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Full Spectrum ASW

During the Cold War, the US Navy (particularly the submarine force) force specialized in, and excelled at Antisubmarine Warfare (ASW) against the Soviet Union. But with the demise of the Soviet Union, ASW was put on the back-burner as an activity irrelevant to modern warfare. Over a decade passed before submarines would again be considered a serious threat to national security. Over the course of that time the nature of the submarine threat changed, so when the Navy “rediscovered” ASW, it learned that traditional, sensor-based methods of fighting against submarines, while important, could no longer assure victory. To respond to this new threat, while head of doctrine and requirements for Fleet ASW Command, in 2005 I conceived a new approach, one that became known as “Full Spectrum ASW.”

The 2010 sinking of a South Korean corvette by an antiquated, supposedly obsolete North Korean submarine demonstrated one inarguable fact: that on any given day, any given submarine, no matter how crude or unsophisticated, can sink nearly any given surface ship.  This is something that most navies understand.  The problem is that because finding a submarine is so hard– sometimes nearly impossible– people have long assumed that defeating the submarine is equally difficult.

But modern methods have deconstructed this perception.  The “Rim of the Pacific” (RIMPAC) exercise in 2004 became a pivotal event in my development as an ASW theorist.  During that exercise, a remarkable thing was happening.  ASW forces were achieving small victories in their battles against submarines.  They just didn’t know it, because the ASW forces hadn’t actually detected the submarines and therefore couldn’t monitor their reaction.  Many of these successes were transitory, and not knowing that they had just done something that proved effective in their ASW fight, they were not sufficiently informed to realize that to extend their success, they merely had to repeat “that thing that worked without them knowing it worked.”

Similarly, while most of the ASW activity was focused on detecting, localizing, and “destroying” enemy submarines, many of the detection tactics that consumed nearly all of the friendly forces’ ASW effort simply did not work.  Most of the submarines remained undetected.  Yet, friendly forces were still achieving transitory ASW successes against submarines they had not even detected.

In other words, victory could be achieved through serendipity.

So in 2004, the driving question became this:  what if we could convert this serendipity into “effectivity,” and translate these accidental methods into deliberate tactics?

During the Cold War ASW was dominated by the acousticians, but by the 21st Century we had long since passed the point of diminishing returns on the ability to detect quiet submarines acoustically.  Hence, the “sensor uber alles” approach, although still regaled by the Cold Warriors, was no longer affordable nor effective.  We had to find a better way.  And in so doing, it quickly became apparent that it would be helpful to take into consideration a fundamental aspect of submarine operations that most ASW theories tend to ignore:  that submarines are manned by thinking human beings who, just like all other human beings, react to outside stimuli.  And while it was becoming increasingly difficult to detect a submarine, it was also true that the submarine crew usually could not tell whether they had been detected.  In that we found the lynchpin:  it is possible to shape a submarine’s behavior even when it hasn’t been detected.  That realization led to the precepts of Full Spectrum ASW.

The Precepts of Full Spectrum ASW

The fundamental issue at hand was this:  although it’s great fun to detect and destroy an enemy submarine, real ASW is not about detecting the submarine, it’s not about killing the submarine, it’s about defeating the submarine.  This is a nuance, but it’s an important nuance.

For example, you can operate in the vicinity of mines for months without destroying all of them.  All you really need to know is that there are no mines near you, that you have a clear path.  Undetected but irrelevant mines are merely a nuisance.

Well, diesel submarines can be thought of as smart, somewhat mobile, mines.  Most of the ships that find themselves the targets of diesel submarines can easily outrun and out-endure their nemesis.

Further, “defeating” a submarine is significantly easier than “detecting” it.  Detecting any submarine that could be a threat submarine requires a “boil the ocean” level of effort, in both technology and force structure.  To defeat the submarine, all you have to do is render it irrelevant.  Draw it out of firing position.  Cause its fire control solution to be wrong.  Cause it to go after the wrong target.  Render its weapons useless.

People generally think of submarines as having claustrophobic physical environments, and they do, but what they really have is claustrophobicsensory environments.  They are very limited in what they can perceive. Using acoustics, they generally have a maximum detection range of less than 50 miles.  They must be at periscope depth to use optical systems, but detection ranges for optical systems are limited by a very low periscope height of eye, and so are generally less than fifteen miles.  For real long-distance targeting they need intelligence or outside cueing, both of which can be denied to them by other means.

But more to the point, our Cold War remnant, sensor-focused ASW doctrine was causing us to miss many potential opportunities for soft-kill defeat.  Rather than applying our strengths against the enemy’s weaknesses, our Cold War tactics applied our weakness, open ocean detection capability, against the enemy’s strength—stealth.  An “Anti-Sun Tzu” approach.

What we really needed was something our ground forces are good at:  defense-in-depth.  Army combined arms tactics build kill zones, with different zones being serviceable by different types of weapons: air, indirect fire, direct fire, etc.

We needed something that addressed the submarine threat from that point of view, starting before the point where the subs departed their homeport.

We needed—and here’s that word again—a holistic approach.

So our team mapped out “the journey of a submarine,” considering what would be required to defeat the submarine in every phase of its journey, in every environment it transited.  We brainstormed these concepts for weeks, trying to find holes and additional opportunities.

What resulted was a nine-step process that we briefed to each of the numbered fleet commanders, to the Pacific Fleet Commander and to Fleet Forces Command.  A tenth step was added by the Pacific Fleet commander during our murder-board session with him.

This doctrine became known as the “Ten Threads of Full Spectrum ASW.”  Although they are summarized below, the specific solutions for each thread are not— both for reasons of classification, and because I don’t want to stifle innovation by providing what I think is “the right answer.”

The Ten Threads of Full Spectrum ASW

In the years since we had “rediscovered” ASW, Navy leaders throughout the chain of command had heightened the awareness of our ASW challenges by stating publicly, “we suck at ASW.”  This was not helpful.  Every time one of our admirals said this, another country bought a submarine.

The truth was that our ASW skills had atrophied.  The truth was we needed to get better.  But with apologies to Winston Churchill, our ASW skills were the worst in the world, except for all the rest.  We have the best ground force capability in the world, but that does not imply we should stop improving our Army and Marine Corps.  So it is with ASW.

There is a point to be made here.  One of the most effective forms of ASW is to stop the proliferation of submarines.  We have to convince adversaries that submarines are not the solution to their “American problem.”  And the only way we can do that is to tell the truth: that the use of submarines by an adversary might cause some tactical damage to American forces, but that use would cause much more severe strategic damage to the interests of the nation that employs the submarines, and this strategic self-mutilation would outweigh any tactical success that nation would achieve.

This led to the first thread of Full Spectrum ASW:

1. Create conditions where an adversary chooses not to employ submarines

As opposed to using submarines for intelligence-gathering, the decision to employ submarines in combat is a strategic decision.  What we really needed to do was create the conditions where the strategic cost-benefit analysis argued against a nation using submarines.  There are several ways to do this, most of which are not appropriate to discuss in an open forum.

But it’s also important that the submarine crew understand that if they are to go up against the United States in open naval warfare, there is a very high likelihood that they will not survive.  That submarine warfare against the United States is a kamikaze mission.  This is not dogma, it’s the truth.

It means that just as the Army and Marine Corps have demonstrated their lethality and success in land warfare, we must make sure any potential adversary understands the extreme peril they will put their submarine crews in should they choose to employ them— peril that is not counter-balanced by strategic advantage.  That the cost of submarine escalation is not outweighed by any potential benefit gained.  Sadly, this message has not been conveyed effectively to many of our adversaries.

But ASW doctrine needs more than just the deterrent component, there needs to be teeth in the “defeat” components as well:

2. Defeat submarines in port

Obviously, it’s always better to kill the archer (the home port) than the arrow (the submarine), so destroying a submarine before it gets underway, or after it returns to port for resupply, is an obvious required capability. This is also an opportunity to apply one of our current strengths—strike capability—against a weakness of any short-endurance diesel submarine—the need to resupply.

When I initially began to pitch Full Spectrum ASW, some reviewers tried to get me to drop this thread.  I frequently heard the argument, “Thread 2 will not pay any dividends because all of the enemy’s submarines will be underway before the war begins,” to which I would reply, only half joking, “Only if their funding of maintenance is better than ours.”

Thread 2 requires no new force structure, and it has the potential for high payoff, but only if we are postured to execute.  It requires the detection of alternate refueling and maintenance locations, and therefore brings with it a heavy actionable intelligence requirement.

Even if the submarines are underway before the war starts, they probably will not know precisely where to find their American targets absent external direction, which leads to:

3.  Defeat the submarines’ shore-based command and control capability

The ocean is a big place to look for an individual ship or strike group, even when you have a general idea of where a particular operation is taking place, particularly if you’re limited to a speed of ten knots to conserve battery capacity.  If we can deny submarines their non-organic (shore-based) C2 capability, this constraint becomes even more limiting.  Absent external targeting information, most submarines stumble around the ocean semi-blind.  Thread 3 therefore requires the capability to defeat the submarine’s shore-based command and control system.

It requires an ability to interfere with the enemy’s submarine communication systems, interfere with their ability to pass over-the-horizon targeting information to the submarines, and affect the enemy’s decision-making process for selecting the location for operations, even if only locally.

Which leads us to thread 4:

4. Defeat submarines near port, in denied areas

During the Cold War, one of our ASW precepts was that we would deny sanctuary to the Soviet submarine force.  We would go after them deep in their own waters, almost exclusively with our own SSNs. Today we must still maintain the capability to defeat submarines within their defensive perimeter, as they are leaving (or returning to) port.

It’s important to introduce a new concept here: the “vulnerability timeline.”  The vulnerability timeline is the period over which the enemy submarine will be vulnerable to being defeated during any particular thread of Full Spectrum ASW.  Our “design-to” solutions must be able to respond within the vulnerability timeline, otherwise they are rendered useless.   In the case of Thread 4, the vulnerability timeline for submarines leaving port would be on the order of minutes to a very few hours.  So our capability to engage enemy submarines in Thread 4 must possess this kind of responsiveness.  If the submarines do get underway in the early phases of the campaign, this means we will not have a lot of time to prepare the battlespace.  It means we have to be postured to execute Thread 4 in “enemy defensive areas,” even before actual hostilities begin.

Here we must also introduce the notion of “environment-tailoring.”  In short, each Full Spectrum ASW defeat mechanism must be tailored to the specific real-world physical environment in which it is intended to work.  A hypothetical, generic “capabilities-based” ASW solution is neither affordable nor required, because there is a limited number of countries that can actually pose a submarine threat to the United States.

Hence, the solutions we might use for the “defeat near port in denied areas” are very different from the solutions we might use for the next thread of Full Spectrum ASW:

5. Defeat submarines in choke points

In the real world, most adversary submarines have to transit through choke points in order to threaten U.S. forces.  These choke points serve as funneling locations that constrain the area we would need to search.  These choke points are usually not in denied areas.  Hence, less “survivable” solutions can be used to submarines in these areas.

A solution to Thread 5 of Full Spectrum ASW would require both very shallow water detection and a very shallow water attack, and could employ land-based solutions of limited range (the width of the choke point).  The vulnerability timeline for Thread 5 is the time it takes the submarine to transit the choke point, on the order of minutes to a very few hours.

Once the submarine has transited the choke point, then we’re onto Thread 6, a domain where the ASW problem potentially becomes much harder:

6. Defeat submarines in open ocean

Most of our post-Cold War ASW tactics and capability development, and almost all of our money, has gone into solving the Thread 6 ASW problem without context or balance.

Thread 6 is about deep water ASW.  It is where the ASW fight transitions from offense to defense.  It requires the ability to conduct broad area search over vast expanses of ocean. Many of our current capabilities, including SURTASS and Low Frequency Active Acoustic, directly (and only) address Thread 6.

Thread 6 is about defeating the submarines before they get into firing position.  (While thread 6 is transitionary, the purely defensive ASW capability against submarines that are in firing position is factored into Thread 9.)  The vulnerability timeline for Thread 6 is the several hours to the few days required for the submarine to close to firing position.

A robust Thread 6 capability also depends on an effective ability to execute Thread 7:

7.  Draw enemy submarines into ASW “kill boxes,” to a time and place of our choosing

Repeating the theme that it’s very difficult for submerged submarines to separate the good contacts from the bad (absent visual cues), conversely, it’s relatively easy to draw a submarine to the wrong “contact.”  If that “contact” happens to be a trap, even better.  The submarine must be inundated by so many “targets” that it becomes nearly impossible for him to separate the signal from the noise.

Further, if the submarine crew knows that the vast majority of targets they detect with organic sensors will be false targets intended to draw them into kill boxes specifically designed to destroy them, that knowledge will modulate the crew’s behavior in many desirable ways. As with Thread 6, the vulnerability timeline for thread 7 is several hours to a few days.

So while Thread 7 endeavors to draw submarines away from our actual forces, it fits hand in glove with Thread 8:

8. Mask our forces from submarine detection or classification

The more false targets the submarine encounters, the harder it is for the submarine to separate the signal from the noise, and the easier it is to mask the actual targets from detection or classification.  Thread 8 is not about doing the impossible; it’s not about rendering large surface ships acoustically or electromagnetically invisible.  Rather, it is about increasing the fog of war by making the real targets look like anything but a real target.

There isn’t really a vulnerability timeline for Thread 8 because it affects our vulnerability to attack, rather than the enemy’s vulnerability.  Hence, Thread 8 must be a continuous process.

Which leads to Thread 9:

9. Defeat the submarines in close battle

In 2004, most post-Cold War ASW training started at step 9 of a 10-step process.  But we absolutely still need to defeat submarines in close battle—within the submarine’s weapon range.  Thread 9 has a very short vulnerability timeline, from seconds to a few minutes, before the submarine’s fire control solution would support weapon engagement.  Hence, the systems that allow us to defeat a submarine in close battle are very different from the systems that provide us the best capability to defeat submarines in the broad expanses of open ocean.  Thread 9 includes methods to detect (and defeat) submarines as they approach their torpedo launch point.  It also includes the ability to change the rhythm of battle by forcing the submarines react to torpedo attacks, real or imagined.

Which leads us to our last thread of Full Spectrum ASW:

10. Defeat the incoming torpedo

Assuming all the above fail, if a torpedo is launched, we must render it ineffective. As with Thread 9, the vulnerability timeline (this time we’re measuring the vulnerability of the incoming torpedo, not the submarine) is seconds to a very few minutes.

The End-Game

Over the course of first six weeks of 2005, Full Spectrum ASW was briefed roughly thirty times to various Navy leaders. At the time, I worried these concepts would encounter a great deal of resistance.  There were still a lot of unreformed Cold Warriors on active duty, folks who had not spent any time on modern real-world missions and just didn’t understand that the world of submarine warfare had changed significantly since the 1980s.  I understood their perspective because I also deployed on my first missions during the Cold War.

But as it pertained to thoughtful Navy leaders, my fears simply were not justified. Full Spectrum ASW was universally and almost immediately adopted by the 7th, 2nd, 3rd, and 5th Fleet commanders, by Pacific Fleet, and by Fleet Forces Command.  Then in March 2005, it was declared to be Navy doctrine by CNO Admiral Vern Clark.

It was later established as the foundation of the Navy’s Global ASW Concept of Operations, factoring in issues like the roles of various platforms, command and control relationships between ASW commanders, and basic tactics, techniques, and procedures.

In 2007 Fleet ASW Command morphed into the Naval Mine and ASW Command (NMAWC), taking on the mine warfare mission as well.  Following that transition, NMAWC initiated the development of “Full Spectrum Mine Warfare” to mirror Full Spectrum ASW.

Looking back, it’s hard to believe that the initial concepts of Full Spectrum ASW were crafted over a period of three or four days in December 2004, by a team of less than 15 people.  The lesson here is that properly focused, small “red cell” team activity can make a big difference, sometimes even over short periods of time.

Categories
Military Strategy

Preventing a Chinese Ultimatum on Taiwan

First published in the Asian Wall Street Journal following the Taiwan Strait crisis of 1996, this article was intended to argue for a restoration of nuance that was obliterated by Clinton Administration misstatements on the matter of the “One China policy.”
With Taiwan’s presidential election over, the tension between China and Taiwan appears to be easing somewhat. But the Taiwan Strait will remain a potential flash point in the region, and so it is important to consider mainland China’s longer-term strategy for reunification. It is conceivable that, around the year 2001, China will simply set a deadline for Taiwan’s reunification. How might the Chinese leaders envision such a plan, and how would Taiwan, and the world, respond?
Consider the following hypothetical scenario: A few years after the handovers of Hong Kong and Macau, Beijing tells the Taiwanese that they have been patient enough, but can wait only one more year. China points out ot the rest of the world that they—along with Taipei—have acknowledged “one China.” Beijing reassures Taiwan that it prefers a peaceful solution, but also points out that China’s military buildup, begun many years ago, now allows for a military option.
But as any lawyer will tell you, to acknowledge something is not the same thing as to agree with it.
The Chinese would hope that merely by establishing a deadline, they would cause irreversible market pressures on Taiwan. The Taiwan stock market might crash and, facing economic ruin, the image of a prospering Hong Kong would give them comfort. The Chinese will count on this economic effect to force Taipei into serious negotiations. If so, Taiwan may agree to a transition to mainland rule. Under this best-case scenario, the PRC will have achieved the integration of Taiwan without firing a shot.
Both military and political realities affirm the plausibility of such a strategy. China lacks the military muscle for an invasion, as the chairman of the American Joint Chiefs of Staff has recently said. And China hinted recently at its desire to set a timetable for Taiwan’s reunification. Deng Xiaoping’s “one nation two systems” policy for recovery of Hong Kong was designed as a demonstration model for Taiwan’s benefit. So it seems likely that such a plan for a post-1997 unification effort is under consideration to Beijing.
While both China and Taiwan are engaged in an arms race, the Chinese must understand that time is on Taiwan’s side, since Taipei has access to better American technology and because defense is generally easier than offense. If military action is deemed necessary, this perception may argue for early action.
Taiwan’s government is itself contributing to the sense of urgency in Beijing. Until recently, Taipei has not acted in a way that gave the mainland reason to fear that unification would not take place. But over the last few years, Taiwan has become more assertive. Taiwanese leaders have stated in the face of increasing Chinese military posturing that Taiwan won’t “back down.” President Lee Teng-hui recently said, “The existence and development of the Republic of China in Taiwan is a fact. It will not change because of threats or coercion.”
This behavior may, from the Chinese point of view, widen the rift between China and Taiwan—a rift that is supposed to be closing. If the rest of the world begins to return to a pattern of behavior where it treats Taiwan as an independent country, China’s claims to the territory could be nullified forever. Hence, if Taiwan continues to act in this way, China may feel it necessary to act preemptively and close the gap before it solidifies.
So how does the US, the third partner in a triangular relationship with China and Taiwan, fit into such a scenario? The United States has led the world to believe that it adheres to a “one China” policy based on the 1978 Recognition Communique, which stated “the government of the United States of America acknowledges the Chinese position that there is but one China and Taiwan is part of China.”
But as any lawyer will tell you, to acknowledge something is not the same thing as to agree with it. Further, the 1979 Taiwan Relations Act which—unlike the Recognition Communique— carries the weight of law, states that “any effort to determine the future of Taiwan by other than peaceful means including boycotts and embargoes is a threat to the peace and stability of the Western Pacific area and of grave concern to the United States.”
This language was carefully selected to engage the United Nations Charter litany dealing with “actions with respect to threats of peace.” In other words, it was written to justify American military intervention in defense of Taiwan. So, despite the rhetoric, the United States may very well intervene to ameliorate the disruptive effect of a deadline for reunification.
Most People’s Liberation Army leaders know they will lose if the United States enters any war. But American malpractice could still play a role in promoting Chinese militarism. Glyn Davies, spokesman for the US State Department, recently said, “… the future of Taiwan is a matter for the Chinese people themselves on both sides of the Taiwan Strait to resolve.” If the United States leads Chinese leaders to believe that it would not intervene to defend Taiwan, the PLA has even more reason to advocate early military intervention.
How should the US handle this mess? First, it must take care not to demonize the People’s Republic of China. Say what you want about the Chinese, the days when Mao was willing to let millions of his people starve so that he could convert his fiefdom from an agrarian to an industrial society are gone. Moreover, China is rehabilitating itself without a massive American get-well program—a real virtue in today’s world.
Second, the US should avoid reviving the specter of April Glaspie by saying that Taiwan is an issue for the “Chinese to decide.” This position ignores the strategic importance of the island.
Third, the US must keep its policy constructively ambiguous. This ambiguity would not be a ruse, for in fact nobody can say with certainty what the US would do if China attacked or seriously threatened Taiwan. Few believed that the US would lead the world in waging a major war over Kuwait—another country with which it did not have a defense agreement—but it did. The Chinese must not assume that the US won’t intervene on behalf of Taiwan. It would certainly be easy enough—a handful of American submarines could destroy any attempted invasion with minimal risk to American forces.
On the other hand, the Taiwanese have to be made aware that the US won’t rescue them from self-induced crises. The Taiwanese are more likely to act irresponsibly if they believe America will defend them under any and all circumstances. The US must be brutally clear to Taiwan that American will not risk lives and American treasure extricate Taiwan from a situation they got themselves into. This means that the Taiwanese must cease taking action that causes the Chinese to lose face.
The US must refrain from making ill-conceived statements about withdrawing forces from the region. If Beijing feels the US is withdrawing, or is weakening its position, in Asia, it may act precipitously.
In sum, the US and Taiwan must take steps to obviate any Chinese plan to issue a reunification timetable, since once presented, any such deadline could not be withdrawn without great loss of face. The solution is for both to lower the decibel level, return to the modus vivendi, and restore the era of quiet diplomacy.
Categories
Military Strategy

US Military Strategy and China

Letter to the Editor: Washington Post March 25, 1996
As the Navy fellow at the Brookings Institution, I might be expected by The Post to support my Brookings colleagues Mike Mochizuki and Michael OHanlon as they lobby for a naval response in dealing with China [“Slow Motion Crisis,
W Outlook, March 17]. Their proposal is not compelling, for the following reasons:
  • It is inconsistent. If we were to adopt their proposal, articulated elsewhere, to reduce naval force structure to eight aircraft carrier battle groups, we would be unable to execute the naval strategy proposed by Mochizuki/O’Hanlon.
  • They are wrong when they state that only one battalion could be transported from Okinawa to Korea to respond to a crisis there. In fact, almost all the combat Marines stationed in Okinawa would get to this fight quickly— most of them by air.
The authors also recommend we move most of our Okinawa Marines to California. If we were to do so, these Marines would not be able to get to the fight quickly enough to affect the outcome, and with the current shortfall in strategic airlift, might not be able to get there at all.
 
The proposal ignores the larger, strategic picture. Mr. Mochizuki and Mr. O’Hanlon would have us withdraw Marines from Okinawa even as China continues to rattle its saber over Taiwan. Even if you don’t believe that this act would be destabilizing, it would be tantamount to rewarding China for its aggression.
Because the United States has been withdrawing its armies of occupation from around the world, naval alternatives—which include Marines— will increasingly be our only option for dealing with crises like these.
If and when North Korea comes apart— a prospect that seems increasingly likely— we will need those Marines right where they are. There may come a time when we can indeed reduce our presence in the Pacific, as they suggest, but with one crisis brewing, and another not far off, that time is not now.
Categories
Defense Acquisition Military Strategy

The Cost of the Oceans

This article was first published by the Washington Times on March 15, 1995, under the unfortunate title “What does Brookings know about defense?” While that title greatly increased readership, it changed the meaning of the article and therefore became an unnecessary distraction. The real issue discussed in this article remains germane today.
The Johnson administration considered it a home for right-wing zealots. The Nixon administration thought it was a Communist haven, worthy of fire-bombing. Whichever side of the political spectrum you think it leans towards, the Brookings Institution is arguably Washington’s preeminent think-tank.
All the more reason for me to be disturbed by what I have seen since my fellowship began at this institution.
Let me first say that I was trained in science, and although my degrees have little to do with the arcane nature of international relations, I am convinced that certain truths apply to all disciplines. One of those truths is as follows: As an honest analyst, you must first collect your data, and then base your conclusions on the data you have collected. This principle seems to be curiously absent from the analysis I have seen here.
Consider the following: several defense analysts, led by Brookings’ Larry Korb, have recently been engaged in a defense-reduction argument that goes like this: in 1996 the United States will spend three times as much on defense as any other country on earth, and more than all prospective enemies and neutral nations combined. Therefore, we are wasting money on overstuffed defense programs. Case closed.
The argument is given additional weight when Mr. Korb is introduced as a former assistant defense secretary for the Reagan administration. If a Reagan defense official feels defense is bloated, it must be so! Doesn’t it?
The fallacy of this argument is that it assumes that all things are equal, and that a comparison between how much the United States spends vis-à-vis other nations is a legitimate metric of who should prevail in a conflict.
But because of geography, all things aren’t equal. Here’s why:
· We are separated from our potential enemies by two great oceans.
· Rather than fighting wars in our own back yard, Americans prefer to fight “over there.”
· It will quite naturally cost us much more than it costs our enemies to field the same force, since we have to move, sustain, and fight our force in a place where his already is.
· Each of these activities—moving, sustaining, and fighting far afield—increases the cost of our military without significantly changing the friendly-to-enemy force ratio. This cost can be referred to as the “cost of the oceans.”
· The increase in cost is, as we engineers like to say, nonlinear. That is, taking into account the cost of the oceans, doubling our capability may cost us four times as much.
· The oceans that surround America are what require us to field a globally dominant, sea control Navy that is unrestricted by host-nation land-base sovereignty issues that might otherwise limit our ability to act. The oceans are what drive the need for our expeditionary Air Force. Without the oceans, we might have little need for the entire United States Marine Corps.
· This higher cost is raised still more if we want to field a force that is not just equivalent to his, but one that can in fact defeat his force. This can be referred to as the “cost of winning.” More than 2000 years ago Sun Tzu said you should have five times the strength of an enemy to assure success—that calculus has changed little over time. This does not, however, imply that you need five times the number of troops, because force enhancements such as sea and air power are part of the equation. In any case, if you want to fight over there and win, you can expect to pay many times what the enemy pays for his military.
The question is therefore not whether we will be paying more for our armed forces than our enemy does, but rather how much more we must pay. Is the right number three times as much (as with Russia), or is it five times as much? There is no way to definitively and quantitatively determine what the right ratio is, because the cost is too scenario-dependent and we can never be sure under which scenario we will find ourselves fighting.
But more to the point, the cost of the oceans make any comparisons between what we pay and what our enemies pay irrelevant. And we haven’t even begun to consider other intangibles, such as the fact that what we consider defense spending may not be what our adversaries consider defense spending; the cost of recruiting, paying, providing medical care for and retiring a high quality volunteer military (the costs of which are actually the largest part of our defense budget and are not included in our adversaries’ price tags); our world-wide surveillance network; our nuclear deterrence; and so on.
The purveyors of these arguments are smart people. They know this. But hey choose to ignore it. Why? I have to conclude that despite the specious nature of this argument, they use it because it supports their view of defense. By ignoring inconvenient evidence, they impeach their claim of conducting unbiased, cogent analysis.
Rather than pointing to interesting but irrelevant factoids that compare our costs to theirs, legitimate analysis should be limited to issues of capability. Whatever your opinion of how much we ought to spend on the military, rational people would agree that we should first decide what we intend to do with the military, and then spend no more than is necessary to get the job done. That is, we should field what we need, but no more.
Reasonable people can disagree on what it takes to field a given capability, but let’s drop the pseudo-analytic comparisons that only serve to obfuscate the real issues, and restore intellectual honesty to the debate.