[updated with Adm. Greenert comment] WASHINGTON: While the Navy pivots to the Pacific, the Coast Guard has got their northern flank: the once icebound but now rapidly opening waters of the Arctic Ocean, with its new opportunities for oil, gas, and trade through the fabled Northwest Passage. For the chronically underfunded and “oversubscribed” service, however, the… Keep reading →
By Robbin Laird and Ed Timperlake The Chinese, who have been shoving their neighbors around with considerable panache over the last year, upped the ante yesterday with a claim in the official People’s Daily — not yet disavowed by the government — that the PRC may have a claim to Okinawa and others of the… Keep reading →
CAPITOL HILL: Navy Secretary Ray Mabus talked up the controversial Littoral Combat Ship days before departing for Asia to visit the first LCS, USS Freedom, which recently arrived in Singapore (sporting a sniffy camo paint job). Freedom has been bedeviled by cost overruns, delays, and manufacturing defects, with a new problem, seawater contamination in lubricant fluid, arising on its trans-Pacific trip. But the bigger picture Mabus said, is how this new class of small and nimble ship will cooperate with foreign partners to keep the peace in the volatile South China Sea and the strategic Strait of Malacca.
“Freedom is the first of its class, and it was built as an experimental ship, and every first of the class has some issues,” Mabus said of the seawater contamination, speaking to reporters after a Friday speech on energy security hosted by the Truman National Security Project. “One of the reasons we sent Freedom forward on deployment was to see what those issues were.” Keep reading →
WASHINGTON: America’s commandos have been darlings of the Congress, Pentagon, and the media since 9/11. Now, as Special Operations Forces reorient from Iraq and Afghanistan to lower-profile missions worldwide in places like Mali, they will need new sources of funding and new legal authorities — changes that may rub both Congress and the four armed services the wrong way.
That’s the conclusion of a recent report by Wilson Center scholar and sometime US Central Command advisor Linda Robinson, who interviewed more that 60 senior officers and civilian officials, released last week by the Council on Foreign Relations. Keep reading →
WASHINGTON: Singapore is expected to announce sometime in the next 10 days that it plans to buy its first squadron –12 planes — of some 75 of Lockheed Martin’s F-35Bs, further bolstering what had been the flagging fortunes of the world’s most expensive conventional weapon system.
The fact that American allies in the Pacific are the ones committing to the controversial and over-budget aircraft is telling. If you want to understand the calculus driving these choices, first look at China, which to countries such as Singapore, Japan, Australia, and South Korea is the primary long-term threat. Keep reading →
WASHINGTON: On the tenth anniversary of the invasion of Iraq one of the Army’s leading thinkers, warned Washington not to learn the wrong lessons.
CJCS Gen. Dempsey Signals Strategy Change; Cites Sequestration, Decline Of State Power, Technology SpreadBy Colin Clark
UPDATED: It’s Official. Hagel Orders Strategy Review Done By May 31. Will Underpin QDR
WASHINGTON: A meeting last Wednesday between the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs and his five colleagues from the services and the National Guard, followed by a Thursday meeting between CJCS Gen. Martin Dempsey and the new defense secretary, Chuck Hagel. They discussed our national military strategy. Keep reading →
[UPDATED 7pm with Sec. Hagel remarks] WASHINGTON: This afternoon, newly installed Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel gave a nod to a high-tech radar, the AN/TPY-2 — improbably nicknamed “Tippy Two” — as a key component of America’s burgeoning missile defenses. Next week could bring more good news for the radar’s manufacturer, Raytheon: Not only will the company announce the delivery of the eighth TPY-2 system to the Army, but Congress is expected to add back a $163 million radar the administration had cut from the program — that is, if the Senate manages to pass the defense appropriations bill.
“It’s not done yet, no fat lady’s singing,” said Raytheon’s Jim Bedingfield in an interview with Breaking Defense this morning, literally knocking on wood at a coffee shop table. Bedingfield is a retired Army air and missile defense officer who works in Raytheon’s Missile Defense & Space Programs unit, which makes the TPY-2 radar. He’s not come down from his Massachusetts office to DC to meet with members of Congress, he said, but he couldn’t speak to what Raytheon’s lobbyists are doing in the last-minute scramble to protect — or insert — items in the defense spending bill. Keep reading →
Nuclear Weapons Critics Suffer Cold War Brain Freeze; Deterrence Works, Argues Top Air Force OfficialBy James Blackwell
Before his latest State of the Union speech, President Obama was widely reported to be ready to propose a significant reduction in nuclear weapons. Then North Korea conducted a nuclear test the day before the address. (The photo above shows Kim Jong-Un smiling after his country’s recent successful ballistic missile test.) In his speech, President Obama only committed the US government to work with Russia to “seek further reductions,” though the New York Times said before the speech that the administration aimed to cut as many as 700 of our 1,700 deployed nuclear weapons. One of America’s most highly regarded nuclear strategists argues below that nuclear deterrence works. James A. Blackwell, an Air Force official, posits that those who argue they are Cold War weapons of such tremendous power as to be unusable are demonstrably wrong. The Editor.
There is an unsettling paradox in much of the recent debate over nuclear weapons in this country. Some pundits, fixated on purging “Cold War thinking” from those of us with real-world responsibilities for nuclear deterrence, are themselves suffering from thoughts frozen in time. In the midst of this important debate, let me offer some examples of the new strategic concepts emerging from a new generation of deterrence thinkers.
The conventional wisdom is that a world with fewer nuclear weapons is inherently a better world. What we are discovering is that less is not less, less is different.
US policy has led in reducing nuclear weapons. At its peak in 1967, the US stockpile stood at a staggering 31,255 warheads. Just since 1991, we have disassembled more than 13,000 weapons, and in the past decade taken our stockpile – the total number of weapons — down from 10,526 in 2001 to 5,113 in 2010. Our nuclear weapons and delivery platforms now number an order of magnitude less than during the Cold War, and this policy continues — creating new conditions in the global nuclear balance.
In this new nuclear environment, potential adversaries are reaching conclusions we did not expect, and our allies and partners are more nervous about it than we want them to be. This new world of several contending nuclear powers behaves differently than the bi-polar world that preceded it.
Deterrence is no longer (if it ever really was) a rational actor systems model; it works as a mental model. It’s more like the “hot hand” rule in basketball – players do not keep mental statistics on who has the highest percentage shot for a particular game situation; instead they carry a moving mental image of who at that moment is on a streak and feed the ball to that player instinctively. The same kind of thing happens in crisis and conflict. Behavioral scientists call this “fast, frugal heuristics,” and are beginning to explore the empirical dimensions of this 21st century deterrence dynamic.
There are some surprising findings and insights.
First, just because no one has detonated a nuclear weapon in war since 1945, does not mean they are sitting idly by, with little purpose. Nuclear weapons are in fact “used” every day — not to win a war, but to deter any adversary from thinking they could get away with starting one. As budget pressures rise, many call for not spending more on weapons we cannot use in the kinds of conflicts most likely to occur – presumably counter-terrorism or conventional warfare. But a nuclear war is the conflict we need to make sure remains the least likely to happen.
Second, there is much new research on 21st century deterrence of rogue actors and terrorists. We now know that, during the 1991 Persian Gulf War, Saddam Hussein was persuaded that if he were to order use of chemical weapons against US troops, the US would have responded with tactical nuclear weapons.
Hussein had extensive discussions with his generals – lectures really – and injected that assumption into all their war planning. Such thinking likely resides within the decision-making processes of other states that face a similar calculus. There is merit in reinforcing such fears among others who would harm their neighbors. It turns out that terrorists, even suicide bombers, harbor visceral fears of nuclear weapons, fears that can be exploited to deter them from acting should they ever get one.
Islamic terrorists adhere to the Koran’s proscriptions against poisoning the earth with radiological effects and creating mass casualties among the innocent. Cyber and psychological campaigns can broadcast messages across terrorists’ own social networks to convey this narrative challenge to terrorists’ intent. Terrorist cells also fear failure, so technical sabotage, misinformation and deception can magnify doubt about the prospects for a successful detonation.
Third, US nuclear weapons serve as a powerful instrument of nonproliferation. Post-Cold War experience reveals that others, from Saddam’s Iraq, to North Korea, Libya, Iran and others, pursue nuclear weapons as the centerpiece of an asymmetric counter to the United States’ conventional military superiority. As every other nuclear power except the U.S. modernizes their nuclear weapons, and as the number of nuclear armed states continues to grow, our allies and partners who rely on our extended deterrent are increasingly motivated to consider obtaining their own nuclear arsenal. We must actively pursue a flexible strategy that allays such concerns among allies.
Some assert that a reliable nuclear deterrent does not require the ability to retaliate immediately, only the assurance that U.S. nuclear forces would survive any attack.
Aside from the fact that none of America’s nuclear triad is on “hair-trigger” alert, the reality of fewer nuclear weapons is that we cannot rely solely on a super-survivable second strike nuclear force that deters only by threatening retaliation. Such a posture could readily be perceived as threatening our intent to strike first. We must have a resilient nuclear arsenal that deters a nuclear strike in the first place.
No president would want to ask the American people to ride out a first strike and then trust him to order a retaliatory strike on behalf of the remaining fraction of our population. What the president needs is a nuclear force that would lead no nuclear armed state, faction or terrorist to conclude that it has less to lose by striking us first, even with just one or a few nuclear weapons. We must not give anyone cause to contemplate such a move.
This is a very different form of deterrence than the Cold War. No longer can we rely on the mathematics and purely rational models of nuclear exchange developed in the 20th century. We must understand human perception and decision-making. For 21st century deterrence, the value of first-strike stability is now at least equally important as maintaining an assured retaliation capability. Those of us in the new generation of strategic thinkers have liberated our minds from Cold War thinking to make sure that today, nuclear weapons are never used.
James Blackwell is special advisor to the Air Force’s assistant Chief of Staff for strategic deterrence and nuclear integration.
France has been hailed by the people of Mali for driving al Qaeda-linked thugs from their country. Malians greeted French President Francois Hollande with cheers of Vive la France when he recently visited Timbuktu. But the rebels and al Qaeda are not yet crushed, though they have been forced to cede most inhabited territory. The mix is getting richer now with kidnappings that appear to be in retaliation for the French operations claiming seven French tourists, including three children, in northwest Cameroon and seven foreign workers in Nigeria. Murielle Delaporte, a respected French defense analyst, analyzes just what has made the French operations so successful so far. This article includes an exclusive interview with the commander of French helicopter forces in Mali. The Editor.
The Mali operation was seen as requiring the rapid insertion of force at the moment when the adversary had begun to aggregate force. The French approach is very much about how to intervene and to trigger coalition operations in order to stabilize the situation with regional partners, rather than to simply stay in place for a long time.
It is “shock and awe” to deter the enemy and to trigger space for coalition success, not “shock and awe” for the sake of staying. As part of the support effort, allies – the US and Canada, as well as many European nations such as Britain, Belgium, Denmark and Germany – have been involved as well. [The photo above demonstrates this. It depicts a US Air Force KC-135 refueling a French fighter during the Mali operations. The Editor.]
But the French effort shows the importance of clear command and control as well as national control over force projection and autonomous capabilities. “Never Without Support” was the praise given by British ground troops to helicopter support during their missions in Afghanistan. The 4,000 French forces currently involved in Mali in the fight against Al-Qaeda affiliated insurgents (more forces than in Afghanistan) are applying this principle to the letter – and in all senses of the words – both at the tactical and strategic levels.
Shock and Awe The French way: Joint Tactical Support at Its Best
A rapid and massive offensive was generated to block the insurgents from reaching Bamako who were within several days reach of the capital.
A month later, as the commander of French Army Aviation in Mali explained in a recent interview: “The enemy has been taken by surprise and is now destabilized. Because of the lightning speed of the maneuver by the Serval force, the insurgents are now fleeing and not willing to fight, as they did not expect such concentration and mobility above their heads.”
Even though the war has, of course, not been won yet, the operation of joint air and ground raids to unloose the Gordian knot of AQIM (Al Qaeda In Maghreb), and other insurgents groups, has been crucial. This effort has been possible due to several factors: The first is the speed of the French forces and the ability to react in a matter of hours as far as air operations were concerned.
For example, on the Air Force side, the very first strikes by the Rafale fighters taking off from the FAB Saint Dizier were done thanks to an unprecedented nine hours and thirty five minutes flight involving five air-to-air refueling.
On the Army side, it took only two days for the French Army Air Mobility Group (GAM for Groupe Aéromobile) to be operational and in autonomous operation after a strategic airlift from the South of France to the capital of Mali involving close to 300 men and 20 helos. As a French officer involved in the operation said: “After leaving Bamako for Sevare five hundred kilometers further on January 26th, then leaving again for Gao on February sixth, five hundred kilometers further, I have available the support tools of nearly a full regiment ranging from my air control tower… to spares allowing me to last for months.”
The rapid surge of the Serval force, which should soon count in particular three battalion-sized Task Forces (GTIA or Groupement Tactique Interarmes), has also been facilitated by France’s historic presence and defense commitments in this part of the world (e.g. the Epervier operation in Chad since 1986 and the UN Unicorn operation in Ivory Coast since 2002).
Among the reasons for this fast and effective deployment of forces was France’s ability to leverage national assets based in nearby African countries. Mobility and concentration of forces have also been rendered possible by good command control, bolstered by joint training and experience between the French Air Force (Rafale and Mirage 2000D fighters and N’Djamena-based JFACC), the Navy (with the amphibious assault ship BPC Dixmude bringing ground elements ashore, as well as the Atlantique 2 maritime patrol aircraft crucial to coordinate CAS operations between Army aviation and ground troops) and the Army.
Army helicopters were able to carry out “reconnaissance or raid offensives as well as support operations, such as fire support for the 2e REP (2nd Foreign Legion parachute regiment) in Timbuktu so it could regroup in the best conditions possible,” according to a French military source in Mali. This airborne operation was the first of this size since Kolweizi in 1978. A second airborne operation was successfully conducted on February 7 in northern Mali by French special operation forces as well as French and Chadian conventional forces to secure Tessalit.
Not Fighting Alone: the Need for Speed in Strategic Support
From the beginning, the French intervention was not seen as an isolated event, but as one designed to clear the path for coalition forces to take over the mission. For example, Chadian armed forces indeed amount to 1,800 men and are part of a total African force of 4,100 being currently mobilized to fight along the side of the French troops and gradually take over as early as the end of next month.
A growing number of allied countries’ are offering logistic and support assets to help sustain French and African armed forces’ sustainability in a theater characterized by vast distances and few roads or other basic infrastructure. Transport aircraft and tankers have been sent early on by the United States and European countries, while the Eindhoven-based European Air Transport Command is increasing its involvement with the participation of a Dutch KDC-10 and, soon, it will be joined by a German A310 MRTT tanker.
In other words, France’s goal is to start reversing the balance between supported and supporting forces as early as the end of March in a secure, responsible and coordinated manner to prevent the “Afghanisation” of the conflict feared by many. From this point of view, European military training of local forces, which is also kicking in, will also be a key factor to make sure African ground troops have the best chances to secure the whole land of Mali.
Recent progress in Somalia with the EU training mission (EUTM) now under the command of Brigadier General Gerald Aherne from Ireland (in two years 3,000 Somali troops have been formed in police and anti-terrorist missions) feeds the hope among allies that, after more than a decade of ground entanglements, a long term success of a new type of lighter footprint coalition support is attainable.