Air University Review, May-June 1986
Dr. Robert L. Wendzel
BECAUSE the United States confronts a world in which threats to its interests are increasing in both severity and scope, U.S. planners are reconsidering the national strategy and tactics for dealing with those threats. There are important reasons for changing to a strategy of selective involvement.1 To implement this strategy against a growing proliferation of threats, U.S. tactics and force structure require some changes. Reduced forward deployments and increased strategic mobility are some of those changes.
As always, we must understand how things came to be what they are before we can reasonably argue about how the nation should be preparing for the future. Thus, we must begin by analyzing the conceptual base for policy developed during the 1947-68 period and trace the evolution of conventional forces strategy, including the Carter legacy and the Reagan approach. Only then can we look intelligently to the future, analyzing the selective involvement strategy (including current tendencies in that direction), its implications for deployments and force planning, and the need for significantly enhanced strategic mobility.
When World War II ended, the United States instituted a crash demobilization. Armed
forces manpower was reduced from 12 million to 1.6 million in less than two years, and
defense spending dropped accordingly, from $81.6 billion in FY 1945 to $13.1 billion in FY
1947. But all hopes for a harmonious postwar era soon shattered on the rocks of the cold
war. The events of the late 1940s--crises in Greece, Turkey, and Iran; the tightening of
Soviet control of Eastern Europe; the Czech coup; the Berlin blockade; and the "fall
of China"--convinced Washington that it was faced with a ruthless and implacable foe,
an inherently aggressive monolithic Communist bloc directed by the Soviet Union.
Perceiving a major and imminent threat, the United States developed the containment
concept. Appended to this concept were the "lessons" of the 1938 Munich
Agreement and the "failure" of the League of Nations to stop the march of
aggression in Manchuria, Ethiopia, Austria, and other countries in the 1930s. Meaning:
unrestrained aggression inevitably leads to more aggression. The policy guidance
underlying U.S. reactions consisted of essentially three moral abstract formulas:
"oppose aggression. . . . oppose communism . . . and defend freedom."2
President Dwight D. Eisenhower made the principle of containment less abstract when he
likened the loss of Indochina to a row of falling dominoes that would be followed by
Thailand, Burma, and Indonesia if the action were not stopped.3 This conceptual
combination of formulas defined the enemy and stated when and where the battle must be
joined. The enemy was any and all Communist nations, and the battle had to be fought
whenever and wherever they committed an aggression.
Until the administration of President Nixon, containment and its domino theory corollary constituted the primary intellectual concepts underlying U.S. national security policy. To implement the guidance summed up in the formulas of oppose aggression, oppose communism, and defend freedom, the United States had undertaken major forward deployments in Europe and Asia and created a host of alliance obligations. Military strategy was based on the two and one-half-wars concept. The United States had to be able to fight major wars against both the Warsaw Pact in Europe and (Soviet-controlled) China in Asia, plus one-half of a war somewhere else, simultaneously. And it had to have sufficient options in both Europe and Asia so that the President could choose the nature and level of response appropriate to the particular contingency.
Initially, flexible response planners envisaged withholding major forces in the United States as a central strategic reserve.4 Except for Europe, forward deployments would be minimized. In order to be able to deploy this strategic reserve (soon embodied in the Strike Command), strategic mobility was to be enhanced and, where possible, equipment prepositioned. Naval strength was to be enhanced to protect vital sea lines of communication (SLOCs).
Though conventional capabilities did increase in the Kennedy and Johnson years, they never came close to achieving the goals originally stipulated. Forward deployments remained, while strategic mobility lagged. Obviously, once Vietnam became the focal point, all bets were off, but there is considerable question about the degree to which forces sufficient to match the strategy would have been developed anyway. There always is some gap between minimum-risk requirements and what is actually provided, the difference being the acceptable level of risk. What usually get shortchanged in this gap are programs that the military services feel are not essential to their missions. Strategic mobility often has been such a program. When an Eisenhower budget crunch caused the Air Force to reduce its planned force structure by six wings, the Army was understandably dismayed when all six of the reductions were taken in troop carrier wings.5 Similarly, the Kennedy administration never really produced the mobility force structure to implement flexible response as it was initially envisaged or to fight two and one-half wars simultaneously.
By 1969, the previous consensus on the nature of the threat and how to deal with it was shattered beyond repair by Vietnam. Additionally, the international environment in which the Nixon administration had to operate was changing. The old bipolar power relationship was being replaced by multipolarity as new power centers developed; alliance systems were becoming less cohesive; and the Sino-Soviet split was recognized as deep and bitter with no reconciliation in sight.6
As Nixon and Kissinger assessed the threat in the context of this changing environment, they saw quite a different situation from that seen by any of their predecessors. The fundamental security objectives--preventing Soviet expansion that would overturn the balance of power in any major area of the world--remained, but this was a Soviet Union without China; indeed, China was now a Soviet adversary.7 The threat, therefore, had been reduced enormously. The most important means of enhancing American security was now political, not military, namely, normalizing relations with China. Of course, the Sino-Soviet split also had significant military implications because the two and one-half-wars concept had assumed Sino-Soviet cooperation. The United States was now able to shift to a one and one-half wars strategy and only maintain conventional forces capable of simultaneously meeting an attack in either Europe or Asia and handling a lesser contingency elsewhere.
This strategy change permitted considerable reduction in conventional forces. So did the second arrow in Nixon's armory, the Nixon doctrine. Though the United States would "keep all its treaty commitments" and "provide a shield" against any nuclear power threatening one of its allies or any other national interest vital to our security, in most cases it would provide appropriate "assistance" when requested but would "look to the nation directly threatened to assume the primary responsibility of providing the manpower for its defense."8 However, the redeployment of forces suggested by the Nixon doctrine and the subsequent reduction of foreign involvement did not signal either a retreat into isolationism or a sanguine view of the Soviets. Rather, it involved a different view of the division of military labor that should occur in light of the changed threat and the changing international environment.9
As the strategy changed and the United States withdrew from Vietnam, conventional forces and supporting elements were cut drastically. By 1974, the Navy had dropped to 495 combatant ships from its FY 1968 total of 976; Air Force squadrons had gone from 439 active flying squadrons in 1964 to 277 in 1977; and from 1969 to 1976, the Army went from 1,522,000 soldiers to 785,000, while the Marines decreased from 302,000 to 147,000.10 As a partial counterbalance to these reductions, Washington increased significantly its economic and military aid to those allies who now were to man the front lines. Only in Europe was there no major drawdown.
If Nixon, Kissinger, and Ford saw a different world than their predecessors, President Carter had yet another vision. In Carter's view, in the past, the United States had had an inordinate fear of communism. Although certainly Soviet-American relations were important, they did not constitute the only or even the dominant problem. Third World issues, economic matters, North-South cooperation, and, above all, human rights needed attention. In the national security arena, strategic arms control, not military strength, was the top priority. Although the Soviets had been engaged in a major across-the-board military buildup for several years, the upshot of PRM-10, the National Security Council's major study of global power relationships, was that things were not all that bad.
The result was that for the first two years of the Carter administration, conventional forces suffered--except for NATO deployments. Determined not to become entangled in another Vietnam, the administration evidenced
de-emphasis of naval, amphibious assault, and other categories of conventional forces (including U.S. Army forces forward deployed in Asia) dedicated primarily to potential contingencies beyond a NATO-Warsaw Pact confrontation.11
On the high seas by this time, the Soviets had surpassed the United States in numbers of attack submarines and surface combatants. Moreover, their rate of procurement was significantly higher. As they had been for years, Soviet ground forces were much larger; also, the Soviets maintained a sizable advantage in key weapon systems, their procurement rate was higher, and they were narrowing the technological gap. Only in TACAIR and aircraft carriers did the balance not appear to be shifting importantly. Nonetheless, U.S. forces in place seemed to be deterring Soviet expansion.
After the Iranian crisis and the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan began, a new Carter
appeared. "Carter II" saw a major Soviet threat to American interests worldwide.
The reforms begun earlier in NATO's long-term defense program now were pushed harder, and,
in his final budget submission, the President asked for 5.3 percent real growth in
obligational authority for FY 1982. The most spectacular Carter move was the creation of
the Rapid Deployment Joint Task Force (RDJTF) in March 1980. After the Afghanistan
invasion, in what became known as the Carter doctrine, the President officially committed
the United States, for the first time, to the defense of the Persian Gulf. The RDJTF was
established to provide the capability to implement that pledge. Oddly, though, there was
no important increase in conventional force levels. The RDJTF would be formed from
existing units, most of which already were deployed to, or earmarked for, Europe or Asia.
The Reagan administration took a number of steps to reverse what it saw as a serious decline in U.S. capability. To begin with, there was a major conceptual turnaround, including the revival of some Eisenhower and Nixon concepts. The Reagan administration replaced the one-and one-half-wars concept, for it saw the Soviet threat as global. Consequently, the United States had to be prepared to fight globally on several fronts if necessary. Reassessing the 1950s and 1960s, the new administration agreed with Eisenhower, Kennedy, and Nixon that the primary goal must be to contain Soviet expansion. But the Reagan administration found that previous strategies depended far too much on American nuclear preeminence and the margin of military superiority gained by its decisive advantage in nuclear weaponry. In its view, the Soviet Union had expended extraordinary effort and become a military superpower. Since the Soviets can launch attacks on NATO, Southwest Asia, and the Pacific simultaneously, the United States must be able to respond simultaneously. Dealing with this shift in the U.S.-Soviet military balance required, first, a major revitalization of U.S. military forces and, second, a commensurate change in U.S. strategy.12
Like the early Eisenhower advisors, many in the first Reagan administration were attracted by the idea of going beyond just containing the borders of Soviet expansion to rolling them back. Not satisfied with a completely defensive strategy that surrenders all initiative to the Soviets, these advocates of rollback have traditionally wanted to mount their own ideological, economic, and paramilitary initiatives to regain lost ground. But also like the Eisenhower administration before it, the Reagan administration slowly realized that rollback was far too dangerous to be a real strategy in the world of nuclear-armed opponents. Early calls for rollback evolved into declaratory, ideological, and other support for the spread of democracy. Instead of rolling back the Soviets, Secretary of State George P. Shultz now calls for pride in the spread of democracy, noting the linkage between foreign assistance and U.S. national interests as well as the linkage between democracy and economic opportunity.13 For President Reagan, the demonstrative effect of democracy is an eternal truth: "Freedom works."14
Early calls for geostrategic democratic offensives capitalize on the crises of totalitarianism have matured into U.S. moral responsibility and support on a case-by-case basis.15
Secretary of Defense Caspar Weinberger now emphasizes continuity in foreign policy and defense strategy. Not only have U.S. basic interests remained remarkably constant, but so have the major tenets of defense (rather than offense) and deterrence (rather than warfighting). Secretary Weinberger has defined deterrence as follows:
It means we seek to protect our vital interests, not by aggression or war, but by preventing war. We seek to prevent war by persuading potential adversaries that the costs of attacking us will exceed any gain they could hope to achieve. This is the centrae idea of our defense strategy today--as it has been for most of the post-war period.16
Nonetheless, three additional strategic changes arose from seeing the Soviet threat as a global one. First is the concept of horizontal escalation once a Soviet attack takes place, the United States would not necessarily restrict its response to the immediate front or engage the Soviets on all fronts simultaneously. Instead, it might launch counterblows against the Soviet Union or its surrogates at other vulnerable points to take advantage of American strengths and Soviet weaknesses. Second, no longer will Europe automatically be viewed as the primary theater. Contrary to the speculation of some, this idea does not consider Europe less important. Instead, the importance of other theaters has been upgraded. Third, a war with the Soviets might be short, as previously thought, or it might not. Improving sustainability, therefore, also became a major goal as one of three pillars of defense policy: readiness, sustainability, and modernization.17
This new global strategy is in many ways the logical successor to NSC-68 and Kennedy's flexible response concepts. There is a major worldwide threat that has to be contained, and we need to be able to contain it, militarily, wherever, whenever, and however necessary. Implementing this belief required an enormous across-the-board force modernization and expansion financed by significant real increases in defense spending.
Because of past deterioration in readiness, sustainability, and, especially, strategic mobility, these categories are receiving particular emphasis. Two new active and two new Guard light infantry divisions are being added to our ground forces, along with new C-5B air transports and KC-10 tanker/cargo aircraft. Naval strength is growing to 600 ships designed to maintain maritime superiority over the Soviets. And funding for the RDJTF, now the Central Command (CENTCOM), also has been increased.
In terms of goals, objectives, and, sometimes, rhetoric, the Reagan administration's approach has taken us back conceptually to square one: oppose communism and defend freedom. But in terms of means and actual practice, this approach is different from its predecessors and, in fact, may be evolving into the very selective security strategy we are advocating here. Will there now be a Reagan doctrine?
Consistent with the thinking embodied in NSC-68 and the Kennedy flexible response program as actually implemented, the Reagan approach requires a massive conventional military capability and the determination to employ it when needed. However, it also goes beyond those predecessors in appreciating the role of public support and in selectively delineating when force should be used on a case-by-case basis. In redefining conventional deterrence, the administration (at least within the Department of Defense) appears to be rejecting the controlled escalation and limited war concepts of the fifties and sixties in favor of a new doctrine of careful, selective involvement that is willing to use force when needed. Secretary Weinberger set forth several tests for committing U.S. forces to combat:
Later he emphasized the selective aspect by stating,
We cannot allow the Soviets to define our interests. Judgments about vital interests will sometimes depend on circumstances of the specific case and trends as well as intrinsic values. The necessity to win requires clearly defined objectives and a firm and resolute America.19
In our view, the early Reagan approach is changing because it was flawed by its underlying acceptance of the domino theory and its oversimplification of the threat situation. Initially, the Reagan administration apparently assumed, for example, that, if the United States did not immediately oppose expansive Soviet moves, the aggressor would be encouraged to become ever more aggressive. Sometimes this type of scenario has occurred in history. However, often an aggressor finds that he must deal with many kinds of friction and opposition. Sometimes the initial successes of the aggression will cause a divided or disinterested population in the victim nation to pull together to make extraordinary sacrifices to oppose the attacker. In short, it is not always necessary for the U.S. military to become involved quickly if an aggression occurs somewhere.
The early strategy of the Reagan administration also oversimplified the international scene and the threat situation, focusing single-mindedly on the Soviet Union. It assumed that most regional conflicts had a major Soviet component which must be dealt with. In the real world, some do, but others do not: the Arab-Israeli dispute is an example of the latter. The approach further did not take into account adequately the increasing diffusion and variability in the international exercise of power, nor did it give much weight to the multitude of non-Soviet threats to American interests. Although the Soviet Union is the only actor capable of mounting a continuous broad-scale survival threat to U.S. interests, other important threats must also be met.
Perhaps most crucially, the early Reagan approach assumed the need for the United States to always play the lead role in containing the Soviets, with the logical implication being that forward deployments were necessary to sustain that lead role.
As a matter of practice, the administration has been quite selective in its involvements, acting in a limited fashion in Southwest Asia, Central America, and Lebanon while avoiding other possible involvements such as in Angola, the Persian Gulf, etc. But these operations have been based on ideas that have only begun to coalesce into a strategy--a process that to date is inconsistent and far from complete but one which we want to urge forward.
One of the fundamental rules of the international system is that, except in the most unusual circumstances, nations will vigorously resist foreign efforts aimed at dominating them and will fight to protect their vital interests. Since they will normally resist, the United States does not always have to take the lead. And since the location and mode of deployments should reflect employment requirements, the United States does not always have to be forward deployed in front of or alongside those who might be attacked.
General Wallace Nutting, commander in chief of U.S. Readiness Command, succinctly defined current U.S. objectives and strategy for much of the developing world as follows:
In company with our allies, we seek to project our own influence and value system, protected as necessary by military power, to those people imbued with the love of liberty. In this way, we seek to achieve a sense of order and stability while encouraging evolutionary change, political and economic freedom of action, and deterrence of war.20
On the Eurasian continent, it is the countries around the periphery of the Soviet Union that have the most to lose if the Soviets move, and they will respond. Look at Finland in 1940 or Afghanistan today. If the Soviets attacked China or Germany, there would be resistance. Serious resistance. In contrast to the 1950s, maturing states now are better formed and have more self-identity. Because of its enormously favorable geographic position, the United States has a flexibility and range of choices that many others do not have. It usually has to be on the front lines only if it chooses to be. That is a tremendous plus--one on which the second Reagan administration needs to concentrate.
Because the United States can afford to be more selective and careful in its involvements than many of its friends can be, a major objective of the emerging Reagan strategy (doctrine?) should be a division of military labor, much the same as that of the Nixon doctrine. Of course, even if changing employment needs make it possible to reduce forward deployments, for political reasons, a gradual but unwavering withdrawal to a U.S. strategic reserve would be better than a precipitate one. Throughout history, most alliance commitments in the international system have not involved major, semipermanent forward deployments. The United States itself did not intend such a deployment when it signed the North Atlantic Pact. U.S. commitments and forward deployments do not have to be inextricably linked.
Moreover, the allies' inexorable need to enhance their own capabilities (if the United States does not do so much of the job for them) means that a gradual lessening of U.S. forward ground deployments does not have to yield a net decrease in capabilities confronting the Soviet Union. Returning more U.S. ground forces to the United States without decreasing alliance security depends, of course, on a continued U.S. commitment and military assistance programs. At the same time, it will decrease overall U.S. defense spending somewhat and narrow the strategy/force mismatch that has prevailed for so long.21
If a less forward deployed, more selective strategy continues to develop, some changes will be necessary in military force structure. Let's turn now to a detailed look at what this would mean for force planning.
As impressive as the Reagan rearming of America has been, our new military forces are missing the boat (and the airplane, too) to a considerable extent for the sorts of rapid conventional force deployments that are necessary for selective involvement and strategic mobility. Force acquisitions still give too much emphasis and too many resources to heavy armored and mechanized ground forces and too little to the airlift and sealift needed to deploy rapidly and to sustain combat power adequately.22
In deciding what kinds of forces to procure and deploy, the first question to answer is what kind of contingency will they be employed in. The analytical tool of the spectrum of war is useful here.
We can conceive of international conflict as a spectrum ranging from the most violent to the least violent. At the most violent end would be the Armageddon of global thermonuclear war--the most violent conflict currently conceivable and the most general because it quite possibly would involve the survival of every nation of earth. At the least violent end of the spectrum, we find diplomatic statements or protests--involving the United States with another nation with no threat to the survival of either and with military involvement limited solely to the implications each nation may draw from the existence of the military forces of the other. We can sharpen our analytical tool a bit more.
Governments traditionally define their interests as vital or nonvital. Vital interests are those important enough to fight for. In any potential conflict, we therefore get a clue to where that conflict might fit in the spectrum by whether a government has declared the interests involved to be vital.
Additionally, by considering whether the international violence in this spectrum would threaten survival of an involved nation or not, we can infer whether the conflict would be general or limited from the perspective of each participant. If the violence threatens the survival of a nation or its controlling government, then, from that nation's perspective, the war is general and likely to be very violent. If national survival is not threatened, the conflict can be limited. A conflict between two states that is perceived to threaten the survival of both would be general, as was the case in the war between North and South Vietnam in 1972-75 or was would be the case in a war between North and South Vietnam if neither could attract allies. On the other hand, a war that threatened the survival of neither would be limited, like the Falkland/Malvinas Islands War between Argentina and the United Kingdom in 1982. A conflict that threatened the survival of one participant but not another would be a general-limited war, such as the Korean War in 1950 (after the United States joined, but before the intervention of the People's Republic of China).
Although the correlation is not perfect, successful deterrence strategies and shared interests in avoiding mutual destruction have meant that a decrease in the level of violence (within the current spectrum of conflict) is accompanied by some increase in the likelihood of occurrence. Global thermonuclear war is the least rational, most self-destructive, and least likely form of interstate conflict. A major conventional war among nuclear-armed opponents appears only slightly more reasonable and less self-destructive and thus only slightly more likely. General war among nonnuclear states is comparatively less violent and so more likely. Limited-general war is more likely than general war; completely limited war, more likely still. Brushfire wars, like the Grenada rescue, are even more limited and more likely. Counterterrorism raids, like Entebbe or the forcing down of the hijackers of the cruise ship Achilie Lauro, are the most limited form of international violence we have considered and also the most probable.
It is clear that U.S. force planning has been focused primarily on the least likely contingencies on the spectrum. Although the United States must continue to give high priority to the Soviet threat, other threats must also be dealt with seriously. And our belief is that a change in emphasis already is under way within the Reagan administration and within Congress. We hope that it continues. The strategy of selective involvement implies both a less forward deployed stance and a less permanent U.S. role in the European and Asian theaters, as well as the capability to become more involved elsewhere if prudent policy so dictates.
What does this actually mean? In Europe, NATO forces should remain strong enough to execute the flexible response strategy effectively. But the major role which American forces play in maintaining that strength can gradually but unwaveringly be diminished. Over time, the Europeans can and will have to shoulder more of the burden of defending what is after all, their territory; eventually, they will need to assume full responsibility for initial ground defense. American reductions and redeployments should not be precipitous, but, over time, this is the direction that events must take. Any costs avoided in reducing semipermanent U.S. overseas deployment should free up defense dollars for strategic mobility so that the United States actually can have the capability to deploy and fight on a sustained basis outside of Europe. The current acceleration of administration plans to reorganize the U.S. Army's active force structure somewhat (with greater emphasis on strategically mobile light divisions) shows what can be done.
In Asia, too, some reduction in forward ground force deployment, combined with greater allied responsiblity for initial ground defense, is desirable. In Korea, an immediate withdrawal may not be feasible, but the ultimate objective must be an entirely offshore U.S. deployment, with South Korea "protected" by its own conventional forces under a U.S. nuclear umbrella and with a regularly exercised Return of Forces to Korea program to demonstrate the U.S. commitment and provide practice in rapid deployment. In the long run, in Asia as in Europe, forward conventional ground defense must be the responsibility of local forces. Such reductions and redeployments will allow the United States to implement a strategy of selective involvement more carefully and release resources for other tasks.
With the growing proliferation of international threats, our concern here is primarily with those "other tasks"--the planning for hostilities at the lower end of the conflict spectrum, hostilities that usually occur in the Third World. Secretary Shultz recently called this level of conflict "ambiguous warfare," and he stated:
Our intellectual challenge is especially to understand the need for prudent, limited, proportionate uses of our military power, whether as a means of crisis management, power projection, peacekeeping, localized military action, support for friends, or responding to terrorism--and to coordinate our power with our political and diplomatic objectives.23
In linking U.S. military power with objectives, what will the United States ask its military forces to do about these most probable forms of international conflict?
Creating a U.S. capability to employ forces effectively in such contingencies depends on increasing the emphasis on and understanding of power projection, line of communication (LOC) protection, and strategic defense. By power projection, we mean the timely deployment and maintenance of combat forces for a favorable local military decision. These forces might be balanced or light U.S. strike forces, but our analysis suggests that most often the necessary power projection will consist of the combination of rapidly deployed U.S. air and sea power, U.S. communications and logistics links, and ground forces.
By line of communication protection, we mean the military task of defending the linkage between the United States and its commerce, citizens, and military deployments abroad. LOCs must be defended against threats from international terrorism as well as from conventional or nuclear attack from subnational and national entitites. In this context, LOC protection becomes the temporary and relocatable bridge between the tasks of strategic defense and power projection.
In surveying the spectrum of conflict, we can that the low-intensity tasks of power projection and LOC protection the low-intensity part of strategic defense of the United States address contingencies that may have a high likelihood of actually happening. To illustrate what this might mean for the United States operationally, to date terrorist groups and other subnational and national threats have been deterred only slightly by possible reactions to their limited but effective acts. For example, successful Israeli responses to aircraft hijackings have modified but not deterred subsequent attacks. In this part of the conflict spectrum, the United States must shift from what until now has been an almost wholly deterrent stance to a potentially warfighting one if it is to succeed in those selected instances when U.S. vital interests and national objectives require military action.
It is our view that in other contingencies, as stated earlier, the unique advantage of the U.S. geostrategic position and the maturing strength of a host of new nation-states (whose own interests and survival will mandate their involvement) combine to create automatic U.S. "allies." In Central America, in the Middle East, and soon even in Europe and Asia, local ground forces will be able initially to bear the brunt of their own defense in many contingencies, provided the United States can accomplish its tasks of strategic defense, LOC protection, and power projection--including new requirements for strategic mobility.
By strategic mobility, we mean the U.S. capability of performing the military task of power projection, i.e., to project and sustain combat power, when and where necessary, to attain U.S. national objectives.24
Early aspects of the budding Reagan doctrine have involved both encouragement for positive evolutionary changes in the Third World and policies aimed at forestalling revolutionary disasters where major U.S. interests could be put in jeopardy. However, if these U.S. initiatives are to be appropriately buttressed, then it is necessary for U.S. strategy to move away from massive forward deployments, which inevitably depend on long-term international cooperation from allies. Instead, we need to move toward mobile U.S.-based forces designed more for rapid movement and for the augmentation of local ground forces. The U.S. ability to reach this objective will pivot on strategic mobility.
Historically, the United States has acquired strategic mobility with a combination of airlift, sealift, and prepositioned stocks. Airlift transported the early forces and met rapidly developing logistics needs, sealift transported later-arriving reinforcing units and the bulk of logistics requirements, and prepositioned stocks could reduce the large, early requirements for lift. The annual REturn of FORces to GERmany (REFORGER) exercise provides an example of our traditional use of lift. The first forces and supplies arrive by airlift. The TACAIR reinforcements return to their collocated European operating bases. Military Airlift Command (MAC) expands its network of European aerial ports. The first troops open up and prepare prepositioned stocks--in this case, POMCUS (prepositioned materiel configured in unit sets). Airlift brings in the first reinforcements without heavy stocks (these forces use the POMCUS in the theater). As equipment and troops are "married," they deploy to field positions. Sealift brings in follow-on materiel in greater bulk for resupply. Airlift--fast, flexible, expensive, and weight-limited--will deliver the early forces within hours of the deployment decision and close (or complete unit delivery) on the first units in three to seven days. Sealift--slow, largely limited to major seaports, inexpensive (per ton), but capable of large tonnages--will close unit forces to Europe in fifteen to twenty days. In these annual exercises, MAC uses its own planes for almost all cargo, and it contracts for commercial augmentation from Civil Reserve Air Fleet (CRAF) air carriers for almost all of the passenger airlift. Military Sealift Command (MSC) uses a combination of organic and contracted carriers also, with most of the shipping coming from contracts with private concerns and a smaller portion coming from government-owned or chartered ships crewed by civilian mariners.
Since 1979, some of the traditional elements of the strategic mobility equation have been changing:
These changes were partly the result of Carter responses to the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan and the Iranian taking of American hostages and partly the result of Reagan concern over a Caribbean Basin containing a Soviet-supported Cuba and a Marxist Nicaragua. The revolutionary changes in military tasks implied by these responses and their emergent national strategy began an evolutionary integration of strategic mobility, which is continuing today.
In our view, three separate and changing major integrations are under way:
Airlift forces and, to a somewhat less extent, sealift forces are becoming integrated with fighting forces because of a new appreciation of the importance of timing, the need for direct battlefield delivery, growing skills in utilizing new and modified equipment such as KC-10As and air-refuelable C-141 Bs, increased mobility play in joint military exercises, and efforts to integrate airlift and special operations missions.
As CENTCOM began to wrestle with the enormous logistics and communications requirements of projecting and protecting U.S. military forces in the Persian Gulf region, service planners gained a new appreciation of the criticality of timing in force arrivals. In its most simplified form, this appreciation uses the general rule of thumb of a three-to-one advantage being necessary for tactical offensive forces to succeed over active, in-place defenders. For example, if CENTCOM were to insert a division into a mountainous area with a friendly local reception, that division could be expected to delay three advancing Soviet division equivalents and to stop a lesser force. On the other hand, if those three Soviet division equivalents arrived first and could dig in, then nine U.S. divisions (not one) would be needed to assault and control the same area. Faced with this admittedly overly simple arithmetic, military planners have sought ways to decrease unit closure times significantly.
Speeding up unit closure to distant Third World areas depends on solving the problems of great distance, little or no prepositioned stocks, port bottlenecks, and undeveloped transportation infrastructures (roads, rails, rolling stock, etc.). Great distance can be conquered by speed. Since airlift transits ocean areas twenty times faster than sealift, we must depend on airlift and early decision making for the first part of a solution to rapid unit deployments. Prepositioned stocks present problems in the Third World because they are a political and often physical impossibility on land. In the Indian Ocean, our response to this dilemma was first to put prepositioned stocks afloat on climate-controlled shipping. Next, we began to lighten the ground force structure somewhat so that a greater share of our forces (indeed, whole units) can become air transportable. The dual problems of bottlenecked ports and primitive infrastructure must be dealt with effectively by a combination to improving infrastructure where possible, increasing direct-delivery capabilities, and integrating inter- and intratheater airlift missions.
It is difficult to imagine more timely lift than that which is delivered directly to the battlefield. Direct delivery leapfrogs saturated ports and clogged transportation arteries to deliver cargo and troops directly from points of origin to forward airfields or the battle area. Combat delivery parachutes cargo and troops directly onto a battle area or uses the low-altitude parachute extraction system for greater accuracy. However, direct combat delivery demands an extraordinary amount of airlift to deliver fairly small amounts of materiel. The combat delivery equipment takes up space and must be airlifted, too. Strategic mobility calls for a maximum amount of cargo delivered rapidly, which requires landing on primitive airfields and efficient offload. These latter areas need strengthening.
The current airlift fleet requires several main operating bases for the more efficient airlanding form of delivery. The venerable C-130 Hercules can land, ground maneuver, and offload on a wide variety of austere Third World runways, but it must trade cargo capacity for fuel to cross intercontinental distances. Consequently, it is presently used primarily as the intratheater airlifter--shuttling from a main operating base overseas to the forward airfields near the battle. The C-141 Starlifters and C-5 Galaxies can operate into austere forward bases, but their size and ground maneuverability are such that one such aircraft usually closes most Third World airfields to any other arrivals or departures until the one on the ground can be marshaled, offloaded, and put back in the air--seriously impeding system capacity. Commercial aircraft such as the B-747 and DC-10 (or the military KC-10 version) require longer runways, more taxi space, and a greater amount of special materiel-handling equipment than are available in most areas. Consequently, although direct delivery promises to do much toward solving the problems of strategic mobility, we must look beyond current equipment for any large-scale increases in capability.
The Air Force is gaining skill in its use of new mobility assets. The purchase of KC-10 Extenders continues. These are of basic DC-10 design but built as air-refueling and cargo aircraft. They are assigned to SAC active and Reserve-associate units and are providing a new kind of capability to refuel deploying tactical fighters while simultaneously carrying associated personnel and equipment. The C-5A wing modification program will be completed in 1986; it has removed an onerous weight-carrying limitation from the current fleet. Lockheed has delivered the first of fifty C-5B aircraft. These are updated C-5 Galaxies; if the program is completed, it will bring the MAC and MAC-gained Reserve forces' unit totals to 120. The C-141B modification is 100 percent completed; all MAC Starlifters have been made air-refuelable and have had additional cargo compartment space added. That air-refueling capability especially enhances quick, long-distance responses to contingencies. An important fraction of these improved C-5 and C-141 forces are being transferred to the Air National Guard and Air Force Reserve under the Air Forces Total Force Plan--further integrating military and civilian airlift capabilities.
On the commercial side of strategic mobility, civilian assets are surprisingly well integrated with military systems, and the Reagan rearmament program has dealt with this part of the equation as well. Military services depend on commercial airlift and sealift capabilities for part of the routine peacetime transportation of men and materiel. That dependency expands in times of war or major mobility crisis.
Improvements in civilian augmentation of military airlift are under way now. The Air Force's Airlift Master Plan called for CRAF carriers to contribute 11.3 million ton-miles per day. DOD also depends on the CRAF for nearly all wartime troop movement, as well as a share of the bulk and oversize cargo. Commercial-military integration is proceeding with the CRAF enhancement program. MAC contracted with Boeing and Pan American Airlines to make nineteen B-747 passenger aircraft capable of being converted quickly to cargo carriers when the need arises. The modifications, which include strengthening the floors and enlarging the doors, are scheduled for completion in 1989. But commercial aircraft structure, size, and weight preclude carrying outsize cargo or making combat-ready delivery to austere airfields.
Military sealift is heavily civilianized. Civilian mariners crew the government-owned and -chartered ships operated by the Military Sealift Command. MSC estimates that approximately two-thirds of government cargo sealift goes on commercially contracted carriers while about one-fourth goes on MSC-chartered vessels and about 5 percent on vessels that are government assets. For wartime augmentation, we will look to the merchant ships mothballed and maintained by the Maritime Administration. These vessels average forty years old and will require at least sixty days to activate; however, a portion of this reserve fleet is maintained as the ready reserve force (RRF) and can be capable of full operations in ten days.25
Recently, MSC announced its second largest purchase of merchant vessels for the RRF. Six roll-on/roll-off vessels will be added to the five bought earlier. Mobility planners will welcome the ability of the roll-on/roll-offs to discharge rolling stock into primitive seaports. The latest buy also included four lighter-aboard ships and three barge haulers. The largest purchase consisted of nineteen older general cargo and breakbulk carriers in 1984.26
As was noted earlier, global strategic mobility will hinge on direct delivery--the ability to deliver quickly a decisive amount of troops and equipment from home base close to or onto the battle area. In this analysis, we divided the problem of timely strategic mobility into problems of distance, little or no prepositioned stocks, airfield and seaport bottlenecks, and underdeveloped local transportation systems. Solving these problems requires rapidly responding airlift, easily loaded and offloaded, capable of transporting U.S. weapon systems in fly-away or drive-away condition, and capable of parachuting some troops and equipment directly into the battle area when necessary. U.S. ability to achieve this kind of direct delivery depends primarily on the C-17 aircraft program.
Moving necessary kinds of combat equipment, including outsize cargo, over intercontinental distances for direct delivery to crisis areas requires an airlift aircraft with long range, great cargo capacity, high survivability, airdrop capability, and extraordinary groundhandling characteristics. After a C-X competition for such an aircraft design, DOD selected the McDonnell Douglas C-17 as that aircraft. Secretary Weinberger approved full-scale engineering development of the C- 1 7 in February 1985, and production funding begins with the FY 1987 budget. C-17 design features include a supercritical wing, high-thrust engines, large cargo compartment, and the ability to back itself up during ground handling. These capabilities will allow the aircraft to accomplish the direct delivery called for by this analysis of strategic mobility. 27 Its procurement in numbers approaching JCS minimum-risk configuration goals is essential.
ALTHOUGH the United States should not precipitately reduce its ground force deployments in Europe and Asia, it must deliberately take advantage of its favorable geostrategic position and begin to reduce those forward deployments significantly. Because the major continental nations of Europe and Asia (including Japan) inevitably stand in the way of major Soviet advances, they are automatically on the front lines and are automatic American "allies" when necessary. They will fight to protect themselves, and, if they know that the United States will not rush in to do the job for them, they will share more of the burden of preparing to protect themselves.
The primary results of eventually moving to an essentially offshore deployment/enhanced mobility strategy would be twofold: (1) the United States could choose more selectively when, where, and how to commit its forces; and (2) resources currently allocated for high-intensity deterrence could be released for low-intensity warfighting when necessary. Because of the proliferation of threats across the spectrum of conflict, American forces must place greater emphasis on mobility and sustainability in austere Third World environments. Strategic mobility especially needs to be enhanced so that the United States has a realistic option of becoming involved effectively in those cases where prudent judgment indicates that the employment of military force can be useful. Because involvement would be selective, obtaining the requisite capability should not become an excuse for involvement. But without that capability (especially more direct delivery), one would be faced with the awful dilemma of either ineffective performance or speaking loudly and carrying a small stick. It is our view that the strategy of selective involvement implemented by more strategically mobile forces is the most effective means of protecting American interests with minimal cost and risk.
University of Maine, Orono, and
Scott AFB, Illinois
1. An early form of the selective involvement strategy was developed in Dr. Robert L. Wendzel and Lt. Col. James L. True, Jr., "Selective Involvement: A National Security Policy for a Changing World," Air University Review, March-April 1983, pp. 2-16.
2. Frederick H. Hartmann and Robert L. Wendzel, To Preserve the Republic: United States Foreign Policy (New York: Macmillan, 1985), p. 46.
3. Presidential press conference, 7 April 1954. Also see Robert A. Divine, Eisenhower and the Cold War (New York; Oxford University Press, 1981), p. 41.
4. See the discussion in William W. Kaufmann, Planning Conventional Forces: 1950-1980 (Washington: Brookings Institution, 1982).
5. Robert Frank Futrell, Ideas, Concepts, Doctrine: A History of Basic Thinking in the United Staies Air Force, 1907-1964 (Maxwell AFB, Alabama: Air University, 1971), p. 212; and Warner R. Schilling, Paul Y. Hammond, and Glenn H. Snyder, Strategy, Politics, and Defense Budgets (New York: Columbia University Press, 1962), pp. 420-22.
6. Obviously, the course of the Vietnam War, too, was changing, but that subject is beyond the scope of this article.
7. The Sino-Soviet split demonstrates the fallacy that a common ideology ensures common friends and common enemies.
8. See Richard Nixon, U.S. Foreign Policy of the 1970s: A New Strategy for Peace, 25 February 1971 (Washington: Government Printing Office, 1971), pp. 12-14.
9. The Nixon administration was also influenced heavily by the domestic scene of course.
10. United States Air Force, "Pocket Summary of President's Budget FY 1985," February 1984; and John L. Gaddis, Strategies of Containment: A Critical,Appraisal of Postwar American National Security Policy (New York: Oxford University Press), p. 323.
11. Jeffrey Record, Revising U.S. Military Strategy: Tailoring Means to Ends (Washington: Pergamon-Brassey's, 1984), p. 32.
12. See either George C. Wilson, "Weinberger, in His First Message, Says Mission Is to 'Rearm America'," Washington Post, 23
January 1981, p. 3, for comparison with Caspar W. Weinberger, "What Is Our Defense Strategy?" news release of remarks to National Press Club, 9 October 1985.
13. Department of State, Foreign Asistance Program: FY 1986 Budget and 1985 Supplemental Request, May 1985, pp. 1-2.
14. President Reagan's address before the U.N. General Assembly, 24 October 1985, in Current Policy, October 1985.
15. Contrast recent statements of the Reagan administration, such as Secretary Shultz's address, "America and the Struggle for Freedom," in Current Policy, February 1985, with the earlier rollback sentiments in President Reagan's 1982 address to the British Parliament, in Current Policy, June 1982, and with the "prevailing with pride" in Thomas C. Reed's address to the Armed Forces Communications and Electronics Assciation, in Signal, August 1982, p. 29.
16. Weinberger, op. cit.
17. Richard Halloran, "Reagan Aide Tells of New Strategy on Soviet Threat," New York Times, 22 May 1982, p. 1; and Halloran, "Pentagon Draws Up First Strategy for Fighting a Long Nuclear War," New York Times, 30 May 1982, p. 1.
18. Caspar W. Weinberger, The Use of Force and National Will," Baltimore Sun, 3 December 1984, p. 11.
19. Weinberger, "What Is Our Defense Strategy?" op. cit.
20. General Wallace H. Nutting, "Strategic Mobility: A Puzzle Which Must Be Solved," Government Executive, January 1985, pp. 26-28.
21. Of course, the strategy/force mismatch never can be really eliminated in peacetime.
22. For a statement of the high priority afforded weapon systems for defeating heavily armored opponents, see Annual Report of the Secretary of Defense for FY 1985, p. 119.
23. Secretary Shultz's address before the Low-Intensity Warfare Conference, 15 January 1986, in Current Policy, January 1986.
24. Our definition departs from the one in the 1974 JCS dictionary by adding "when and where necessary." Timing is a very critical element to strategic mobility. Note also that we are differentiating between power projection, a military mission to be done, and strategic mobility, a special military capability. For an excellent but slightly different approach to the topic, see Lieutenant Colonel Dale M. Rucker, "Strategic Mobility: Achilles' Heel of Force Projection," Air War College Research Report, May 1985, available through the Defense Technical Information Center.
25. Vice Admiral William H. Rowden, "Sea Control, Power Projection and Sealift," Defense Transportation Journal, June 1984, pp. 10-12.
26. Robert F. Morison, "Navy Builds Sea-Lift With $206 Million," Journal of Commerce, 22 January 1986, p. 1.
27. For a more complete description of the C-1 7 see "Validation of the Requirements, Concepts, and Design for the C-17" Hq Military Airlift Command, November 1983. A thumbnail summary of the C-17 and direct delivery may be found in "Ryan Explains Airlift Needs to Congress," Air Force Times, 7 May 1984, p. 24.
Robert L. Wendzel(B.A., Kalamazoo College; Ph.D., University of Florida) is Professor of Political Science and Assistant Dean of Arts and Sciences at the University of Maine, Orono. Formerly, he served as Professor of International Affairs at Air War College, Maxwell AFB, Alabama. He is the author of three books and numerous articles on national security matters and is coauthor, with Frederick H. Hartmann, of To Preserve the Republic: United States Foreign Policy (1985). Dr. Wendzel is a previous contributor of the Review.
Colonel James L. True, Jr.(B.A., McMurry College; M.S., Southern Illinois University, Edwardsville), is Director of the Airlift Service Industrial Fund, Hq MAC, Scott AFB, Illinois. His previous assignments include Chief, National Security Studies, Air War College, Maxwell AFB, Alabama; wing comptroller for Lajes Field, Azores; and operational assignments in airlift, air rescue, and weather reconnaissance. Colonel True is a Distinguished Graduate of Air War College and a graduate of Squadron Office School, Air Command and Staff College, and Industrial College of Armed Forces. He is a previous contributor of the Review.
The conclusions and opinions expressed in this document are those of the author cultivated in the freedom of expression, academic environment of Air University. They do not reflect the official position of the U.S. Government, Department of Defense, the United States Air Force or the Air University.
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