The Strategic Whiteboard


9/15/2011 by Robbin Laird

The Second Line of Defense team is starting a series, which we will call the strategic whiteboard.  By leveraging the new systems being designed and built today, and building upon the capabilities of these new systems, America can have a better defense at less cost.  This needs to be coupled with re-sizing the Afghan engagement to reflect strategic and budgetary realities.

We are beginning with a piece by Secretary Wynne on the building an agile Army structure.  Secretary Wynne is a graduate of West Point, has been involved with many weapons systems and their development, including the M-1 tank, was instrumental in introducing the ROVER system to support the ground forces with air power at AT and L and, of course, was the 21st Secretary of the USAF.

What are the key approaches and capabilities to build upon in a strategic transition? Credit: Bigstock

We will be starting on the companion website later this month a comprehensive look at shaping an affordable and prioritized strategy for the next decade.  The current forum is looking at the future of airpower.

Some Initial Thoughts

We are at a strategic turning point.  The wars of the last decade will be considered either as the template for the future, an historical aberration like Algeria or Vietnam to be forgotten, or as providing elements for shaping the next decade’s military paradigm, or not.

In any case, the current situation is muddled with little or no strategic thinking animating the conversation.  We need a strategy that is affordable and doable.

Shape an agile force structure with sustainability capability.

Rather than simply downsized a skewed force structure – the current approach – the US needs to re-shape its forces for greater agility.  This means largely that we need to re-build and to restructure of power projection forces. The Army is far too large, needs to be downsized and made more agile.

Massive defense budget cuts across the board for deficit or anti-military reasons will leave the US and its allies exposed to significant threats in this decade.

The US military is reaching a USCG moment – enough capability to surge to a problem, but nothing more.  When the Gulf Oil crisis hit, every oil spill expert was recruited to deploy and nothing was left.

No platform fights alone.

The current reality is that IOC costs of platforms and single point of debate on platforms will radically undercut national capability.  The point is best value strategically relevant platforms, relevant to the national interest.

The F-35 is the current poster child of the platform centric lobby to dismantle America.  The F-35 as its stands is the glue to hold the power projection forces together.

Leverage the new platforms, shape a new con-ops and provide jobs and exports for Americans.

The new platforms are ready now – F-35s, LCSs, NSCs, etc – and need to built in numbers to provide capability and jobs.  We can leverage the new to modernize older assets, which can be key players in the decade ahead, and this would include the needed modernization of the F-22.

Because airpower is the essential lynchpin of evolving power projection capabilities, don’t confuse unmanned systems with the future of airpower.  “Unmanned” systems are part of the future of airpower; they are NOT the future of airpower.

Rather than a key element of the future it would be wise to grasp that UAS have not been tested in a contested air combat environment nor their accident rate really discussed.

If someone figures out what happens when Cyber Warriors fight UAS Drivers then maybe it will be time for some speculation. But early hard budgeting decisions to substitute reliance on UAS as a direct trade off for fighter pilots is yet to be validated in a demanding combat environment.

UAS primacy advocates have yet to produce a robust test in which the entire mission profile for a UAS was pitted against dedicated Cyber Warriors. A cyber team that was allowed to employ all of their techniques available-from jamming, spoofing, malware, denial of service, Trojans, backdoors, viruses, worms and even finding a deliberate saboteur (there are some evolving CI programs that look for such action) think PFC Manning and Wiki-leaks).

Additionally, UAS accident rates have not been addressed. As Col. (retired) Bill Buckey, a Marine F/A-18 Combat Pilot, LSO and the officer who directed the surge build out at Kandahar Afghanistan  points out; “The accident rate for UAS ops at Kandahar was noticeable and that harsh environment is less demanding than a pitching Carrier Deck–an operational environment that includes CV ops is as of yet uncharted territory for UAVs.”

Harvest the Best and Leave the Rest from the Past Decade

Look hard at the past decade and take those elements of experience and innovation relevant to the decade ahead, not simply mindlessly downsize and cut along the lines of WHAT WE HAVE NOW.

A core example is the revolution in air dropping and its relevance to the evolution of the ARG.  The newly enabled ARG provides significant innovation and capabilities in the decade ahead; conjoined with the USAF’s revolution in air dropping, the US will have new strategic capabilities for modest investments.

Shape an effective Pacific strategy.

The Pacific runs from an arc from the Arctic to Australia.  This is the defining arc fro the next decade.  The US and its allies and partners need to shape effective defense and security capabilities.  The US approach can be built around interactive enduring presence assets networked with those of allies.

The F-35-Aegis tandem is a central pillar to build such capabilities, along with the newly enable ARG and the deployment of LCSs and NSCs by the Navy-Coast Guard team.

Coalition partners matter.

We can not meet our own security and defense priorities alone. Period. Yet to lead or support partners or allies requires real capability, not briefing slides.

We have the most powerful coalition tools staring at us in the face – F-35 and Aegis yet there is no focus on supporting the global integration of these key EXPORT elements for US policy.  This is a strategic failure of the first magnitude.

Other examples such as the 12th Air Force and the Dominican Republic underscore ways to shape ISR grids populated with OTHER nation’s assets.  If we had not raised this issue, there would have been ZERO focus on it.

Libya has several good elements of coalition building within it, which could be highlighted and drawn upon, whilst other things can be criticized.  A key element was the use by the US and France of multiple basing at sea and at land and using logistics tools and techniques to tie together and strike force.

Declare a Moratorium on New Platforms in this Decade

The opponents of modernizing the US military are using briefing slides to deter investments in real platforms.  The next generation anything is being used to deflect the reality of the condition of US power projection forces and their future.  Future unmanned systems with extraordinary capabilities are being used by policy makers to argue against the F-35, and the modernization of the F-22 is nowhere to be found.

Investments in R and D are crucial but this decade can be devoted to building the platforms we are ready to build now and harvesting the connectivity among those platforms to shape the decade after next.

For example, there is little focus on leveraging 5th generation aircraft.  The approaches Wynne and Deptula have taken could be guides for the decade ahead; AFTER you have deployed and are modernizing these aircraft, you can be better informed about what REALLY will help the warfighters prevail in new systems in the decade after next.

Come to grips with Afghanistan.

Afghanistan is not a model for the future.  The security forces we are training can not be paid for from the Afghan economy.  A core principle is to not deploy trainers to any economy that has no prospect of supporting those trainers in the future.

When the US leaves, the core economy will sustain what for security?