Build as You Fight Pt 2
“Irregular” attacks carried out by tribes, clans, or other nonstate actors are as old as warfare itself; they long predate the development of modern armed forces and the nation-state. The religious fanaticism that animates so many of today’s terrorists and guerrillas is equally ancient. But technological advances have made such attacks far more potent than in the past. The progeny of the Second Industrial Revolution–assault rifles, machine guns, mortars, rocket launchers, land mines, explosives–long ago spread to the remotest corners of the globe. Fighters who a century ago might have made do with swords and muskets now have access to cheap and reliable weapons, such as the AK-47, capable of spewing 100 bullets a minute.More advanced technologies from handheld missiles, to chemical, biological, and nuclear weapons, give even a small group of insurgents the ability to mete out far more destruction than entire armies could a century ago. And thanks to modern transportation and communications infrastructure–insurgents have the capability to carry out their attacks from virtually anywhere in the world.
Max Boot writing in War Made New
It is my contention that the weapons we build today are less relevant for the type of major conventional conflicts we say they are geared for, than the Third World COIN battles we most often fight. This inconvenient truth becomes especially so as the the difference between conventional and unconventional becomes skewed in this new century.
Nor should today’s wars against poorly armed but highly motivated insurgents and pirates be viewed as anachronisms, temporary distractions from the Big Wars we spend exorbitant funding and research planning for, but instead the increasing norm. We have evidence for this assertion, as most of the potential peer threats we might face in an unlikely conventional fight, who build tanks, fighters, and large warships are at risk themselves from asymmetric tactics.
For a while now, the tiny island democracy of Taiwan has been pleading for new submarines for defense against continued mainland threats on their liberty. If America was again building small conventional submarines for herself and export, we could substitute stealthy and very survivable warships to keep the Chinese occupied at little cost to ourselves, without risking budget-breaking DDG-1000 destroyers in the narrow straits. As blogger Springbored says “It won’t totally infuriate the Chinese. (It’ll just make ’em angry.)” The market for light vehicles, planes, UAVs, and other arms is equally enormous and would especially benefit ex-Warsaw Pact and former Soviet dominated countries like Estonia, Lithuania, Poland, Ukraine, and Georgia. Concerning the latter nation, also Chechnya, Russia recently conducted two massive military campaigns at great disproportion in military hardware and manpower, resulting in great loss of life and equipment. America could feed this over-spending in conventional arms by the near-bankrupt Russians, by selling her fearful-neighbors defensive light arms geared for asymmetric warfare. Springbored’s assertion toward China goes to Russia as well, especially less angry if we’d deploy a strategic weapon like the land-based ABM.
Priorities Over Wants
According to the Financial Times, the issue of prioritizing weapons for the wars we fight today over high tech future conflicts is already being decided in Britain:
Gordon Brown is to approve about £1.5bn of cuts to “low priority” defence projects over the next three years as part of a reform package that will shift resources to Afghanistan and ease the crippling defence budget shortfall.
Final details are still under negotiation but the measures will include cuts to the existing Harrier and Tornado fighter jet fleet, an early drawdown of Nimrod reconnaissance aircraft and thousands of staff cuts across the armed forces and Whitehall.
The sacrifices will be offset by moves to boost spending on critical frontline equipment for the Afghan campaign. The prime minister, who visited troops in Afghanistan at the weekend, will fast track an order for at least 20 Chinook heavy-lift helicopters and purchase new surveillance systems to counter roadside bombs, additional fighting vehicles, and one more C-17 transport aircraft.
Defence insiders insisted the additional kit would have been unaffordable without cuts elsewhere.
The British Prime Minister will likely get much criticism for this decision, but he is only making logical choices, well overdue in fact, that previous leaders have had to make in time of war. During the last World War, battleship programs were greatly curtailed in favor of aircraft carriers and small ships. During the Battle of Britain, bomber production was curtailed for a while in favor of fighters, naturally. During the Vietnam War, the USN cut back on its massive nuclear warship programs, in favor of small river patrol boats, monitors, even hydrofoils for operating in the Delta.
Light SAMs, light armor, mobile anti-tank weapons should be our focus instead of supercarriers, superfighters, and decades-long weapons programs that offer enormous capability at the expense of numbers of arms. Such weapons are prohibitive to purchase by our allies, forcing us to fight harder than we have to. Neither are they easily replaceable, meaning such weapons will remain in service far longer than the norm, as we see with the bulk the US Air Force’s jet fighter fleet. When they are replaced it is usually far less than hoped for, as we see with the DDG-1000 (3) class or the F-22 Raptor (180).
Here then would be a couple of scenarios in which future wars were fought by our proxy allies, using low tech weaponry produced here.
- Against China, we arm and equip her neighbors as we always have in the past, such as S. Korea, Japan, Singapore, and especially Taiwan, as our first line of defense in the Pacific. On Guam we would forward base light forces less vulnerable to missile and air strike from the mainland. Specifically these would consist of conventional submarines, missile corvettes, and the occasional missile destroyer for BMD defense, the latter also a guard against N. Korea. Hawaiian and East Coast forces would consist of the nuclear submarines, aircraft carriers, and amphibious forces which are surge-ready and well out of harms way from ASBMs.
- The bulk of our naval forces would remain in the Middle East, but the proxy strategy would also be in place, with Afghanistan, Iraq, and Pakistan against Iran. African Union states would provide the bulk of the land deterrence against terrorism spreading into Africa, backed by our air and seapower, plus Special Forces and Marines on the ground.
- In Europe, forget about expanding NATO into the indefensible Eastern Europe, but create a low-key understanding that we would provide them with all the arms as well as training necessary for self-defense as described above. Unless the EU can create significant land forces to back us in defending these former Soviet-sphere countries, I don’t see the USA deploying significant troops themselves in a conflict, though naval action might be possible.
It becomes increasingly clear, with all the talk in the upcoming QDR of massive cuts in conventional weapons, especially naval ships, the America War of War consisting of high tech industrial arms versus the low tech tactics of terrorists and insurgents, is far from adequate in this new century. By creating a low tech arms industry while gearing them for export, you have a more affordable and sensible procurement process geared for the wars we are fighting today, not those of the past, or even the obscure unknown future.
In so doing we are using the terrorists’ tactics against them. If our allies are armed with the same conventional equipment which we have found wanting in the COIN conflicts of the Middle East, then our friends are subject to the same vulnerabilities that the rebels have learned to take advantage of. But fighting them on more equal ground, they must now contend with their own tactics, now used by a better trained foe like the democracies who have much, much more to fight for, their freedom!