Friday, May 29, 2015

Even “Pure Defenses” can be Provocative to a Potential Adversary

Every so often I see it asserted that the deployment of a certain kind of military force or system into a specific area would not be provocative to a potential adversary because would be ‘readily recognizable as a purely defensive capability,’ e.g. something that could not be used for offensive purposes and therefore the opponent ‘will tolerate.’

For example, a country defending a land border might opt to deploy light ground forces armed with short-range anti-armor/personnel weapons in frontal areas during peacetime to increase the likelihood of bogging down any potential ground offensives by an opponent. In contrast, this defender might garrison its heavier armored and artillery forces far enough in the rear so that it would be virtually impossible to rapidly and covertly sortie them for offensive operations against the opponent’s own territory.    
Another example might be placing anti-air systems in locations where they could only be used to defend one’s own (or an ally’s) territory; e.g. they would lack the reach for any other purpose. The same would be even more true for ballistic missile defense systems.
These kinds of deployments would be “purely defensive” by any reasonable standard. And yet they could still be highly provocative. How is this possible?
Even purely defensive assets are often interpreted by one side as means by which the other seeks to reduce its vulnerability to deterrence. An opponent may also be provoked if it perceives it is less able to successfully threaten or employ military force for grand strategic compellence due to the defender’s improved denial or punishment capabilities. Inadequate geographic buffering between the two sides further reduces any “margin for error.”[i] It is simply impossible for deterrence to avoid arousing some degree of fear or resentment in a potential adversary.
By this logic, a potential adversary whose peacetime foreign policy rests on the ability to militarily menace the defender would be provoked by the loss of coercive clout. Or the opponent might interpret the “pure defense” to be a shield that reduces the defender’s vulnerability to retaliation if the defender was to use other forces to attack the opponent first. The opponent might not pursue war over these kinds of defensive deployments, but it would likely take actions using some or all of its tools of national power to offset the defender’s moves or ‘punish’ the defender for its ‘audacity.’ In the military sphere, the opponent might double down on fielding offensive capabilities and capacity. The opponent might even seek to provoke a crisis with the aim of manipulating the defender into limited concessions.
None of this means the defender should not field the forces it deems necessary to defend itself or its allies from attack. Far from it! My point is that a belligerent potential adversary is going to be provoked to some degree no matter what defensive moves the defender takes. Yes, defensive force deployments that increase crisis instability ought to be avoided. Under some situations, a force deployment might not be worth the provocations it would likely elicit. All the same, the defender has the inherent right to protect his sovereign territory and his allies’ sovereign territories.
There’s an added wrinkle, though, in that it will rarely be possible to field a true “pure defense.” Strategic and operational defense often requires some tactical offense. For instance, a potential adversary might imply he’d use his own territory as a sanctuary for bombarding the defender’s forces or territory, or for pressuring the defender’s sovereign air and waterspace (as well as the international approaches to both). The defender would be justifiably motivated to deploy tactically offensive systems into positions and postures from which they could quickly (but not necessarily immediately) threaten either the aggressor’s offensive systems or countervailing targets.
Likewise, many systems are inherently usable for both defensive and offensive purposes. For example, a country might declare that anti-air and anti-ship missile batteries placed in coastal areas are intended solely for territorial defense, but the reality is that their reach might pressure an opponent’s ability to move sea and air forces (or commerce) through the covered areas. That kind of effect might or might not be deliberate; the other side will be provoked either way.
The approaches the defender uses to place tactically offensive capabilities in the field can be calibrated. Not all of these kinds of forces need be placed far forward at high readiness postures; those with particularly high campaign-value should be held in rearward areas during peacetime or a crisis in order to reduce their vulnerability to an opponent’s preemptive strikes. Reciprocal confidence-building measure regimes can also help reduce the risk of provoking an opponent’s fears. But it takes both sides’ goodwill and commitment to peace for a regime like that to function. In the absence of such cooperation, a well-meaning defender will have to accept that the measures he deems essential to ensuring defensive effectiveness will be provocative to his opponent. The costs and risks of a given defensive move under consideration will have to be weighed against the costs and risks of not making that move. There’s never a free lunch for a defender, and pretending otherwise is misguided.

The views expressed herein are solely those of the author and are presented in his personal capacity. They do not reflect the official positions of Systems Planning and Analysis, and to the author’s knowledge do not reflect the policies or positions of the U.S. Department of Defense, any U.S. armed service, or any other U.S. Government agency.

[i] Janice Gross Stein. “Deterrence and Reassurance,” in Behavior, Society, and Nuclear War, vol.
2, eds. Philip E. Tetlock et al. (New York: Oxford University Press, 1991), 17.  It is not clear such a thing as a geographical barrier even exists in the age of long-range aerospace strike.

Thursday, May 28, 2015

The Use of the Marines in Europe for Deterrence

Marine COL William Nemeth has an intriguing article in this month’s Proceedings about how the Marines could contribute to deterring Russian aggression in Eastern Europe. Nemeth suggests the existing Black Sea Rotational Force could be expanded to a “full battalion combat team” he dubs “Rotational Force Europe” that could be deployed anywhere in Eastern Europe as needed. This combined arms force would consist of a reinforced infantry battalion with supporting combined arms attachments such as a reconnaissance platoon, light armored vehicle platoon/company, tank platoon, amphibious assault vehicle platoon, artillery battery, aviation combat element, and logistics combat element. I’m not going to do the approximate manpower counts for each of these components, but I’ll wager that their collective size would be more than double the Black Sea Rotational Force’s recent size.

Using Robert Rubel’s hierarchy of presence as a reference, my instinct is that Rotational Force Europe’s inherent capabilities when deployed as a aggregated group would fall somewhere between a tripwire force and a force capable of delaying/disrupting a notional Russian ground offensive (at least for a short time). If it functioned as part of a larger NATO standing forward combined arms conventional deterrent, the likelihood of bogging down a Russian thrust would probably be even greater.
But Nemeth also talks about splitting this Rotational Force Europe up into reinforced companies for deployment in widely-separated locations from the Baltics to Romania to even Georgia. He notes that the additional equipment needed to reinforce these companies could be pulled from the Marines’ prepositioned stockpiles in Norway, with augmentation personnel flown in from the U.S. All this is fine for peacetime engagement, training, and showing the flag. In a crisis, though, it seems to me that these companies would still be nothing more than tripwires. That’s okay as long as we’re honest about how a tripwire gambit must be structured in order to be effective. First, the tripwire must be placed in a location where an aggressor’s conventional forces cannot avoid coming into direct contact with it. Second, it must be latently backed by larger and heavier combat-credible forces positioned further back in the theater that can immediately provide it with combined arms support, begin deploying forward to reinforce it, and begin inflicting countervailing damage on the aggressor. Third, it must be able to latently back the host nation’s constabulary forces responding to an aggressor’s “salami tactic” incursions; the constabularies in turn must be able to provide physical security support for the tripwire’s emplacements and lines of communication/maneuver. Lastly, it must be accepted that losses in the tripwire force will likely be horrendous. That’s the price of being on the frontline at the beginning of a major war.
Nemeth goes into commendable detail regarding the air and naval assets that would be needed to support his Rotational Force Europe. It’s worth noting that he calls for there to be a standing presence in theater of two to three amphibious warships to perform transport, force insertion, or afloat staging base tasks. Given that the amphibious fleet is already overtaxed, something would almost certainly have to give in terms of presence in other theaters in order to restore that kind of presence in 6th Fleet. The same is true for his call for a standing presence of two to four additional DDGs on top of the four now permanently deployed in Rota, Spain, plus four to five Littoral Combat Ships. He also calls for a Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU) to be assigned to 6th Fleet at all times; it is not clear whether this is the same as the amphibious warships he listed for transport or an additional set of such ships carrying their own Marines. While I don't disagree with him in terms of the need to reestablish a more sizable standing U.S. Navy forward presence in the European theater, note that CS-21R all but declares our existing force structure is insufficient to do so and also achieve all the other prioritized strategic tasks in other theaters assigned by our political leadership. CS-21R makes clear the burden for naval presence in Europe therefore falls on our NATO allies' fleets.
COL Nemeth briefly discusses how a Marine Expeditionary Brigade (MEB) might be used to quickly reinforce Europe in the event of a conflict with Russia. He suggests that a standing MEB headquarters element should be attached to European Command to plan for and command the flying-in of Marines from the U.S. to marry up with the prepositioned equipment stockpiles in Norway, and then deploy where needed in northeastern Europe—including the Baltics. He also implies that equipment could be prepositioned on NATO’s Black Sea members’ territories for contingencies in that portion of the theater. While I strongly agree with the use of a MEB for these purposes, I would point out that any use of the Baltic or Black Seas for transporting the MEB’s units towards frontal areas would be risky as a crisis peaked and nearly impossible if it had to occur after a war had already started. Russian sea denial capabilities in those waters will be too dense, at least during a conventional conflict’s first few weeks. This means gear must be prepositioned closer to where it might actually be needed. Norway is probably fine for Scandinavian operations. Prepositioning in Poland is probably necessary for operations in that country or the Baltics. Prepositioning in Romania and possibly also Bulgaria is unquestionably necessary for operations in those countries. Nemeth suggests that Rotational Force Europe might be used to enable the MEB’s theater entry and then movement to action; this could be a very important role for the former that deserves further analysis.
To make Rotational Force Europe, standing 6th Fleet presence by a MEU, and the contingency MEB possible, Nemeth asserts that the Corps will have to stop rotationally deploying East Coast Marine units to augment Marine forces in Japan. While this is contrary to the Defense Department’s strategic prioritization of East Asia, it does make sense given the comparatively far higher military tensions with Russia than China at present. It also offers further evidence that our Navy-Marine Corps team is undersized (and budget levels being what they are, underprepared) for the strategic tasks it is assigned.
All in all, Nemeth has laid out an excellent and provocative article. Future analysis ought to look at how his ideas might pair up with Terrence Kelly’s ideas on how army forces (both U.S. and allied) ought to be used for conventional deterrence in Poland and the Baltics. More attention also needs to be paid with respect to how air and naval forces (whether U.S. or allied) ought to be used, especially in support of U.S. and allied ground forces fighting on the continent. And of course, the means for protecting the flow of reinforcements and logistical support into Europe and then onward towards frontal areas still requires much focused thought.

The views expressed herein are solely those of the author and are presented in his personal capacity. They do not reflect the official positions of Systems Planning and Analysis, and to the author’s knowledge do not reflect the policies or positions of the U.S. Department of Defense, any U.S. armed service, or any other U.S. Government agency.

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Upcoming Posting Plans

I must apologize for my lack of contributions of late. Between family and work obligations, I haven’t had much free time for writing over the past two months or so. I hope to be able to publish at least two pieces a week going forward this summer; I have no shortage of topics that I want to write about.

My problem is that I’m not a fast writer and I have a lot of difficulty keeping my articles brief. Even when I do write shorter pieces, they often soak up more than an hour in development (this one is an exception). You might have noticed that there’s generally a two or more week lag between one of my pieces and a published work or news event I’m commenting on. That’s about the shortest I can make my turnaround time with the hours I have. I’m frankly envious of the milbloggers who can churn out quality posts each day!
Nevertheless, I very much want to keep contributing to ID. Writing is not only my prime hobby, it’s also how I think through complex problems. Plus, there are many subjects I consider of vital importance to modern maritime warfare or contemporary conventional deterrence challenges that don’t seem to get enough (or any) attention in the defense debates. I want to shine a light on some of these subjects, and by doing so encourage as many in the U.S. defense community as I can to explore, discuss, and debate them as well.
It helps greatly that ID’s regular commenters are without peer in terms of the quality and civility of their observations. Publishing here is how I obtain “red team” help to tighten my ideas. And ID’s “silent” readership remains very, very wide as well.
So two substantive posts a week is going to be my target. I’m not going to hit that all of the time, and there will be weeks when I regrettably will have to go on hiatus. But I’m going to keep on contributing here whenever I can.

The views expressed herein are solely those of the author and are presented in his personal capacity. They do not reflect the official positions of Systems Planning and Analysis, and to the author’s knowledge do not reflect the policies or positions of the U.S. Department of Defense, any U.S. armed service, or any other U.S. Government agency.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Restoring the U.S. Navy’s Electronic Warfare Prowess: The Gospel Spreads

Last month I wrote about LCDR Jack Curtis’s excellent article at the Bridge regarding the Navy’s need to resurrect its late Cold War-era skills for fighting in opposed electromagnetic environments. I also noted Deputy Secretary of Defense Bob Work’s commentaries along the same lines. 

It isn’t often that electronic warfare topics like these get public attention. That’s extremely unfortunate given the centrality of electronic warfare to maritime combat. Granted, classification can be a barrier with respect to specifics. But the general principles are—and have always been—unclassified. I’m often amazed by how often electronic warfare considerations are overlooked in commentaries on modern warfare; such oversights detract from informed debate.
That’s why I truly appreciate the publication of good articles on electronic warfare in widely-read defense journals. This month’s Proceedings contains two pieces that meet this standard. Unfortunately, both lie behind the Naval Institute’s paywall. If you subscribe or have access to the magazine hardcopy, they are must-reads.
The first is an analysis by CAPT Patrick Molenda regarding the importance of mission command to operations under electromagnetic opposition. Mission command is sometimes referred to as either “mission-type orders” or ‘action in accordance with higher echelon commander’s intent;’ command by negation doctrine is closely related. Regardless of what you choose to call it, though, this approach to C2 is incontrovertibly critical to operating in areas where radiofrequency communications are—unless concealed using highly-directional line-of-sight pathways or advanced low probability of intercept waveforms—readily exploitable by an electronic warfare-savvy adversary. Inside a combat zone, a unit’s casual decision to transmit on a radio or employ a radar without using those kinds of protections could easily end up being suicidal.
Molenda discusses the potential misalignment of the Navy’s operational-level staffs with the actual levels of war, and the implications this has for the service’s C2 architectures. He also correctly observes that these (and higher-tier) staffs’ network-age addiction to real and near-real time tactical information drawn from the unit-level would be extraordinarily difficult to sustain in an opposed electromagnetic environment, would be rife with exploitable vulnerabilities, and  is corrosive to cultivating tactical initiative and agility:
“Not only does this practice neuter trust between commanders and subordinates, it stifles decentralized execution by paralyzing initiative. The relentless demand for detailed information from senior staffs is not simply a distraction; it changes the very fabric of C2. Granted, there is a valid need for commanders at all levels to share a common operating picture so decisions can be made in response to enemy actions or changing conditions. However, if the intent of information extraction is not to adjust plans, reapportion forces, or to counter enemy moves, then what purpose does this really serve? It seems the answer all too often is the implied (or even specified, in many cases) requirement for all levels to know specifically what’s going on at any given moment to satisfy the next layer of command’s similar information requirements. This characterization makes for an interesting case study in organizational efficiency, but in future conflicts, could very well prove disastrous. It’s quite possible that the Navy could face an adversary in the not-too-distant future that not only has the ability to disrupt critical communications, but can also deploy non-kinetic fires to its advantage. The first time commanders find themselves in a communications vacuum as a result of such actions is not the time to be figuring out the processes needed to stay plugged into the fight.” (Pg. 37)
This potentially dire outcome serves as his lead-in argument for mission command:
“Without a C2 framework designed to align with the appropriate levels of war, it’s extremely difficult to execute the effective and nimble battle rhythm required to harmonize disparate tactical actions to achieve operational-level objectives. This is especially true in the case of an adversary with the ability to inhibit electromagnetic freedom of action. It will take innovation, education, training, practice, discipline, and most of all trust in subordinate commanders to get this right.
While many would equate innovation with the implementation of game-changing technology, an equally powerful component of innovation are concepts that incorporate new tactics, techniques, and procedures that enable game-changing effects. While mission command is not a radical concept in theory, instilling the culture to execute it in today’s Navy is.”(Pg. 37)
I couldn’t agree more.
Further, he is absolutely correct that the top-down embrace of mission command within the Navy is essential to being able to fully capitalize on emerging electronic warfare capabilities. Groups of friendly units (not all of whom will be Navy) will need to be able cooperatively execute complex tactical tasks despite highly restrictive emissions control if they are to avoid being attacked effectively by a competent adversary from over-the-horizon. Any friendly use of deception will require extraordinarily disciplined emissions control as well. Mission command is what will allow units to self-organize and coordinate their actions under such circumstances. Trust between echelons of command, not to mention amongst peers in a task force or group, can in fact be a very powerful weapon. As the CAPT notes in his closing observation:
“To dominate the information realm, the Navy must truly embrace mission command enabled by trusted commanders at all levels through proper C2 alignment. This, along with judicious use of the electronic spectrum and sound tactical doctrine, employment, and training, is ultimately what will unleash the true power of electromagnetic maneuver warfare.”(Pg. 39)
Later in the issue, Norman Friedman hammers these points home in his World Naval Developments column. Friedman, it should be remembered, is the preeminent expert on how the Navy employed electronic warfare throughout the Cold War to defang the Soviet Ocean Surveillance System. He therefore speaks with an authoritative voice when he seconds Molenda’s arguments:
“…we must learn to shut down our emissions. Our radars and radios buy us a great deal tactically, but they also tell our enemies where to find us. At the least, we ought to be able to rely far more on airborne sensors…
…by making ourselves less visible we may be able to deceive our enemies into wasting their efforts or exposing valuable platforms…
The central lesson of the Cold War is that big antiship strikes are not inherently easy to mount. Whoever shoots has a limited number of weapons, and in many cases the shooters are giving away their positions and making themselves vulnerable. It is difficult enough to shoot at even moderate ranges because ocean surveillance is never easy. Shots wasted on non-targets merely alert the intended victim. The more ships that are involved on the other side, the better the chance that a deceiver can cause ships or shore batteries to fire at each other. We can make attacks against us extremely difficult if we fully understand what our enemies have to do to deal with us. We were once extremely good at that; we can be again.” (Pg. 162-163)
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: electronic warfare prowess is not a silver bullet for modern victories at sea. All the same, it’s hard to envision a path to such victories—let alone avoiding defeats—without it. The more this becomes recognized and internalized at all levels of the Navy, the better off the Navy will be.

 The views expressed herein are solely those of the author and are presented in his personal capacity. They do not reflect the official positions of Systems Planning and Analysis, and to the author’s knowledge do not reflect the policies or positions of the U.S. Department of Defense, any U.S. armed service, or any other U.S. Government agency.

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