Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Military Power In US Marine's View.

A rather interesting and thoughtful piece by Captain Joshua Waddell in Marine Corps Gazette about innovation and self-delusion. Whilst thoughtful and competent, it is also a bitter  piece, which is understandable when one considers the sequence of events in the last 15 years. 

"Let us first begin with the fundamental underpinnings of this delusion: our measures of performance and effectiveness in recent wars. It is time that we, as professional military officers, accept the fact that we lost the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Objective analysis of the U.S. military’s effectiveness in these wars can only conclude that we were unable to translate tactical victory into operational and strategic success.1 As military professionals, it is not sufficient to offload the responsibility for these failures, at least in their entirety, to decision makers in Washington or in perceived lack of support from other governmental agencies. We must divorce ourselves from the notion that criticism of our performance is an indictment or devaluation of the sacrifices our Marines made on the battlefield. Like many of you, I lost Marines in the “Long War” as well. It has taken several years of personal struggle to arrive at the conclusions I am writing now."

Translating battlefield success into a political resolution, that is attaining political objectives of the war is what makes a victory and it is hard. Sometimes, it is impossible. Such as was the case in the First Chechen War when Russian Army delivered one operational success after another only to be stopped by Russia's political "top" operating in its own interests, such as interests of Boris Berezovsky whose complete role in Chechen conflict is still not completely revealed. There is no denial of the fact that US Marine or US Army soldier are, on average, better soldiers than anyone US Armed Forces encountered in their "long war" in the Middle East. They are also better equipped, but those are just several among many factors that influence the outcome. Political, ideological and cultural restraints play no less important role in the outcome. Waddlle also makes a crucial observation:

"What makes this necessary, however, is that if you accept the objective, yet repulsive, fact that our Marines died on the losing side of our most recent wars, you cannot then accept that the status quo of the Marine Corps, and the larger defense establishment, is in an acceptable state of affairs. This is further compounded by future forecasts of conflicts with adversaries that are beginning to look like more like peers despite the self-aggrandizing “near-peer” label we assign them.2 We allow ourselves to look at our impressive defense budget and expensive systems and throw around hyperbole about the United States having the greatest military in the world. How, then, have we been bested by malnourished and undereducated men with antiquated and improvised weaponry whilst spending trillions of dollars in national treasure and costing the lives of thousands of servicemen and hundreds of thousands of civilians? Judging military capability by the metric of defense expenditures is a false equivalency. All that matters are raw, quantifiable capabilities and measures of effectiveness. For example: a multi-billion dollar aircraft carrier that can be bested by a few million dollars in the form of a swarming missile barrage or a small unmanned aircraft system (UAS) capable of rendering its flight deck unusable does not retain its dollar value in real terms. Neither does the M1A1 tank, which is defeated by $20 worth of household items and scrap metal rendered into an explosively-formed projectile. The Joint Improvised Threat Defeat Organization has a library full of examples like these, and that is without touching the weaponized return on investment in terms of industrial output and capability development currently being employed by our conventional adversaries."  

I am ready to subscribe to every word in this observation. Of course, wars do vary and, hopefully only theoretical, peer-to-peer war will involve a vast range of combat, varying from local insurgency and guerilla warfare to an employment of very high-tech and very expensive weapons. And here is the point this little blog of mine was making from the inception. US cannot anymore produce weapons which would satisfy basic cost/effectiveness criteria. Let's face it--US weapons, some of them bad, others--very good,  are damn expensive. Some of them are so expensive that they lose any real operational value since even a loss of a single one of them will mean not only a huge monetary loss but a PR and political catastrophe. Many forget today the effect shooting down of F-117 by Serbia's Air Defense Force in 1999 had. It was a bombshell which in a single day made all those authors who claimed F-117 to be totally "invisible" to enemy's radar to change their tune, especially against the background of F-117 being shot down by 1960s Soviet AD system. But in the end, it was a professionalism of Serbian crew which created a public relations disaster in US. Sinking of US Navy's aircraft carrier? This will be a political nightmare which may push US to do the unthinkable. But war is a very democratic affair--the enemy also has a say in it. In the end, pure monetary assessment of military is absolutely stupid and anti-scientific. War is a science and there are ways to make more-or-less correct predictions. 

Waddell doesn't miss (of course) Russia's example:

"This year, the budget for the entire Russian military, the one that embarrassed our national policies in Ukraine and Syria, was 3.1 trillion Russian rubles, which comes out to roughly $42 billion by the exchange rate at the time of this writing.6 Even adjusting for the collapse of the ruble (ironically giving the United States, a nation with strategic cash reserves in the international exchange currency, more buying power), their previous modernization budgets roughly meet less than half of the Department of the Navy’s corresponding yearly budgets. This is the same Russian military whom the RAND Corporation has estimated would be unstoppable in an initial conventional conflict in the Baltic States, even against the combined might of the NATO forces stationed there."

Here he repeats the old cliche about Russia, such as Russian forces being involved in Ukraine--there is no regular Russian Army there. If it would have been there, we all would have been discussing the fate of the remnants of the Ukrainian Army which would have been demolished in a matter of days, if not hours. Counter-insurgency is a different matter. I already stated, not for once, that Russian Ruble simply buys more bang for a buck, so to speak. But here is the deal and I also speak about it constantly. Remember Arthur J. Alexander's percentages influencing military procurement? US' Military-Industrial Complex and military-political environment simply has NO pressure produced and applied to them by ACTUAL military threats to the United States which would create a necessary critical mass allowing for producing better and more effective weapons, the same as more realistic operational concepts. It is one thing to fight at your home's doorsteps, totally another--going to the remote neighborhoods looking for trouble. I really doubt that mighty Mexico or ever bellicose Canada would invade and wreck a havoc in the US and that is the key factor. US military-industrial complex can afford to make not only good weapons but a lot of very expensive and lame weapon systems. The failures of those will not result in US being attacked, let alone occupied. Russian MIC can not afford this. Make no mistakes, Russia also produces, once in a while, some lame weapon system but it is a fairly rare occurrence. But it is understanding of this fact which seems to escape many US observers. Russia can not afford to produce F-35 or LCS, not in fiscal terms, I am pretty sure Russia can repeat these two for a fraction of the costs. Russia can not afford this geopolitically, the United States can, and that makes a whole world of a difference.

In general, however, the piece is good, it is written by a competent man, a combat veteran, and this piece is a good demonstration of the transformation and evolution of the views which are happening inside US military. It is worth reading even if for contemplation of the ways warfare is changing while always remaining the same.

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