Friday, April 30, 2010
The upcoming troop offensive in Kandahar will play out similar to the recent Marja campaign but will likely be larger in scope. More insurgents are based in Kandahar and the U.S. is hoping for a greater contribution by Afghan forces than was made in Marja. As the Kandahar offensive draws closer, General McChrystal will likely “talk about operations in advance to try to scare off insurgents and convince the local population that their government and its allies are moving to increase security.” While potentially setting up coalition forces for attack and IED traps, this announcement strategy is calculated to reduce potential civilian casualties. This is in keeping with the general COIN principle, as elucidated in the Army’s FM 3-24, that new enemies are created when civilians are the victims of military operations.
The fact is that when troops are present in a war zone as they are in Afghanistan, civilians will occasionally be in the cross-fire. And when civilians are injured or killed, the reactionary anti-American sentiment that develops makes the greater war effort – sometimes described as a campaign to win the “hearts and minds” of Afghan citizens – far more difficult. In a recent episode, 5 Afghan civilians were killed and another 18 were wounded when American forces fired on a passenger bus which appeared to be approaching too fast to a military convoy and which coalition forces thought may contain explosives. The governor of Kandahar province openly questioned why the American troops could not have simply shot the tires to stop the approaching bus. However, shooting out tires or the engine block may be more difficult than generally presumed, especially when threats seem to appear suddenly and a split-second reaction is necessary to prevent soldiers’ deaths. Sadly, this was just one of many convoy or checkpoint shootings in recent months in which the victims were later determined to be entirely non-threatening.
The frequency of such incidents begs the question: can the U.S. forces employ a different tactical response to approaching vehicles that outwardly appear threatening? Despite our commitment to COIN principles that stress the need to protect civilians, it would be foolish to implement a policy that would urge our troops to withhold firing at or otherwise defending themselves from what their experience tells them are potential threats. However, it would be entirely reasonable for U.S. forces to employ weaponry that would stop a potential threat while preventing the unnecessary loss of life. That’s where non-lethal weapons come in.
The Defense Department has been researching such weapons since 1996 under the Joint Non-Lethal Weapons Program, under the auspices of the Marines. After a 2004 CFR task force report described the capabilities of non-lethal weapons, funding was increased to approximately $150 annually. While that may seem like a lot, when compared to the hundreds of billions spent by the Defense Department annually (much of it on R&D for conventional, lethal weapons), this is actually a paltry sum.
From what research we have, there are a host of weapons that could potentially be used to eliminate unnecessary casualties in the checkpoint or convoy setting. Michael O’Hanlon of the Brookings Institute thinks radio frequency weapons that short circuit vehicle electronics, acoustic weapons, or flash weapons might be appropriate. Directed-energy weapons – which include lasers, particle beams, and sonic devices – can immobilize people or machines would be another option. The Defense Department budget should be adjusted to reflect the necessity of investigating such weaponry further, especially in light of our clear mandate to reduce civilian casualties as much as possible.
Some degree of adjustment may already be occurring. Earlier this month, the Marine Corps System Command awarded General Dynamics a $3 million contract to evaluate a non-lethal weapon system known as Medusa. The system equips grenade launchers with non-lethal munitions that temporarily incapacitate targets “through intense light, sound and pressure stimuli.” Also in April, Australian corporation Metal Storm received an approximately $1.5 million contract to develop weapons with the same functionality but which can be mounted on Humvees. Because these two weapons could be present alongside convoys or at checkpoints, they could afford military personnel the non-lethal means available in an instant that they so desperately require.
Conversation topics abound in regard to the US Defense industry and the powerful role it plays in defense statecraft. However, the focus is often on the United States defense industry and the scope of its influence domestically and internationally. However, let us take a moment to consider the Russian Defense industry.
A New York Times article on Monday identified a Russian company that has developed and is marketing a new missile system that can be contained and deployed from a shipping container. Not only do these specs create intrigue about the technology and size of the system, the article indicates they are cause for alarm both because of their destructive potential - and the customers that might be interested in them.
Historically, Russia has negotiated arms deals with Iran, among other less-than-friendly states. While the United States is concerned with progressing Iranian nuclear technology, this missile system gives cause for greater alarm due to the greater likelihood of procurement. When asked who might be potential clients for the missile system, Russian defense expert Mikhail Barabanov articulated, "anyone who likes the idea." The relatively compact, self-contained missile system can give any entity, whether countries or non-state actors an asymmetric advantage against larger military platforms, whether stationary bases or mobile ships.
One upside to this discussion is the historical tendency for the Russian government to nationalize private companies. The strength of the state and the security this missile system offers gives Medvedev and Putin the ability to take the afternoon off without concern.
With the potential to sell and ship such a compact missile system anywhere in the world, largely without notice, we should consider not only the role of the US defense industry, but the newfound power of Russian companies and their contribution to the defense statecraft of other nations.
Just below I referenced the Pentagon's recently published report on Afghanistan. Admittedly I focused on an incredibly small portion concerning Karzai's government. The document is lengthy at 152 pages but covers a cornucopia of subjects: regional actors, security, governance, counter-narcotics, strategy, etc. I talked in my last post a little about progress cited in this report so I'll elaborate on that here:
Overall it appears that the declining stability in Afghanistan has tapered off in the last three months.
Violence has increased considerably but it's attributed to increased Internaitonal Security Assistance Force activity (ISAF)
Afghans see improved security over a year ago--50% increase in proportion of Afghans who see security improvements
General population generally sees Afghan government as harbinger of progress/improvements
National survey completed in March indicates 59% of Afghans believe their government is headed in the right direction (8% increase since September)
83% report corruption affects daily life
45% express confidence in national government--up 6% from September; pg 45 includes a district level governance assessment map
30% believed that government was less corrupt than a year prior, 24% believed it was more corrupt.
29% believe Karzai to be corrupt, 33% provincial governor corrupt, 34% district governor corrupt
On government corruption: The oversight, internal and international support is there. There are good legal and institutional reforms in place or awaiting implementation, but what is ultimately lacking is political will. More specifically, there are 32 specific anti-corruption commitments developed by the Afghan Government to be accomplished between February 28, 2010 and the end of the year. Thirteen of those measures were to be signed into effect by Karzai no later than Feb. 28 but as of March only one of two presidential decrees has been signed. Stressed several times is political will which simply isn't there.
There's a lot of other stuff going on here too. U.S. civilians in the country has tripled since early 2009; this increase is seen largely as a positive taking a lot of weight off the military in leading diplomatic efforts. The Afghan National Army and Police are looked very highly upon--only 1% view them as a source of instability--while the insurgency is increasingly viewed as the major destabilizing force in the country. There's a detailed description of NATO and U.S. COIN directives in Key Terrain and Area of Interest Districts starting on pg. 26 (no I won't out line everything for you).
Overall things do look positive. 2009 was a tough year, apparently the insurgency declared it their best year, but security and public perception are dramatically improving in 2010. We can look forward to Karzai tripping to Washington in early May and to a peace Jirga scheduled for sometime in May which looks to kick off Karzai's Reconciliation and Reintegration program.
Another thing of note: India's only participation in Afghanistan comes in the form of aid and aid workers. Pakistan ensures that India does little else but things could be changing. Just yesterday India and Pakistan made a move toward normalization quite unexpectedly after India discovered it had a spy in its Pakistani embassy. India taking a bigger role in Afghanistan might contribute much, but it will be telling because it means that Pakistan (and presumably India) has taken the security focus away from its borders and will focus on internal stabilization. A lot of Afghanistan's woes can be traced to insurgents moving back and forth through the AFPAK border and Pakistan's own instability. A greater internal focus from Pakistan would be greatly welcomed.
And one last thing, what I've said below about Karzai still stands. While not explicitly stated this report makes pretty clear that a lot of things are going pretty well despite his lack of 'political will.' If this trend continues till mid to late 2011 when Obama wants to start handing security over then Karzai can expect to oversee very little of what the military does. I suspect the military will remain under some kind of international control or strong guidance in lieu of a handoff.
This semester we have read a lot about UAVs and their increasing importance. Well, UAVs just got a big boost from the Air Force. Thus far UAVs have been used for Intelligence, Surveillance, and Reconnaissance (ISR) and battlefield strike. The Air Force wants them to do even more in the future. The service is reevaluating and expanding the missions its MQ-X next generation UAV will be required to perform. Air Force officials are going to scrap the initial capabilities document drafted by Air Combat Command on the MQ-X and begin anew with a “broader group of stakeholders” involved in the process.
In addition to Air Combat Command, Air Force Materiel Command, Air Mobility Command, and Air Force Special Operations Command are going to give their input as to what they need out of a next generation UAV. Service officials want the MQ-X and all future UAVs to be able to carry and operate a variety of mission payloads in the same way a C-130 can today. New plans will focus on areas outside the traditional ISR and strike missions handled by the service's UAV fleet. Capabilities include close air support, combat search and rescue, airlift, force protection and operating in contested or denied airspace. Officials say that at a minimum, the aircraft must have protected communications and datalinks, the ability to survive in contested airspace, incorporate sense-and-avoid technology, and enough power generating and cargo capacity to allow it to carry a variety of sensors and weapons.
At a minimum, MQ-X is supposed to replace the service’s Reapers in the role of strike and ISR planes. But we already know UAVs are good at that. The Air Force is right on to realize that UAVs are going to be more and more important. The question is: why are they just getting serious about investigating UAV’s future capabilities now? It remains to be seen if the Air Force will fully embrace UAVs as the future of the service or if their leadership, made up of pilots, is going to be willing to give up on having pilots in the cockpit.
Thursday, April 29, 2010
Luckily, there are some relatively unexplored avenues they can turn to. The military is going through its own state of transformation and is slowly broadening their horizons, appropriately into the area of counterinsurgency. Understandably, they require new, unique tools to succeed in this endeavor. Though the previous large, showy projects have formerly brought in the big bucks quickly, the military may now need something entirely different. This, combined with the looming budget cuts may result in a simultaneous defense industry transformation as well.
Should the defense industry now turn its attention more closely to developing innovative tools required for soldiers on the ground in counterinsurgency, it may find that the budget cuts currently proposed would not be as disastrous as currently considered. We can be reasonably confident that destroyer and aircraft carriers will still be built and that fighter jets will still need updates, and therefore that sector of their market will remain steady. To fill the gaps that some cuts may leave, however, work tuned towards this new COIN market will prove essential and, most likely, extremely profitable.
Such mainstream devices (like more precise thermal night vision and lighter body armor, which are already in development in small companies), if made to the right standards of excellence and provided at the price point possibly from the large providers in the industry, would be eagerly snatched by the military, would make our soldiers more efficient and safer, and would help the large-scale defense industry more smoothly transition into working with a tighter DoD budget. These are areas the industry needs to look into to protect itself from the pending restrictions on its larger projects.
PowerPoint is bad . . . but what now?
Everybody seems to agree on this one thing: Microsoft’s PowerPoint presentation software dumbs down military briefings and its heavy use takes up a ridiculous amount of time. Apparently everyone from platoon leaders to generals labors for hours to crank out slide after slide of presentation fodder.
But while there are plenty of voices decrying PowerPoint, nobody is very good at coming up with a replacement. The latest trigger for a round of PowerPoint hatred is this New York Times piece, published April 27. It details the overuse of the software, and quotes numerous military men expressing their dependence and hatred of PowerPoint:
Commanders say that behind all the PowerPoint jokes are serious concerns that the program stifles discussion, critical thinking and thoughtful decision-making. Not least, it ties up junior officers — referred to as PowerPoint Rangers — in the daily preparation of slides, be it for a Joint Staff meeting in Washington or for a platoon leader’s pre-mission combat briefing in a remote pocket of Afghanistan.
Yes, PowerPoint is bad. It stifles creative thinking and encourages simplistic answers to sometimes tortuously difficult problems. But how do you replace it? According to the NYT piece, Gen. H.R. McMaster banned PowerPoint from his command while taking part in the Iraq invasion. Spencer Ackerman has suggested cloud computing, i.e. Google Docs. But both answers are reactive – they don’t provide the same utility of PowerPoint (for the military, or business). Frankly, nothing does.
This isn’t the first time those in the military have complained about PowerPoint. Gen. Michael Flynn’s indictment of intelligence work in Afghanistan (released earlier this year) came down hard on the use of PowerPoint. As Matt Yglesias pointed out then, it’s not a new problem or a rare one. Now, months later, here we go again with another round of complaints and no solutions, although plenty of parodies.
As the Atlantic Wire notices, this kind of standardized, simplistic way of seeing the world is growing in the American political culture. Also, it’s not a problem created by technology. This way of thinking is entrenched in who we are.
This is not the first time someone’s written an article detailing complaints about PowerPoint. Yet because the military and the press have no substantive solutions, PowerPoint will keep getting used at Pentagon desks and in foxholes, and journalists will keep cranking out complaint-filled articles about how ridiculous it all is.
Way to solve the problem.
I’ve got a solution of last resort: Why doesn’t DARPA do something about this? Or perhaps I should pull out a tired cliché and demand a Manhattan Project-type effort to replace PowerPoint…
Yesterday, the Pentagon released a 152 page report on the progress being made in Afghanistan by U.S. and NATO forces. The progress, positive as it is, comes with caveats, the biggest of which is the Afghan President Hamid Karzai. Now it looks like we've been through this before: earlier this month there was a bit of a PR fiasco when Karzai was bad mouthing the hand that feeds and the hand started having mixed reactions. The White House officially stated that Karzai was a respected partner (i.e. necessary and tolerated evil) and would continue working with him.
Where the majority of previous Karzai criticisms were accepted ad hominems, the Pentagon measures Karzai's effectiveness by polling citizens in the 121 Key Terrain and Area of Interest Districts on their support for and perception of the effectiveness of the Afghan government. Only 29 of these districts held Karzai and his government in any amount of positive light. Reasons? Corruption and inefficiency. None of this is particularly new but this is an official report citing a survey conducted by the military with the Afghan civilian populace. We no longer have Ambassador Eikenberry shouting fraud, we have the Afghan people themselves expressing extreme discontent. This also isn't the public scuffle of a few weeks ago.
The unclassified report comes barely two weeks before Karzai's Washington visit, giving Obama significant leverage in that meeting. I wrote about Karzai and his outbursts when they occurred and suspected they might be a grab for legitimacy and some politicaly leeway, but with this report it can be argued that Karzai has little legitimacy as it is--at least in these important districts. Karzai's poor reputation, coupled with the relative military and security progress mentioned in the report, gives him little wiggle room with which to respond.
All I can say is I hope Obama reacts harshly in private. I'd like to see some of Karzai's funds getting flagged if the corruption doesn't abate. Obama needs to push for more transparency or even force it. We can criticize Karzai all we want, but this man's put up with it for a while and still gotten away with pretty much anything. At this point I don't think we risk deligitimzing the Afghan government more than Karzai already has.
Obama wants to see Afghan security forces taking over operations and security by 2011? They damn well better be in someone else's hands and not Karzai's.
(From the Executive Summary:)
Key Terrain Districts (80): Defined in military terms as those areas that afford a marked advantage to whichever party controls them – are those districts where the bulk of the population is concentrated, and that contain centers of economic productivity, key infrastructure, and key commerce routes connecting such areas to each other and to the outside world. These districts roughly follow the line of the three major highways in Afghanistan through the most densely populated portions of the country.
Areas of Interest (41): In general, these are districts that, for a variety of reasons, exert influence on Key Terrain districts to a degree that renders it necessary to focus information collection and operational resources upon them to support operations in the Key Terrain districts.
Wednesday, April 28, 2010
There's been fuss recently over the US strategy in Iran with the leaking of Secretary Gates' January memo stating that we are unprepared for a nuclear Iran. Of course, Gates has since announced that the administration is indeed prepared for that and many other contingencies in Iran. But what about that war we're actively fighting just next door - in Iraq?
Tuesday, April 27, 2010
During his trial, Nawaz remained defiant. He would walk in and out of court shouting out radical slogans. After he was convicted and sentenced to prison for five years, he was locked up with the assassins of Anwar Sadat and leaders of the Muslim Brotherhood.Fascinating. The rest of the interview walks through Nawaz's campaign against The Narrative. He debates Islamic leaders on BBC news channels, holds discussions with students in his native Pakistan, and, at every turn, speaks against the ideology to which he once devoted his life. Absolutely fascinating. The whole interview is here; it is well worth the 15 minutes it takes to watch it, especially the rest of it after the above quoted section.
"Boy, if you weren't radicalized up until then, you certainly would've been then," Stahl remarked.
"Well, the interesting thing with these guys is that, in the 20 or so years since they've been imprisoned, they'd gone through a process where they had abandoned their jihadist views," he said.
"They did?" Stahl asked.
"Yeah. And my initial reaction was, 'Oh, my God, you've sold out.' And so, I approached them with an idea to try and actually convince them they were wrong," Nawaz said.
Nawaz believed he could "re re-convert" them. "And what ended up happening was through the discussion process, I began doubting the strength of my own convictions," he explained.
They were able to persuade him that today's radical ideology is closer to fascism than true Islam. So after four years in prison, he returned to England in 2006 and soon left HT...
He decided he wanted to make amends for the 13 years he had spent as a radical, so now he devotes himself to rebutting the very narrative he once passionately promoted.
"Frankly, Lesley, I think it's 'the' key factor in solving the problem we're experiencing in the world at the moment," he said. "Countering The Narrative is the core of the solution, making this narrative as unfashionable as Communism has become today."
After watching the interview, I couldn't help but compare Nawaz to the Apostle Paul (once persecutor of Christians turned evangelist and writer of over half of the Bible's New Testament). Could Maajid Nawaz be Islam's modern-day Paul (in terms of Islamic extremism and the West)? Maybe. Personally, I think this guy's on to something.
Policy Recommendation: If the US is ever going to effectively secure itself against Islamic extremism, everyone in charge of our national security should be required to sit down and watch this interview. That would be Step One. Hopefully after that, Step Two would be in the right direction.
Monday, April 26, 2010
Every four years the Quadrennial Defense Review is drafted by the Department of Defense. In summary, this document not only assesses present and future threats and military planning to meet those challenges, it also sets forth this assessment within the context of a budget plan. At times the QDR emphasizes new priorities and reflects those priorities by budget re-allocations, such as cancelling programs to fund other initiatives.
Even so, there are cries that government spending on all things military is excessive. In the face of criticism, how should the government choose to fund the Department of Defense and its varied programs? Should leaders set a budget and then direct military leaders and planners to meet security threats within those means? Or should the results of threat assessment and strategic planning inform the budget?
While sometimes a chicken-and-egg type question, this question requires analysis and research more than Google can provide.
The debate between military leaders and elected officials has an extended history, and long before President Obama was elected there have been calls for spending reductions. Yet the finger is not to be pointed solely at the Secretary of Defense. Although drafting the QDR falls under the purview of the DoD, Congress ultimately decides what and how much funding to allocate to military spending.
Like any entity operating within a budget, there is only so much creativity that can be applied to cost-savings. While Dave Ramsey may be a good counselor for personal finance, the envelope system isn’t feasible for the US military. (Besides, there would be too many covert envelopes.) Eventually, if the budget is reduced, the scope of military programs must be as well. While this type of decision is unpopular, sometimes challenging decisions must be made if priorities are to be shifted. So one question to be asked of critics is this: Do you consider Defense spending and the security it provides to cost too much – or do you wish other national programs received more funding?
Calls for a 4% plan – where the Defense budget is pegged to a percentage of GDP – are on the table and advocated by General Mike Mullen. Although this approach establishes a framework for budgeting, it doesn’t speak to stewardship benchmarks or how spending should change depending on whether the US in a time of war or peace. In an era where large-scale conventional war seems less likely, and US peace-keeping and nation-building efforts are more prevalent, the DoD budget can and should vary in importance with other national priorities.
However, maintaining a strong readiness posture is an essential part of providing for US national security. Maybe Dave Ramsey’s emergency fund idea isn’t so bad after all.
Gates appears to be going in for the kill on this one though. He sighted weaknesses in having both Commerce and State department lists, the economic effects of having to get a license for every ‘latch, wire and lug nut’ in an F-16 when the entire aircraft is already approved, and that the US is losing a brain-drain by not creating incentives to keep MNCs in the US. The Economist reported a couple weeks ago on the growing EU role in defense contracting and arms sales. Gates wants to keep the US safe and update the system.
Overall, Gates’ proposal includes an executive mandate to consolidate the Commerce and State department lists into one, creating a single oversight agency that will have sole enforcement capacity, and funding IT infrastructure to facilitate communication and information flow. In practice the policy will get rid of the flat licensing requirements and institute a tiered policy where the most sensitive technologies are on top and protected comprehensively, but as these technologies become outdated they are downgraded and freed to increase exports.
Apparently some allies think this is a good idea and agree that the old (anti-Soviet) system has damaged US capacity to export defensive capabilities to NATO members and other allies. This is not a new idea however. Bush defense proposals from 2007 with Britain and Australia are still in legislation - let’s not start on the three outstanding FTAs. Trying to get Commerce, State, DoD and Congress together on who gets to oversee what and where the zero-sum will leave them politically is a hard sell. This policy also makes sense in the larger NEI project and the Obama-Gates-Mullen relationship seems united. It will be worth watching how the politics play out.
Saturday, April 24, 2010
While all eyes were on the highly-publicized, well-covered launch of the somehow still super-secret X37B military space shuttle from Florida, an important launch in California went virtually unnoticed.
The hypersonic delivery system for the proposed Conventional Prompt Global Strike system launched atop a Minotaur IV rocket from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California. The Defense Advanced Projects Research Agency (DARPA) Falcon Hypersonic Technology Vehicle 2 was to travel 4,100 miles and crash in the South Pacific. Things did not go as planned. Controllers lost contact with the vehicle a few minutes after launch. Another launch is planned, but the failure highlights the technical difficulties inherent in the CPGS program.
And yet those aren’t the only difficulties. As several observers have stated over the last few days, the CPGS program could prove technically difficult and costly to implement, could spark a nuclear response from twitchy nuclear-armed nations if used, and would unnecessarily replace already deployed weapons and delivery systems. These observations are duly noted.
But the detractors of the CPGS forget one thing. Its creation could be used as a spur to complete then elimination of the US nuclear arsenal. Naysayers of the weapon, such as Joseph Cirincione of the Ploughshares Fund, are right to point out that nuclear-armed nations will not be able to tell between a nuclear and non-nuclear weapon launch and could respond with nuclear weapons, thus sparking a nuclear conflict.
Therefore, if the Obama Administration wants these weapons, their development should be tied to the reduction of nuclear weapons and their deployment tied to the elimination of the US nuclear arsenal. Obama has said the move to develop the CPGS program was based on a desire to “move towards less emphasis on nuclear weapons,” but that is not good enough.
Supporters of the CPGS need to take responsibility for the potential consequences of the use of their weapon. The only way it could be used responsibly is if nobody need fear a nuclear attack by the United States. That can only happen if the United States has no nuclear weapons.
If supporters of the CPGS really want the system, they should also be pushing for the total elimination of the US nuclear arsenal. Any other position will reveal their passion for the CPGS as costly, irresponsible money-grubbing.
Supporters of the CPGS, the next move is yours.
Friday, April 23, 2010
And there always seems to be a strong debate about which elements deserve the most emphasis and funding. It has been said by numerous US officials across the spectrum of leadership that the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan cannot be won by military might alone, that all the tools available to US decision-makers must be employed. This is the heart of the DIME concept. And it's not surprising that US leadership started delivering speeches about how the current wars cannot be won by military might alone once the Iraqi insurgency kicked off in 2004. The Iraqi insurgency has caused the US military to rethink how it approaches its missions. Effective diplomacy between a stable Iraqi government and the US, along with effective diplomacy at the unit level, all in conjunction with economic stimulation and Iraqi job creation have become equal (or exceeded, depending on where you're sitting in the discussion) to military impact on the situation. And if you don't believe me, just check out the below from the U.S. Army Field Manual 3-24 Counterinsurgency:
Counter-insurgents achieve the most meaningful success by gaining popular support and legitimacy for the host government, not by killing insurgents. Security plays an important role in setting the stage for other progress, but lasting victory comes from a vibrant economy, political participation, and restored hope.
One example, on the economic side, of how the US military is approaching these DIME model concepts is personified in the position of Mr. Paul Brinkley. Mr. Brinkley, a former Silicon Valley executive, is Deputy Under Secretary of Defense and Director of the Task Force for Business and Stability Operations in Iraq. His basic job is to work with the Iraq Ministry of Fiance to get the country's economy up and running again. Interesting position for someone with a DoD badge.
Thursday, April 22, 2010
With Tuesday’s extensive discussion on the role of conventional warfighting techniques and equipment in the modern Army, Monday’s trip to Fort Knox that brought up questions of the future of conventional armored forces and the fact that many of us are in a class on nuclear weapons, I felt this topic was ideal for a blog post.
As President Obama tours the world (and invites the world to Washington) promoting a platform of disarmament and anti-proliferation, anxious questions have been raised by those at home, particularly from those who grew up taught to be terrified of a potential Soviet nuclear attack (see image). There are concerns that a diminished nuclear arsenal might not be a strong enough deterrent against some states with a particularly vivid distaste for the U.S. and, if true, it certainly is an unpleasant thought.
These concerns, however, are exactly the reason why our conventional forces and equipment are still useful, even mandatory, in a military that currently faces conflicts that are exclusively COIN-based. (Some of this will seem repetitive from Tuesday, of course, but on the off-chance that someone outside of PS reads this, I’ll rehash a little.) Currently, it appears that the primary enemies of the United States are to be fought with COIN-only techniques; but, of course, this does not mean that this will always be the case. It is easy to imagine that at some point in the vague future of the U.S., conventional war may be required to protect her citizens and interests. This alone is a suitable argument for maintaining conventional warfighting ability, however it becomes even more important with regard to the nuclear disarmament.
The concern of those who cling to the arsenal is that eliminating these impressive weapons shows that we’re softening, weaker or less prepared to fight. To counter this image, both to appease those at home and to convince those abroad, continuing to nurture and grow our conventional branches (such as armor) will prove essential. The message to be sent should not be one of weakness or pacification but one of strength. In other words, the nuclear disarmament of the United States need not be a concession, but a message to the world (and specifically our adversaries) that we have such faith in our conventional forces that our nuclear weapons are less important, and almost disposable; that the U.S. can do so much damage with our traditional “roll-right-over-you” forces that they deter even nuclear attacks. Combine this with the fact that we will, certainly, maintain a (probably substantial) arsenal of nuclear weapons “just in case,” and we hardly need to fear some disarmament.
Not only does this stance comfort those who fear the U.S. being left without a strong deterrent, but it also assures them that our conventional forces will continue to be strengthened and trained. To get more of the country on board with his disarmament agenda, the President would be wise to push a stance of this nature and pursue an increased focus on the abilities of our traditional forces and equipment.
Overall, I was (pleasantly) surprised by how positive everyone seemed to be about their service. I got a sense that soldiers feel few are willing to sacrifice they way they do, but that they view the Army as a calling and truly love the military lifestyle. This contradicts the view put out by many news articles, foreign affairs essays, and novels that paint our campaigns in Iraq and Afghanistan as wasteful endeavors with no end in sight. At least from the point of view of a couple soldiers who have seen Iraqi combat operations, this is not entirely the case.
It’s necessary to have such enthusiasm among our military personnel when we continue to employ an all-volunteer force. Currently there are approximately 1.3 million men and women on active duty. Assuming this number remains relatively static, our military must receive adequate support so that the vast majority remain as dedicated and view their service with the same level of positivity as those men we met at Fort Knox. Thankfully, the 2010 Quadrennial Defense Review makes this a priority.
The 2010 QDR lists “Preserve and Enhance the All-Volunteer Force” as part of the overall “Defense Strategy.” This appears on pages vi-vii of the Executive Summary and pages 15-16 of the main document. In these sections, it states that the prolonged wartime period since 2001 has elevated the importance of preserving our force and transitioning to sustainable rotation rates. The QDR asserts:
“Although a strong sense of purpose and demonstrated operational excellence are shared across all Services and ranks, indicators of strain on the force – from retention levels in key commissioned and noncommissioned officer ranks, to increased rates of combat stress and substance abuse, and to even more tragic outcomes such as increased levels of suicide and divorce – are cause for concern.”
Our servicemen are experiencing higher than ideal deployment rates and briefer dwell periods. Thus, given the need for substantial and sustained deployments in conflict zones, the Defense Department emphasizes that our military personnel must receive extensive physical and psychological care. Additionally, the 2010 QDR revised the military’s long-held two-war policy under which it seeks to retain the capacity to maintain two conventional wars simultaneously. The shift from the two-war policy and the emphasis on preserving the strength of the voluntary force reflects a realistic assessment of American military capabilities after nearly a decade of war. It’s a welcome change from Bush-era military policies that seemingly saw no limit to military power or sustainability.
Obama’s late November/early December 2009 plan to escalate the Afghanistan campaign by 30,000 troops required a drawdown in Iraq. If all goes as planned, there will be only 50,000 U.S. troops in Iraq by the end of August 2010. At that point, forces in Afghanistan will number well over 100,000. It is at least somewhat comforting to personally find out we have servicemen eager to meet this need and to know that the Defense Department is prioritizing their well-being.
Wednesday, April 21, 2010
Given the presence of the tragedy of the commons with which I'm sure everyone is familiar, the DOD has some work to do (in conjunction with a multitude of stakeholders domestically and abroad). The 2010 QDR defines the global commons as "domains or areas that no one state controls but on which all rely," with the main ones being water, space (especially outer space) and cyber space. Recent reports and opinions have illustrated some of the challenges involved in both (1) securing our access for our military for its resource needs as well as our own, and (2) sustaining the commons themselves so they'll be available for others and our children.
A fleck of paint may not sound dangerous, but if travelling at 27,000kph (17,000mph), as it would be in orbit, it could easily penetrate an astronaut’s spacesuit.
But there’s a blurring, if you will, in the speed of cyber between defense and offense. And so I think you’ll see that, as well.
Opposition politicians in South Korea have called foul on the timing of the announcements, accusing conservative ruling party President Lee Myung-bak of using the arrests and the recent sinking of a South Korean ship as ploys to increase votes in the upcoming mayoral and gubernatorial elections. The Korea Herald suggests the attempted assassination is related to fears of a turbulent succession of power from Kim Jong-il to his son, Kim Jong-eun. In his recent lectures, Hwang expressed skepticism about the new leader’s abilities to rule. There may already be enough support for Kim Jong-eun, however, given reports that the assassination plot originated in a military intelligence directorate, indicating that the army supports Kim’s transition plans to his son and is seeking to eliminate any opposition to his ascension.
Either way, the recriminations between the two Koreas continues to build. Given the seriousness of the Cheonan explosion and the lack of retaliation from the South thus far, this newest incident is not likely to be a casus belli but yet another sticking point in the way of Korean reconciliation and de-nuclearization.
whacked the top two al-Qaeda in Iraq (AQI) leaders in what sounds like a pretty cool raid. Not only did they get these two terrorists, but reports also claim that Iraqi forces managed to score some pretty interesting intelligence. Laptops and other documents appear to be a treasure of information and even indicate that the AQI folks were in pretty good contact with Osama bin Laden.
sought after vote recount for the Baghdad area. Of course, this may well contribute to the horrible instability already rocking Baghdad, but—hell, it’s good for Maliki, so…
Tom Friedman recently wrote about how political victory breeds political power. He even quoted Osama bin Laden’s famous “if people see a weak horse next to a strong horse—of course they prefer the strong horse” phrase.
Maliki has had a few victories this week… let’s see if it breeds another term in power.
Tuesday, April 20, 2010
This dialectic was going on behind the scenes and saturated our trip to Ft. Knox. The tensions between conventional and COIN seem to be grinding at the base. Thinking about the conversations I had with armory enlisted and officers yesterday some of the highlights for me were:
• Listening to a 17-year active duty Sergeant First Class or Master Sergeant (can’t remember) explain how his deployments in Bosnia, Iraq and Afghanistan shifted from being a Bradley gunner, to a M1A1 operator, to a light infantry platoon leader on the Pakistan border (i.e. HMMWV) – respectively;
• Seeing the Stryker and Abrams simulators side-by-side;
• Hearing the interesting opinion of the Major who thought COIN has always been a part of Army doctrine;
• The opinion from the Staff Sergeant on the panel who was slightly annoyed by COIN (it makes sense - to me - that all COIN has done from him is create more work);
• And finally, the opinion from our soon-to-be Pattersonite Capitan who thinks FM 3-24 has fundamentally and permanently altered Army strategy to ‘Hybrid Warfare.’
There is plenty of reading on this subject. Some covering interpretation of the 2006 Israel-Hezbollah War, others flat-out stating armory is dead, and those who disagree. I highly recommend taking a look at the debate.
Clearly COIN has impacted Army culture but in my opinion the final verdict is still out on whether or not it will stick. It has been a ‘less-bad’ solution to Iraq and Afghanistan but there is no consensus that when the troops come home it will hang around. If you read some of the comments from officers in these blogs posts they sometimes allude to when ‘things can go back to normal.’
Thinking about this from another angle though, what role does armory have in RMA anyway? If that argument is right, and missiles are the new war, then the days of Patton sweeping across the plains are gone. I am not saying tanks will be completely irrelevant, but I would think missiles reduce the value of tank columns in conventional warfare and change their tactical purpose.
On an interesting side note. Ricks suggests tanks are important because they boost morale of the troops.
“When [infantry] are in a bad fix, there is nothing like hearing an M1 clanking around the corner to help out”
Ok. But I would not rest an argument on that.