punishment, denial, integration
Thank you for the opportunity, Sal.
Great article! As much as it pains me to admit it as a retired USAF officer, the Navy is the most important branch. An axe needs to be taken to the Army's budget as we shouldn't be sending mass land armies overseas to die for our "allies".
Really well laid out and clearly explained. This should be required reading for all pundits and security policy planners.
Read my white paper, but believe my budget....
Hollow force, we have been here before.
My theory is that the current administration strongly believes that the United States is the source of the world's problems, not the solution for them. Therefore, it will do everything possible to deny that its well-spring of leftist ideology (i.e., State Department) has done or ever will do anything not in keeping with this position of world non-denomination. Every theory is testable. Mine has the advantage of multiple correct positives, and no false positives or false negatives. As such, it is based far more on science than anything thus far promulgated by this White House.
Has a formal National Security Strategy been published, officially? That is usually done within three months of an admin taking office. Last I heard, an NSS has not been published, and, a National Defense Strategy cannot be developed until a formal National Security Strategy is published, officially.
If Biden people published an NSS, and told the truth about how they see things and what they intend, there would be a hubbub and not only in this country. Lots of even more jangled nerves all over the place.
It seems to me from a year ago that the Biden people (UniParty Neo-Cons/Libs such as Hicks, Nuland) intend pulling the US western defense littoral east to the longitude of Hawaii or perhaps farther, to the longitude of San Francisco. This relates to the UniParty "vision" that nation states are a thing of the past. Financial hegemony -- dollar as world reserve currency -- means more to them than territorial security or citizen welfare.
FWIW, here is a rethink, in PDF, of US military/foreign affairs, focus on COCOMs:
Related, and FWIW, here is a rethink, in PDF, of POTUS' Foreign Affairs Cabinet:
And finally, FWIW, here is a rethink, in PDF, of the US Executive Branch per se:
This is the best damned strategic assessment I have read in years, maybe decades. At precisely the wrong time we are radically increasing risk, counterintuitively decreasing our deterrence while our competitors are peaking their capabilities. Thank you for this analysis!
More deterrence with fewer ships - wonder how many Ivy doctorates it took to figure that out. If 280 ships make us more secure than 297, will 0 ships make us infinitely safe? Yes, of course if war came tomorrow we'd destroy the Chinese Navy. But every year that passes, the cost to us increases. There comes a point when we decide the China Seas are not worth fighting for. Then we fall back to the 2nd Line, and then by 2050 or so our defense is based on Hawaii. By 2070 we rationalize ourselves into a coastal defense. Maybe by 2100 we base our defense on Washington DC? And seriously, who wants to fight for Washington DC. So maybe we base our defense line in mind Atlantic. I'm half joking. But only half. Notice the Royal Navy: in 75 years it can find ONE frigate to defend home waters on a standing basis. And even that is not 24/365.
Spot on analysis and assessment. World events may be the only way to convince the Administration that its strategic approach is misguided but that could be a very painful lesson both for the U.S. and its allies.
Related: Russia recently fixed the ruble to gold, buying gold at 5000 rubles per ounce.
Wow. There is a lot to unpack in Bryan's well written post. I believe there are some problems with his arguments, however. So, I'd like to offer some counter-arguments.
First, it is true the Trump administration focused on preventing fait accompli attacks in its national defense strategy, which as Bryan argues implied an embrace of deterrence by denial. However, the defense budget did not increase to reflect such a strategy, and there was no substantive change in our capabilities or posture to back it up. The large bumps in spending in FY17-20 essentially balanced a defense program that had gotten terribly out of whack due to sequestration; it did not appreciably improve our deterrence posture in the Western Pacific. If Bryan's logic is true, one might have expected an increasing Navy budget. Did not happen. Indeed, although President Trump publicly endorsed a 355-ship Navy, he never gave the Department an extra penny to pay for one.
As for President Biden's strategy, I can assure everyone here my article on presence was not a trial balloon for the Biden defense strategy. I had nothing whatsoever to do with its development. And I'd be surprised if they read my article after it was published!
I disagree vehemently with Bryan that my article is anti-presence. It is not. It is a plea to the Navy to adjust its optempo and perstempo demands to reflect the number of ships in the battle force. No one on this thread can deny that the Navy has been asking too much of the battle fleet it has. As a result, I argued, the material readiness of the fleet was declining to a critical level, and the Navy appeared to be losing its warfighting mojo, as evidenced by the four accidents in the 7th Fleet AOR.
So I am all for smart presence. In this regard, I believe there is a way to perform presence missions while BUILDING combat readiness. We did this in the 1980s, ALL.THE.TIME. I'd trade 10 FONOPs in the SCS for one major combined theater ASW exercise in the Western Pacific in a New York minute. Or a no-notice flush of every SSN in the Pacific with full warlords in 48 hours. We did that in the Atlantic in the Cold War, and it had a major effect on Soviet planning. And I'd argue both an ASW exercise and SSN flush (best done together!) would have a far more useful deterrent effect on China than 100 FONOPs.
I make no apologies on prioritizing warfighting over presence. I am a big believer in what the 2018 NDS says: the best way to deter a war is to be prepared to win it. That was the way the Navy thought about things up until the end of the Cold War. Since then, the idea that presence might prevent wars has become the standard, which has caused the navy to drop its guard. All one has to do is read the Strategic Readiness Review after the accidents in WestPac to see what this type of thinking has done to the battle fleet's readiness.
And the idea that a focus on warfighting inevitably leads to a smaller fleet is ludicrous. Just look at the 600-ship Navy, which spent every waking moment thinking about how it was going to send the Soviet navy to the bottom. They kept every ship with an engine room (even the old unreliable 1200 PSI steam plants), however meager their combat power. We kept the Brookes, Garcias and the Bronstein, hardly formidable warfighting platforms. We kept the Skipjacks, Skates and the Seawolf (and not the goof one). We keep the Barbels and the Darter. Hell, we even counted the PHMs as battle force ships. And w We spent $150M per ship to install the New Threat Upgrades, and then decommissioned them all as soon as the Cold War ended.
If the Navy of today was wedded to warfighting, they wouldn't be decommissioning ships like we are now doing. As for the LCS, they'd keep the unos, equip them with the SUW mission module, base them in Mayport, and make them a SOUTHCOM asset. It gets me that we operated the Perrys for over a decade with just one 76mm, a 25mm, a CIWS and a tail and helo and no one was saying hey, these things aren't exactly lethal. Yet a ship with a 57mm, two 30mm, eight NSMs, 24 Longbow Hellfires, a CIWS and an armed helo is somehow not a useful warship in SOUTHCOM and AFRICOM?
What leads to a smaller fleet is limited resources.
I think Bryan is right that the Biden administration's national security strategy emphasizes the economic and technological competition with China. Who wants a world where China has the largest economy in the world and surpasses the US as the global tech and innovation hub? Not me. But the President pivoted pretty quickly when it became evident inflation was making a joke out of his defense budget. And now, post-Ukraine, I think it is likely we will see a $20-30B supplemental in FY2022, and future budgets will rise accordingly. How long this bump will last will depend on a number of factors.
And it is true Biden believes in the inherent power of alliances. I think how NATO, Europe and the West have come together after Russia's unprovoked invasion shows the wisdom go his thinking. A strengthened Quad and AUKUS have thrown the Chinese for a loop. Now we need a JATUS--Japan, Taiwan and US technological alliance to make them squirm more.
I agree with Bryan that when dealing with China, deterrence by denial is better than by deterrence by punishment, especially after Ukraine. And both are better than integrated deterrence, which I don't understand--and I doubt the Chinese will either. But Bryan's argument is moot. Why? Because we have adopted a policy of strategic ambiguity over whether we will come to the defense of Taiwan. Deterrence rests on relevant, ready combat capabilities and the will to use them. Strategic ambiguity causes China to question our will to fight the fight.
There are good reasons for and against a policy of strategic ambiguity. But if one believes the Davidson window, I think the time has come to eliminate any ambiguity, and state it will be the policy of the United States to defend Taiwan from any Chinese attack, and to DEFEAT any attempt at a cross-strait invasion. To back up this policy I have argued for a forward missile magazine in being with 1,000 anti-ship missiles in range of the Taiwan Strait 24/7, 365. We could do this affordably with missile merchants. There are other credible ways to pursue deterrence by denial. But until we jettison strategic ambiguity, it doesn't really matter.
We are in a strategic competition with the greatest competitor we have ever faced since we became a global power. It's time to go all in.
Bryan, I await your counter fire in my armored citadel!
Great read. As a (long ago) LT in the Navy Civil Engineer Corps, I can't but help looking at the mechanics required to fulfill a strategy. The "mechanics" that I tend to dwell on the sustainment side of things. The unsexy aspects of maintenance & repair, logistics & supply chain, and the ability to replenish what is no longer functionable or serviceable. Day 79 of a conflict with a near peer like China is impossible for me to fathom, but it's not hard to fathom it will not resemble anything close to day 1. Strategies don't normally have a shelf-life of a couple of days and the axiom "s##t breaks...what now?" still applies. I'm persuaded that axiom is going to have a profound impact on any strategy whether it's taken into consideration or not. I have an uneasy sense that the pursuit of the exquisite is taking precedence over what is possible to sustain.
Gonzo: you are right. I think the "Davidson Window" has gotten people thinking the top priority right now is to improve our deterrent posture in the near term, and build up our capacities and capabilities to truly punish the Chinese over the long term. As they say, needs must.