Friday, January 27, 2012

An Open Invitation to Defeat

One consistent truth is the United States never goes into war prepared. One lesser known truth is that very lack of preparedness invites war!  Every military conflict with a foreign power has been preceded by the enemy’s perception that the US is too weak to be a significant threat.  President Obama’s Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta proposes reducing America’s military preparedness to near crippling levels over the next ten years as a cost savings measure.  Time will tell if his decisions are wise.  History has already sounded the warning.

 What does the military have to say about this?

Uniformed response has been mixed in the hours since the announcement.  Senior military leadership so far seems to be toeing the party line; they are standing behind their civilian leader’s guidance.  If any of them were willing to risk their careers like a few brave legends of the past, much of this foolishness can be avoided.

Yes foolishness.  One of the main points of contention is we will no longer need as many ground forces because most conflicts will be asymmetrical in nature and fought with unmanned drones flying from bases in Europe guided by men in shirt sleeves and ties safely back here in the States.  No need to risk expensive F-22 Raptors and F-117 Nighthawks on deep penetration missions into hostile territory.

DarkStar RQ-3 stealth drone in an early photo when it was still largely unknown to the public.1

Hogwash.  There has never been and never will be a conflict settled without placing armed troops in harm’s way.

Greater faith in technology than in men

Every couple of generations there arises some new whiz-bang gadget from the think tanks if research that is supposed to put an end to war – if not an end to war itself, then the risk to our troops.  The Gatling gun was supposed to make war so costly that wars would not be fought again. Alfred Nobel thought his TNT would do the same.  The atomic bombs would make wars so devastating that no one would dare attack a nation so armed.  There have been hundreds of wars since the blasts at Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945; many between nonnuclear nations fighting nuclear armed nations.

On a smaller scale, the US Air Force was looking for a modern fighter to counter the new breeds of Soviet fighters challenging them in the skies above Vietnam.  The final fly-off was between the upgraded F-8 Crusader from Vought and the MacDonald-Douglas’ F-4 Phantom.  The Crusader was designed to be a dogfighter from the beginning.  It was highly maneuverable and armed with a mix of missiles and machine guns.  In the end the Phantom won because short-sighted officers decided that no modern supersonic fighter needed a machinegun.  They believed air-to-air combat was going to be settled entirely at missile range.

F-8 Crusader onboard the USS Midway in San Diego. Note the machinegun ports below the cockpit.  Two more are on the other side.2

The F-4 Phantom became the main fighter for the US and the only fighter flown by the Air Force, Navy and Marines.  A moderately maneuverable plane it served with distinction throughout the world. However, it did not become an effective fighter until manufacturers installed a machinegun but that wasn’t until long after the plane had already seen significant combat.

An early model F-4 Phantom II. Note the gun pod strapped under the plane. This was an unauthorized field modification.3

The politics of war required pilots to visually identify the enemy before shooting at them. This negated the range advantage of missiles.  Once the craft closed to visual range then machineguns and maneuverability became important—both of which the Phantom lacked.  The problem was worsened by the high failure rate among the early versions of missile systems.  Training and tactics overcame these problems eventually but too many lives were lost because short-sighted officers and politicians funded the wrong equipment for the fighters.

What does the future hold?

Current combat options depend heavily on American technological superiority. Global Positioning satellites permit unprecedented precision and coordination of forces.  Digital networks permit a superior mix of forces to converge at a critical point at precisely the right time to overwhelm any known enemy force.  Perfect execution like that seen in Desert Storm means a smaller American-led force can destroy a larger, well dug-in force fighting on their home ground.  Such is the logic for shrinking an already small American military even further.

But what happens if the US loses that technological edge?  It is possible that some adversarial nation has already figured that out.  If not I assure you many are diligently pursuing that goal.  The signals from GPS satellites blanket the Earth continuously.  Other nations can study the system at their leisure.  In time one of them might learn how to introduce a timing or logic error into the network.  This could mean long-range missiles hitting the wrong place; a school across town instead of the air force command center.  Worse, an air strike could hit a battle point after the enemy has retreated and the location is occupied by friendly forces.  The resulting chaos will paralyze American command and control leaving the troops in the field outnumbered and unsupported.

Eventually, some country will test American resolve once more.  Iran might be that country, or it could be China.  Ships will be hit and might sink; planes shot out of the sky by surprisingly fast and accurate missiles.  Men will die.  What remains to be seen is if we can hold out long enough to regroup.  The US military will be unprepared when the first strike hits home and civilians will wonder how this expensive, mighty machine could be so unprepared. 

They need look no further than today’s White House and Pentagon.  Let us also not forget that the drastic cuts in the military budget is a result of Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid’s failure to craft a budget for the nation in over 900 days, closer to three full years as of this writing.  When the oddly named Super-committee proved to be anything but super, the cuts to defense became automatic.  Failure of the main stream media to place blame where it belongs makes them willing accomplices to weakening of the military.  The military of today is being designed and funded (or not funded as it were) by those in power today.  One can only hope it will be enough.

Understand this final point, you go to war with what you have; not what you should have built, or delayed building - you have exactly what you have and no more.

2. Photo by Jeff Kubina at Flickr:

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