Seam Warfare, Exercises and Deterrence


During my visit to Honolulu to visit PACAF and MARFORCOM in August 2021, I had a chance to discuss how U.S. forces are shaping a way ahead for Pacific defense.

Ed Timperlake and I are finishing our book entitled Maritime Kill Webs, 21st Century Warfighting and Deterrence which highlights the template we see being shaped by U.S. forces for full spectrum crisis management, up to and including the high-end fight. Our book is based on a wide range of interviews over the past decade with U.S. and allied forces and how they are shaping the new template based upon which enhanced warfighting capabilities with credible deterrence options can be built out in the future.

At the heart of this capability is shaping a distributed integrated force in which the Navy’s approach to distributed maritime operations flows into the USAF’s agile combat deployment approach with the innovations which the USMC and USCG are in throes of implementing.

Effective crisis management requires escalation control ranging from HADR operations through gray zone conflict to higher levels of lethal combat.

A core challenge to be met is what one might call the ability to conduct effective seam warfare, namely through working with partners and allies to reduce the seams left open in either Pacific or European defense which the authoritarian powers can exploit.

I discussed this approach during my visits, and in one session with MARFORPAC future operations planners we discussed how exercises are a key part of shaping the force going forward both for the United States and partners and allies. That session was a discussion with Dr. Dave Hudspeth and Mr. Juan Zapata, G-35 Future Operations Planners.

After discussing at length the impact of the PRC military buildup and engagement politically and economically in the Pacific, we focused on the role which exercises are playing in shaping a way ahead.

In part, shaping ongoing exercises allows a meshing of U.S. capabilities and commitments with those of partners and allies.

In my own view, the USMC in the Pacific is a key linchpin between the USAF and the U.S. Navy, and a player which can deliver integrated combat force to a seam in times of crisis.

What emerged from the discussion was a renewed focus on innovative exercises which built off the operations of competitors in the region and which drove innovative approaches with regard to shaping more effective joint and coalition operations.

INDOPACOM and the Marines are not focusing on what one participant called “wash and rinse” repetitive exercises, but instead focusing on expanding both the number of like-minded international participants in each exercise and the exercise objectives themselves to create more realistic and innovative deterrence approaches that measurably change how peer competitors are operating.

The goal is to generate concepts of operations which present challenges to those adversaries in terms of seams which they would have difficultly closing in a crisis or more extended conflict.

The goal is to be able to place the right combat capability at the right place at the right time to deliver the desired combat or crisis management effect.

A key element for shaping the way ahead is to ensure that sensor clusters are operational in key areas to allow for the kill web deliver of the right weapons at the right time to deliver the desired effect.

As one participant put it: “We need to look beyond traditional military measures of performance in exercises – such as number of sorties flown – to understanding how we are actually impacting the operational environment.”

This means that working exercises is about to determining how to shape the right capability to work outcomes desired in terms of crisis or extended conflict.

Training and exercises are becoming core weapons. The challenge is to determine how best to do so from the standpoint of both the joint force and coalition partners and allies.

And those determinations are not always going to be the same.

The aperture has been opened with regard to shaping a way ahead for innovations in Pacific defense and the introduction of new capabilities in the near to mid-term will be evaluated in terms of how these capabilities will be evaluated in terms of how the force can operate more effectively in influencing the operational environment.