The Few, the Proud: The American Defenders


7/10/12: by Michael W. Wynne

21st Secretary of the USAF

In his new Book, The Price of Civilization, Jeffrey Sachs decries the cost of defense; assuming that it is not his role to evaluate how America achieved its freedoms; simply accepting that the world will permit its continuation.

Although Robert Kagan, in his new book, The World America Made, warns Americans that considering large-scale military spending cuts that are presently being considered in the great ‘Sequester’ debate is in fact the opposite of preemptive war.  It is preemptive super power suicide.

In a forthcoming book The Revenge of Geography, Robert Kaplan assesses the future friction that has the potential for shaping the 21st Century and beyond.  His book has been foreshadowed by a piece in the May/June Foreign Policy Journal.

These are but three of the thought provoking inputs to the continuing debate on the American defense future.

‘How far ahead do we need to be?’ is an oft-heard phrase in the business of Defense. We often pretend that we are ahead of peer competitors, and thus can bridge over all investments.  We too often take shelter behind our ocean border in case we miss assess the capability of a determined enemy.

The cost of a first rate defense is not cheap; the cost for a second rate defense is potentially our freedoms. This is the essence of asymmetry in outcomes. Credit Image: Bigstock

I use the phrase pretend because as we assess our tactical advantage in the present engagement of our forces in Afghanistan; it results in our soldiers being killed. Admittedly not in large numbers, but in sufficient numbers that we are considering a change in tactics, we have beefed up our revetments, and seldom venture out unless we have cover from unmanned aerial vehicles.

We can do this because America has Air Dominance in the Afghan skies.

If we assess our strategic advantage in naval or maritime forces; we see ourselves positioning our vulnerable carriers further and further from contested land; and watching competitor submarines surfacing literally within torpedo distances of them anyway.

In the same way; our air forces were assessed to be generations ahead of any competitor; only to have one of our peer competitors literally fly over the head of the very Secretary of Defense with a ‘secret’ aircraft that he had described as them not having.

In space, we destroyed a satellite in orbit in the mid 80’s; and have held that position of strength and dominance for many years; except that a peer competitor reminded us that they too can shoot down a satellite and did so in 2007. This resulted in a ‘me too’ American satellite shoot down in 2008.

Now, our forces regularly exercise with a ‘day without space’; but the era of American Dominance is clearly over.  In the Cyber Domain, we lived ‘in the dark, simply telling ourselves that we didn’t have a problem, until a recruiting ad for the Air Force (still available on U Tube) stated that the Pentagon was attacked 30,000 times a day.

This drew rebukes from the nations’ leadership, and yawns from our competitors; who now attack so often, it is measured in minutes, instead of days.

So, is it ‘How far ahead are we?’ or as spoken by Clint Eastwood, ‘Do you feel lucky?’

The cost of a first rate defense is not cheap; the cost for a second rate defense is potentially our freedoms. This is the essence of asymmetry in outcomes.

The founders wrote:

We the people of the United States of America in order to form a more perfect union established justice and insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare end secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterities do ordain and establish this constitution for the United States of America.

We find ourselves enmeshed into the budget and deficit debate thrust there by a former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, who said the number one enemy of America is the deficit.

The political establishment, who set about examining every dollar spent of defense, and found it wanting, welcomed this interesting foray into economics by the Chairman.

Randy Forbes (R-VA) came to the defense of defense when he wrote just after “As a percentage of our gross domestic product, the defense budget remains just 3.6 percent. This figure is low by all historical standards.” After some debate as to how this was calculated, it was judged mostly true in the blogosphere.

The confusion came from the amount being spent of the then two engagements; as well as the amount needed to maintain our efforts in the region.

Looking forward, Representative Forbes is even more prescient as to maintain our ‘Super Power’ status that Robert Kaplan writes about that shaped the world as we know it today cannot be done at historic lows.

But historic lows have already have begun to shape our planning and out strategies.

For while the Planners and Strategists maintain that they are doing their tasks absent budget inputs, this is simply not credible. We have gone from a two war winning strategy through a series of step backs to rapid defeat; to the present plan for a single war scenario,

All of this begs key strategic questions: Are we reducing our requirements to our downward force structure cycle?  Are we re-defining the threats by what we can cope with or put bluntly we will reduce the threats to our concept of what we can handle?

That being said, the Military Planners announced the now famous ‘Pivot towards Asia’ and commenced stretching our forces across the tyranny of the Pacific.

China started on the Port at Gwadar, Pakistan to ensure Oil Transits have a redundant path than through the Straits of Malacca.

Evidently they have been to the Yushukan War Museum in Tokyo.

Clearly, the Revenge of Geography is on their minds.

It is also on the minds of the Military operators who foresee a struggle maintaining American influence in the South Pacific as the Chinese and Philippines standoff over some desolate islands, and the Japanese and Chinese openly discuss other islands.

The friction over resources, even potential ones, is shaping the future even beyond Kaplan’s prediction.

So, we see greater cooperation with Japan over the basing at Okinawa; and a strengthened partnership with the Australians on their northern coast as the US Marines establish a base.  The Australian Defense Minister set a tone in his defense strategy, warning of the waning influence of the United States; as the push for austerity.

No sooner had this been published, and much discussed that the policy makers in America began to rethink partnering.

The Marines are redesigning their force structure to come from the sea in a strike force; and are accelerating their vision for Air Assault beyond the current boundaries; and if employed in such a manner will require almost immediate support from either joint partners or coalition partners.

The Marine Corps is doing what it can do.  And they are working hard to add assets such as the F-35B to do more with less.

The USAF plays a unique role in providing global reach and strike for the U.S. and its coalition partners. But what is its future and the fate of the nation? Credit Image: Bigstock

But policy makers are not focusing on a rapid strengthening of the part of the defense enterprise that has long provided the President concepts of deterrence that made a difference post World War Two; that is the reach of the United States Air Force.

Even as the pressure rose to stop the production of the initial fifth generation fighter, the Japanese and the Australians inquired as to whether they might extend the line and position dome F-22’s on their territory.  Though deemed not a value for the American Air Force; they were also deemed too good for export to our allies.

Both were advised to pursue the Joint Strike Fighter, the F-35 as it is intrinsically designed for the coalition marketplace.   But each time these partners here that the United States has pushed out or cutback on the production; they have asked if they could advance their order.  In fact, one could argue that the concern of allies with the situation in the Pacific or the Norwegians in the Arctic is driving F-35 acquisition more rapidly than concern with enhancing the USAF’s ability to provide for global reach and global strike.

What is going on here?

According to Robert Sanger and his recent book Conceal and Confront.  the plan is to do less with less and partner more often. He indicates that as of the 2012 Budget process, the Defense Leadership was directed to scale back their appetite for budget.

Of course that type of direction is confusing without specifics; and the specifics seem to highlight Special Operations Command, and the deterrent forces, with a pronounced reduction in what we have come to see as occupation forces.

This would seem a recipe for accelerating the game changing coalition platform – the F-35; and testing it at exercises such as ‘Red Flag’ to construct a deterrent package. and to be prepared to build a very capable package for either the offensive enterprise; or the defensive enterprise.  Indeed, the F-35 as a U.S. and allied force could be used to craft a new approach to a strike and defense enterprise.

But this will not happen quickly by choking off or further delaying the program.  This indeed seems counterproductive to the intent of that Presidential budget directive.

It is easier to build coalitions when they are confident of their capabilities.

From the perspective of our program partners, this is the essence of coalition warfare.  They are as well being educated into the integration aspects among forces.  This has become a corollary to the then CNO Admiral Mullen’s call for a thousand ship Navy; though now reborn as a combined Air Force.

The F-35, especially with the emergence of the J-20 as a part of the Chinese Air Force Inventory, now stands as the single prospective platform that at once integrates the many partners via fused situation awareness; and has the right characteristics to be a coalition front line penetrator, and reconnaissance platform in the face of a fearsome integrated anti access systems.

Our partner nations have been as well aware of the ability of the F-35 to integrate into other fire control systems; and are beginning to feel quite good about being able to call on their Army and Navy elements to provide truly joint warfare.

The Turkish Air Force just lost a reconnaissance airplane to a Syrian Missile.  They are as well partners in the F-35 program and this incident should encourage them to contend as well for any available slots that the Americans forfeit due to hand wringing and budget cuts.

This is the push into open warfare, as the Turks contemplate a proper response.

One thing is for certain; it brings home the point that the only thing more expensive than a first rate Air Force is a second rate Air Force,

With reticence to engage the Syrians fraught with International Politics, in this interwar period; what will be the trigger mechanism. A multipolar world seems many times more volatile, and as in 1912 and 1913, it will depend on honoring or not overlapping treaty obligations.

One question that stands with the Military Operator, who wondered aloud about the capability of the Libyan Anti access missiles; and now is confronted with recent Russian developed 3-digit Surface to Air Missiles; what is the plan?

According to Bill Gertz, writing in the Washington Free Beacon, a 2009 cable from the U.S. Embassy Moscow said Russia in May 2009 outlined its policy toward the Arctic for 2020 and beyond, and said Moscow adopted a “cold peace” policy against Europe and the United States. It stated that the region will be used for strategic resources and that Moscow is seeking to claim exclusive control over an emerging northern sea route passage.

“The Arctic region, both within Russia’s legally clarified borders and in areas beyond, likely holds vast untapped resources of oil and gas,” the cable states. “While many Russian analysts are skeptical that any of these resources will be economically exploitable in the near future, the Russian leadership wants to secure sovereignty over these ‘strategic’ resources.”

Further, as part of the arctic military expansion, Russia announced May 30 it was re-opening arctic air bases that had been closed after the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991.

Now we have intercepts once again across the Arctic space as Russian Aircraft, some with cruise missiles attached probe our alertness.

How long do the Americans push off the very weapons platforms that are designed for scenarios such as this, coalitions built with integrated SAMs; and long range deterrence in mind.

NATO with many of the waiting F-35 partners knows fully well the vulnerability of their fighters; and are undoubtedly comparing notes with their Turkish brethren as to how, what, and circumstances in which threats evolve and challenges proliferate along with the weapons underwriting those threats.

In response to these demands by our program partners, is now the time to drop the pretense of cost growth and truly increase the volume of production to match already paid tooling.

Will the interwar period alarms sound shriller than the cries of dead airman?

There is much to be learned as this flying combat system is exercised not as a fighter, and not as a sensor; but as a combat controller as well.  Using a crisis to breakout of the bureaucracy may be just the ticket to allow our warfighters and those of our partners to shine.

In the age of reducing our forces; moving as quickly into coalition building to allow true learning to occur may offset greatly the fact of reduced numbers available.

Bringing joint and integrated warfighting concepts may be just the ticket for the few, the proud: the defenders of America.