|PACIFIC OCEAN (July 27, 2012) The aircraft carrier USS Nimitz (CVN 68) and the amphibious assault ship USS Essex (LHD 2) are underway in close formation during the Rim of the Pacific (RIMPAC) 2012 exercise. Twenty-two nations, more than 40 ships and submarines, more than 200 aircraft and 25,000 personnel are participating in the biennial RIMPAC exercise from June 29 to Aug. 3, in and around the Hawaiian Islands. The world's largest international maritime exercise, RIMPAC provides a unique training opportunity that helps participants foster and sustain the cooperative relationships that are critical to ensuring the safety of sea lanes and security on the world's oceans. RIMPAC 2012 is the 23rd exercise in the series that began in 1971. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Raul Moreno Jr./Released)|
Section 346 of the 2012 National Defense Authorization Act directed the Defense Department to commission an independent assessment of U.S. force posture in Asia. This task was assigned to the Center for Strategic and International Studies, who has delivered a very excellent report that will be discussed in the House Armed Services Subcommittee on Readiness at 2:00pm on Wednesday, August 1, 2012.
I had never heard of David Berteau before this report, he just never popped up on my radar, but he's in my A+ list because this guy is a serious professional, and the report reflects exactly that. In my opinion, the U.S. Force Posture Strategy in the Asia Pacific Region: An Independent Assessment by CSIS is exactly the kind of high bar quality we should expect from the Defense Think Tank community. CSIS has delivered quality taxpayer funded work, and should be proud of their effort.
So enjoy the report, and see also this unclassified response from Secretary Panetta regarding the report. I do believe many in this audience will appreciate the high quality work delivered in this report on a very relevant topic.
Below are only a few (of the many) thoughts inspired by my reading of this report. I encourage the community to contribute your own analysis and commentary in the comments.
Engage the Army
Did you read the Army prepositioning article in the New York Times I linked to Monday. What I did not mention in that topic is that the article actually describes a change from the existing APS Strategy 2015, although surprisingly nobody in the comments apparently picked that up, and Army folks simply argued as if APS Strategy 2015 was still the plan. APS Strategy 2015 called for 9 prepositioning ships, but the Army didn't fund 9 ships, and while not fully funding all 9 ships the Army also decided to use that afloat space as the storage facility for MRAPS rather than as a traditional prepositioning squadron.
From what I am seeing, all appearances are the US Army is simply checking boxes specific to MRAP storage and prepositioning rather than taking the prepositioning of Army assets forward in the Pacific seriously. I don't think many caught on to the changes that have been made to APS Strategy 2015, and I think folks believed this prepositioning squadron reported in the New York Times was exactly the same as traditional Army prepositioning squadrons, even though it is clearly something different. This approach to Army prepositioning, using it as afloat MRAP storage and reducing the size of prepositioning altogether in the Pacific appears to be counter to the recommendations on page 91 of the CSIS report.
Indeed I found it noteworthy that most of the recommendations on page 91 that are recommendations intended to better align the engagement strategy of PACOM with the DOD are specific to what the US Army needs to be doing. I'm a simple Navy nerd, but if I was an Army nerd, I would note that all data points suggest there is a huge vacuum of critically thinking about how the US Army has capabilities specifically relevant to the Pacific theater just waiting for some smart guy to start talking about with new ideas. If you think you're that guy, perhaps you need to be writing those ideas here on ID, because we welcome new ideas and unconventional thinking specific to the Pacific theater from smart Army folks. Dumb Army folks can go apply at Blackfive (just kidding!).
On Growing the High End
In option three, which is the option that increases the force posture in the Pacific, the report suggests a CSG in Perth and an ARG in Hawaii. Why did the authors not recommend a CSG in Hawaii and an ARG in Perth? The authors made clear in the report that basing a nuclear powered aircraft carrier in Australia was a huge political hurdle, and they also noted the enormous associated costs. So why the recommendation if it's almost certainly a no-go politically? From a political and financial perspective the CSG in Hawaii and ARG in Perth would appear to be the more politically viable approach, and if the ARG was centered around an America class LHA, would that not work as a nice middle ground approach? I find the 4 MAGTF argument in the report a very compelling discussion for forward basing a second ARG in the region, although with the neverending DoD pivot towards the Middle East rather than Asia, Perth makes more sense for that ARG to me than Hawaii does.
On Decreasing Posture
One of the things I try to do is question assumptions, and sometimes I do it even when I don't necessarily believe the assumptions are wrong. I found it curious that according to the CSIS report there is nothing whatsoever to be gained except affordability in the decreased posture option 4. I'm not sure I believe that a decrease in force posture in the Pacific can have only negative impacts to everything but cost, and decrease in force posture is inherently negative to US policy.
It seems to me that what option 4 reveals is that the report is written with an opening assumption that decreasing force posture in the Pacific is inherently a bad thing for US policy. That assumption bothers me because it presumes a lack of resiliency and trust in the capabilities of our allies without us there to hold their hand. I'm sorry, but I've had the pleasure to get to know and understand the capabilities of folks from Australia, South Korea, and Japan - three of the primary places in the Pacific US forces are being forward based under the current Pacific posture policy; and in my opinion CSIS has overvalued our handholding and undervalued the abilities of our allies. I am curious, upon reflection and feedback, if the authors have reconsidered their conclusions in option 4, even if only in parts, and considered the possibility of any (at all) benefits whatsoever in decreases in force posture, even if they are selective and specific about what those decreases are.
In my opinion, CSIS did not give the same intellectual rigor to option 4 that they appeared to give the rest of the study, because I find it very hard to believe the US could not reduce the military footprint in the Pacific in any way without only having negative impacts.