America's Current War Plans for China, Russia Will Not Work, New Report Says

U.S. Marine Corps amphibious assault vehicles assigned to Combat Assault Company, 3d Marine Regiment, travel through beaches prior to conducting a beach assault exercise at Marine Corps Training Area Bellows, Marine Corps Base Hawaii, Apr. 9, 2019. (U.S. Marine Corps photo/Alex Kouns)
U.S. Marine Corps amphibious assault vehicles assigned to Combat Assault Company, 3d Marine Regiment, travel through beaches prior to conducting a beach assault exercise at Marine Corps Training Area Bellows, Marine Corps Base Hawaii, Apr. 9, 2019. (U.S. Marine Corps photo/Alex Kouns)

The Pentagon's plans to develop weapons and strategies to penetrate Russian or Chinese complex defense networks are a waste of time and could lead to the defeat of U.S. military forces on the future battlefield, according to a new report from the Center for a New American Security.

The Defense Department's 2018 National Defense Strategy has put every branch of the U.S. military on a path to create new war plans designed to defeat America's top two near-peer competitors -- Russia and China.

The Pentagon is focusing many of its modernization efforts and operational concepts toward defeating advanced anti-access area denial (A2/AD) networks -- ranging from sophisticated air defense systems to complex jamming weapons that disrupt GPS and military communications -- developed by these two adversary powers to degrade the effectiveness of a U.S. attack.

This is a mistake, according to "Why America Needs a New Way of War," by Christopher Dougherty, a senior fellow in the Defense Program at CNAS.

"The challenges posed by A2/AD networks have led many in the U.S. defense community to wrongly identify them as the operational center of gravity for China and Russia," states the report, released June 11.

If the idea is to defeat enemy A2/AD capabilities, "you are focused on the wrong thing," Dougherty told on Tuesday.

"When you get into a fight where somebody's got a shield, you don't spend your entire time slamming your sword into their shield," he said. "You try to find a way around that shield."

Prior to joining CNAS, Dougherty served for four years in the Office of the Under Secretary of Defense for Policy in Strategy and Force Development, working to translate strategy into future scenarios and then assess the ability of the joint force to meet the demands of those scenarios.

"This project really grew out of a lot of the work that I did there," said Dougherty, who also served in the Army's 2nd Battalion, 75th Ranger Regiment, from 1997 to 2000.

Dougherty states in his report that the Pentagon's current way of war is a carryover from the post-Gulf War era and "doesn't really work in the plausible warfights against Russia or China."

"Unfortunately, the DoD's responses to the many challenges posed by the emerging security environment have thus far been piecemeal and lethargic, largely because the Pentagon has failed to fully grasp the systemic nature and fundamental implications of the problem it faces: The American way of war that emerged following the Cold War will not work in an era of great-power competition," the report states.

"This has led to the situation in which U.S. armed forces are the most powerful in the world by a wide margin," the report continues. "And yet they increasingly run the risk of losing a future war with China or Russia."

The DoD's unwillingness to fully accept the reality that "its principal competitors are no longer regional threats such as the Iraqs and Yugoslavias of the world" could result in the U.S. "losing a plausible war or backing down when faced with one, with devastating strategic consequences, the report states.

In the report, Dougherty breaks down America's current way of war, which ranges from operations to deter enemy forces; to building combat power and attacking regime targets; and command, control, communications, computing, intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (C4ISR).

But on Tuesday, he focused on four critical areas:

  • Fighting effectively at a time and place of the adversary's choosing.

U.S. military leaders have long used the cliché -- "fight them at the time and place of our choosing," Dougherty said.

"I think that that assertion, if it was ever valid, is increasingly not valid against states like China and Russia," he said. "These are great powers with significant military capabilities and, in all likelihood, if war were to break out [between] the United States and one of those two powers, it would likely be the time and place of their choosing."

  • Putting more emphasis on the battle for information.

"We have to focus on the battle for information rather than treat it as a supporting effort as we have in the past," Dougherty said.

Information and data flow through every aspect of our lives, and warfighting is no different, he said.

"Marine Corps Commandant Gen. Robert Neller recently said, 'The side that can get their network working and make decisions faster is likely to have a pretty substantial advantage in future wars,'" Dougherty said. "He was actually spot on."

  • There is no safe sanctuary.

"We've got to learn how to operate without sanctuary," Dougherty said. "Competitors that can reach out and hit us in the homeland, whether it's through long-range strike or through non-kinetic means that are kind of semi-deniable. They can attack our forces all the way from their garrison in the homeland ... all the way across the seas and into the ports and airfields that they need to debark at. ... So we have to figure out, how do we operate under that assumption?"

  • Develop ways to defeat enemy aggression without domain dominance.

"In the Gulf War, it worked very well for us to come in and build up forces to take down Iraq's air defenses, establish control and then move the joint force in on our own timeline. But against a China or Russia, that approach will be far too slow," Dougherty said. "By the time we mobilize that level of dominance, they will have already seized whatever it is, and they will be looking to offramp the conflict from a position of strength.

"So, we have to figure out, how do we achieve the lethal effects that we need inside a functioning defensive network or an anti-access, area denial network without first trying to take the entire network down?"

Dougherty's report, however, does not mention efforts by the individual military services to prepare for war with Russia or China.

"There has definitely been some work; there are what I would call tendrils of positive growth across various services and various components," he said. "I think the Army's development of a Futures Command is certainly a positive development, and I think the Marine Corps Warfighting Lab has done a lot of really good work."

All the services have worked to develop joint doctrine that focuses on Multi-Domain Operations and is aimed at preparing forces to operate on land, sea, air, cyber and space domains.

"Multi-domain operations -- I think it's got a ways to go, but I think it's a good start," Dougherty said. "I was trying to avoid discussing any particular ... concept in large part because then you've got to kind of go through each and every service concept and discuss it."

He said that this report is just the first step in a two-year effort designed to bring together a large number of people from inside the DoD, both military and civilian, and ask them, "What are the good ideas that you have, and can we stitch those together into something coherent?"

Dougherty said the Defense Program at CNAS will be spearheading a series of deep-dive discussions and releasing papers focused on the information war and challenges posed by near-peer competitors.

"As with anything, there are going to be a handful of folks who nod their heads and say, 'We have been saying this for years.' There is going to be a handful of folks who kind of quizzically scratch their chins and say, 'This is interesting.' And likely another group of folks who fold their arms, 'harumph' and say, 'Everything is fine.'"

-- Matthew Cox can be reached at

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