Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Do We Really Need an Air Force?

No bureaucracy advocates for its own dismemberment, but since I’m not a member of the Air Force I feel quite comfortable doing just that.

But first, some thoughts on the sea, the land, and the air:

Last week we discussed Seapower. Control of the sea is a tangible thing – you can ship what you want (from soldiers to toys) to where you want, and in wartime deny your enemy such luxuries. And while you cannot possess the sea in the same way you possess territory, you can control it in a similar fashion. Control of the air is less tangible and frankly, less useful, than controlling the land or the sea.
People live on the ground (duh, I promise this train of thought is going somewhere). Wars are political and politics takes place on the ground. The focus of the war has to be the ground in some fashion. Never has a war been fought solely in the air, for control of the air. The air war is always subservient to, and intimately tied to, the ground war.
Air superiority is an outdated measure of excellence. I do not mean to discount the use of flying machines to move troops and supplies – but rather to make the argument that aircraft as a primary means of fighting a war is outdated. The days of the dogfight are done, for now. And the closest possible candidates to resume air-to-air combat are phenomenally far behind in capability.
One of the benefits of airpower is its ability to remove friendly lives from danger, while delivering destruction in neatly wrapped packages. The problem is that this capability doesn’t suit the brand of wars we find ourselves in at the moment – namely COIN operations. And COINOPS (unrelated to Cyclops) appear to many bright minds to be the wars of the foreseeable future.
Our military forces are in a difficult predicament – they must be able to fight today’s wars and be ready for the wars of tomorrow. There is a mystical balancing point between ability to fight today and projection as to what will be needed in the future.

With all that in mind, here is my modest proposal:

1.      Dismantle the Air Force as we know it.
2.      Redistribute components of the USAF between the Army and the Navy

Though this proposal is a fantasy, and will never even be considered, I'll press forward.
The benefits include:

1.      Less bureaucracy – when the Army needs a bomb, it calls the Army – not a separate branch.
2.      More Connectedness –Airpower is primarily in support of the battle on the ground. If it is controlled by those fighting on the ground they may be better suited to developing capabilities more useful to that space.
3.      Less squabbling – the Army won’t have to fight with the Army over who gets to fly helicopters and who gets to fly fixed-wing aircraft. The Army will take responsibility for aircraft with ground-focused abilities – bombers, UAVs, transport. The Navy will take responsibility for air-to-air capabilities as well as aircraft focused on defeating Naval targets.
4.      Less duplication of efforts – The Navy will be the only branch with fighter-jets and take over the quest for air superiority in terms of air-to-air. The Army and Navy would likely both have bomber aircraft and in the event of a war in the littoral may have to coordinate on some level with ground forces (if ground forces are needed beyond the Marines)
5.      Potentially better for the budget - Saving on buying the same aircraft for the Air Force and the Navy by just buying the F-35 just for the Navy.

I’m positive there are serious flaws in this argument, but it was an entertaining thought-exercise. I hope to have provoked a response from someone in the ether. How would you better arrange military forces to meet the needs of today and likely foes of the future?

Friday, February 18, 2011

Mexico’s Drug War: An Insurgency?

Roughly a week and a half ago U.S. Undersecretary of the Army Joseph Westphal suggested the drug war in Mexico is comparable to an insurgency and it might be necessary for the United States to send troops to prevent a takeover of the country. Secretary of State Clinton also referred to the situation as an insurgency last year, although President Obama distanced himself from such a claim. Not surprisingly, Mexico was outraged by Westphal’s remarks, but they do spark an interesting discussion. In doing further research, the Brookings Institution’s Diana Villiers Negroponte released an article this week proposing a six-pronged counterinsurgency approach to addressing the violence in Mexico ( see article).

While the drug lords are out to make money and will stop those in their path (the state), Negroponte suggests that they have no interest in gaining political control. They resort to violence as a result of interference in their affairs. To some, this lack of political motive may appear to be in contradiction with the notion of an insurgency, and it may seem illogical to look to a counterinsurgency strategy for reform.

However, Negroponte’s article has a great deal of merit in suggesting that COIN strategy does in fact have the potential to rectify the problems looming in Mexico. She defines counterinsurgency as “measures to secure the population and mobilize sufficient strength to allow the state to dominate.”

Moreover, she argues that Mexico has already established most of the programs listed in her six COIN-based prongs, but it is lacking a national consensus. Mexicans must want security and need to put pressure on their government to provide it to its citizens. Yet, her article also argues that this national consensus won’t come about without leadership that is viewed as legitimate and without corruption.

Her favorable view of the use of COIN strategy in Mexico may prove effective, but the biggest oversight of the article is her neglect of the role the United States plays. The drug war will never end if the United States does not step up its efforts to control drug trafficking on the U.S. side of the border and work with Mexico to encourage further use of counterinsurgency practices. The U.S. has started to work with Mexican forces to train in areas such as intelligence and proper human rights practices (Sheridan). These energies must continue and improve in the future. As with any counterinsurgency operation, the goal is to get the Mexico to stand on its own two feet in addressing the problems within its borders.

Moreover, effective COIN strategy places emphasis on combating corruption. For Mexico, corruption within its government and police forces is an epidemic and has to be rectified before Mexicans will believe in the people running their country. As it stands now, many would argue that President Calderon has done an abysmal job at combating dishonesty and bribery. Greater pressure should be put on the Mexico government by the United States to ensure increased transparency and accountability to its citizens.

In the end, this is a very brief snippet of the drug related violence and crime in Mexico. Yet, it is safe to suggest that attempting a COIN approach to fix these problems must include further commitment from the United States. This assistance could come in the way of more training and funds like the proposed $50 million from the Pentagon’s 2011 budget (Sheridan). Deeper cooperation with Mexico is necessary for the United States not only because it is a neighbor, but also because the United States is gaining vast COIN experience in Iraq and Afghanistan that has the potential to be beneficial in combating drug related crime and violence.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

A Bad Neighbor

Tuesday afternoon two US Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents were traveling on a busy highway between Monterrey and Mexico City when they were fired upon. One of the agents was killed, the other injured. Janet Napolitano, Secretary of Homeland Security, said that the agents were “shot in the line of duty” and that “any act of violence against our ICE personnel… is an attack against all those who serve our nation…”
The Washington Post said that attacks against US law enforcement in Mexico are rare. But I think we’ve all noted the sheer magnitude of violence emanating from the budding Mexican Drug State.

From just this month:

Sure, Mexico is a little ticked that US Undersecretary of the Army Joseph Westphal made a comment calling the violence associated with Mexico’s drug cartels a form of insurgency. But the association is, in my mind, legitimate.
The question is what can and/or should be done about the situation. Certainly violence spilling over into California, Arizona, New Mexico and Texas from northern Mexico is fathomable. Is this a crime issue, is it a defense issue? Is it both?
Westphal also suggested the possibility of the US sending troops over the border to prevent cartels from taking over Mexico. Of course, everyone quickly distanced themselves from Westphal off-the-cuff remarks. Still, the suggestion hangs in the air and every time I read another story of beheadings, or shootings, or bombs in Mexico I wonder how far, how bad, the situation has to be before action is taken?
I believe it would be unwise to send in the Army to sort out Mexico’s drug problem, but the situation is clearly out-of-hand. No matter what Hillary says about President Calderon taking on the traffickers and corruption issues there is little evidence that either problem has been satisfactorily tackled. 
Something needs to be done, by someone. But no one really knows what, or by whom.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Oh, those weapons of mass effect....

While we haven't talked too much about the coast guard and Customs & Border Protection lately, it appears they've been pretty busy protecting us against weapons of 'mass effect'. Or, at least, telling us about the people who have been.

A few days ago, San Diego’s local 10 News ran an interview with the San Diego assistant port director, Mr Hallor, (who is also a CBP officer) on the exact nature of the work CBP does. It seems they got a lot more than they had initially expected though...

About halfway through the interview, 10News's Mitch Blacher asked the officer if they'd found anything dangerous, including chemical/biological/radiological weapons. And then....

"You ever found one?" asked Blacher with a boyish secrecy, referring to WMDs.

If you check out the video link, you then see assistant port director closes his eyes as the reporter again asks him once again if weapons have ever been found in San Diego . Finally, around 1:25 a public affairs officer steps in and advises him.

"Not at this location," Hallor said.

"But they have found them?" asked Blacher.

"Yes," said Hallor.

"You never found one in San Diego though?" Blacher asked.

"I would say at the port of San Diego we have not," Hallor said.

The interview is halted before Hallor was able to answer any further questions.
Customs and Border Protection later (23 days later) said in a statement it had "not specifically had any incidents with nuclear devices or nuclear materials at our ports of entry." Hallor also noted in the interview that in this fiscal year, CBP had not found anything. Oh, how important phrasing can be!

While 100 per cent of the cargo that is on passenger aircraft headed the United States must be screened by the end of this year, we are nowhere near these numbers for incoming shipping containers or cars.

Is it more comforting to know that these things are found (or, not found), and naught a word is spoken about them? The Daily Mail, of course, thinks we've got a massive government cover-up on our hands. I think, for sure, we've got a massive learning experience on our hands... but what do we do? Do we devote more efforts to scanning incoming cargo (at a cost of 18 million dollars per cargo scanner) , put more responsibility on other nations to scan outgoing cargo, or just hope the media never finds out about these things?

Friday, February 04, 2011

Pakistan Shmakistan

When talking about options for Afghanistan, you can't forget Pakistan. As everyone knows, the level of security in Afghanistan is dependent on the level of security in Pakistan, a political conundrum that has been plaguing policy officials for years. The U.S. has gone to great lengths to acquire Pakistani cooperation in denying safe havens to those who are fighting coalition forces in Afghanistan, but to this day the AfPak border is still more a jurisdictional concept than an effective barrier to insurgents. Senior policy officials, from the White House to the Joint Chiefs of Staff, are all united in involving Pakistan in a way that will hasten the withdrawal of coalition forces. Clearly, there is no victory in Afghanistan without securing Pakistan as well.

Oh wait, maybe not. Lieutenant General David Rodriguez, the second-most senior commander in Afghanistan, recently claimed that U.S. and NATO "could succeed in the war even if Pakistan refused to shut down [its] lawless frontier sanctuary that militants use for staging attacks on forces across the border." Rodriguez is the one in charge of the "day-to-day fighting in Afghanistan" so I'm compelled to hear him out. He points out that because Taliban forces sustained such heavy losses this past year, they will more likely shift their focus of attack from military forces to public officials. Such a diminished force would probably be unable to pose a significant military challenge. In short, if Pakistan doesn't want to help, that's fine.

General Rodriguez's comments also highlight the unintended benefit of Pakistan's inability to secure the tribal regions: drones are better at finding insurgents when they are concentrated in one place. North Waziristan may be a lawless safe haven for insurgents, but "safe" may not be a good word for it, since U.S. drone strikes are becoming more frequent there. Few people would characterize the daily chance of fiery death from above as "safe."

Furthermore, clashes between Afghan and Pakistani security forces have increased due to accusations that both sides are corrupt and are allowing insurgents to cross the border unhindered. Just two days ago, a firefight (including MORTARS) broke out along the border that resulted in the death of a Pakistani soldier. Both sides blame the other for shooting first.

I have a kooky idea: if you're guarding the border, guard the freaking border. Don't guard the other guards. See this video for more on guards.

What do YOU think, dear reader? Is victory in Af dependent on Pak?