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09 Aug 19. Milley Discusses Army Changes As He Passes Authority. The Army has experienced fundamental, generational change in the past four years under the leadership of Chief of Staff Gen. Mark A. Milley.
The general turned over the reins of America’s senior service in a ceremony Aug. 9 to Gen. James C. McConville. The Senate has confirmed Milley to succeed Marine Corps Gen. Joe Dunford as chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff at the end of September.
Milley spoke about his term as chief of staff in a wide-ranging interview in his now empty office.
When Milley became chief of staff in 2015, the Army was suffering through readiness shortfalls. While individual units going into harm’s way were well-trained, well-led and well-supplied, the combat effectiveness of the organization as a whole was in a trough. “The Budget Control Act and sequestration hit training and maintenance accounts hard,” Milley said.
Continuing resolutions, government shutdowns and curtailed budgets meant that services had to apportion money to those units heading to Iraq or Afghanistan. The current fight was funded, but the potential future force was not.
“I came in with a different vision, a different look, and I intended to make some fundamental changes from the very beginning,” the general said. “But the bottom line is you can have all the fundamental ideas you want, but unless thousands of people buy into those ideas, they aren’t going anywhere. These people have taken the ideas, operationalized them and put them in place. Without them, we aren’t doing anything. This is a team of teams that make things happen.”
The Army is a large organization with three components — active duty, the Army National Guard and the Army Reserve — and the Department of the Army has about 300,000 civilian employees and hundreds of thousands of family members. Retirees also are part of the service.
Changing anything in the service takes time, Milley said, and the tenure of one chief of staff is not enough time. But the changes needed to be made, he said, adding that these fundamental changes in the U.S. Army are necessary because the strategic environment itself has shifted.
“The character of war has changed. Not the nature of war — the character,” Milley said.
When he talks of this concept, he is talking about where the fight occurs, how the forces fight, what doctrine applies, what weapons are needed and what organization is best suited. The character changes over time. Warfare changed when someone developed stirrups and it became practical for soldiers to ride horses into battles, the general said. The development and fielding of repeating rifles, of barbed wire, of wheeled vehicles and airplanes all changed the character of war, he explained.
All militaries in the world understand this to a greater or lesser extent. “Us, the Chinese, the Russians and others are moving in directions to shape ourselves, to adapt to this world,” Milley said.
The changes are as great as the ones faced by soldiers following the end of the Vietnam War in the mid-1970s. The introduction of precision-guided munitions, the internet, and the widespread and prolific use of computers and information technology really enabled the changes, Milley said.
Added to all this is the broad, almost ubiquitous, deployment of sensors around the world. Pretty much the whole world is “sensed” by something, the general said. New technologies such as hypersonics, robotics, artificial intelligence, supercomputing and the cloud accelerate this changing world.
Changing demographics also forces the changes in the character of war. These changing demographics reach back to the dawn of the Industrial Revolution, when farm workers moved to the cities for opportunities. This process continues. The majority of people worldwide no longer live in rural areas, Milley noted. Today, about 55 percent of the people on Earth live in urban environments. The United Nations estimates that will rise to 66 percent by 2050.
“If that’s true, and the nature of war is an extension of politics, and you are trying to impose your will on your opponent, then it stands to reason that the geography of warfare will shift toward dense urban environments,” Milley said. The U.S. Army needs to be able to operate and win on this new battlefield.
Milley’s priorities predated the National Defense Strategy. That document took many of these ideas and applied them across the services. The biggest change was the return of global competitors China and Russia. “[The Army] had to sustain and continue for as long as the country needed the counterinsurgency and counterterrorism fight, while shifting to be able to deal with rising great power competition,” he said. “So we had to do two things at once: 1, significantly improve the readiness of the current force, and 2, set the institution on a path to modernize so it would be able to fight a near-peer competitor.”
Milley said history really doesn’t repeat itself, “but it rhymes a little bit.” Army Gen. Creighton Abrams served as the chief of staff after Vietnam. He was faced with the rising challenge from Soviet Union, and he laid the groundwork for all that followed: AirLand Battle, the Big Five Army weapons and so on, the chief said.
Milley said he needed to improve readiness of the force immediately. He also needed to begin the work of “seeing the future and modernizing the Army to meet that.”
At the same time, he was facing calls for drastically reducing the size of the service, with some experts saying the regular force should go below 320,000. Milley and the various Army secretaries he served under worked with Congress to explain the repercussions of such a drastic cut and was able to get that reversed.
The international order that has maintained peace among great powers is under intense stress from Russia, China, North Korea, Iran, and terrorists. It is under stress in the West as well, with rises in populism and nationalism, the general said. “We should operate with realism and restraint,” he said. “But fundamental to that is strength. A strong and capable U.S. military able to deploy quickly is one of the greatest guarantors of world peace.”
Milley instigated other major changes, including increasing infantry training to 22 weeks — the first major revision since World War II. He anticipates similar increases in training for other combat specialties. Other changes include:
- Establishing security force assistance brigades to professionalize Army training of partner militaries;
- Standing up Army Futures Command to ensure that the capabilities the service will need will be there;
- Prioritizing the capabilities most needed by the service and ensuring funding apportioned was based on this priority list; and
- Taking on a full slate of family issues looking at housing, credentialing, child care, exceptional family member programs and more.
(Source: US DoD)
08 Aug 19. Esper’s broad Pentagon review; Prices fall on two weapons; Counter-drone lasers and more. Let’s begin: Defense Secretary Mark Esper has ordered a “comprehensive zero-based review of all defensewide functions and activities,” according to an Aug. 2 memo to Pentagon officials from Deputy Defense Secretary David Norquist, who is conducting the review. “The immediate goal of this review is to identify time, money, and manpower resources that can be reallocated to our highest priorities in support of the National Defense Strategy through the FY 2021-2025 Program and Budget Review, as well as adjustments to FY 2020 where feasible.”
The memo continues: “The review will also support a longer-term focus on structural reform, ensuring all [defensewide] activities are aligned to the [National Defense Strategy] while evaluating the division of functions between [defensewide] organizations and the Military Departments. This longer-term focus will produce additional savings in support of future budget cycles.”
Such reviews are not unusual for new defense secretaries. A decade ago, new-on-the-job Robert Gates killed several major projects, including further production of the F-22 fighter jet.
Next up: The Pentagon’s research-and-engineering shop is only a year and a half old, but it already has a new top priority: 5G networking. The high-speed wireless protocol appears to be displacing hypersonics, which R&E Undersecretary Mike Griffin last year called his “highest technical priority.” Griffin announced the elevation of 5G — hotly pursued by China — this week at the annual Space and Missile Defense Symposium in Huntsville, Alabama, our friends at Breaking Defense report.
Thirdly, acting Air Force Secretary Matt Donovan and acquisition head Will Roper have penned an oped extolling the advantages of Section 804, the legislation that allows the Pentagon to fast-track acquisition projects. A few months, Roper spoke of the advantages of these authorities here. The latest oped comes as Congress is looking to slow the Air Force’s use of these fast-track authorities to buy new engines for the B-52 bomber.
And finally, on Aug. 2, Congress passed and President Trump signed the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2019, which substantially raises the Budget Control Act spending caps. That clears total defense spending to be $738 bn in fiscal 2021 and $740 bn in fiscal 2021. Seamus Daniels and Todd Harrison at the Center for Strategic and International Studies have a great breakdown of everything you need to know about the budget deal. (Source: Defense One)
07 Aug 19. Section 804 gives the US an advantage in great power competition with China and Russia. Military weapons procurement probably doesn’t pop up in casual conversation at your dinner table. Rules governing it are as complicated as the modern war-fighting systems we build, making it a field that literally requires its own university at Fort Belvoir, Virginia. Should you choose to slog through the 5,000-page “how-to” manual for military purchasing, you’d get a close-up look at the sclerotic process used to build supersonic fighters and stealth bombers. It would seem more suited to a Monty Python skit than as a recipe for building a world-class military.
In previous job assignments, the two of us met frequently around a small Senate conference table filled with people devoted to fixing our crippled acquisition process. One of us on staff in a reform-focused Senate Armed Services Committee and the other running the Pentagon’s premier prototyping office, we brought unique perspectives to a team that ultimately gave birth to a new acquisition fast lane called Section 804. It’s been a pleasant surprise to find ourselves now responsible for implementing it as senior leaders in the Air Force.
The beauty of Section 804 is that you could describe it on a bar napkin. It establishes a series of common-sense reforms: Begin prototyping earlier, nearly a year and half earlier than under the old system; give engineers more time for testing and troubleshooting; and keep flawed concepts from entering production and operations — a whopping 70 percent of any program’s total cost.
But aside from this fiscal common sense, “flying before buying” is accelerating weapons delivery for the men and women who fight our wars. The old slow-lane buying process demanded a mountain of Pentagon paperwork before the first dollar was spent and the first piece of metal bent. The Section 804 fast lane requires the same paperwork but phases it alongside early design and testing. Hanging up business suits in favor of lab coats and hard hats marks a return to an earlier age when the Air Force streamlined weapons development during the height of the Cold War. And Section 804 is producing results that would make our founders smile.
They’d also smile because we’ve delegated unprecedented decision authority over these programs to our officers and their civilian counterparts in the field, putting power at the edge where real work happens. We challenged them to find and trim 100 years of schedule “fat” induced by overthinking processes, unnecessary paperwork and risk aversion to sometimes necessary incremental failures. The schedule fat has been cut in less than a year. According to Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. David Goldfein, running an Air Force program might be the best job in government right now.
In certain quarters of the Pentagon and Congress, resistance persists. “Too much, too fast or too soon” are concerns easily voiced in government. From where we sit, however, there’s an unmistakable culture shift — centered on speed with discipline — that is accelerating aircraft, satellites, weapons and software development. The airmen leading them should be applauded, not harangued. Less than one and a half years into implementation, it is far too early to abandon a successful experiment, as some are now proposing. Radical change is precisely what the acquisition slow lane needed.
With the nation’s new focus on great power competition with China and Russia, the 804 reforms are more necessary than ever. China and Russia are not going to wait around for our laborious acquisition process as they quickly develop new capabilities. We need to field our cutting-edge technology when it is still cutting-edge.
When the two of us sat around those congressional conference tables debating how to fix our glacial weapons-buying practices, neither of us could have envisioned the incredible improvements that these common-sense reforms have ushered in.
The Air Force is returning to its roots of designing, building and fielding cutting-edge systems using the same old-school mindset that put the Apollo astronauts on the moon. We know defense acquisition will probably never capture the public’s imagination like the space race, but we hope that “smart” fighters, networked swarming weapons, hypersonic glide vehicles and “transformer helo-jets” now under development make you proud of the Air Force that’s soon to come. Now — thanks to Section 804 — it is coming to a base near you. Soon. (Source: glstrade.com/Defense News)
07 Aug 19. A day after the U.S. formally pulled out of the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty, Defense Secretary Mark Esper said he wants to deploy a conventional ground-based missile that could travel within the agreement’s prohibited range “sooner, rather than later.”
Beyond the thorny international politics, the Pentagon would also have to successfully navigate a divided government on Capitol Hill, where Democrats have criticized President Donald Trump’s decision to withdraw from the treaty and his administration’s argument for new missiles.
The U.S. on Friday formally suspended its compliance with the landmark INF Treaty, a 1987 pact with the former Soviet Union that banned ground-launched nuclear and conventional ballistic and cruise missiles with ranges of 500 to 5,000 kilometers. The U.S. and Russia had traded accusations of treaty breaches for more than a decade.
Critics of the withdrawal said the administration did little to preserve the treaty and that its demise could spark an arms race. Supporters said the pact needed to be scrapped because Russia had long flouted it and that it limited efforts to compete with China, which never joined the treaty.
On Capitol Hill, a flashpoint in the fight is $96m the administration requested to research and test ground-launched missiles that could travel within the agreement’s prohibited range.
The House passed a spending bill that would deny the funding ― and a defense authorization bill that would deny it until the administration shares an explanation of whether existing sea- and air-launched missiles could suffice, among other information.
When the House bills are reconciled with their Senate versions, Senate Republicans are expected to push back. It’s unclear how the Senate defense spending bill will address the matter because it hasn’t been written, but the Senate authorization bill supports the administration’s request for new weapons.
Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Ark., and the chairman of the Senate Armed Services Airland Subcommittee, will be one lawmaker to watch. He has criticized the treaty and pushed for funding to research missiles outside its limits, mindful that China already has such weapons.
“We have tens of thousands of American troops and families in range of Chinese missiles,” John Noonan, counselor to Cotton on military and defense affairs, said this week. “INF is dead. Russia killed it. Congress should work together on this. Any system that complicates Beijing’s ability to plan and prosecute an attack should be taken seriously and pursued aggressively.”
Critics warned that the costs of deploying the missiles outweighs the benefits, and said the administration lacks a plan to mitigate the risks to stability in Europe and Asia from withdrawing from the treaty.
“Developing and fielding U.S. INF Treaty-range missiles is militarily unnecessary, would force difficult and contentious conversations with and among allies, and would likely prompt Russia and China to take steps that would increase the threat to the United States and its allies,” said Kingston Reif, director for disarmament and threat reduction policy at the Arms Control Association.
Indeed, China said Tuesday it “will not stand idly by” and will take countermeasures if the U.S. deploys intermediate-range missiles in the Asia-Pacific region.
The director of the Chinese Foreign Affairs Ministry’s Arms Control Department, Fu Cong, also advised other nations — particularly South Korea, Japan and Australia — to “exercise prudence” and not allow the U.S. to deploy such weapons on their territory, saying that would “not serve the national security interests of these countries.”
Esper, during a tour of Indo-Pacific Command’s theater this week, told reporters he is seeking non-nuclear missiles in these ranges to “deter conflict” within “months,” but could not immediately say which ally would host them or when they could be built.
Esper later clarified that he had not asked any allies on the trip, that none have declined and that the process might take “a few years.”
“Somehow this got spun along to a point where I guess some people thought we’d deploy missiles next week, or something like that,” Esper said. “We are quite some ways away from that. It’s going to take, again, a few years to actually have some type of initial operational-capable missiles — whether they are ballistic, cruise, you name it — to be able to deploy.”
There would have to be “a lot of dialogue” with regional commanders and “with our partners: Where is the best place to deploy these systems?” Esper said.
The battle on the Hill
To develop and deploy such a new missile over years, or even months, requires the Pentagon to also obtain buy-in from lawmakers over multiple budget cycles.
The current fight over $96bn in medium-range missile funding includes two pots of money: $20 m that comprised the Army’s request for mobile, medium-range missile research; and a $76m “classified reduction” from an unrelated “prompt global strike capability development” line item.
The funding would cover tests for three systems, according to a congressional source. The $20m Army system is meant to be ballistic or hypersonic, and the $76m could be for a land-based cruise missile and ballistic system.
House Democrats passed an amendment to the annual defense authorization bill to withhold all of it until the Pentagon presents a proposal to replace the INF Treaty; details military requirements for INF Treaty-range missiles; identifies a country in Europe or Asia willing to host the missiles, and presents an analysis of whether existing sea- and air-launched missiles could suffice.
Even before the bill reached the floor last month, House Armed Services Committee Chairman Adam Smith, D-Wash., removed the $76m in his draft of the bill, with the note, “Lack of justification — awaiting policy.” His committee later defunded the Army’s $20m during its markup.
The reduction was not intended to set policy against the entire category of ground-based conventional systems, according to one HASC staffer. “Our view is we didn’t get the information to justify that program,” the staffer added.
Which Asian ally would accept American road-mobile, conventional missiles is no small matter, as that country would risk economic and diplomatic retaliation from Beijing, according to an analysis by Pranay Vaddi of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.
South Korea, which seemed unenthused Monday, was informally sanctioned by China after its 2016 deployment of a U.S. Terminal High Altitude Area Defense battery to help defend against North Korean missiles.
On Capitol Hill last month, House Democrats also defeated an amendment that would have restored the $96m to the lower chamber’s spending bill. It failed 203-225, despite the argument from HASC member Mike Gallagher, R-Wis., that the research was not prohibited under the treaty and the missiles are vital to protecting U.S. troops stationed in the Asia-Pacific region. (Gallagher’s amendment attracted 13 Democrats.)
Republicans urged their colleagues to quickly face up to China’s arsenal of conventional ground-based missiles ― which outrange the ground-based missiles available to U.S. troops in the region and are much cheaper than America’s ships, fighters and bombers.
“Going forward, I would love to see some kind of treaty between the U.S., Russia and China. But that’s not in the works,” the HASC Readiness Subcommittee’s ranking member, Rep. Doug Lamborn, R-Colo., said during in a floor speech last month.
The Pentagon has not yet announced a development track for any future mobile, ground-based missiles in the INF Treaty range.
One potential system is the future Precision Strike Missile, or PrSM, meant to replace the Army Tactical Missile System in the field in 2023. Though it’s designed to travel 499 kilometers, Army officials have said both competitors ― Raytheon and Lockheed Martin ― could modify their offerings to fly further.
Esper, formerly the secretary of the Army, said the service is prepared to begin extending the missile’s range. To reach an “effective range, that would take quite some time. I honestly can’t recall whether it’s 18 months or longer, but my sense is it would likely take longer,” he said.
Beyond PrSM, Lockheed Martin’s Long-Range Anti-Ship Missile, or LRASM, and Raytheon’s Tomahawk Land-Attack Missile could be modified and fielded as ground-launched theater-range missiles within years, according to a report by the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments. (Source: Defense News)
06 Aug 19. F-35 Test Fleet Struggling with Low Readiness Rates. The F-35 Joint Strike Fighters in the operational test fleet at California’s Edwards Air Force Base are suffering from low readiness rates that may threaten the successful completion of the crucial combat-testing phase of the program, as shown in a chart created by the Joint Program Office’s Integrated Test Force and obtained by the Project On Government Oversight (POGO). The revelation that the F-35 program is struggling to overcome the last hurdle before it can legally move into full-rate production follows numerous recent reports, including by POGO as well as the Government Accountability Office, indicating the most expensive weapon system in history is far from ready to face current or future threats. The 23 aircraft in the test fleet achieved an abysmal “fully mission capable” rate of 8.7 percent in June 2019 according to the chart, which covers December 2018 through mid-July 2019. A fully mission capable aircraft can perform all of its assigned missions, a particularly important readiness measure for multi-mission programs such as the F-35.
The June rate was actually an improvement over the previous month, when the fleet managed a rate of just 4.7 percent. Since the beginning of operational testing in December 2018, the fleet has had an average fully mission capable rate of just 11 percent. The Pentagon’s operational testing director has stated that the test fleet needs an 80 percent availability rate to meet the demanding schedule of the program’s test and evaluation master plan.
Aircraft mission capability statuses can be degraded for reasons including a lack of spare parts or a failure in a mission system like the radar or electronic warfare instruments. According to sources within the F-35 program, a frequently failing component is the Distributed Aperture System. This system provides the pilot warnings of incoming missiles and generates the imagery for the $400,000 helmet that the pilot wears.
The F-35 can still fly with problems like this, and, using the data links between aircraft, some of the information from a functioning system on another F-35 can fill in a blind spot in a degraded one. But this only works up to a point, and to fully test the program’s capabilities, all systems must function properly. Pentagon officials declined to comment on this report.
The operational test fleet’s low readiness rates are surprising, considering the high-profile nature of the fleet’s mission. Under federal law, a major defense acquisition program cannot legally proceed to full-rate production until the director of operational test and evaluation (DOT&E) submits a final report to the secretary of defense and Congress following the conclusion of the testing process. Because of this, the operational testing fleet receives extra support in the form of larger maintenance crews, and is presumably higher on the priority list to receive spare parts. The operational test fleet readiness chart shows that aircraft being used for operational testing are actually performing worse than the rest of the F-35 fleet, which could achieve only a 27 percent fully mission capable rate, according to the latest available figures.
This comes on the heels of a recent Air Force Times report showing that readiness figures across all of the Air Force’s aircraft programs have steadily decreased over the past eight years.
In 2012, all 5,400 aircraft averaged a “mission capable” rate of 77.9 percent. By 2018, that figure had slid to 69.97 percent. A mission capable aircraft can perform at least one of its assigned tasks. Last September, recognizing the brewing aircraft-readiness crisis, then-Secretary of Defense James Mattis issued a directive ordering the services to achieve an 80 percent mission capable rate by the end of September 2019. The Air Force figures indicate the service is unlikely to meet that goal.
While the former secretary’s directive was a step in the right direction, he set a relatively low bar for the services. He stipulated a goal for mission capable rates, rather than for fully mission capable rates, the far more relevant measure of a fleet’s readiness for combat.
The Air Force provided several explanations for the poor rates. A spokesman told the Air Force Times the main reason for the declining rates is the age of the fleet, currently an average of 28 years. A perusal of the figures in the Air Force Times article casts doubt on that claim. Newer aircraft like the F-22 and F-35 are averaging lower mission capable rates than the legacy aircraft they are slated to replace.
For example, the F-22 fleet had a mission capable rate of 51.74 percent in 2018, while the older F-15E had a rate of 71.16 percent. The F-35A fleet averaged a mission capable rate of 49.55 percent, while the F-16D had a rate of 66.24 percent, and the A-10C had a 72.51 mission capable rate.
Colonel Bill Maxwell, head of the Air Force’s maintenance division, also attempted to allay concerns, telling the Air Force Times that the Air Force’s overall mission capable rate is just a “snapshot in time.”
Be that as it may, the F-35 operational test fleet readiness chart POGO obtained clearly shows six months’ worth of data for the aircraft program at the center of all the services’ future plans. It shows fluctuations in the relative rates throughout the reporting period, but the readiness rates during this critical combat-testing process have been consistently bad. The Pentagon is expected to decide in October whether the F-35 program is ready to move to full-rate production. In light of the disclosure of the testing fleet’s struggles, it is difficult to see how the current testing program can be completed on time.
This could be a revealing moment for Robert Behler, the operational testing director. He could, in order to meet the Pentagon’s arbitrary schedule, call a halt to the tests and give the go-ahead to move to full-rate production without completing the approved testing plan. But such a move would call into question the integrity of the testing process and the purpose of his office.
And the troops who must trust their lives to this aircraft would have reason to question its combat-worthiness, while the American people would have all the more reason to doubt that a program they have funded for the past 17-plus years can actually perform as advertised. (Source: defense-aerospace.com/Project On Government Oversight)
07 Aug 19. OFAC Announces Sanctions under the Chemical and Biological Weapons Control and Warfare Elimination Act.
. The U.S. Department of the Treasury is implementing two sanctions on the Russian Federation as part of measures imposed by the U.S. Government pursuant to the Chemical and Biological Weapons Control and Warfare Elimination Act of 1991, as amended (“CBW Act”), in response to Russia’s use of the “Novichok” nerve agent in Salisbury, United Kingdom (UK) in March 2018. This action follows the Department of State’s determination that the Government of the Russian Federation failed to comply with the conditions described in the CBW Act. OFAC is imposing a prohibition related to certain U.S. bank loans and will oppose multilateral development bank assistance to the Russian Federation. To implement the sanction related to U.S. bank loans, OFAC is issuing a Russia-related Directive (the “CBW Act Directive”) under the Executive Order (E.O.) of August 1, 2019. The CBW Act Directive prohibits U.S. banks from participating in the primary market for non-ruble denominated bonds issued by the Russian sovereign and also prohibits U.S. banks from lending non-ruble denominated funds to the Russian sovereign. The CBW Act Directive will become effective on August 26, 2019, following a Congressional notification period required by the CBW Act. OFAC is publishing a list of Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) to provide guidance to the public on the CBW Act Directive. OFAC will also ensure that the U.S. Government’s existing policy of opposing multilateral development bank assistance to the Russian Federation remains permanently in place until Russia complies with the requirements of the CBW Act. (Source: glstrade.com)
06 Aug 19. RIP U.S. Navy? The Age of the Aircraft Carrier Has Finally Reached Its End? It’s more than long-range missiles. Not only are America’s aircraft carriers increasingly susceptible to long-range attacks, but the continued development of hypervelocity missile technology carries what Hammes called “one-shot, one-kill” implications for America’s ships. The U.S. Navy’s large, vulnerable, and extremely expensive supercarriers are likely to become immediate casualties should this technology be deployed against them in future conflicts.
Former President Bill Clinton remarked in 1993 that, “when word of a crisis breaks out in Washington, it’s no accident that the first question that comes to everyone’s lips is: ‘where’s the nearest carrier?’” President Clinton’s sentiment still rings true today. Not only did the United States recently dispatch the USS Abraham Lincoln carrier group near the Persian Gulf in an attempt to deter perceived Iranian aggression, but this spring President Donald Trump overruled the U.S. Department of Defense’s cost-saving proposal to forgo refueling the nuclear reactor of the USS Harry S. Truman. Washington has long viewed aircraft carriers are the crown jewel of American naval power and has shown little willingness to deviate from this position in recent years.
There are, however, some naval experts who would push back against the Washington establishment’s pro-carrier sentiments. One such expert is Dr. TX Hammes, a retired Marine Corps colonel and a Distinguished Research Fellow at the National Defense University’s Institute for National Strategic Studies. The Center for the National Interest hosted Hammes for a private breakfast event on Wednesday, June 5, during which he outlined his innovative, if not controversial, proposal to shift the focus of the U.S. Navy from its aircraft carriers to a large armada of missile-armed merchant ships which are better equipped to handle the challenges of modern naval warfare.
According to Hammes, the Navy must confront several major structural challenges in the coming years. In addition to a general shortage of ships, the current fleet also suffers from a dearth of the vessels needed to adapt to the rapidly changing character of naval combat. America’s ships increasingly suffer from the same range obsolescence that afflicted armored knights during the Middle Ages. While knights were well-equipped to dispatch any crossbowman they encountered on the field of battle, their limited range forced them to get close to their opponent before inflicting any damage. This gave less powerful, but longer-ranged combatants an eventually insurmountable advantage.
Just as the battleship became obsolete once it was outranged by the aircraft carrier, so to does the carrier face range obsolescence in the age of the missile. Ballistic missiles, particularly China’s DF-26, can easily outrange America’s carrier fleet. Previousreporting by The National Interest revealed that “the range of a typical carrier combat plane with a nine-ton payload had shrunk to just 1,300 miles” by 2018, and Hammes’ presentation indicated that the F-35 carrier variant’s range capabilities compared quite unfavorably to an array of drones, cruise missiles, and ballistic missiles (see below).
Not only are America’s aircraft carriers increasingly susceptible to long-range attacks, but the continued development of hypervelocity missile technology carries what Hammes called “one-shot, one-kill” implications for America’s ships. The U.S. Navy’s large, vulnerable, and extremely expensive supercarriers are likely to become immediate casualties should this technology be deployed against them in future conflicts.
Additionally, the U.S. Navy suffers from the necessity of preparing for battles in multiple domains. In addition to its conventional role and the growing threat of hypervelocity missiles, the Navy must increasingly prepare to participate in cyber, space, mine, and drone warfare, each of which requires its own distinct equipment and technology. The Navy must also make considerable investments into unpiloted vessels to match the considerable advancements made by the Russians and Chinese in this realm. Finally, the Navy faces huge costs to replace its Ohio-class nuclear submarines with the new Columbia-class models in the coming decades. These replacements are essential to maintaining America’s nuclear deterrent, but the Government Accountability Office estimates that development and construction costs will exceed the Navy’s $115bn procurement projection. According to Hammes, the Navy is unable to afford the maintenance on the ships it has now, to say nothing of the costs associated with constructing their replacements and preparing for every dimension of conflict. America’s aircraft carriers significantly exacerbate these costs; one nuclear supercarrier with its air wing costs a staggering $20bn to purchase, in addition to its $1 bn annual operations and maintenance cost and the 4,000 crewmembers needed to operate the ship.
Hammes’ solution, therefore, is to phase out America’s carriers and replace them with a large fleet of small, inexpensive missile-armed merchant ships. Outfitting former merchant ships with missile launchers would be a substantial cost savings for the Navy: $5bn would be enough to create forty missile merchant ships supplied with between 1600-2000 missiles, requiring only 1600 sailors to crew them. According to Hammes, these merchant vessels, whether they be tankers or container ships, are more expendable, tougher, and have a lower profile than aircraft carriers or other surface ships. Abandoning the carriers for a smaller, more mobile fleet would not only increase the Navy’s capacity to flexibly respond to myriad crises as sea, but would also free up significant capital that could be dedicated to the remainder of the Navy’s diverse needs, allowing the Navy to better prepare itself for all domains of modern warfare.
Hammes also argued that his proposal would increase the Navy’s capacity to rapidly mobilize in the event of a crisis. If container ships are used en masse, commercial sailors could be added as members of the Navy Reserve, while ships could be quickly outfitted with missile technology and deployed to the field when needed. Should the United States engage another great power in a full-on naval conflict, Hammes observed that the winning side would likely be the one that could replace its missiles and ships more quickly. A U.S. Navy increasingly structured around cheap, missile merchants that are supported by a robust naval reserve and armed with easily manufactured missiles would have a significant advantage should such a conflict come to pass.
Hammes’ proposal has its critics, however. They contend that aircraft carriers have many strengths that would be difficult for a merchant marine fleet to replace. Carriers provide repetitive strike capability against onshore targets, meaningfully support American airpower, are relatively easy to upgrade with new advanced weapons systems, and, despite some vulnerabilities, due to their mobility carriers are arguably more survivable than permanent land bases. Additionally, as noted during the discussion, aircraft carriers are culturally significant within the Navy and politically popular outside it. A proposal to ultimately abandon them would likely receive serious pushback.
Hammes, however, is not in favor of scrapping America’s carriers right away, and instead advocates continuing to use the current carriers until they are retired (the Navy will still have seven carriers in use until 2050 and four scheduled for retirement as late as 2070). Still, Hammes stands by his analysis of the carriers’ vulnerability, noting their inability to effectively counter swarm tactics, their diminishing value as a military deterrent, and the difficulty of safely repairing a nuclear-powered aircraft carrier anywhere near major ports should one ever take any serious damage. Hammes acknowledged the cultural pushback this proposal would likely receive (particularly from naval aviators), but also characterized this transition as a natural response to the realities of America’s defense budget and the demands of modern naval warfare.
Hammes also answered questions about whether constructing what one participant labeled a “war navy” built around the concept of rapid mass-mobilization of merchant vessels might be viewed as a threat by geopolitical rivals such as China, forcing them to follow suit. To Hammes, however, China is already assembling a navy designed specifically for combat against the United States. If America is to successfully deter naval conflict with China, it must convince Beijing that military engagement will force the Chinese navy to take significant damage. While it is impossible to fully predict what form future naval conflicts may take, Hammes believes his vision of a remade U.S. Navy is far better equipped to deter China than the fleet as currently configured.
The U.S. Navy has not fought a major naval conflict in over seventy years yet must now grapple with difficult choices as it considers how to adapt to meet the growing budgetary constraints and the new challenges of modern naval warfare. While understandably controversial, Hammes’ proposal merits real consideration by the Navy’s uniformed and civilian leadership and is, if nothing else, representative of the type of innovative thinking necessary to help preserve American naval dominance in the decades to come. (Source: News Now/https://nationalinterest.org)
02 Aug 19. SECDEF: US has withdrawn from INF, will ‘fully pursue’ development of new missile systems. Saying the move is a result of Russia’s failure to comply, Defense Secretary Mark Esper on Friday announced the U.S. had withdrawn from the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty missile treaty and will begin full development of new missile systems.
“This withdrawal is a direct result of Russia’s sustained and repeated violations of the Treaty over many years and multiple presidential administrations,” Esper said in an emailed statement. “The facts are clear. The Russian Federation is producing and fielding an offensive capability that was prohibited by the INF Treaty. Russia’s material breach erodes the foundation of effective arms control and the security of the United States and our allies and partners. As stated by NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg today, NATO’s position is united and clear: Russia is in violation of the INF Treaty. The United States is not.”
Esper said that “because the United States scrupulously complied with its obligations to the INF Treaty,” programs to mobile, conventional, ground-launched cruise and ballistic missile systems are in the early stages.
“Now that we have withdrawn,” he said, “the Department of Defense will fully pursue the development of these ground-launched conventional missiles as a prudent response to Russia’s actions and as part of the Joint Force’s broader portfolio of conventional strike options.”
The Pentagon, he added “will work closely with our allies as we move forward in implementing the National Defense Strategy, protecting our national defense and building partner capacity.”
A landmark arms control treaty that President Ronald Reagan and Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev signed three decades ago is dead, prompting fears of a new global arms race. The United States and Russia both walked away from the Intermediate-range Nuclear Forces treaty on Friday. If they choose not to extend or replace the larger New START treaty when it expires in early 2021, there will be no legally binding limits on the world’s two largest nuclear arsenals for the first time in nearly a half century.
The U.S. blames Russia for the demise of the treaty, saying that for years Moscow has been developing and fielding weapons that violate the treaty and threaten the U.S. and its allies, particularly in Europe.
But without the constraints of the treaty, the Trump administration says it can now counter Russia — and China. The U.S. has complained for years of an unfair playing field — that Russia was developing weapons that violated the treaty and China, which wasn’t a signatory, was developing similar weapons that would have violated it, too.
President Donald Trump hasn’t committed to extending or replacing New START, which imposed limits starting in 2018 on the number of U.S. and Russian long-range nuclear warheads and launchers. Trump has called New START “just another bad deal” made by the Obama administration, and Trump’s national security adviser, John Bolton, said in June that it’s unlikely the administration will agree to extend the treaty for five years, which could be done without legislative action in either capital.
The Trump administration thinks talks about extending New START are premature. The administration claims that with China’s growing arsenal of nuclear warheads, Beijing can no longer be excluded from nuclear arms control agreements. Trump has expressed a desire to negotiate a trilateral arms control deal signed by the U.S., Russia and China.
“We’ll see what happens,” Trump told reporters at the White House on Thursday. “I will say Russia would like to do something on a nuclear treaty and that’s OK with me. They’d like to do something and so would I.”
German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas said this week that the collapse of the treaty means a bit of security in Europe is being lost.
“We regret the fact that Russia has not done what was necessary to save the INF treaty. Now we call all the more on Russia and the U.S. to preserve the New START treaty as a cornerstone of worldwide arms control,” Maas said. “Nuclear powers such as China must also face up to their responsibility on arms control — they have more weight in the world than at the time of the Cold War.”
Arms control advocates remain worried about the future.
Laura Kennedy, who formerly represented the U.S. at the Conference on Disarmament in Geneva, warned Americans not to let their eyes glaze over when confronted with the complex diplomacy of arms control. She said they should raise the issue now with Congress and all candidates running for the White House in 2020.
“This isn’t ‘wonkiness.’ It’s our future and the future of the planet,” Kennedy said. “Nuclear issues are so consequential that we simply cannot abandon a serious arms control effort. Nor can the U.S. afford to cite its concerns over INF or other issues as an excuse to let the New START treaty lapse.”
Over its lifetime, the 1987 so-called INF treaty led to the elimination of 2,692 U.S. and Soviet Union nuclear and conventional ground-launched ballistic and cruise missiles. Until its demise, the treaty banned land-based missiles with a range between 500 and 5,500 kilometers (310 to 3,410 miles).
David Wright, co-director of the Global Security Program at the Union of Concerned Scientists, said withdrawing from the treaty was “shortsighted.” He said it will trigger a competition in conventionally armed missiles that will undermine stability.
Wright also noted Russia’s has complained about U.S. missile systems in Poland and Romania. Wright said they are intended to launch interceptor missiles in defense, but appear to be capable of launching offensive cruise missiles as well.
“To claim the United States is justified in pulling out of the treaty because of Russian violations does not take the full picture into account,” said Wright, who accuses the Trump administration of being averse to any negotiated agreements that constrain U.S. weapons systems.
Former national intelligence director Dan Coats, however, told Congress late last year that intelligence officials believed it was Russia that no longer wanted to be constrained by the INF treaty as it modernized its military with precision-strike missiles ostensibly designed to target critical military and economic sites in Europe. He said the U.S. thought Russia’s objective all along was to keep the U.S. tethered to the deal while it quietly built and deployed missiles that violated the treaty and threatened Europe.
U.S. officials first raised its concerns that Russia was violating the treaty during the Obama administration and said Moscow spent six years rebuffing U.S. efforts to prod it back into compliance. In February, Trump determined that Moscow was in material breach of the treaty and the U.S. suspended its own obligations under the treaty. That started a six-month clock to get Russia back into compliance — time that ran out on Friday. (Source: Defense News)
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