Monday, October 12, 2020

The Illusion of Breakthroughs in Warfare

The US military is obsessively pursuing a Breakthrough in warfare that will provide a massive advantage.  The modern term for such a paradigm shifting Breakthrough is ‘Offset’ although that term, while all the rage for a while, has somewhat faded from use of late.  We’ll use the two terms interchangeably for the rest of this discussion.

 

The US military believes there have been two previous Offsets: 

 

First Offset = nuclear weapons (1950s)

Second Offset = precision guidance (1970s)

 

Some discussions include stealth in the Second Offset.

 

The US military is now pursuing the Third Offset (see, "Third Offset Strategy" and "Offset Strategy Follow Up").

 

The fact, though, is that neither the First nor Second Offset produced any lasting advantage and, in fact, neither produced a decisive advantage in any combat. 

 

Nuclear weapons never produced any decisive advantage, partly because the US wound up opting never to employ them in first use and partly because the Soviet Union detonated an atomic bomb in 1949 thus ending any advantage the US might have had after only four years. 

 

Precision guidance has been useful but has never been decisive;  not in Vietnam (which we lost), Desert Storm (useful but not the decisive factor, by any means), Afghanistan (if we haven’t lost, we certainly haven’t won), or against ISIS (ISIS functioned quite well in the face of precision guided weapons and lost only to ground troops).

 

Stealth, if you wish to include that as an Offset factor, was useful in Desert Storm but was not the decisive factor and has played no significant role in any conflict since. 

 

The major problem with Offsets/Breakthroughs is that they never last long enough to prove decisive in war.  The other side invariably is able to produce the same Breakthrough in amazingly short order.  Consider the following examples of paradigm shifting breakthroughs in warfare.

 

 

 

Stealth – The stealth advantage has been negated both by other countries producing their own versions of stealth aircraft and ships and by the development of stealth detecting technologies such as specialized radar, IRST, etc.

 

Precision Guidance – Guided weapons were copied around the world almost as soon as they came out.

 

Nuclear Weapons – The Soviet Union detonated an atomic bomb in Sep 1949 thus ending the US advantage after barely four years.  Nuclear weapons never provided a decisive advantage in war for the US and, ultimately, proved useless even as a deterrent since no one believes the US would execute first use of nuclear weapons.

 

Monitor and Merrimack – The ironclad was a huge leap forward in naval warfare and produced a vessel that was, for all practical purposes, invincible compared to the previous wooden, sailing ships.  Incredibly, both the North and South developed ironclads almost simultaneously which completely negated any systematic advantage either side might have gained.

 

Dreadnought – The UK’s HMS Dreadnought revolutionized naval ship design but succeeded only in triggering a naval arms race and the ship was copied and surpassed within five years without providing any advantage for the British.

 

Blitzkreig – While it produced an initial advantage for the Germans, it was negated and defeated in fairly short order and produced no lasting benefit for the Germans. 

 

The Tank in WWI – The first tank to see combat took place in Sep 1916 and by Mar 1918, Germany had introduced its own tank and the first tank-to-tank battle occurred in Apr 1918.  The tank produced no lasting advantage for the Allies.

 

And so on …

 

An interesting Breakthrough that did produce a fairly long lasting advantage was the submarine as implemented by Germany in WWI and WWII.  This is, perhaps, the closest to anyone having achieved a long lasting Breakthrough in warfare and it wasn’t the submarine that was the breakthrough but how it was used.  Other countries developed submarines right along with Germany.  What they didn’t do was develop the operational and tactical implementation to effectively use them.  Germany developed the operational application – convoy interdiction – and the tactics (wolf packs, night attacks, etc.) to maximize the benefits of submarines to unprecedented levels.  They achieved a Breakthrough.

 

The noteworthy aspect of this is that it was not the technology – the submarine – that produced the Breakthrough but the method of employing it – the concept of operations (CONOPS, in modern terminology).  This offers a lesson for us that technology is not the solution but that CONOPS or doctrine can be.

 

Clearly, chasing Offsets is like chasing after Fool’s Gold.  It’s illusory and not real.

 

So where should we look for advantages in warfare?  Unsurprisingly, the advantages come from the old, tried and true factors:

 

  • Maintenance
  • Tactics
  • Training
  • Production capacity
  • Firepower
  • Logistics

 

The US military is focused on the illusory Breakthrough instead of doing the mundane, dirty, lowly, hard work that is necessary to win wars.  The Breakthrough is ‘hard work’, not technology.


56 comments:

  1. In regards to the offsets and the idea of true factors mentioned later on, for the second offset I have a different perspective. Rather than precision guidance, I look at it as the Big 6 weapon systems (M1, M2, UH60, AH64, Paladin, Patriot) and how they were utilized.
    This matches up with your idea of tactics, firepower, and logistics providing the main advantage, while explaining the idea of the second offset.

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  2. Advances like precision guidance etc all help & without them all the wars would have been that much harder, very much so in some cases & maybe not so much in others.
    Without an equal 'control' war without precision guidance it can be easy to misjudge their effect but they all help.
    A lot of advances miss their ideal window of opportunity, the period where we have them in good numbers & the enemy doesn't or hasn't developed a counter measure yet. However it's not really realistic for the Brits to have said, "right, we have a dreadnought, so for the next 5 years let's sink everything we can at the slightest provocation, before they match us".
    Sometimes, if the advance just buys another 5 or so years of peace that may be good enough.
    Anyway, maybe the rumored 6th gen fighter will deliver, for a decade or so anyway :)

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    1. "A lot of advances miss their ideal window of opportunity,"

      The F-35 is a good example of that. Its development started over 20 years ago. Had it entered squadron service with its full capabilities (which it still hasn't got!) fifteen or so years ago, it might have provided us with some advantage. Today, however, the F-35 is barely entering squadron service and only with limited capabilities (still waiting for that full Block IV software!) and Russia and China both have their own versions of stealth aircraft and both have developed (and are continuing to develop) stealth detection capabilities. Whatever advantage the F-35 might have offered is gone. The window of opportunity closed while the F-35 languished in development.

      There is no reason to believe the 6th gen fighter will be any different.

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    2. "Had it entered squadron service with its full capabilities (which it still hasn't got!) fifteen or so years ago, it might have provided us with some advantage."

      Preach it.

      A stealth jet sniper in 2005 wouldn't have been half bad.
      Things didn't work that way, though.

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    3. "Had it entered squadron service with its full capabilities (which it still hasn't got!) fifteen or so years ago, it might have provided us with some advantage."

      Its interesting that the F-35 is mentioned as having been a missed opportunity, which of course, depending on the measuring stick it may well have been.

      However it's also true to say that there hasn't been a conflict in that time where a fully functional F-35 would have been needed or most welcome. No peer or near peer war has happened. Its almost as if, whether the F-35 was fully functional in 2007 or in 2025 it doesn't really matter (except in $ perhaps) because in terms of the conflicts that it would really make a difference in over other aircraft, they don't happen, so its a moot point. I imagine that a lot of advances have that happen, time passes them by without them being really fully utilized, which generally speaking is a good thing.

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    4. "conflicts … they don't happen, so its a moot point."

      That's kind of the point of the post. The US military is desperately seeking some kind of mythical, long-lasting, miracle breakthrough in the conduct of warfare. The point of the post is that there is no such thing. Whether the reason is because the enemy ALWAYS develops the same technology in short order or whether it's because a conflict never happens or whatever the reason, 'breakthroughs' never produce a long-lasting warfare advantage. That being the inescapable case, why pursue illusory breakthroughs? It's a waste of time, resources, money, and focus.

      Now, that's not to say that we shouldn't develop technology, as appropriate. Of course we should but not as an adjunct to the hard work of maintenance, training, tactics, logistics, etc., not as a miracle replacement for the hard work of war.

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  3. Hearing an adult advocate harder not smarter doesn't sound like wisdom. Harder has its place. Self discipline certainly does. Smarter has killed far more people and certainly had more to do with avoiding getting anyone killed by achieving means some other way.

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    1. I didn't take the article to be against innovation, rather, I thought the article stressed that innovation would be eventually cancelled out. The "mundane" tasks are what allow you to triumph over a peer. "An army marches on its stomach" is still true today. Many of the deaths suffered by US troops are directly related to logistics.
      The "hard work" still needs to be done to fully utilize any innovation. A stealth aircraft that is not properly maintained is no longer a stealth aircraft. A ship without fuel or weapons is not a warship. A logistics fleet that cannot be activated cannot supply the troops. No supplies no victory.
      MLW

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    2. "Hearing an adult advocate harder not smarter doesn't sound like wisdom."

      Where did I say that we should not work smarter? Quite the opposite … we should be much smarter about our training, maintenance, etc. The point of the post was that pursuit of technology as the basis for a hoped-for breakthrough in warfare was illusory and a waste of time and focus. Any other interpretation is willful misreading and misrepresentation.

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    3. Well, the Third Offset could well use up the funds for your 6 bullet points.

      Cheap as chips drones are another example you could have cited. Everyone fighting a war against peers seems to have adopted them in short order and copes with their attrition, which will be painful with Third Offset technology.

      While reading about USS England's outstanding ASW work, I was struck by the mention of code-cracking, which also played a role in the US success at Midway and in Britain's fight against Germany. Was code-breaking an (Elizabethan) offset and, if so, are we training enough mathematicians?

      The posts where you talk about the implications of technology are fascinating and provoke some really good discussions.

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    4. "Was code-breaking an (Elizabethan) offset and, if so, are we training enough mathematicians?"

      Code breaking … fascinating subject and well worth mentioning. I don't consider it to be an offset since it dates back thousands of years and everyone does it. Certainly, anyone who achieves a code break gains an advantage, however, today, at least, the advantage is fleeting as codes are changed regularly. That was one of the [many] lessons from WWII - your codes are never safe and you should always assume they've been compromised or will be shortly. The solution is to change the codes on a regular basis.

      As far as training mathmeticians/code breakers, that was once a viable method. Today, the codes are all computer encryptions and people don't/can't do it. We do, of course, need computer people who are trained in code breaking computer programming.

      At the civilian level, codes (encryptions) are considered unbreakable. I don't know about the military level as they can bring many more resources to bear.

      Also, remember that it isn't always necessary to break an enemy's code to gain valuable and actionable intel. In the "Battle of Heligoland Bight" post, we saw how the Germans were able to ascertain much of the British fleet's intentions just by monitoring radio usage frequency.

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    5. With metadata as the modern equivalent.

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  4. What is the difference between 3rd Offset and WunderWaffen ?
    Seem like the same magical thinking that resulted in the V2, etc etc.

    'Nother point.
    Nukes aren't a war winner, but we did avoid the regularly scheduled general European War that should have happened in the late 1970s. Nukes played a role in that.

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    1. Nukes have immense value as deterrent, much less as actual weapons because you can't/don't want to use them.

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    2. "Nukes have immense value as deterrent, "

      Not really. Our nukes haven't stopped Iran from terrorizing the Middle East, Sadaam Hussein from invading Kuwait, NKorea from developing nuclear ballistic weapons, China from seizing the South China Sea, Russia from annexing Crimea and invading Ukraine, ISIS from seizing and terrorizing the Middle east, ISIS from spreading to Africa, the Soviet Union placing missile in Cuba, etc. The only 'success' anyone can point to is the Soviet Union didn't invade Europe during the Cold War but there is no evidence, even today, that they ever wanted to.

      Nukes (or any weapon, for that matter) are a deterrent only if someone believes you'd use them and no one believes we'll use nukes short of an existential threat to our country. So … no deterrent value.

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    3. To be fair, proving a negative isn't exactly easy, but:

      - NK developed nukes (and Iran seeks to do the same) exactly because they believe in their effectiveness as a deterrent.
      Kim knows that without nukes he could have ended like Saddam or Kaddafi, while America has no appetite for nuclear war.
      (Iran's nuclear program exists for the same reason, mostly.)

      - China/Russia/Soviet Union engaged in (relatively) limited action due to a fear of escalation, trying not to go "over the line".
      It is one thing place missiles in Cuba and another to have the Red Army march on Paris, for example.

      - Saddam, well, nobody ever accused the guy of being a military or strategic genius, frankly.

      ISIS is a different matter altogether, since a sect of fanatics can't really be deterred: they're willing and often eager to die because of their beliefs, after all.

      Of course you can't rely exclusively on them, but they're the main reason there hasn't been a "hot" peer war since 1945.

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    4. Nukes are an effective deterrent against anyone who isn't, well, nuts.

      (In an alternative world where Russia has no nukes, China would look at Siberia's vast lands and huge natural wealth with much hungrier eyes, and perhaps she wouldn't stop at looking.)

      Of course, an important aspect of deterrence is credibility.
      China/Russia/America don't even think about invading each other's mainland (huge technical difficulties aside) because even if they could that's "going over the line" and risking nuclear war.

      On the other hand, nobody really thinks that minor actions or proxy wars would result in a nuclear exchanges, so...

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    5. "To be fair, proving a negative isn't exactly easy"

      Absolutely true!

      "NK developed nukes (and Iran seeks to do the same) exactly because they believe in their effectiveness as a deterrent."

      You make a potentially valid point that nuclear weapons ARE a deterrent AGAINST THE U.S.! We are exactly the kind of reasonable, borderline frightened, country that deterrence would work against. Of course, a major part of the reason why that would work is because we DO believe that nut cases like Iran or NKorea WOULD use nuclear weapons on a first use basis. Believing that, the nukes become a viable deterrent. The reverse - that the US would use nukes first - is not believable so they have no deterrent effect.

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  5. Looking at your advantages for warfare, I am inclined to agree. My question is, which of them are we doing well? The academic side of me wants to give grades, so here goes:

    Maintenance – F. USS Boise is all that needs to be said.
    Tactics – Incomplete. I’m going to assume that we have tactics, but I don’t know what they are, so I have no real way to evaluate them.
    Training – D-. At least we are doing something. Whether it’s what we need, or even useful, is another matter. Operating a lot with the Royal Navy in my active duty days, I always felt that their training was a few notches above ours. We had better kit, but they had more professional sailors. We would do well to copy things like FOST and Perisher and Springtrain. At least we appear to be reinstituting Fleet Problems in some form.
    Production capacity – F. Particularly our shipyards, which are dwindling, but for most other weapons and platforms we are down to one or two possible providers. CSBA has a proposed solution for shipyards at https://csbaonline.org/research/publications/strengthening-the-u.s-defense-maritime-industrial-base-a-plan-to-improve-maritime-industrys-contribution-to-national-security. It’s not perfect, but at least a start.
    Firepower – F. Our last two efforts at surface combatants—Zumwalts and LCSs—have spent billions on platforms with virtually zero useful firepower. The new FFG(X) is an improvement, but does anyone else wonder with me whether the Italian FREMM that we adapted is quite possibly a better ship, particularly since they have at least floated a design version with 32 VLS cells (saw it, but sorry, don’t remember the link)? I don’t know what we added to justify stepping down from a 127mm main gun to 57mm.
    Logistics – C. I really don’t know enough to give them a grade, but am not aware of any glaring deficiencies so I’ll give them a passing grade here.

    “The US military is focused on the illusory Breakthrough instead of doing the mundane, dirty, lowly, hard work that is necessary to win wars. The Breakthrough is ‘hard work’, not technology.”

    Agree. Where, how, and why do we get these clowns in leadership? Warheads on foreheads, dudes.

    What I see with an AI/distributed architecture is that our fleet commanders will be able to see in great detail exactly how we are getting chewed to bits, but be unable to do anything about it because we will have no firepower to return fire. I see AI and drones as potentially useful for ISRT (intel, surveillance, recon, targeting), but I doubt that unmanned (unpersoned) surface or subsurface war platforms can effectively replace manned (personed).

    I have never understood the Navy’s unwillingness to pursue ship-to-ship missiles. In the early 1970s, at a NATO mine warfare conference, the French expressed an interest in acquiring our SQQ-14 mine hunting sonar, and offered us Exocet in return. We ran it up the flagpole and were told that we would be happy to share the SQQ-14 with them, but we had no interest in acquiring Exocet. A year or so later, I’m OOD on an LST in the eastern Med during the Yom Kippur War, with a bunch of Russians surrounding us, and I’m worried about how our two twin 3-inch mounts (that both pointed backward) would stand up against their ship-to-ship missiles if a shooting war happened.

    The Navy has OD’d on technology and political correctness, and forgotten that its purpose is to win wars.

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  6. @CNO You might consider adding 'Battle Damage Repair' to your list, although it could fit in at least two other categories.

    The Pentagon gave some consideration to battle repair after the '73 war and the inevitable lessons learned from that conflict, but a lot of emphasis seems lost, particularly on the design of equipment for rapid repair following damage.

    An example is the design of electrical connectors for aircraft and AFVs. The Israelis found that some design choices made for dramatically affected repair time after a vehicle took damage: a common example was labeling electrical wire looms at regular intervals to aid techs trying to return a a plane or vehicle to service after a fire or explosion.

    GAB

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    1. "You might consider adding 'Battle Damage Repair' to your list,"

      Without a doubt! There are several/many others that could be added to the list. It was just meant to show a few of the examples.

      Closely related to battle damage (repairability) is survivability. As you undoubtedly know, the Navy somewhat recently revamped its traditional Level 1-3 survivability standards and eliminated standards in favor of a complex matrix of factors that contribute to survivability. It's essentially now just a feel-good description of survivability with no actual standards to follow. It was all done in response to the criticism of the LCS which was not built to any survivability level despite the Navy's incorrect claim of some non-existent level something+ survivability.

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  7. Chinese Gordon beat me in mentioning the WunderWaffen! I feel that is a perfect example proving CNO's point.

    I certainly agree that nuclear weapons were a major breakthrough in warfare. WWII Japan certainly agreed. Many thousands of U.S. warfighters were saved by an invasion of Japan being avoided due to these weapons.

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    1. "nuclear weapons were a major breakthrough in warfare."

      They were! However, bear in mind that the Breakthrough that the US military is looking for is a mythical long-lasting one that provides some enduring advantage. As noted in the post, nuclear weapons provided an advantage for barely four years. Not the kind of Breakthrough the US military is looking for today.

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    2. “Maintenance, training and tactics, readiness, and force structure should be our Third Offset Strategy.”
      Third Offset Strategy Aug. 29, 2016 NavComOps

      If that counts as an "Offset" then I guess it is a real thing. Otherwise, I think the whole concept of "offsets" is bogus. As in all technology, I feel that the future is built upon past learning.

      Thus, systems that have worked for us in the past should be incrementally improved, not abandoned for sci-fi projects. If these projects pan out, they will add to what we have. Perhaps old systems will then be replaced due to them but "counting your chickens before they hatch" only serves to put our kids on the front line in danger.

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  8. Major-General JFC Fuller noted that military forces should be kept small in peacetime so that a great portion of national resources could be focused on research.

    Frank Kendall, former Under Secretary of Defense for Acquisition, Technology and Logistics noted that the service hung onto too much infrastructure, which in turn lead to shortfalls in research. As an example, Kendal notated that the pursuit of fleeting advantages in certain weapon systems, meant the Army could not recapitalize its aging truck fleet.

    Trucks are not sexy, but without them, you cannot fight a ground war. The USA's own assessments show a major blunder in the 2003 invasion of Iraq was due to a shortfall of trucks; which explained a lot about the "pause' in front of Baghdad! Surprise: the Army found it needed to pay more attention to railroads and boat transport to increase logistics support of its corps.See chapter 10 of LSCO study.


    GAB

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  9. Precision guidance does change navy battle. One early example was during the 1967 Middle East war (you can Google to find details). Not just in battles, precision guidance has revolutionized navy deployments all over the world.

    US navy's genuine capability has never been tested even until now. During the Cold War, there was NO direct navy battle between US and Soviet Union. Likely, we won's see US navy directly combat currently second largest navy - Chinese navy as both have nuclear weapons and very reliable delivery systems.

    Precision guidance depends heavily on utilization and control of EM wave spectrum so you can find, locate, and keep tracking your enemies. In a battle with another superpower, key function of a radar is no longer range and how many targets it can track but its ability to function under server electronic jamming and interferences as both sides having capabilities to interfere the others'.

    During the 2016 US-China South China Sea standoff after the Arbitration, US Pacific commander Harry Harris was forced to withdraw the two aircraft carrier battle groups because he found China had precisely located and tracked US aircraft carriers' positions. If US attack, Chinese missiles will cause serious troubles. After that, China secured its manmade islands and Harry Harris left navy. You can Google the whole story. Key - precision guidance does change navy.

    Massive firing power without precision guidance becomes less and less useful. How to improve your precision guidance and ability to counter enemies' electronic warfare to maintain control of EM spectrum is what nations, especially superpowers pursue.

    After questioned and even mocked whether China's ballistic missiles attack ships far away working or not, even US Army has decided to develop anti ship ballistic missiles and expect to deploy in around 3 years (will delay as usual?).

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    1. "Precision guidance does change navy battle."

      Of course it does! That, however, does not make it a Breakthrough since every country has it. There's no advantage gained.

      "even US Army has decided to develop anti ship ballistic missiles"

      The US military develops all kinds of systems that wind up not working (Zumwalt Advanced Gun System, for example). Until someone comes up with a targeting system that can work at the same range as ballistic missiles (hundreds to thousands of miles), anti-ship ballistic missile systems will remain utterly impractical.

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    2. Technology capabilities decide how good a nation's precision guided weapons against one another.

      As mentioned, for instance, US can jam many nations' radars so their precision guided weapons become no better than an artillery shell. In war with another superpower, first key is who can control the EM spectrum thus very first key capability of a radar is its ability to withstand EM attack (interference, jamming, etc.).

      In term of the report of Army's development of anti ship ballistic missiles, it came from an interesting point -- Army can then fight Navy in Pentagon budgets.

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  10. Somthing to note here is that those previous "offsets" did NOT come at the expense of older, legacy arms. The US was the undisputed conventional warfare master at sea, in the air, and arguably on the ground when nuclear weapons appeared. We didnt pursue a Gigaton nuclear weapon by budgetarilly gutting the current weaponry and ignoring the military infrastructure.
    Again we were arguably dominant over the Soviets in most categories when precision munitions appeared, but we still had pretty clear cut advantages and superiority in older, legacy, firepower intensive categories.
    Right now, as budgets are strained by myriad reasons, we are trying to play catch up by betting on future tech. We dont have clear cut superiorities in existing systems, doctrine, training, or numbers. Weve given away our advantages and strengths over the past decades by gambling on nonexistent technology leapfrogging. This is tantamount to being $20 short on your house payment, and spending what you have on lottery tickets hoping to win!!!

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    1. Ok...so maybe being $750 short might be more accurate....

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    2. "Right now, as budgets are strained by myriad reasons, we are trying to play catch up by betting on future tech. ... This is tantamount to being $20 short on your house payment, and spending what you have on lottery tickets hoping to win!!!"

      Really excellent comment! Very well said.

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    3. American shipyards, so I've heard, are not up to the job. Is there no link with the search for technological marvels, such as Zumwalt and Ford? At least in terms of loss of focus. I confess to not knowing how HII etc are funded but I assume it's not pure capitalism.

      The British government throw money, hundreds of millions, at defence companies for "studies" because we've learned from bitter experience just how expensive it is to let skills wither. I'm thinking of particularly of submarine design and the Astutes.

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  11. To be fair to the Royal Navy, it wasn't that they didn't conceive of submarines as useful in interdicting convoys, it was that they very quickly swept the seas of any German convoys within a couple of months of the war starting in 1914 and so didn't need to use subs that way.

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  12. (Don McCollor)...Significant advantages are always temporary. I don't know if the US military has a contrary minded kind of "Red Flag" team that skeptically probes each new "breakthrough" with how it could be countered. Unless overwhelmed like Japan with the atomic bomb, the enemy learns quick...

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  13. A case of a breakthrough that worked, Chain Home radar, the first operational radar system deployed that enabled the RAF to stop the the German Luftwaffe gaining the necessary air supremacy and stopped the German invasion of Britain in 1940.

    There may be other examples, thou don’t think many and so the holly grail Pentagon chasing with limited chance of success.

    Question is how do you pick a winner and weed out all the dross, for me the current example is lasers on which subject to big spend with minimal chance of success, after three decades and $12 billion not a single operational weapon to show for it.

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    1. The British radar system was enormously helpful, without a doubt. It was not, however, a breakthrough in the sense of the post. It was not unique to the British - other countries had radar and it provided no long-lasting advantage.

      The Breakthrough that the US military is looking for is a long-lasting advantage that will provide a one-sided advantage for many years and that will fundamentally change the war is fought. As noted in the post, that is an illusion.

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    2. "The Breakthrough that the US military is looking for is a long-lasting advantage that will provide a one-sided advantage for many years and that will fundamentally change the war is fought. As noted in the post, that is an illusion."

      The breakthrough technologies and tactics that you talk about have been done and maintained on a generational basis. The asian steppes archers were the unmatched cavalry. The chinese and other adjoining peoples were never able to fully duplicate them. The reason is they lacked the extensive pasturage. To see the effects of the weapon system look at the extent of the Mongol Empire. It still has not been exceeded in size.

      If you want a breakthrough that others can't duplicate, it has to rely on conditions in your country that can't be duplicated elsewhere. Our high tech is a breakthrough compared to small nations. Just not so much versus our peers. For the foreseeable future that will probably be the case.

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    3. "If you want a breakthrough that others can't duplicate, it has to rely on conditions in your country that can't be duplicated elsewhere."

      That's an interesting thought. In the modern age (or any age?) that means possessing some resource that no one else has: pasturage, rare earths, whatever. However, in today's interconnected world, that seems exceedingly unlikely.

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  14. There is an older case of how fast a 'breakthrough' fails to provide long term gains.

    In the Peloponnesian War. The Spartan side faced a problem while everyone's warships (Triremes) were basically the same nobody was able or willing to pay the price that Athens did to have the best fleet [Maintenance, Training, Pay, Politically accepting the lower class and long term resident aliens into the political system, etc]

    Mid war or so Corinth came up with a technological break through. Basically redesigning the ships so thay could survive ramming another head on. Worked twice - surprised a small Athenian guard squadron and was the bane of the Athenian fleet at Syracuse because it was forced to fight in an enclosed bay and lacked maneuverability to avoid it (head on ramming).

    But after that you never hear of being an advantage again and but for treachery Athens likely could have fought to a stand still since it went back to winning naval battles.

    Presumably in some bit Thucydides cared not to mention they either altered their own designs or reinforced their own ships or simply adjusted their expectations.

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  15. Was reading about the new long range ASROC that India just test fired. Supersonic, 400 mile range. Just looking at photos of the missle and land based launch vehicle, it looks to be almost to big for ship basing (maybe SSGN). The launcher looks to be slightly bigger than HIMARS. That said, it could be a real game changer as far as choke points are concerned. You could have land based ASW batteries and a new type of SOSUS/UUV sensors tied together to put up a good long range ASW barrier without risking ships. The War Zone has a good read on it.

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  16. So what exactly IS the next offset?? Is it the networked, unmanned platforms?? Just the networking??
    Because if so, in a sense the networking can be likened to the age old examples of static defense vs offense, or projectile vs armor, with the network being the defense/armor. It always eventually loses. But I digress... If networks/unmanned/AI is the next offset, it really isnt. It doesn't offer any massive advantage, and other nations are developing the same things. We're even arguably behind in such pursuits, so it seems any abandonment or defunding of current systems to advance them is lunacy!!

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    1. That's the key point. Even if one concedes the effectiveness of networks, data, and unmanned, EVERYONE ELSE ALREADY HAS THEM. We're chasing after a breakthrough that everyone already has! It's not a breakthrough if everyone else has it, too.

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  17. In a semi-related note... Just read a Defense News article where Adm Gilday talks about the "DDG Next"... He mentioned a new, evidently larger hull, but using only existing systems, the exception being a larger VLS for larger future missiles. No mention of ray guns or other nonexistent tech. Did the Navy finally learn somthing?? While theres plenty of time for them to screw it up before the 2025-planned production start, I like hearing this nod towards common sense....

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    1. The link if interested....

      https://www.defensenews.com/naval/2020/10/13/the-us-navy-is-eyeing-a-next-generation-destroyer-from-a-new-design/

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    2. I saw that, too. The Navy is trying to replay the frigate acquisition by sticking to existing tech. That's fine and exactly what I've called for. HOWEVER, a repeat of the Burke on a slightly bigger hull, which is what it sounds like, is not improvement. We need to take that existing tech and package in such a way as to gain something other than a new Burke. We need to gain cost advantage, more defensive capacity (more SeaRAM/CIWS), a new anti-ship capability that's something other than a few bolt on Harpoons, a single function focus instead of trying to do everything, better stealth, etc. We've got to get a few new capabilities or else we're just building new Burkes.

      Common sense in using existing tech is only the first step to a better ship, not the last.

      Delete
  18. If you want breakthroughs that will win wars, I have four:

    1) have the best ships,
    2) with the most firepower,
    3) that are the best maintained,
    4) by the best trained officers and sailors in the world.

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    1. Agreed, but youre asking for 4 massive changes...to the US Navy at least.

      Delete
  19. Not every precision guided weapon acts as manufacturer claimed. Usually, what you hear from media are weapons under idea conditions - radars providing guidance functioning well, enemy's interceptions (hard or soft ways) don't exist, ... etc.

    In real battle, it depends on a weapon's capabilities against all defensive means, both hard and soft (electronically).

    Without precision guidance, strong fire power is basically useless in today's navy battle.

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  20. Making breakthroughs rarely provides lasting advantage, but not keeping up with other people's breakthroughs provides lasting disadvantage.

    It seems to me that the modern-era offsets changed the way that military forces operate in lasting ways. Nuclear weapons require fleets to adopt dispersed formations. Precision guidance changes the number of aircraft you need to send to a target. For people who are focussed on doing these things, those seem like big changes, even if they have less effect on the balance of power.

    And then we have to consider promotion of new ways of doing things. The idea of sending out fewer aircraft and putting less people at risk was an easy sell to politicians, both because it implies fewer people killed and because it was shiny and new. They were happy to vote money for more expensive aircraft and training, without considering if this was the most cost-effective way to win wars.

    Now we have the situation where there isn't much money in actually building military aircraft, but there seems to be a lot in doing the design, development, and testing. That seems a plausible deduction from the way that development programmes have slowed down in recent decades; it also serves as insurance for the aircraft companies against production cuts.

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    1. American weapons are too expensive. That is the problem.

      Why? Too many politicians elected by citizens, retired generals, etc. treat Pentagon as their ATM. Lots of money been paid to their well connected companies.

      Of course, defense industry unions also contribute to this high costs but less than politicians. They work lacklusterly yet demand high pay.

      I had experiences in one of federal government's lab. Very few people work beyond normal working hours. During work, many talk about things not related to their R&D works.

      Delete
    2. "I had experiences in one of federal government's lab. Very few people work beyond normal working hours. During work, many talk about things not related to their R&D works."

      To make that statement I seriously doubt your claim that you have ever worked at a government lab or a government funded academic lab.

      Delete
    3. "To make that statement I seriously doubt your claim that you have ever worked at a government lab or a government funded academic lab."

      I don't doubt it. I guess different folks have different experiences.

      Delete
    4. Let's not get personal and let's all steer our way back to naval matters!

      Delete
    5. Thanks for a soft rebuke - I admit I lost my temper

      Delete
  21. Maybe we are looking at this the wrong way, I do believe that the first two are offsets but in a different sense. The US military is focus on the technological aspect of it but arguably, I think it's more of the effect on how we operate and the effect of opening up a new option. Now why do I say this?

    "First Offset = nuclear weapons (1950s)" caused nations to refraining from initiating a total war. The US adjusted their CONOPS to avoid meeting another military as best as possible and if that case happen, the US will operate under very restricted ROE (I would say that the case would apply to other nations but to much more limited degree). This also have some political aspects like people don't think it's survivable in a nuclear war so less funding for military on the high-end side. Commanders are fearful or lack faith in small ships' ability to survive a nuclear strike and rely on capital ships instead.

    "Second Offset = precision guidance (1970s)" has nations initiating limited war from longer range and maybe, at times, not even leaving the comfort of their water. Militaries at this time either increase the numbers of AA systems to saturate the skies or increases countermeasures and paced farther away. We also develop electronics countermeasures/ stealth to prevent being seen as best as possible.

    Because of the ideas above, I strongly disagree that the Third Offset would qualify since the effects of these offsets are permanent in all operations! Network-sensor, artificial intelligence and autonomy are not new avenues of operation but merely an inadequate replacement for what we already had. The question I ask would be: "Am I in a disadvantage if I don't have it?". The first and second one, you can clearly answer yes but the third one, not so much. If I don't have network-sensor, I will hide instead of radiating myself, operate under EMCON and rely on passive sensors. If I don't have artificially intelligence and autonomy, I would use humans instead. These are all very tangible effects that I will go as far as saying that these are luxury upgrades intended to make the commanders have an easier life micro-managing.

    Now the other idea that I have been thinking that is the desire for an offset is not inherently wrong. You can only win wars if you, at least, have some aspects better than the other nation. The Vietnamese offsets our domination with perseverance and hit&run tactics. The Chinese is looking to offsets us in terms of numbers and cost of their equipment and ships. I think that the Chinese are also offsetting the lack of combat experience with realistic training and also open ROE vs our VID. These are all aspects of
    Maintenance
    Tactics
    Training
    Production capacity
    Firepower
    Logistics
    Survivabillity
    that you mentioned above, just merely changed. That's where the real breakthroughs are! If you have an army that planned ahead its own losses and trained itself on a violent and chaos situation and leave the power down to the local commander, that's the breakthrough in tactics and training!

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    1. I just realized that my point and your point is even more echoed considering how technology played a decisively small role in winning wars compared to the Vietnam war or GWOT! Most of our enemies uses last generation technology and in the case of ISIS, arguably they are not even equal to the first world war army! Maybe if in WW2, Nazi Germany focus their development on tactics, could they have lasted longer?

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