April 2009

Soldiers of the Army's 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault) fire a TOW missile at a building suspected of harboring Saddam Hussein's sons Qusay and Uday in Mosul, Iraq, on July 22, 2003.

101st Airborne Division Soldiers fire missile at building in Mosul, Iraq, in which Uday and Qusay Hussein barricaded themselves, July 2003

Earlier this month, the National Defense University Institute for National Strategic Studies held a two day symposium which identified eight global trends driving tomorrow’s complex security environment.

The findings have been published in a seminal volume titled America’s Security Role in a Changing World: A Global Strategic Assessment, detailing ” driving trends, assessing them in regional context, and offering a number of pathways for American policymakers to deal with them.”

These eight trends are:

  1. A global redistribution of economic power from the West to the “Rest”
  2. The partial emergence of a multipolar world
  3. An information revolution that leaves modern societies vulnerable
  4. The acceleration of an energy and environmental security tipping point
  5. The mounting challenges emanating from many fragile states and ungoverned spaces
  6. The increasingly transnational dimensions of terrorism
  7. The changing character of conflict from conventional to irregular and hybrid warfare
  8. The potential further spread of nuclear and biological weapons.

The volume is not complete, however, a preview edition which includes the first few chapters, is available to peruse.


Earlier today at a press briefing, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates unveiled the 2010 defense budget.   The plan would cancel several big-ticket weapons programs.

The $534 billion defense budget for 2010 would increase intelligence and surveillance capabilities. An increased production of the unmanned Predator drone that has frequently been pressed into service to strike terrorist camps in the remote Afghanistan-Pakistan border region.

Deep cuts in big military machinery, including the $140 billion F-22 fighter jet program and the purchase of 28 new VH-71 presidential helicopters.  The Army’s $160 billion Future Combat Systems modernization program would lose its armored vehicles. Plans to build a shield to defend against missile attacks by rogue states would also be scaled back.

Nearly $11bn would go to fund proposed increases in military personnel.

Sources: Politico; BBCAPReuters

sraeli soldiers cover their ears as an artillery unit fires shells towards southern Lebanon. Image: AP

Israeli soldiers cover their ears as an artillery unit fires shells towards southern Lebanon. Image: AP

Today’s Washington Post reports on the effect the 2006 Lebanon War between Israel and Hezbollah having generated a heated debate within the Pentagon on how the United States should fight its future wars.

An excerpt from the article:

A big reason that the 34-day war is drawing such fevered attention is that it highlights a rift among military leaders: Some want to change the U.S. military so that it is better prepared for wars like the ones it is fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan, while others worry that such a shift would leave the United States vulnerable to a more conventional foe.

“The Lebanon war has become a bellwether,” said Stephen Biddle, a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations who has advised Gen. David H. Petraeus, head of the U.S. Central Command. “If you are opposed to transforming the military to fight low-intensity wars, it is your bloody sheet. It’s discussed in almost coded communication to indicate which side of the argument you are on.”

U.S. military experts were stunned by the destruction that Hezbollah forces, using sophisticated antitank guided missiles, were able to wreak on Israeli armor columns. Unlike the guerrilla forces in Iraq and Afghanistan, who employed mostly hit-and-run tactics, the Hezbollah fighters held their ground against Israeli forces in battles that stretched as long as 12 hours. They were able to eavesdrop on Israeli communications and even struck an Israeli ship with a cruise missile.

The article cites a study on the war published by the Combat Studies Institute of the United States Combined Arms Center.

That 2007 study is titled  We Were Caught Unprepared: The 2006 Hezbollah-Israeli War which was written by CSI historian Matt Matthews.

Matthews’s historical analysis of the war includes an examination of IDF [Israeli Defense Force] and Hezbollah doctrine prior to the war, as well as an overview of the operational and tactical problems encountered by the IDF during the war.

The study found “after years of counterinsurgency (COIN) operations in the Gaza Strip and West Bank territories, IDF ground forces were tactically unprepared and untrained to fight against a determined Hezbollah force that conducted what was, in many ways, a conventional, fixed-position defense.”

On the relevance of conventional warfare, Matthews states:

For six years, the IDF conducted a counterinsurgency campaign against the Palestinians and developed a doctrine rooted in EBO and high-tech wizardry. However, in the summer of 2006, when confronted by a conventional war with Hezbollah, the Israeli military proved incapable of defeating a minor adversary. Although research and analysis of this recent conflict are still ongoing, the emerging details of ill-conceived doctrine and an army marred by long years of counterinsurgency operations still yield valid and important lessons for today’s US Army officers.

This debate will surely intensify as combat operations shift to the Afghanistan campaign and how that war will develop with inevitable future conflicts on the horizon.

Endoskeleton robot from the film The Terminator.

Endoskeleton robot from The Terminator.

P.W. Singer, author of Wired for War, spoke about the use of robotics and war in February, 2009 at the TED Talks series.

Singer discusses the future of war, human psychology that is driving the use of more and more machines, war porn, and asks the question is it our machines or is it us that’s wired for war.

The Strategic Studies Institute of the U.S. Army War College is hosting an online debate on the future strategic role for the U.S. Army.

An overall debate has developed within the strategic community amongst one camp advocating counterinsurgency operations while the other for conventional warfighting.

SSI’s own Dr. Steven Metz begins the discussion with:

But there are signs that the future U.S. Army may not be committed to either large scale, protracted counterinsurgency/stabilization operations or large scale conventional warfighting. It may instead drop to a subsidiary role American strategy.

Nathan Freier, also from SSI, follows-up:

I do believe that strong U.S. land forces remain centerpiece capabilities in a world increasingly defined by complex, unconventional threats that are land- and people-centric.

The current debate within the community is taking place at the precise moment as future missions for the U.S. Army will eventually continue to expand and strain force capabilities.

David Axe wrote yesterday in his War is Boring blog about maritime artist Tom Freeman’s painted depiction of an American nuclear aircraft carrier in flames after a Chinese ballistic-missile strike.

This week’s news of China further developing anti-ship ballistic missile technology has fueled chatter throughout U.S. naval circles and a cause of concern for U.S. maritime security.

Mr. Freeman told the U.S. Naval Institute, “I did the painting to make the powers that be aware that this is what it might look like if a missile attacked an American carrier.”

Freeman’s impressive maritime paintings can be viewed on his website.

China's People's Liberation Army (PLA) Navy sailors on review. Image: Getty

China's People's Liberation Army (PLA) Navy sailors on review. Image: Getty

The Naval War College Review Spring, 2009 issue  published an interesting article titled, “Gunboats for China’s New “Grand Canals,” written by Andrew Erickson and Lyle Goldstein, whom are research faculty in the Center for Naval Warfare Studies at the U.S Naval War College.

This article explores China’s “military capacity to protect its long and increasingly vital maritime oil supply lines.”

The authors believe “it is time to consider seriously the prospect of future PLAN missions to defend Chinese interests not only in East Asia but also beyond.”

Informative highlights over China’s oil security and the PLAN’s role in securing it:

  • In 2007, approximately 85 percent of Chinese oil imports passed through the Strait of Malacca;
  • Defense of oil SLOCs [sea lines of communication] may become a driver in future PLAN [People’s Liberation Army Navy] evolution;
  • Gunboats were once used to invade China in the name of protecting international commerce. Now China is itself acquiring powerful warships, but its precise reasons for doing so remain unclear;
  • China’s 2008 Defense White Paper for the first time treats the ground forces as a distinct service equivalent to the Navy, Air Force, and Second Artillery, suggesting that they are becoming less dominant within the military and that the PLAN may grow correspondingly over time in funding and mission scope;
  • The PLA Navy’s subsequent deployment of two destroyers and a supply ship to the Gulf of Aden is an unprecedented move that may presage a more active Chinese presence near global maritime energy routes.

Erickson and Goldstein delve into voluminous Chinese naval and maritime affairs literature for an understanding of China’s mindset into advancing maritime oil security essential to securing their economic growth.

They direct attention to “Chinese naval and maritime analysts view that PLAN’s capabilities for protecting China’s long oil SLOCs are minimal at present.”

Both authors agree on a need for “cooperation to blunt nonstate threats to maritime oil shipments can help build trust and reduce the potential for state-on-state naval confrontations over energy-supply security.”