Looking Back on 2011


01/14/2012 by Robbin Laird

2011 was the first full year of the publication of Second Line of Defense with the core team fully operational.  The year saw more than 800 postings, the publication of three new books, and the publication of additional issues of our French magazine.

The year also saw the launch of our new companion website Second Line of Defense Forum with Ed Timperlake as the site editor.  This site is interactive and is dedicated to informing, shaping and discussing the key issues surrounding a single challenge or event.  We ended the year with the Forum focusing on the Future of Air Power with the picture of Billy Mitchell reminding us of the challenge of getting airpower right for the era in which we live.


Looking back at Second Line of Defense activities for 2011. Image Credit: Bigstock

The website and its publishing activities have been dedicated to letting the warfighters and the security practitioners be the focus of attention, rather than the musing of cubical commandos.  The notion is a simple one; by going to the sources one is likely to get a better idea of the art of the possible and prospects for the future, rather than simply musing from one’s cubical.

We have had a very good year indeed with regard to this mission.

First, we have had many interviews with the USCG which have laid out how they do what they do and what could be added to allow them to continue to do a first rate job.

We interviewed the two senior USCG officials who divide the world operationally between them, namely Vice Admiral Manson Brown in the Pacific and Vice Admiral Parker for the Atlantic.  We had many other interviews throughout the year with senior USCG officers and in these interviews the key role of the USCG in providing for U.S. and allied security has been identified and discussed.

We had a special focus on the National Security Cutter because of its centrality to evolving USCG capabilities and Missions.  We consolidated several of these interviews into a Special Report.


Second, the Libyan operations brought into focus the key role of the seabase as part of current operations and providing a glimpse of the future.  We interviewed key players of the USN-USMC team involved in the operations as well as analyzing the key role of the TRAP mission in pulling the F-15 pilot out of Libya and avoiding negative consequences.

We interviewed as well senior French officials about the operations and compared and contrasted their approach with that of the USN-USMC team to shape some lessons learned about the role of the sea base.

Third, we wrote extensively on the evolution of the Amphibious Ready Group which we have renamed the Agile Response Group.  Preparations for the post-Afghan military are presaged in the evolution of the ARG and its roles.

We published a special report on the newly enabled ARG but have looked as well at the impact of the new systems enabling the ARG, notably the Osprey and the F-35B.  Our moniker is that “no platform fights alone” and that we should examine the role of new platforms in their operational contexts to understand the impact of that platform.


Fourth, we started a series on the future of power projection, which we believe is at the heart of re-casting the U.S. military in the post-Afghan environment.  For us, Black Swans have driven power projection requirements and as such underscore the need to shape an agile force structure for the future.

The articles written throughout the year culminated in shaping a new Pacific strategy built around a new approach to allies and the crafting of a scalable force deployed as a honeycomb over the Pacific.  We published a Special Report on this subject as well.


Fifth, we provided what we believe are some of the finest analyses of the forward development of air combat systems.  With the key contributions of Secretary Wynne, Lt. General (Retired) Dave Deptula, Professor Mark Lewis, the Honorable Bill Anderson and the Honorable Ed Timperlake, the evolution of manned systems and their tool sets have been identified and analyzed.  We have analyzed space systems in the evolving air operational environment as well.

Secretary Wynne challenged the conventional wisdom on virtually everything during the year.  Starting with underscoring that the role of large ISR aircraft will be supplanted by fifth generation aircraft through the role of Rover to the role of the new F-35As in South Korea, Secretary Wynne continued to inform the public at a very high level about the possibilities of change inherent in the new technologies.







Lt. General (retired) Deptula continued to press the case for a more innovative approach to ISR in the USAF and beyond.  For Deptula, continuing the practices of the past makes little sense and new systems and approaches are needed, notably in the less permissive air combat environment of the near future.  And he provided us with many insights with regard to the evolution of the PRC air capabilities as well.








Professor Lewis underscored the need to evolve the weapons enterprise.  Why are we going to use third and fourth generation weapons on fifth generation aircraft?  And the coming role of hypersonic systems has been a constant theme of Lewis’s contributions to the website.



The Honorable Bill Anderson provided regular insights with regard to how airpower could be better supported and re-shaped.  And he reminded us of the importance of proactive leadership, rather than simply inheriting resources and running in place.





Ed Timperlake led the way on the analyses of the F-35B.  For Timperlake, the F-35B is a revolutionary combat system useful for much more than launches from amphibious ships.  The F-35C is a niche system; the F-35B is not. He has underscored the crucial role in providing for basing flexibility and the diversification of core combat capabilities.









He has also provided significant insight into the importance of the LAS competition in the USAF and the importance of getting new aircraft appropriate to Afghan operations into the Afghan warfighter significantly before the departure of US forces.





We had significant coverage of maritime systems and security beyond the discussion of the ARG.  We looked at the LCS and how it might be used as the USN evolves its con-ops for 21st century operations.  We had an exclusive interview with the CNO on this subject as well as looking at the intersection between the ARG and the LCS.  We also looked at the challenge of choke points in maritime trade and ways to deal with this threat.

And with our partnership with the Danish Firm, Risk Intelligence, we published several pieces on piracy and how to deal with the piracy challenges worldwide.  We now offer the possibility of buying the most recent issues of their publication, Strategic Insights, so that readers are updated on a regular basis on maritime security issues.


Francis Tusa provided throughout the year his insights on the evolution of European defense policies and capabilities.  We now offer the possibility of reading his insights on a monthly basis for U.S. readers by buying the current or past issues directly on our site. Most recently, Tusa provided an overview on the Franco-German relationship that suggests that Harald Malmgren’s concerns about the security impact of the Euro crisis are right on target.


We significantly expanded on geo-political coverage due to the significant contributions of Richard Weitz and Harald Malmgren.  We provide significant coverage of the Arctic, Russia, the Arab Spring, Iraq 2012, Afghanistan, Israel, Syria, and Turkey.

The Arctic is a key area of concern and opportunity.  We have expressed frequently our concern that this area is of so little interest to the Administration, except verbally.  The Arctic 5 controls 80% of the known Arctic resources, yet the U.S. is the only one of the five with no significant commitment to resourcing its stake.

The Arab Spring has brought disarray, hope but certainly not democracy to the region.  What will happen next in a year ahead in which both Europe and the US are pre-occupied with other things will be a topic of discussion on the website this year.

Turkey has become a country seeking to stake out a much greater role for itself in the period ahead.  Richard Weitz and Franck Znaty have provided significant insight into the evolution of the role of Turkey and its impacts.  We produced a Special Report, which contained some of these articles.


Russia is of growing significance in the context of the Euro crisis, and the American self-preoccupation. Russia through its energy and arms transfer policies is re-building its global role.  We published a Special Report on Russia but encourage leaders to read of Dr. Weitz’s commentary on the website on Russia.


We have provided for some time our coverage of Iraq 2012.  The Iraq dynamic and any power vacuums within the country will prove significant as Iran spreads its wings and the Arab Spring continues.

We have written extensively about Pakistan and Afghanistan.  Looking forward to 2012 one wonders about the viability of the Western mission in Afghanistan and how best to wrap it up.

Dr. Malmgren provided regular analysis of the evolving Euro crisis and its impact.  Clearly, in 2012 with elections on their way in Europe in the midst of the Euro crisis, the impact of this crisis on European defense and security strategies will be significant.  For Malmgren, the Euro crisis is not simply a currency challenge, but rooted in the heart of the evolution of Europe in the period ahead.  Is the building of a larger Europe through events of the 1990s about to be reversed?


Malmgren and Laird are collaborating in 2012 in producing The Gray Swan Report tm, which will provide a monthly look at possible and plausible global events and their regional or global impacts.

Visits by SLD principals, to Korea, Taiwan, Turkey, Israel, and various parts of Europe have been drawn upon to expand our geopolitical coverage as well.  The dynamics of change globally makes one wonder why so many strategists Inside the Beltway have no sense of urgency in rebuilding US capabilities intersected with those of our allies.

The Chicken Little school of strategy evident to many practitioners Inside the Beltway is not supported here.  We believe that leveraging the new systems ready to be built now can permit the U.S. and its allies to move ahead smartly and craft effective global capabilities.  But this will not happen if one simply keeps maintaining the old and upgrading the old, as Secretary Wynne has noted with regard to current USAF thinking.

The books published this year underscore the opportunities of moving forward even within constrained budgets.


Re-Norming Airpower provides an overview of how the 5th generation aircraft can be leveraged to shape new strategic opportunities for the evolution of US and allied combat power.

21st Century Air Capabilities looks at how new systems are central to crafting significantly more effective capabilities.

And the newly published F-35 Maintenance Revolution provides a foundation look at how maintenance is built into the F-35 combat system and what difference it makes.

A key difference is that the commonality across the F-35 enterprise allows the airplane to be looked at as a fleet, not a single combat aircraft.  A Pacific fleet of F-35s could see the U.S. deploy a minority of the aircraft, as allies build out capability, link that capability to one another and shape hubs of support throughout the region.

We have interviewed many of the players who are testing, using, and developing the F-35.  We went to Pax River, to Cherry Point, to Yuma Air Station, to San Diego, to Norfolk, aboard the USS Wasps and all with the purpose of discussing with the users their evaluation of the evolution of the F-35.

It was a very interesting and significant year.  We ended the year with the very good news of the Japanese downselect of the F-35, which moves the building of a new Pacific strategy forward.

The year ended much better than it ended.  Late last year we lost our friend Jack Wheeler.  Jack was a tireless defender of the warfighter and a person who understood that policymakers seeking 80% solutions and focused on the immediate day ahead were not serving the country, just their own reputations.  As such, he argued for the need to arm the warfighter of today with the means to fight the wars of tomorrow, because as President Obama discovered in Libya, tomorrow is never very far away.