I’m a huge fan of CDR Salamander, and if I’m not always in the comments, I at least keep a close eye on them. But CDR Salamander puts up a boneheaded post this morning.
Gates is doing what a good SECDEF does – looking three moves ahead on the chess board.
You can, and should, have most of your land strength in the National Guard and Reserves. We do not need, nor can afford, a large standing Army. That way – you have to ponder hard before you commit them. Many can be brought up to speed quickly if needed – others longer, and that is OK.
You can grow an Army relatively quickly, even in today’s world. You cannot bring up an Air Force or a Navy that fast. You can also keep a lot of what we need – Strategic Air & Sea lift – in the Reserves as well. A lot of it.
Go read the whole thing.
As for this snippet…
First, I’ve seen absolutely no evidence that SecDef Gates is playing checkers, let alone chess. If air and sea power are the way to go in the future, why did he end procurement of the F-22 at 187 airframes? If you’re going to make airpower one of the two strong legs of the stool, it would help a lot if you gave them an aircraft capable of winning on the first day of the fight.
Secondly, the notion that you can quickly build an army is silly. While the timeline to build a Navy is obviously long due to the need to cut steel and build ships, the requirements to build an army are less obvious. It takes a very long time to build an army, because you have to build the experience levels of your critical mid-grade officer and NCO corps. That institutional knowledge just cannot be manufactured, contracted out, or taught in school. The only way to gain it is to earn it. And while I’m quick to praise the magnificent efforts of the Guard and Reserve over the last decade, they are no substitute for a robust active duty Army. Currently, the Army Reserve is focused on combat support and combat service support missions that often have some resemblance to civilian skills. But the National Guard is focused on combat arms missions, and there’s a problem with placing emphasis on the Guard. They are a part time force. You either have the choice of increasing the time Guard troops spend in training (and suffering poor retention because no one can keep a full time job and meet their Guard commitments or suffer from Guard units that just cannot keep up to speed with training requirements. When we need them, will we be willing to commit poorly trained troops to battle, with the attendant higher casualties and greater numbers of non-combatants killed? Probably not.
CDR Salamander (and seemingly SecDef Gates) argue that the US should use seapower and airpower to influence nations and regions as in the past. Well, the only problem with that is- it doesn’t work. The Navy can’t even get a bunch of pirates off the coast of Somalia to quit hijacking ships (the Maersk Alabama, which the navy retook after its high-profile seizure, has to carry its own armed security teams even today to avoid being hijacked again). The Navy and the Air Force burned through gazillions of gallons of jet fuel, thousands of hours of airframe life, and billions of dollars of operating funds enforcing the no-fly zone over Iraq, and for what purpose? Saddam still did pretty much whatever he wanted, whenever he wanted, right up until the Army ran Abrams tanks in the streets of Baghdad. With the 5th Fleet assuming an ever larger role in the US Navy, Saddam was still able to generate scads of money through the Oil-for-Food scam. That oil had to be smuggled out somehow, and despite the Navy’s best efforts, a goodly portion of it went by sea.
The usual argument in support of seapower is that the bulk of the world’s trade travels by sea, and as a trading nation, we need to be able to secure the sea lanes. No argument here. The problem is that in this post Cold War environment, the center of gravity of virtually place we have intervened, or may be called to intervene is the population. And the people are ashore. If you want to influence them, you need to go ashore. You could put the entire Navy off the coast of Libya today, and still have zero effect on the outcome of the fighting going on there. But if you put a few combat brigades ashore, you’d be able to determine the outcome (note, that’s not an argument for doing so, merely noting that it is the only way to choose an outcome).
Much has been made of SecDef Gates quote, “But in my opinion, any future defense secretary who advises the president to again send a big American land army into Asia or into the Middle East or Africa should “have his head examined,” as General MacArthur so delicately put it.” SecDef Gates seems to be ruling out any future large interventions in Asia or Africa. Would that it were so easy! If the Secretary(who by the way has himself advocated for large deployments to Asia, twice!) is referring to the potentially large domestic political costs of such a course of action, he’s probably right. But we may very well be faced again in the near future with circumstances that weigh in favor of such a deployment in spite of those costs. The US has a bad track record since WWII of knowing where and when it will intervene. Not having the resources ready and able to conduct operations from Day One is a recipe for potential disaster. To preemptively say “we won’t go there” is to cede the strategic initiative to the other side, whomever they may be.
I can only come to the conclusion that CDR Salamander is jockeying for position in the coming budget battles for scarce defense dollars, and looking to take from the Army to bolster the Navy. I think that’s pretty short sighted of him. In fact, I’m a bit surprised, as I have usually thought his strategic sense was a little sharper than that.
I am, and always have been, a huge proponent of a strong Navy and credible seapower. But the Navy’s critical problems in ship numbers aren’t the Army’s fault. If the Navy’s big three shipbuilding programs, the LCS, DDG-1000, and LPD-17 weren’t such unmitigated disasters, I’d be a lot more willing to see the money come out of the Army’s hide. And when the Navy finally decides that building quality ships that can fight and win is more important than fully manning the Diversity Directorate at every level of staff, maybe I’ll listen to him.