Our boy Greg Grant has a great piece on a presentation given by Steven Biddle and T.X. Hammes on the future of warfare over at DoD Buzz.
I think it's a good companion piece to the interview we just did with Dakota Wood at CSBA and also dovetails nicely with Greg's previous piece on proposals from Mattis on how to better organize the Marine Corps.
Gates is heading in the right direction with a return to threat-based planning versus the capabilities-based portfolio planning of his predecessor that produced unaffordable procurement plans, Hammes said at the Washington gathering. Trying to guess the exact type or nature of future war the U.S. is likely to fight is the wrong way to go as more often than not youre going to end up with the wrong force. Instead, develop a force that can fight well enough across the spectrum of conflict to buy time to work your way up the learning curve. No matter what type of war, youll be forced into a game of adaptation, as that is wars true nature, and the outcome usually comes down to who can adapt the fastest.
I agree 100 percent with this and am frustrated when analysts use China and Russia as examples of "near-peer" competitors that we need to equip ourselves to fight. In fact, for all their excellent analysis, the CSBA tends to default to that contention -- but I don't think it's out of some xenophobic reaction, just a way to compare apples to apples.
The challenge is preventing the services from defaulting to planning for another Cold War by substituting China for the Soviet Union. Setting aside for a moment the absurdity of going to war with your de-facto banker, Hammes said there is the little discussed issue of Chinas nuclear arsenal. A U.S. air and naval campaign against China would target the countrys command and control. How do you do that without threatening their nukes and national command authority? The Chinese lack a reliable second strike capability, attacks on their command and control could be perceived as an effort to take out their nuclear capability, possibly triggering a use-it or lose-it scenario. The Chinese know they cant stop individual aircraft attacking the mainland, instead, theyre building ballistic missiles to target airstrips and carriers to force the U.S. to fight at the extreme limits of range, taking short range fighters out of the equation. As for the Russians: in Georgia, the Russians drove a single division 60 miles after three months preparation. Not a threat.
Thank goodness there are at least some sober minds to help advance the debate in a more "middle ground" approach. Rather than swinging all the way to the left and say China isn't a threat because they've just adopted a different political structure, or to go all the way to the right and say they are a threat because of it, misses the point. It's about capabilities. When more than 3/4 of your population doesn't have running water, I'm sorry but that's not "near peer." By the same token, we get all freaked out about Russian bombers flying close to Alaska or some such, but don't realize that the pilots are so happy to just get the flight hours they don't give a crap where they're flying.
However, I do remember an article in the Atlantic about a year ago postulating how we'd fight China (it was part of Robert Kaplan's series) and it made me think about something: How comfortable would I feel looking off the shore of my mother's house in coastal North Carolina and seeing a Chinese aircraft carrier steaming nearby as apposed to a British or a French or a Japanese one? I'll let you answer that one for yourselves.
Lethality in hybrid warfare is certainly increasing, as the vulnerability of even the most heavily armored vehicles will attest. Biddle questions the notion that situational awareness will prove adequate: In a hybrid form of warfare, the ubiquity of cover and concealment makes it possible for reasonably skilled opponents to stay out of our information grid. If we cant find them then we cant include them in a networked form of situational awareness. Instead of adding armor to vehicles or looking to information superiority to provide a battlefield edge, Biddle said the U.S. will be forced to adopt more hybrid war like tactics: dispersion, cover and concealment, combined arms, fire and maneuver.
A clear swipe at FCS...And this great line:
The U.S. military may be forced to undertake two transformations. If winning today means the military must transform for low intensity conflict, with larger ground forces and less emphasis on high-tech modernization, and then transform once again, after these wars are concluded, for a different kind of war, then thats probably the right path to take, as inconvenient and expensive as that may prove.
It's a bitter pill to swallow, but I think Biddle's right.
Be sure to check out the entire story on DoD Buzz.