A US Army Apache helicopter lands on a Navy ship in the Persian Gulf region.

A US Army Apache helicopter lands on a Navy ship in the Persian Gulf region.

CAPITOL HILL: With half a million soldiers on active duty, you’d think the Army would be hard to overlook. When the House Armed Services Committee organized a hearing on the hot interservice concept known as “Air-Sea Battle,” though, they kind of forgot to invite the Army. But the largest service elbowed its way onto the panel at the last moment. What’s more, its representative turned out to be the most engaged, engaging, and enthusiastic person there.

“Some might be surprised that an Amy general would be before Congress talking about Air-Sea Battle, and I confess I’m a little surprised myself to be here,” said Maj. Gen. Gary Cheek in his opening remarks. (Skip ahead to 35:00 in the video of the hearing). He was also the one witness not to read from a prepared written statement, which made him sound much less robotic.

“But I would frankly tell you that, for the Army, we look forward to any and every opportunity to partner with our joint brothers and sisters,” Cheek continued. “This is really what makes our military unique, is the fact we can bring these pieces together.”

That wasn’t the subcommittee’s original plan. In fact, there was no one from the Army on the original witness list and the hearing title still refers to “USAF, USN, and USMC Development of Air/Sea Battle.” It’s not an unforgiveable oversight, since the Seapower and Projection Forces subcommittee mostly deals with the Navy, the Marine Corps and some Air Force programs. But it was a telling oversight all the same. Even more telling was the Army’s eagerness to get involved.

“We were added in,” Cheek told me frankly after the hearing. When it comes to Air-Sea Battle, he said, “we’re a charter member, we’re a part of this, and we want the Army to present when the other services are as well.”

The other participants played predictable roles that spoke volumes about the politics of Air-Sea Battle. The Navy and Air Force representatives emphasized how well they were cooperating across all the services, but especially with each other, in wargaming and concept development. The Marines emphasized their uniqueness and how it made them essential both to Air-Sea Battle and to many other missions; that’s the kind of one-foot-in, one-foot-out approach that has characterized the Marines’ stance on both Air-Sea Battle and the “Strategic Landpower” effort led by the Army and Special Operations Command.

On the subcommittee itself, Chairman Randy Forbes kept pushing people to talk about strategy instead of just budgets; ranking Democrat Mike McIntyre argued the Air Force needed a bigger budget share; Connecticut’s Joe Courtney pushed for more investment in submarines; and Virginia’s Rob Wittman wanted more amphibious warfare ships.

The Army actually only contributes one uniformed officer to the Air-Sea Battle Office, which has a staff of about 15. In general, its attitude towards the Air Force and Navy-driven concept has been a mix of suspicion, envy, and me-tooism: Suspicion that the whole thing was a pretext for the air and sea services to seize some of the Army’s share of a shrinking budget; envy for all the attention the idea was getting from the administration, the Hill, and the punditocracy; and a somewhat desperate attempt to play catch-up with the flavor of the week.

Maj. Gen. Cheek, however, had not only enthusiasm but specific examples of how the Army played a role in what is the central mission of Air-Sea Battle, defeating enemy “anti-access/area denial” networks. China is the nightmare scenario for “A2/AD,” with submarines, mines, and missiles forming a layered defense designed to keep the US out of the West Pacific, but Iran has its own sea mines, missiles, and fast attack boats in place to carry out its threats to close the Strait of Hormuz. Having just finished two years as deputy commanding general of US Army Central (ARCENT), the Army component of Central Command, Cheek had a hands-on role in fitting the Army into an interservice A2/AD effort.

“For air and missile defense, we provided Army Patriots, the Navy provided Aegis cruisers, but we put them under the tactical control of the Air Force,” he told the subcommittee. “We provided Army tactical missiles as part of the Air Tasking Order and the joint targeting plan,” integrating them with fighter jets and ship-launched cruise missiles. And, Cheek said, “something that I know our soldiers really enjoyed was operating Apache helicopters off the decks of Navy ships, where we would receive moving target indicators from Air Force aircraft and operate under tactical control of the Navy against small attack craft in the Persian Gulf.”

This wasn’t easy, Cheek told me after the hearing. “There are varying degrees of interoperability,” he said. “It is not perfect but I think our ability to communicate grows over time as we do systems integration” across the services – a major focus of the Air-Sea Battle initiative.

For example, “we have a variety of different models of Apaches and some of them have a lot more capability for sharing information than others,” Cheek said. The most advanced Apaches had digital communications gear designed to work with drones – so-called Manned-Unmanned Teaming, MUM-T – so the Army could “actually take a picture from the Apaches and we could send it to the ship; you could a video from a UAV and show it in the Apache.”

Earlier model Apaches? Not so much. To get around some of the problems, in fact, “we put Apache pilots in the JSTARS” – an Air Force radar surveillance plane – “so we could actually make it work.”

Some aspects, however, were straightforward, notably joint missile defense. They’re our Patriots but we pass them to the Air Force for tactical control in operations, and we do so without a second thought,” Cheek told me.

On the other hand, the Army cannot and should not do everything, the general emphasized. Yes, its Army Tactical Missile System, ATACMS (pronounced “attack ’em) is “unique” in the military’s missile inventory, Cheek said, with “a capability and a lack of vulnerabilities that other systems don’t offer.” (Cheek didn’t go into details but missile batteries moving around on the cluttered surface of the earth are generally much harder targets to track than bombers in the empty air or ships on the flat seas). “Yes, we can fire a missile surface-to-surface to hit this target,” he said, “but can we also do it with the Navy and the Air Force, and if we can, what’s the best way to do it?”

Figuring out where the services complement each other and where they just overlap – then cutting the excess – is another major emphasis of the Air-Sea Battle project. “There’s goodness in redundancy but you have to smart about where you spend the money,” Cheek told me – especially nowadays.

Comments

  • Don Bacon

    Despite Randy Forbes’ best efforts, without political direction regarding military strategy it is a fools’ errand to get meaningful positions out of both politicians and military officers regarding spending. They will simply promote their own best interests.

    And even J. Randy goes of on a silly toot sometimes:

    “Whether it is combatting piracy off the Horn of Africa, preventing Iran from closing the Strait of Hormuz to energy shipments, or upholding the bedrock principle of freedom of navigation in the Asia-Pacific, the Navy-Marine Corps team is essential to the health of the U.S. economy.”

    Now combating piracy off Somalia has been a joint effort that has mostly succeeded. Iran would only close her adjacent waters if she’s attacked. Freedom of navigation in the Pacific area hasn’t been a problem, except it’s becoming one in the Strait of Malacca which concerns mainly China (mostly), Japan and Singapore.

    So that leaves North Korea, the gift that keeps on giving to the MIC, but which is strongly out-gunned, and China which is gaining control of its adjacent waters. I don’t think the average American has a problem with that so long as trans-Pacific WalMart shipments are not threatened.

    In any case, ground wars are — so last century. Forget it. Turn the other Cheek.

    • Mike

      Some how, I would expect the PLA to say much the same thing… Perhaps, in some future battle when many of our very sophisticated systems have been destroyed by China’s considerable ability at cyber attacks and espionage, a very large and capable American Land Army and an equally well armed citizenry might just be the tipping point which encourages the PLA to stay in it’s box on that side of the Pacific, even when those “trans-Pacific WalMart shipments” have ceased to exist, because they were not wanted nor needed, aye?

      • SkyFell

        Check your logistics. We have zero ability to fight a land war in Asia against a foe like China. Check you Vietnam War – and that was back when we still had massive sealift capability, which we no longer have and which can be sunk by ground-based missile systems and airborne-launched missile systems long before they reach an Asian dock.

        The possibility of the US fighting a major land war in Asia is about the same as China fighting a major land war in North America. Same issue both ways. Too much sea in between and logistics is infeasible in the current missile environment.

        • Mike

          I think you misread my comment…..

      • Don Bacon

        There is no evidence that the PLA has any intention of leaving its side of the Pacific, so a “very large and capable American Land Army” is completely unnecessary.

  • ELP

    Be even better for Army if they had AFVs that could swim like the BTR and BMP. THAT would be useful for a Pacific pivot. Well, not counting the thousands of M113s in storage.

  • Don Bacon

    The Pentagon’s Air-Sea Battle Concept, according to the Navy, “is intended to defeat such threats to access, and provide options to national leaders and military commanders, to enable follow-on operations, which could include military activities, as well as humanitarian assistance and disaster response. In short, it is a new approach to warfare.”

    This is in response to China’s unconventional pursuit of weapons intended to control its geographical area. China has had remarkable success in producing missiles propelled by rocket motors and small turbofan engines. The PLA has been able to harness this expertise to produce the world’s largest inventory of theater missile systems.

    The Pentagon would like to go back to the good old days, when the US Marines and other western military forces occupied Beijing. Forget it — those days are over. The world has changed. Globalization has wrought a diffusion of power among nation-states and increased the technology-driven empowerment of individuals, non-state actors and networks. This is redistributing and redefining power – a far cry from the early 1990s, when the term globalization was synonymous with the United States.

    The Asian economy, with China at its center, is where the growth is. Two-thirds of Middle Eastern oil is exported to East Asia; China, Japan, South Korea and Taiwan receive over 70% of their oil imports from Gulf states. Similarly, we see growing economic links between Asia and Latin America, and between China and Africa.

    Under these conditions, China more than ever resents the US and other western powers controlling its commercial waterways, and threatening to attack its defensive forces. People that fail to understand these changes need to wake up and smell the coffee.

    Interestingly, the Pentagon, besides talking tough, is engaged in a growing mil-mil effort with China. That’s where the effort should be, and not in this silly air-sea battle puffery which is only designed to feed the MIC.

  • SkyFell

    The US Army is basically obsolete. After the debacles in Iraq and Afghanistan, and the decline in US economic power, we have neither the will nor the resources to fight a major land campaign outside of North America.

    We need the National Guard to protect us from the superpowers Mexico and Canada, and the rest is the responsibility of the Navy, Air Force, and Marine Corps.

    • wolfpack08

      Such ideas are not unusual after a major ground war. The US Army is not obsolete but it does need to re-task and, in some cases, re-organize. The active Army can downsize below the 490,000 mark and still be a viable & relevant force. Peacetime means getting lean and hard.

      • Gary Church

        The worst mistake the armed forces could make right now is to flood the job market with discharged service members while continuing to fund massive weapons programs. But that is probably what is going to happen.

    • Jnest

      Mexico and Canada superpowers? Haha

    • Swiftright Right

      Your post reads like amature arm chair general trash from the 1930′s,1950′s,1970′s,1980′s, and 1990′s. Seriously the army has been obsolete according to your types for close to 100 years now.

    • Gary Church

      Our soldiers are the best in the world. Americans can shoot and are smart and we have several million of them and veterans to lead them if needed. Infantry are never obsolete. The resources available to any force we are likely to face are worthless in comparison to just our ability to put so many quality combat boots on the ground. The nuclear powers will never go to war with each other- Einstein ended the era of total war. Limited war was being practiced in world war 2 where chemical and biological weapons were purposely not used. The present adventures are a very limited form of war confined to certain boundaries on the other side of the world.

  • Mike

    Interesting how, in my opinion, so few of the comments on this site appear to be coming from AMERICANS, that first, have “been there, done that” and secondly, have been educated on and are seriously experienced in, the Economics of the Free World…. :(

    • Don Bacon

      And your comment is a good example — thank you.

      • JohnJubly

        I very much doubt you are from a western nation let alone America. Your posting history is clearly geared towards creating fear, uncertainty and doubt about a global system that has underpinned living standards, security, and scientific advancement unprecedented in human history.

        The United States, Canada, Australia, the Asian democracies and the European Union together represent the vast majority of world GDP, and nearly all of world scientific research and technical development.

        The future may eventually belong to China, but it seems the populations of South Korea, Taiwan or Japan aren’t willing to submit to the rule of the communist party without putting up a fight.

        • Don Bacon

          China hasn’t threatened South Korea nor Japan, so let’s put those aside.

          Taiwan is different, because it’s part of China. In fact, Taiwan WAS China to the u.S. for about twenty years, and Taipei still claims to be the ncapital of C

  • Plenum

    Planning may call for reserving the Army for domestic purposes…

    • Don Bacon

      A little Air-Sea battle against the vets in Washington, perhaps?

      • Plenum

        Right, Don – Right Zephon… That’s the general idea, I was thinking of. Forward-looking domestic use of USArmy personnel supporting local police, equipped and now trained, with excess military equipment (received during the Bush Administration) should have both forces blending quite well against those oh-so righteously-rebellious civilians like Mrs. Janice Watkins (35y.o. divorced mother of two daughters) of Jonesboro, MO. and Tyler Branson (14y.o. 7th grader) of Ryan, Kentucky, and Nellie Sanders (82y.o. grandmother of 27 descendants) of Lenox, Mass.

    • Zephon

      Remember General Macarthur when he brought in tanks to Washington DC to run down the “Bonus Army” – an encampment of WWI veterans wanting their past due benefits that were scrapped after the Great Depression. Leaving many dead veterans in the wake of those tank tracks and homeless veterans.

  • idahoguy101

    Most of the Army can be Reserve or National Guard troopers. Use the Israeli Defense Force pattern of a small very professional Army that can be mobilized.

    • Zephon

      Think of the cost savings of such a change in our National Defense…

      Then we could fix our infrastructure and educational systems and become more competitive in the world.