among its other shortcomings, is not stealthy. The success rate of Tomahawk against a peer defense is highly suspect.
Artillery cluster munitions – The US has opted to cease development of cluster munitions despite our enemies enthusiasm for them. Why wouldn’t they be enthusiastic? Cluster munitions are highly effective and hugely destructive. We need cluster munitions.
Heavy naval guns – We have an entire amphibious assault doctrine that completely lacks heavy naval gunfire support. The vast majority of military targets throughout the world lie within 20 miles of the shore. Heavy naval guns would prove immensely destructive and useful. Vietnam and a host of other historical examples prove that conclusively.
Very Long Range Air-to-Air Missile – The US developed the Phoenix missile and owned a significant air-to-air range advantage but has since failed to follow up with even longer ranged missiles. China and Russia are now developing and fielding air-to-air missiles with ranges of 200-300+ miles.
The examples can go on but these should suffice to illustrate our firepower shortcomings.
If we don’t change our approach and begin focusing more on firepower, we’ll someday have the most exquisite knowledge in the history of warfare of the enemy that is destroying us with good old-fashioned area bombardment.
We need to regain our firepower gap or, at the very least, not allow our enemies to own the firepower advantage.
(1)Foreign Policy website, “The Pentagon’s Third Offset May Be Dead, But No One Knows What Comes Next”, Paul McLeary,