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Why the U.S. Army Needs Missiles

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  • Why the U.S. Army Needs Missiles

    I read this today and thought it might be able to provoke some interesting discussion. Is developing long range strike systems the best road forward for the U.S. Army? Would the benefits of abandoning the Intermediate Range Nuclear Forces Treaty be greater than the consequences? I personally have a tough time swallowing the premise that A2/AD will negate the contribution that can be made by traditional conventional land forces, as well as the thought that China/Iran are the only possible conflict scenarios that the U.S. will face in the future. Certainly there are going to be some changes in the force structure of the US military over the next few years, and perhaps some big changes to the Army, but I have a hard time completely accepting this argument. What say you WABbits?

    Why the U.S. Army Needs Missiles | Foreign Affairs

    Why the U.S. Army Needs Missiles
    A New Mission to Save the Service
    By Jim Thomas
    May/June 2013

    Looming budgetary constraints and the U.S. Army's ongoing downsizing have enhanced the appeal of forces that are lighter, smaller, and cheaper than tanks and other protected vehicles. But not only have armored forces proved critical in yesterday's wars; they will also be needed to win tomorrow's.

    Traditionally, the core purpose of the U.S. Army has been to fight and win the United States' wars. Since World War II, this has meant planning for overseas operations to defend friendly countries against invasion, seize and hold territory, and overthrow despotic regimes. But the protracted counterinsurgency campaigns in Afghanistan and Iraq, like the one in Vietnam a generation earlier, marked a departure from the army's preferred way of war. Today, with U.S. forces out of Iraq and leaving Afghanistan, an intense debate is under way about what kind of army the United States needs.

    The answer, according to most analysts, is a smaller and lighter one. The Obama administration's "pivot" toward Asia, a region traditionally dominated by air and naval forces, suggests a lesser role for the army in carrying out U.S. strategy. So does the distaste among politicians for another large-scale counterinsurgency, as do the sizable budget cuts that are now hitting the Defense Department. As the U.S. military's most labor-intensive force, the army is most affected by the rapid rise in personnel costs, which have shot up by nearly 50 percent over the past decade. Given these strategic and budgetary headwinds, the conventional wisdom holds that the army will bear the brunt of the defense cuts -- and that it will decline precipitously in relevance.

    The conventional wisdom, however, will prevail only if the army fails to adapt to its changing circumstances. Since the 1990s, the United States' rivals have dramatically increased their capacity to deny Washington the ability to project military power into critical regions. To date, the air force and the navy have led the U.S. response. But the army should also contribute to this effort, most critically with land-based missile forces that can defend U.S. allies and hinder adversaries from projecting power themselves. The army should thus shift its focus away from traditional ground expeditionary forces -- mechanized armor, infantry, and short-range artillery -- and toward land-based missile systems stationed in critical regions. By doing so, it can retain its relevance in U.S. defense strategy.


    In planning for the post-Afghanistan era, the army has focused on two major efforts. The first involves expanding its forward presence to build up the defense capacity of foreign militaries using special operations forces and brigades assigned to specific regions. The second picks up where the army left off before 9/11, stressing the importance of ground forces that can decisively defeat adversaries by blocking invasions and toppling hostile regimes.

    The problem is that the United States may be unable to defeat future opponents by routing their armies, controlling their territory, and deposing their leaders. Indeed, with the exception of during World War II, these objectives have rarely been achieved. During the Cold War, the United States and its NATO allies planned to defend Western Europe from the Warsaw Pact but harbored few illusions they could ever decisively defeat the Soviet Union without resorting to nuclear weapons. It was only in the 1990s that the United States first considered the prospect of invading and occupying rogue states as a strategic objective.

    As the postinvasion insurgencies in Afghanistan and Iraq revealed, decisive victory is often an elusive goal, and today's list of potential adversaries does not offer much hope. Invading and occupying Iran (let alone a nuclear-armed Iran) would be neither desirable nor feasible. It strains credulity even further to imagine major land combat with China or Russia. That leaves a conflict with North Korea as the most plausible scenario for the army's preferred way of war. But South Korea, populous and wealthy, probably needs little assistance to defend itself against a land invasion.

    Meanwhile, very few countries are modernizing their forces for classic ground offensives (India and Pakistan being the biggest exceptions). The broader trend in warfare is away from invasions and occupations and toward more coercive and nontraditional uses of ground forces. The Chinese and Iranian armies, for example, have built long-range rocket forces not to wage war against other land forces but to conduct coercive missile campaigns against neighboring states and to contest access to nearby seas. The Chinese military has gone so far as to establish its Second Artillery Corps as a separate service, entrusted with China's long-range missile and antisatellite capabilities.

    These missile-intensive forces are better at denying opposing forces the ability to project power than conducting cross-border invasions. They represent the leading edge of so-called anti-access/area-denial (A2/AD) systems -- along with air defenses, antisatellite weaponry, advanced fighter aircraft, quiet diesel submarines, mines, and cyberweapons -- which are raising the costs for outside countries to project power. Such capabilities will make it far more difficult to deploy U.S. forces in distant theaters and conduct joint operations.

    In particular, A2/AD capabilities will severely limit the U.S. Army's ability to conduct expeditionary warfare. Ports and airfields, the traditional gateways into overseas theaters, will be easy targets for enemy missiles, as will the stockpiles of equipment positioned ashore that are needed to support army forces flowing into the theater. With enemy missiles also threatening the bases that host U.S. fighter aircraft, the United States may soon enjoy only transient air superiority at best, leaving soldiers on the ground more vulnerable to air strikes. Given advances in underwater mines and submarines, enemies could threaten vital maritime routes. To make matters worse, states may not be the only actors developing A2/AD capabilities; irregular forces could also arm themselves with guided mortars, artillery, and rockets, particularly if they have a state sponsor. Hiding in urban safe havens, insurgents could use these highly accurate weapons to kill large concentrations of occupying forces.

    Together, these trends suggest that this century will see dramatically fewer cross-border land invasions than previous ones. Large powers, such as Russia, will undoubtedly retain the ability to invade small neighbors, such as Georgia. Nevertheless, all great powers -- not just the United States -- will have a much harder time projecting power overseas. It will be much easier for any given state to deny others the ability to control the land, air, or sea in its vicinity than for that state to achieve control of those same domains itself.


    In response to growing A2/AD threats, the U.S. Air Force and the U.S. Navy have developed a new operational concept called "air-sea battle" -- a plan for projecting power into vital regions where access is increasingly constrained. The army need not feel left out, since it could make vital contributions to the air-sea battle effort. Doing so, however, would require it to reduce its traditional emphasis on expeditionary land warfare and instead focus on establishing a constellation of forward-based missile forces stationed on the territory of U.S. allies and partners. Such a shift would represent a major change in course for the army. Although it possesses some missile capabilities for air and missile defense, as well as for short-range land attack, the army currently lacks options to strike targets further than 300 kilometers away and has no antiship missiles whatsoever.

    Taking a page from the playbooks of China and Iran, the U.S. Army should establish its own A2/AD systems to deny would-be regional hegemons the ability to project power. A distributed network of ground-based missile forces could act both as a shield, protecting air and naval forces as they entered the theater, and as a sword, striking the enemy directly from afar -- destroying aircraft, shooting down missiles, sinking ships, and attacking land targets. These forces would include new classes of mobile and fixed launchers that the army would have to develop and field. And like the U.S. Navy's vertical launching system, which can fire a variety of missiles, they should be capable of firing interchangeably antiship, antiaircraft, and land-attack missiles, as well as missile defense interceptors.

    The army's new missile systems would prove especially useful in the western Pacific, where the army could construct antiship missile sites and conceal mobile missile launchers throughout the string of islands stretching from Japan to the South China Sea. These systems would help U.S. allies such as Japan and the Philippines defend themselves against potential Chinese aggression and limit the Chinese navy's freedom of maneuver during a crisis. Likewise, in the Persian Gulf, such forces based in Kuwait, Qatar, and the United Arab Emirates might serve as the core of a new regional defense posture. They could link together the missile defense capabilities of the Gulf Cooperation Council states and help deter Iran from launching missiles or attempting to close the Strait of Hormuz.

    Land-based missile forces would have a number of advantages over their air- and sea-based counterparts. They can rely on underground fiber-optic communications rather than satellite communications, making them less vulnerable than aircraft and ships to communications jamming and antisatellite operations. They can have far deeper magazines of missiles and sustain more firepower than fighter aircraft, destroyers, or submarines. Targeting ships with cruise missiles launched from the shore would also cost far less than fielding a naval force to do the same task. Meanwhile, using ground forces rather than fighter jets for air defense would free up more aircraft for offensive strikes.

    When it comes to missile defense, ground-based forces would be in the best position to take advantage of the most promising technology on the horizon: directed-energy weapons. These weapons channel electromagnetic radiation, particle beams, or microwaves to destroy targets. Within a decade, it will be possible to field high-powered laser weapons and a high-powered microwave system, which would offer virtually unlimited shots and dramatically reduce the cost per interception. Because directed-energy weapons systems depend on access to major power and cooling sources, requirements that are at odds with mobile forces, the army's leadership has historically shown little interest in the technology. Yet if the army began building overseas garrisons, it could draw on larger, stationary power sources for these weapons.

    Because land-based missile forces would be forward stationed in critical regions, they would be a tempting nearby target during a crisis. So they would need to be highly survivable. That would require creating a mixture of control stations, weapons caches, and launching sites that were dispersed, concealed, and located underground, and it would require fielding mobile and camouflaged radars and missile launchers that could evade attack. These forces would also have to be networked. Ideally, the army would provide the backbone of communications and intelligence to link together similar capabilities possessed by the United States' partners in a given region. Finally, the army could also train U.S. allies, helping them field their own A2/AD capabilities and so reduce the burden on U.S. forces.

    Without a new set of weapons, forward-stationed land-based missile forces could only hit land targets that were less than 300 kilometers away -- too short for launching strikes against potential adversaries, such as China or Iran, that could place their key assets beyond those ranges. To maximize the deterrent value of its land-attack missile forces, the army would need to extend their range. Doing so would have the added benefit of imposing costs on major rivals, forcing them to spend resources on their own expensive missile defense systems.

    But as things stand now, if the army tried to follow this path, it would run into an arms control wall. The Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty, signed in 1987 by the United States and the Soviet Union, prohibits the United States and Russia from possessing land-based missiles with ranges between 500 and 5,500 kilometers -- the range that might be required for hitting targets in larger countries. After the treaty was ratified, the U.S. Army scrapped its intermediate-range Pershing II ballistic missiles, in essence bowing out of the interservice competition to provide long-range strike capabilities.

    The United States would almost certainly have to withdraw from the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty for the army to get back into the long-range strike business. Leaving might not be so bad: while China has become a world leader in exactly the type of land-based missiles the treaty bans, the United States has largely turned its back on them. Nor would leaving be so difficult, since Russia also looks willing to walk away from the treaty. Withdrawing could herald the beginning of a revolution in the way the U.S. military thinks about ground forces -- one the Chinese have already experienced.


    Emphasizing land-based missile forces would allow the U.S. Army to contribute meaningfully to the United States' strategic goals. By stationing such capabilities in friendly host countries, the army would reassure regional allies and enhance deterrence. It would help the United States check its rivals by constraining their ability to project power, just as they are doing to it. And the army would be creating local safe areas that would allow U.S. air, maritime, and mechanized ground forces to enter overseas theaters.

    This plan would require major changes in the structure of the army. The army would have to develop new organizational units optimized for long-term stationary deployments rather than expeditionary operations. These missile regiments would have to integrate personnel and capabilities from various parts of the army, including the Field Artillery branch, the Air Defense Artillery branch, and the Space and Missile Defense Command.

    Cultural obstacles would also have to be surmounted. The new capabilities would have to come from the parts of the army not focused on maneuver warfare -- institutional orphans that have fared poorly in recent decades in the army's internal struggle for resources and power -- and they would have to overcome resistance from armor, infantry, and field-artillery commanders, who dominate the upper ranks of the army today.

    In a time of declining resources, moreover, military institutions have a natural tendency to try to retain their current composition, albeit on a smaller scale, rather than grow entirely new combat arms at the expense of more mature branches. Thus, establishing new missile forces would require strong champions within the army, as well as on Capitol Hill.

    Such an expanded role for the army would not be without precedent. In the aftermath of the War of 1812, the United States turned to the army to build a string of coastal fortifications to protect U.S. ports, and for many decades following, coastal defense remained the army's principal mission. But in the aftermath of World War II, with the U.S. Navy patrolling the Atlantic and the Pacific, the army retired its coastal artillery. The time has come for the army to resurrect its coastal defense mission -- not to protect American shores but to defend critical overseas theaters.

    The creation of new missile forces would not portend the demise of traditional mechanized ground forces in the U.S. Army. Rather, it would establish a new pecking order in a force now dominated by tanks, artillery, and infantry. Paradoxically, establishing the army's own forward-stationed A2/AD capabilities may be the best way to preserve the viability of expeditionary ground forces, by providing them a gateway to overseas theaters. Nevertheless, just as the battleship was gradually replaced by the aircraft carrier after World War II, in the coming era, the dominance of armored vehicles and mechanized infantry is likely to wane. Embracing this trend, rather than resisting it, is the best way for the army to ensure its continued relevance.
    Last edited by HKDan; 29 Apr 13,, 13:41.

  • #2
    I'm imagining something that appears to be a semi-tractor trailer. It could be road mobile and be built in large numbers, with large percentage of decoys units that were just regular transports, but were hard to distinguish from the missile launchers. It would be a "neither confirms nor denies" kind of a setup, where the missile launcher or the similar transports could be forward deployed and enemy satellites or observers wouldn't be sure what they were looking at unless they could get close enough to peak inside. They might be serviced and stored in aircraft hangers or underground facilities to keep prying eyes away.

    Would something like that address this objective?
    sigpic"If your plan is for one year, plant rice. If your plan is for ten years, plant trees.
    If your plan is for one hundred years, educate children."


    • #3
      OBL did the USS COLE and the Embassy bombings in Africa. We lobbed a few cruise missiles into Afghanistan. He responded with 11 Sept. The Army went in. End of threat.


      • #4
        We also lobbed a few cruise missiles into Iraq after the Bush Sr assassination attempt. Saddam did not learn his lesson and threatened chemical weapons release. Yes, I know it was a bluff but think about it. Had the US backed down from that bluff, would anyone here think that Saddam would not actually get chems again? If a bluff worked, what would real chems do?


        • #5
          Originally posted by USSWisconsin View Post
          I'm imagining something that appears to be a semi-tractor trailer. It could be road mobile and be built in large numbers, with large percentage of decoys units that were just regular transports, but were hard to distinguish from the missile launchers. It would be a "neither confirms nor denies" kind of a setup, where the missile launcher or the similar transports could be forward deployed and enemy satellites or observers wouldn't be sure what they were looking at unless they could get close enough to peak inside. They might be serviced and stored in aircraft hangers or underground facilities to keep prying eyes away.

          Would something like that address this objective?
          It seems like road mobile would definitely be the way to go if the Army did move in this direction. I was imagining something along the lines of a scaled up HIMARS, I have read of experiments where they used that launcher to test SAMs(SLAMRAAM, I believe) as well as having the capacity to fire GMLRS and ATACMS. Externally, the launcher is identical. A road mobile launcher that is capable of AShM, SAM, as well as perhaps either a MRBM or GLCM seems to be what the author is calling for.

          One of my problems though, is whether this would be a system that could realistically be deployed in say, Japan or South Korea. Would they have a problem with such a system being deployed on their soil. Would Japan oppose so clearly offensive a system, and would South Korea have issues with something that has greater application towards China than North Korea.

          Also, strong points from OOE, as expected:). Makes me think of a recent interview I saw with H.R. McMaster (Information Dissemination: What Land Power Sounds Like) where he cautions about getting raiding and fighting wars confused.


          • #6
            So the author wants the Army to deploy a conventional version of the USAFs BGM-109.

            here is your semi tractor Whisky
            Attached Files


            • #7
              Originally posted by USSWisconsin View Post
              I'm imagining something that appears to be a semi-tractor trailer. It could be road mobile and be built in large numbers, with large percentage of decoys units that were just regular transports, but were hard to distinguish from the missile launchers. It would be a "neither confirms nor denies" kind of a setup, where the missile launcher or the similar transports could be forward deployed and enemy satellites or observers wouldn't be sure what they were looking at unless they could get close enough to peak inside. They might be serviced and stored in aircraft hangers or underground facilities to keep prying eyes away.
              That sounds like Russia's Club K.
              "Bother", said Poo, chambering another round.


              • #8
                The sum of the arguments in this article seems to be: What the Army does will be useless in the 21st century, so it should instead try to do what the Air Force and Navy do, except from land......


                • #9
                  Article sucks.

                  You haven't won until Joe, Ivan, Toshii, Tommy Atkins, Pierre or whomever is standing on th enemies ground.

                  For that you need an Army.

                  Oh, we HAD missiles. Anyone ever here of P2? LANCE? We got rid of them because we no longer needed them.
                  “Loyalty to country ALWAYS. Loyalty to government, when it deserves it.”
                  Mark Twain


                  • #10
                    I had always kind of been of the opinion that China and Iran made their investments in ballistic missiles out of positions of weakness, rather than strength. The US can conduct precision, long range strike very effectively from the air and sea. ...and not every single conflict possible in the future has to involve duking it out with China in the Western Pacific.


                    • #11
                      Originally posted by Albany Rifles View Post
                      Article sucks.

                      You haven't won until Joe, Ivan, Toshii, Tommy Atkins, Pierre or whomever is standing on th enemies ground.

                      For that you need an Army.

                      Oh, we HAD missiles. Anyone ever here of P2? LANCE? We got rid of them because we no longer needed them.
                      Not my area of expertise by a long way, but is this something of a return to the ideas of the 50s & perhaps early 60s, whereby missiles (in that case largely with nukes) were to replace troops? As I recall that got ditched. Can't help but think this will simply never get up.

                      Win nervously lose tragically - Reds C C


                      • #12
                        In the 1950s and 1960s the US indeed looked to nukes as a cheaper alternative to manpower. The US Army tried to stay relevant by developing the Pentomic divisions and developing doctrine for the atomic battlefield. Bad idea. As HK Dan has said we can conduct precision strikes just about anywhere on the planet. Okay but what does that get you? How do you define victory?

                        I can not speak for other countries but the US will ALWAYS need a lethal ground combat force. Even if we spin up SOF we still need a conventional force from which to recruit that force. And there will always be bad actors we need to deal with which require boots on the ground.

                        The dollars sunk into these kind of weapon systems for the Army are better spent on improved vehicles, logistics infrastructure, Soldier lethality and survivability.

                        Leave the beyond operational precision strike to the services which have that as a core competency...the USN & USAF.
                        Last edited by Albany Rifles; 01 May 13,, 14:49. Reason: I can't spell worth a shite!
                        “Loyalty to country ALWAYS. Loyalty to government, when it deserves it.”
                        Mark Twain


                        • #13
                          Ah yes, Pentomic divisions. In typical fashion we imitated our new 'great & powerful friend' and had to unpick the whole bloody mess on the eve of our first troop commitment to Vietnam. One of those moments when a bit of good old fashioned Anglophilia would have come in handy.

                          Win nervously lose tragically - Reds C C


                          • #14
                            I think this is a very well written piece about the role that land power can play in the Pacific.

                            Back to reality - May 2013 - Armed Forces Journal - Military Strategy, Global Defense Strategy

                            Back to reality
                            Why land power trumps in the national rebalance toward Asia
                            By Maj. Robert M. Chamberlain

                            The American Army is an organization in search of a strategic purpose. American conventional involvement in the war in Afghanistan is drawing to a close, the security establishment has rejected armed nation-building as a viable national strategy, and the projection of military power seems to take the form of drones and air support to local proxies. Simultaneously, the withdrawal from land wars in the Middle East and the prioritization of East Asia has led to a decline of the doctrinal focus the organization has spent a decade refining — counterinsurgency, or COIN — and the concomitant rise of the new strategy du jour, Air-Sea Battle. In this brave new world, it’s not clear what land power does and, thus, what the Army is good for.

                            As a service with a limited presence in the air and on the sea, this is all a little nerve-wracking. How does an organization that projects land power contribute usefully to an off-shore doctrine and a defense focus on the waters around the Chinese coast? It has been suggested that the Army advertise itself as the only solution to state collapse, capable of rushing in to manage the consequences of a North Korean implosion. Others argue the Army should maintain its COIN focus and commitment to stability operations. Still more turn their focus to the special operations forces (of which the Army provides 60 percent). My assessment is not nearly so modest: If Asia is the central theater in which American national objectives will be challenged in the coming decade, then land power is the key to decoupling economic and military competition in the region, and the Army is the best organization to lead a defense strategy that supports peace, stability and growth.

                            The current obsession with the rise of China and the active debate about its implications for the world and the appropriate Western response have afflicted the American foreign policy establishment with an acute case of cognitive dissonance. On the one hand, China’s growing military capacity and willingness to employ force or threats of force to resolve regional disputes is alarming and may indicate an armed confrontation is in the offing. On the other, China’s active participation in the global economy, substantial financial interests across the region, and heavy investments in the U.S. may indicate that it is essentially a status quo power more interested in wealth than conquest. The truth almost certainly lies somewhere in the middle and, thus, the appropriate American strategy is to prepare for war while encouraging trade. The challenge, then, is to ensure that the pursuit of one goal doesn’t inhibit the other.

                            The grand strategic solution to this challenge is “containment-lite.” In this approach, America seeks out smaller regional states threatened by China’s growing power and facilitates their balancing strategies by offering a much less threatening alternative than simply bandwagoning behind China’s regional aspirations. Thereby, American power in Asia is pooled with smaller states and incipient Chinese militarism is checked. However, unlike the Cold War, Chinese membership in regional organizations is encouraged, expanding Chinese trade is welcomed and Chinese economic growth is applauded. The goal is to raise the cost of militarizing international disputes such that the only rational Chinese alternative is to seek pacific resolution through the tools of economic or diplomatic power.

                            This solution is not without controversy. In “Asia’s New Age of Instability,” Michael Wesley suggests that smaller states in the region can’t pay their share militarily against China, larger states aren’t interested in a partnership with the West, and the American public is uninterested in costly foreign wars in defense of a local ally. By contrast, I argue that small states will contribute progressively more as the Chinese threat emerges, that larger states will respond to growing threats nearby by considering alliances that previously would have been unthinkable, and that the “rally round the flag” effect makes U.S. intervention credible in domestic political terms. But I will set those debates aside and ask the reader to assume that it is possible to form new alliances in the region and that public opinion is no barrier to short- to medium-term American military action. Instead, I wish to consider what tools of American power best facilitate “containment-lite,” which requires that they must demonstrate military resolve without communicating aggressive intentions.

                            LAND POWER — THE BEST DEFENSE

                            Before addressing the specific land power polices that would best advance American interests in East Asia, I will discuss the strategic ends within containment-lite that military means and ways must provide. The whole purpose of the strategy is to encourage China’s peaceful rise, underwrite regional stability, and firmly delink military and economic modes of competition and dispute. The military contribution to these goals must therefore balance martial and diplomatic logics; the path to military superiority in the region could lead to strategic failure if it induces Chinese militarism, arms races and a “fait accompli” crisis strategy. Instead, American military power should operate according to a defensive realist logic — increasing the security of allies without threatening China directly. Supported, but not dominated, by Air-Sea Battle, it must be able to allocate forces in such a way as to signal resolve and diffuse regional crises by removing the credible threat of Chinese military action against smaller states. Air and sea power cannot accomplish these missions alone — the linchpin of a successful American defense strategy in Asia is its use of land power.

                            The most obvious advantage of land power among the islands and peninsulas of East Asia is its heavily defensive character. Unlike Central Europe during the Cold War, where vast armored forces threatened the interests of each superpower and prudent defensive measures were indistinguishable from growing offensive capability, land theaters in Asia are separated from one another by vast bodies of water. This is a truly excellent situation from the U.S. perspective, since it means that land conflict can be localized — U.S. forces in Korea do not threaten China with the specter of rapid military defeat, nor would American reinforcements to allies in Southeast Asia or elsewhere in the region. In fact, we have multiple 20th-century examples of local wars in Asia staying relatively local, despite superpower involvement. Thus, the deployment of an American brigade to assist in the defense of an ally signals resolve and contributes military capacity without threatening China directly in a way that the deployment of a carrier task force or an air wing simply cannot.

                            Land power is uniquely advantageous for a strategy of containment-lite, due to its ability to achieve regional stability without increasing Chinese insecurity. However, the American land power strategy in Asia must encompass much more than the rapid deployment of combat units into crises. Land power must address the full spectrum of regional defense needs, which require careful cultivation of defense partnerships and capabilities in order to match the right force with each emerging contingency. The use of land power in Asia must also inform American doctrine and procurement strategies, as the Army returns to its conventional mission while expanding other capabilities. The chief of staff of the Army refers to these three elements as Win, Shape and Prevent, respectively. Together, they form the three components of America’s strategic solution.

                            THE SPECTRUM OF LAND POWER

                            It is hard to think about land power without the boom of a cannon, the rumble of a tank or the endless rows of soldiers on parade. But the full conventional capability of the United States is only one aspect of land power, and one that should be imagined alongside the shuffling of paper, the snapping of clipboards and a small headquarters element winding their way through an airport. Land power strategy must shape the security environment prior to the arrival of conventional forces, which could either facilitate victory or perhaps even forestall a conflict altogether.

                            The most limited form of land power engagement is back-channel coordination. In concert with other American diplomatic initiatives, this approach enables concerned regional powers with which the U.S. has no formal relationship to lay the groundwork for future engagement. It is the time for staff officers to have confidential discussions about future anticipated defense needs, how the recipient power understands U.S. policy objectives, and how American land power could help check Chinese militarism. This is also an opportunity to establish interoperable systems and procedures that will prove invaluable as American land power involvement moves up the scale.

                            A more overt tool of land power is foreign military sales, military aid packages and technology transfers. These require virtually no uniformed presence or formalized relationship, but still facilitate the spread of military resources that can check Chinese adventurism. Moreover, to the extent that the Chinese threat is a function of air power or theater ballistic missiles, military systems of a purely defensive nature can be exported.

                            Further down the spectrum is the explicit integration of contingency planning between the U.S. and the local ally. This requires careful consideration of disembarkation points for U.S. reinforcements, their planned contribution, the command relationships of the forces in the field and all the myriad other details that create battlefield friction. In addition to personnel from the embassy, this might also entail the rotation of headquarters elements through joint war-game exercises.

                            Next are the types of conventional army interactions that are normally associated with land power: major joint exercises, rotating units or even a permanent presence. These sorts of actions are easily understood and retain the desirable stabilizing properties of land power, but are also rather expensive. In the contemporary budgetary environment it is imperative to maximize the cost-effectiveness of American defense initiatives. By preparing the ground through early shaping operations and staff integration, the U.S. will retain the flexibility to move forces quickly throughout the region while avoiding the costs of keeping units permanently on station.

                            PROCUREMENT AND POSTURE

                            In addition to a shift in defense strategy that prioritizes the stabilizing effects of land power over the inherently threatening alternatives that I will discuss below, it will also be necessary to build a land power capacity that is designed to address both Pacific geography and Chinese capabilities. This represents both a return to the modern Army’s conventional roots and a significant evolution in how it understands its role.

                            The Chinese regional military threat is primarily conventional and must be checked by conventional capabilities. While it would be foolhardy for the U.S. military to completely forget the lessons of the past decade and refuse to prepare units for counterinsurgency and stability operations, it would be equally myopic to decide that these operations ought to be an organizational priority in years to come. When China has used offensive military force to assert its political will, it has not been a particularly subtle affair in terms of either manpower or effect. Thus, a doctrine and equipment set that is built around small platoons running around the battlefield in up-armored Humvees and MRAPs is a recipe for disaster. The People’s Liberation Army will not be defeated by COIN, and if America wishes to lend credible assistance to its allies, it will need to do so in terms of a conventional capability, supported by adequate training and equipment, that can defeat the PLA on conventional terms. The beauty of land power, however, is that the ability to defeat an expeditionary force from China that advances down one of the growing number of paved arteries that connect the region’s industrial centers does not necessarily entail the ability to advance deep into Chinese territory and threaten China itself. Unlike air and sea power, the force can be tailored to meet the requirements of a limited war and return the system to stability.

                            However, many American allies in the region and many countries potentially threatened by Chinese power are islands. If China chooses to employ military threats against these states, the threat would almost certainly take the form of sea, air or missile attack. Traditionally, these have been the purview of our vast and powerful Navy and Air Force. But the trouble with relying on these services is that keeping enough air and sea power in the region to sink the Chinese navy or cripple the Chinese missile fleet is an inherently threatening and destabilizing force posture.

                            I propose that, rather than relying on our ability to achieve dominance in the air and on the sea to thwart potential Chinese military adventurism, America develop a land-based anti-access/area-denial capability of its own. This entails the expansion of theater missile defense initiatives, further development of the U.S. air defense capability, and investment in land-based anti-ship systems. All these capabilities, with the exception of some elements of missile defense, are currently met in Air-Sea Battle by the Air Force and the Navy. That means what the U.S. perceives as defending its allies, the Chinese could legitimately perceive as an expansion of power in the region. By contrast, land-based A2/AD systems are purely defensive. Once the attacker has been defeated (the planes driven off, the missiles shot down, the ships sunk, etc.), the system has no further capability. For example, a Joint Strike Fighter could shoot down incoming aircraft and then be re-armed to attack ground targets. The same is simply not true for land-based air defense.

                            ALTERNATIVES TO LAND POWER

                            One approach to regional defense, which has captured the imagination of American policymakers in the aftermath of the Libyan revolution, is to supply American firepower to local allies through the use of precision strikes guided by small special operations teams. In a conventional scenario, this approach would have our allies fight on their land while we contributed firepower and technological capability from air and sea.

                            This is the Rumsfeldian dream reborn — the low-cost policy option that leverages American technical know-how and the ultimate expression of the “send a bullet, not a man” philosophy of casualty-aversion. The tools for implementing this vision are myriad: strike aircraft deployed from bases in the region or carrier groups, missiles launched from destroyers and submarines, or even long-range bombers flying from Diego Garcia or Missouri.

                            The issues with using this approach in Asia are twofold. First, this particular strategy has never been tried in the face of a robust air-defense network. It is one thing to bomb Taliban loyalists and Libyan pickup trucks. It is quite another to attack a military with the full suite of air-defense options — from shoulder-launched missiles to integrated radar systems — at its disposal. As the Israel Defense Forces learned to their dismay in 1973, the assumption that the skies will remain open is a dangerous one indeed. Second, this option is enormously destabilizing. Specifically, it will encourage militarizing and winning any dispute as quickly as possible. I will elaborate this point further.

                            Consider, for example, the lessons of Libya from the perspective of the target of U.S. bombing. One obvious policy alternative open to American targets is to give in to U.S. demands, but another more appealing alternative exists: One could simply win as quickly as possible. American firepower is immense, but it is not all-powerful. If one can win the ground campaign quickly and decisively, then one has the ability to disperse one’s forces, absorb some casualties, and wait for the Americans to give up and leave or try to introduce ground forces of their own. But, of course, the initial American reliance on air power will likely entail the loss of uncontested ports of entry. Thus, the target has the advantage of opposing an amphibious assault using modern weapons, which holds out the prospect of massive losses to the U.S. Given the increased cost of reversing the military outcome, the U.S. is more likely to simply accept the new status quo and move on. Therefore, you, as the target, have every incentive to go as quickly as possible in order to present America and its allies with a fait accompli.

                            The solution to this problem, from an off-shore firepower perspective, is simply to place more firepower in the area in order to compound the difficulties an aggressor would face in achieving a quick victory. Of course, more firepower would simply encourage the aggressor to move that much quicker, thus requiring more firepower, and so on. This is a classic conflict spiral, which has the twin disadvantages of being costly and destabilizing. It will increase Chinese militarism and fail to control American defense outlays, which is to say that it utterly fails to achieve the overall strategic goal of delinking military and economic disputes, fostering stability and discouraging militarism.


                            Air-Sea Battle, the doctrine being created by the Navy and Air Force to support the rebalance toward Asia, offers a different approach. In “Air Sea Battle: Promoting Stability in an Era of Uncertainty” and “Air-Sea Battle: Clearing the Fog,” the service proponents of this doctrine argue that projecting American power in the region will require the ability to get there in the first place. With the growing Chinese investment in A2/AD technologies, there is serious concern about America’s ability to credibly project power. In order to ensure that the U.S. military can remain a viable instrument of national policy in Asia, this doctrine proposes to integrate air and sea power in such a way that American forces can arrive safely in the region and undertake whatever missions are necessary.

                            To that end, Air-Sea Battle requires that A2/AD systems are attacked simultaneously and in-depth by all available means. It is not enough to simply shoot down incoming ballistic missiles — the U.S. will also attack their launch platforms, the radars that guide them, the facilities that power the radars, the computers that make it all work, etc. This would seem to necessitate attacks against the Chinese mainland, which raises two important possibilities for the evolution of this doctrine.

                            In one evolution, which I will call “Offensive Air-Sea Battle,” proponents of firepower are able to successfully make the case that, as long as one is going to attack China to facilitate the further introduction of forces into the region, one might just as easily use this capability to deter Chinese militarism altogether. If China is a rational actor, then using offshore firepower to threaten Chinese assets raises the costs of military action by China, thus encouraging them to seek alternative means by which to achieve their national goals. Land power becomes a costly redundancy, and the optimal solution for U.S. regional defense needs is simply to invest further in the ships and aircraft that can project power against Chinese forces and industry.

                            From a Chinese perspective, this is obviously extraordinarily threatening. Even implicit threats of force against Chinese cities would have to be met with a robust counterthreat to valued American assets. On the low end, this could mean a naval buildup and an investment in missile capabilities to threaten U.S. bases throughout the region. On the high end, it could mean an expansion of the Chinese nuclear arsenal and a more aggressive nuclear readiness posture. In any event, the emergence of a new arms race and increasing military tensions would represent a significant failure of U.S. policy. And while this policy is not currently under open consideration, history has shown repeatedly that the siren song of air-power-based compellence has an almost irresistible attraction for policymakers.

                            The other evolution, which is the current trend in Air-Sea Battle among the services, is what I call “Defensive Air-Sea Battle.” In the defensive approach, Air-Sea Battle is not meant to compel anyone to do anything. It merely overcomes A2/AD barriers and allows American forces to arrive safely in theater. This is all well and good, but it raises two additional issues. First, how much air-sea capability is enough? Second, what is the American land contingent meant to being doing upon arrival?

                            On the first: In purely military terms, more is almost always better. As long as one can sustain a force logistically, then, all else being equal, greater numbers often lead to faster victories, lower casualties and a wider margin of error in dealing with unanticipated developments. However, in the larger strategic sense, more power can sometimes lead to less security. This is because of the ever-present “security dilemma,” in which an increase in one state’s military capability threatens another, thus inducing the second state to expand its own capability in response. Even if both states have benign intentions and seek only their own survival, they nonetheless end up spending progressively more on arms without ever enhancing their own safety. In fact, the system may become less secure, as each state becomes increasingly well-armed and prepared for war.

                            A twist on the security dilemma proposed in the political science literature is that if a military system had only defensive purposes, it would be less threatening. Conversely, if a system had only offensive purposes, it would certainly induce a robust response. Further, if one could tell defensive from offensive technologies, the system would be more stable, but if the two were indistinguishable, then a security dilemma would occur because one state’s defensive preparations would look like a potential threat to another and vice versa.

                            The problem with the two possible evolutions of Air-Sea Battle I’ve identified here is that the offensive can’t be distinguished from the defensive. If disrupting Chinese A2/AD capabilities requires a simultaneous attack that involves strikes against the Chinese mainland, then, by definition, a greater investment in Air-Sea Battle represents a greater ability to attack China. The policy implication, then, is that not only must Defensive Air-Sea Battle remain doctrinally modest, but the associated procurement and deployment strategy must remain modest as well. It does no good to doctrinally commit to limited aims if doing so entails a massive arms increase and triggers the strategic outcome (militarization and instability) the doctrine was meant to avoid.

                            The second issue with Defensive Air-Sea Battle is that it really isn’t a strategy at all. It’s a handy operational template that pre-coordinates the necessary assets to facilitate the projection of American power into East Asia in the face of enemy A2/AD capabilities. This is all well and good, but it is hardly an acceptable basis for American regional defense strategy. How America ought to deploy its power in order to delink military and economic competition, encourage the peaceful rise of China and foster Asian regional stability remains an open question, one which can only be addressed by the prudent development and employment of land power.

                            RETURNING TO REALISM

                            After a decade of nation-building and revisionist adventures, America seems to be returning to a realist foreign policy. Prudence is once again the supreme virtue, security and stability the guiding lights. The hinterlands in the arc of instability, where transnational terrorism networks go to regroup, are the purview of special operations and drones; the bulk of American military power is being refocused on missions of central national importance. Chief among these is ensuring the peace and prosperity of East Asia. With the renewed focus that the “rebalance toward Asia” implies must come new thinking. Dominance in the air and on the sea may demonstrate the extent of American power, but it also creates a zero-sum security environment. In the world of Air-Sea Battle, America and China may find themselves locked in a security competition that serves the interest of neither state.

                            By contrast, land power represents a flexible tool that is uniquely suited to the Asian security environment. The Navy remains the essential guarantor of global commerce and the freedom of the seas, and the Air Force gives policy-makers an unparalleled set of global strike options. But only the Army and Marines can provide a security commitment to America’s partners in Asia that does not simultaneously threaten China itself. Land power is the only avenue by which America can enhance regional security and stability, deter Chinese militarism and encourage Chinese commitment to the global status quo. It is land power, and land power alone, that can bring America’s Asia policy back to reality.


                            • #15
                              I suggest the Maj stop grasping at unrealistic options and instead ask this simple question. What would it take for the Chinese or the Russians to kill a nuclear armed brigade combat team?