Thursday, January 12, 2012

The new US Defense strategy, the cuts, the UK

Win (Iran) and Spoil (China)

The new US Defense strategy's most evident change is the official abandon of the long lasting Win-Win requirement, of being able to take on two enemies at once, and defeat both at the same time and in different locations. Commenters have noted that the Win-Win requirement was kind of never met anyway: in 2001 America had far less troops than it has now, and spended far less on defence (from 300 billions in 2001 to over 500 in 2010 and 2011, excluded a further 200 billions direct costs of "Oversea Contingencies", aka the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan), but believed it could win two major conflicts at once. Afghanistan and Iraq have, if not shattered this assumption entirely, at the very least weakened the belief and raised many question marks. 

The USA are now planning for being able of winning one major conflict, while simultaneously "spoil" the ambitions of another enemy, in another region, by stopping its attempts and imposing risks and costs far too high for an enemy to prosecute a campaign. And this does not depend entirely on the heavy budget cuts looming ahead, but with realism first of all, and with a revised strategic assumption. According to rumors (the actual details in terms of cuts and restructuring won't be known until next month when the FY2013 budget is presented to Congress) the Army is going to shrink, over ten years, from 570.000 to 470.000 Active duty soldiers (reserves excluded). In 2001, the authorized strenght was 480.000 and the requirement was for a Win-Win. 
The USMC strenght in 2001 was authorized at 172.600 men, in 2011 it was 203.075, again excluding reserves. In 2015/16 it is expected that there will be 26.000 men less in the Army and 20.000 less in the USMC, but the additional cuts over this reduction are not yet specified. Despite the huge numbers, the cut is relatively painless: it merely sets the clock back of a few years for the USMC, erasing the 20.000 men uplift ordered by Bush in 2007.

2011 saw the US Army having 43 regular Brigade Combat Teams (with two more standing up), with a further 28 Reserve BCTs with a requirement for deploying and sustaining simultaneously 20 brigade Combat Teams plus supporting formations. Interesting to note how the US Army manages to deploy and sustain one brigade in every 3.65, including reserve brigades. 
The British Army, in comparison, manages to support essentially a reinforced brigade in every 7 (all regular, inclusive of 19 Light and 16 Air Assault. With the disbandment of 19 Light, that becomes 1-reinforced in 6) but including reserve brigades that becomes 1 in 17 (16)! Of course, the TA and the National Guard are very, very different, but it only does underline the absolute necessity of getting right the restructuring of the Territorial Army, to gain greater effects from the 10 "paper tiger" regional brigades. 

The US Army is an expanding force, still raising brigades up, with 2 more to stand up by 2013 as part of a 2007 increase, required by then president Bush, of over 90.000 men between Army and USMC, with the army getting nearly 75.000. The Army is based on 10 Divisions, each on 4 Maneuver brigades, plus at least one Combat Aviation Brigade, a Fires brigade (artillery, targeting, battlefield surveillance) and a service support brigade. In addition, there are two Cavalry regiments, one Armoured Cavalry regiment serving as OPFOR in training role at Fort Irwin, 2 Infantry Brigades based in Germany and an Airborne Brigade Combat Team based in Vicenza, Italy. National Guard and Army Reserve make up a further 8 divisions, with 15 maneuver brigades and a wide array of Aviation and support brigades. 

Well before the UK adopted a brigade-shaped force in SDSR 2010, the US shifted away from a Divisional approach to the "Brigade Combat Teams", formations of roughly 4000 men, standardized and identical in structure, no matter if Regular or Reserve, and self-contained, able to be deployed indipendently. Divisions have become "containers" of Brigade Combat Teams of three kinds: Stryker BCTs, mounted on the vehicle going with the same name, Infantry BCTs (Light, Air Assault, Mountain etc, all are notionally capable of air mobile operations and they are shaped on the same model, with the Humvee as their standard vehicle) and Heavy BCTs, on Abrams tanks and Bradley IFVs. The change happened between 2002 and 2003, with an Army split up into 20 divisions and 14 brigades, several of which non independently deployable, morphing into a 33 BCTs force.

It is not yet clear just how many men and formations will be cut. 
Last September, rumors were that 10 of the 45 Brigade Combat Teams would vanish as part of the cuts. If this is true, the Army will still have 2 more brigades than it had in 2003, 35 against 33. All the BCTs cuts are expected to be from the Regular force, but 5 Reserve BCTs (out of 28) were also thought vulnerable. The type of BCTs to be cut are not yet specified, but it is though that the Army will be particularly reluctant about cutting the Stryker Brigade Combat Teams, which are the largest ones (3 Maneuver units against 2 for the other BCTs) and the most network-integrated.

US Marines work to a Tour guideline that gives them "at least" 14 months at home after 7 months of deployment. A 20% cut to their strenght would bring them roughly back to their 2001 force as well, which is a massive downsizing, but as always in life, all is relative: the british army would love to be "cut" back to 2001 levels, since it did not experience a growth, despite being fighting the very same two wars of the US Army. It did only shrink.

The press and experts have been assuming and reporting that the overall Land element of the USA will be cut, and they expect the USMC to be scaled back as well as the Army. I have some doubts on this, or at least on the consistence of an USMC cut, since the focus on South East Asia and the very evident triumph of the "AirSea" concept developed by US Navy, USAF and USMC in the defense review would point in another direction. 
Even a 20% cut, however, would merely bring back the Marines' force to pre-Iraq levels and offset an expansion of over 20.000 men in the last years: it is far from being a step away from Power Projection from the sea or amphibiosity, as someone suggested in the past months. 

As Obama said, as impressive as the cuts are going to be, they are not all as devastating as the cuts suffered by British Armed Forces, which have experienced nothing but shrinkage. The US forces are merely stepping down from a massive budget growth and "mobilization" lasted 10 years and caused by the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. Indeed, there will still be a yearly growth in the defence budget, but slowed down.
The worrying point for the US forces is the impact on big-ticket programmes that have more often than not benefited of War budgets for going forwards. 

The real risk, is that several hundred billions more could have to be cut under the Sequestration act, if Congress does not manage to reach an agreement on a different plan for cuts and reform. Everyone has promised that Sequestration will not be allowed to kick into gear, and it is thus considered highly unlikely to happen. But in case it did, it would really represent a massive downsizing. In other worlds, the cuts of today are “sweet”, but without political action, there could be a real disaster tomorrow.

Europe, do more. We gotta go Asian

Robert Gates was always very clear in stating that the moment had come, and there is now confirmation. At least one BCT is expected to leave Europe (almost certainly one of the two based in Germany), but far more than this reduction in numbers, it is important to note that Europe is now, officially, periphery. Libya allowed the US to send a strong, but still gentle, message to Europe. This side of the Atlantic is not doing enough, not spending enough, and lacks many fundamental capabilities. But now the US is not going to fill the holes anymore. Doing so is now officially secondary in the priorities list of the USA. Less in Europe, more in Asia. Less Land, more Air and Sea. 
These are the two new big trends, alongside with open recognition by the US that a new special relationship is desirable and strategically indispensable: one with India.

And the US are once more encouraging, if not asking, Europe to pool resources and do things with coordination and collaboration: 

In this resource-constrained era, we will also work with NATO allies to develop a “Smart
Defense” approach to pool, share, and specialize capabilities as needed to meet 21st century challenges.

UK Defence Minister Philip Hammond, in Washington for high level talks, echoed this sentiment in his own speech, recommending a thorough assessment of NATO's capabilities in order to subsequently stacke these against its current ambitions.Such an analysis would provide the basis for choices regarding 

"greater pooling and sharing of capabilities; mission, role and geographic specialization; greater sharing of technology; cooperation on logistics; alignment of research-and-development programs, and more collaborative training."

 "Prioritizing ruthlessly, specializing aggressively and collaborating unsentimentally. ... With budgets so tight, allies need to revisit approaches and ideas that might previously have seemed politically unacceptable,"

It becomes very much instructive to go back a few steps, to read what Professor Julian Lindley-French, Defence Academy of the Netherlands, member of the Strategic Advisory Group in Washington, and part of the board of the NATO Defence College in Rome, said to the UK Parliamentary Defence Committee on 8 June 2011. 
His immensely interesting answers, which i had already underlined back then, do ring even more true now, and in particular this statement is of extreme importance: 

The new enduring relationship—I will avoid the "special relationship" phrase—is ultimately, in Washington's mind, with both Republicans and Democrats, built on our [UK's] ability to leverage other partners, primarily Europeans but also Commonwealth members. If we lose that ability because of a profound perception of our decision not to be a major second-rank power, our influence in Washington will decline further. There will be very clear strategic, practical implications.

The specific impact will be on NATO, because what is generating and becoming very clear in Washington is that the Americans are increasingly becoming an Asia-Pacific power. What they will look for—in a sense, Libya is increasingly the test case—is Europeans under Anglo-French leadership to look after our bit of the world, which is a pretty rough neighbourhood, while an overstretched America deals with the epicentre of change in south and east Asia. If we cannot step up to that leadership role, and we are choosing not to adopt it, the fundamental assumption in the NSS that the Americans will always ultimately be there for our security and our defence is being undermined.

UK and France can work as a solid skeleton, providing a core of specialized capabilities and kit that the rest of Europe can beef up with contributions, if a proper coordination is established and if the UK comes up with a solid strategic concept that goes in this direction and finances it without constant hesitation and second thoughts. Who's followed this post and my comments from some time, knows that this has been my position for a long time, and that i was expecting the US review to take this direction.

The SDSR and the Lancaster Treaty have sanctioned the UK's interdependence on Allies anyway. A truth long known, in relation to need the US help for when the game gets serious. The best thing to do, accepted this reality, is to play a leading role in the interdependent alliance, and gain solid US support and appreciation by leading the European side of NATO, alongside with France.
Failing in stepping up to this role will spell a major drop in relevance of the UK and severely affect the “enduring relationship”, as Lindley-French effectively defined it. 

"This is a golden opportunity for Britain, France, and possibly Germany and other nations that want to have a voice in world affairs to get together and do something," Etienne de Durand, director of security studies at the Institut Français des Relations Internationales, a think tank in Paris, said after the US strategy announcement. "They have got the U.S. green light."

It is hard to share his optimism. The US certainly did not dissuade these countries from taking initiative or expanding their role, quite the opposite. 
The US message is not a "green light", but a warning and an invite. The US are going to leave a much larger gap than before, a gap that especially affects Europe. And thus a gap that Europe itself should fill.

AirSea wins; the US want “strategic raids”, not endless land wars

The new Defense Strategy states:

In the aftermath of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the United States will emphasize non-military means and military-to-military cooperation to address instability and reduce the demand for significant U.S. force commitments to stability operations. U.S. forces will nevertheless be ready to conduct limited counterinsurgency and other stability operations if required, operating alongside coalition forces wherever possible. Accordingly, U.S. forces will retain and continue to refine the lessons learned, expertise, and specialized capabilities that have been developed over the past ten years of counterinsurgency and stability operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. However, U.S. forces will no longer be sized to conduct large-scale, prolonged stability operations.

The emphasis on the last phrase is not mine, but comes directly from the US document, which in another passage reiterates:

[US forces will be] …able to secure territory and populations and facilitate a transition to stable governance on a small scale for a limited period using standing forces and, if necessary, for an extended period with mobilized forces.

In other words, the US will still do COIN, but only if it really cannot be avoided, and for the shortest possible timeframe. Their strategy openly says that local alliances, shows of force and collaboration and the ability to deploy forcefully even against Access Denial strategies are intended to remove the need for long wars of stabilization abroad.

The bit about defeating Access Denial threats is very relevant in the new strategy:

States such as China and Iran will continue to pursue asymmetric means to counter our power projection capabilities, while the proliferation of sophisticated weapons and technology will extend to non-state actors as well. Accordingly, the U.S. military will invest as required to ensure its ability to operate effectively in anti-access and area denial (A2/AD) environments. This will include implementing the Joint Operational Access Concept, sustaining our undersea capabilities, developing a new stealth bomber, improving missile defenses, and continuing efforts to enhance the resiliency and effectiveness of critical space-based capabilities.

Drones, satellites, Special Forces, submarines and a new stealth bomber, specifically mentioned in the document, but especially, the Joint Operational Access Concept, which is the child of the so called AirSea concept, collaboration of Air Force, Navy and Marines in overcoming the defences of an enemy trying to apply access-denial tactics. 
It seems, in fact, that the 11 aircraft carriers remain part of the plan and it is likely that the capability of the Marines to launch attacks from the sea will be preserved if not enhanced, even if numbers of soldiers in the Corp could, as seen earlier, shrink at least some.
This follows from the recently approved FY2012 budget that did reinstate the “313 ships plan” for the US navy, marking a quite significant shift to an evident strategy that tries as much as possible to avoid the necessity for boots on the ground.
In other words, a Libya-like campaign is seen as the ideal kind of war to fight.

Unsurprisingly, the willingness to get involved in endless land campaigns, COIN and stabilization is greatly reduced. It is not written off entirely, naturally: that would be unwise at best, as it could well be unavoidable at times. But it is clearly not something that the US wish or plan to get involved into in the future.

Impact on UK plans

The most immediate risk for the UK is connected to the F35, which is feared to be a victim of budget cuts. Philip Hammond has been in Washington specifically to talk, among other things, about the Joint Strike Fighter, the incoming cuts, and the impact that the UK could suffer because of them.

The US remain committed to the F35 system, and to their planned numbers, which is very important. The risk, though, is that they will downsize their purchases in the next 10 years, delaying 120 out of over 400 planes they were planning to acquire in this timeframe, both as a saving measure and a precaution against the many still unsolved issues of the airplane. This delay will of course affect Lochkeed Martin, but it is still early to speculate about the potential of the move to cause an increase in the unitary cost of the F35s. The US DoD, of course, wants the cost of the plane to drop, and LM is working in this sense, but normally, delaying orders has exactly the opposite effect. A partial offset comes from export: Japan just ordered over 40 F35s for delivery from 2016, and sources have, properly, said with relief that this order “couldn’t come at a better time”. Turkey has also just confirmed a first order for 2 planes, confirming that they have a plan for 100+ F35s for their air force.

On the other hand, of course, the UK is known to be going to buy a lot less than the 150, then 138 airplanes once planned: the number is not yet specified, and goes from 40 to 100 depending on the moment and source. In this blogger’s opinion, the RN and RAF’s aspiration is for 80 in four squadrons, and they hope to be able to afford them in the long term, diluting the acquisition over many years, all the way to 2030 before the full force is complete.

Another issue potentially comes from Italy, which is going to roll out a series of cuts to its own armed forces soon. The F35 programme is at risk as well, in particular the order for the B variant. Almost certainly, the share of STOVL F35 that the Italian Air Force planned to acquire [40] will be the first to vanish, followed perhaps by a downsizing of the order for F35As [69].
The 22 or so F35Bs for the Italian Navy will be a painful matter to deal with. Italy’s small aircraft carrier, the Cavour, has no alternative to F35B when the Harrier retires: it is way too small for a conversion to catapults, so if the B variant fails or the order is cancelled, Cavour becomes a LPH for life. Something that Italy would like to avoid. But concern is mounting, and apparently the F35B testing, while comforting about the ease of usage from a huge US Navy LHA or a CVF-sized vessel, is giving the Italian navy the nightmares, as it appears that the F35B and Cavour won’t really get along well. And the press here in Italy is having a field day in going against the “useless” expense for the jets. Nevermind the fact that Italy is getting to build a F35 assembly facility on its territory which could build all of the F35s destined to the European area and which promises to give jobs to thousands of engineers and help the economy. This detail is plainly overlooked. Or used as a further accusation: because the new huge factory being built at Cameri is ugly, evil and polluting, or whatever else the press can come up with when they talk of it.

For the F35 and Italy, a stormy time might be ahead, and whatever happens, Italy won’t be buying all of the 131 F35s it once dreamed of. The impact will be especially bad on the B variant, most likely, but the whole F35 programme sure won’t benefit from a large cut.  

Hammond anyway received assurances about his worries, and a Statement of Intent was signed, on Carrier Cooperation and Maritime Power Projection that will serve as the framework for increased cooperation and interoperability on the use of aircraft carriers, as well as provide the basis for the U.S. to assist the UK Royal Navy in developing its next generation of aircraft carriers.
Cooperation is actually already ongoing, with RN and RAF pilots, in rising numbers, heading to the US to fly the US Navy F18 from aircraft carriers, to build up a core of trained and experienced pilots that will then teach and build up the new UK’s carrier force for initial operations in 2020.

Some press has suggested that, like with the submarine Astute in the 90's, the MoU asks the US carrier industry to help the british shipyards with design work for CATOBAR CVF. I don't know if we should believe to this or not: for sure, it's been ages from the last catapult carrier built in the UK, much more time has passed than even between Trafalgar and Astute SSNs, so it is not unrealistic a suggestion. Skills in CATOBAR design have been lost all over the front. If the loss has been so total and serious to make it impossible to design the carrier independently, it is not possible to say, but for sure help would be welcome.

In any case, since the UK is going EMALS and AAG wires, it is essential that american industry looks into CVF and help finalizing the conversion design.
Collaboration is also ongoing on the various light systems that guide pilots in their landing on the carriers.

And it'll be years before the F35 pilots of the UK start training at home: they will train in the US at least at the beginning, with the british OCU squadron (1st RAF Sqn, according to some) to stand up in the US in the coming years.

The FY2012 budget for the US armed forces, finally, includes approbation for the exchange of a US Navy F35C for the third F35B on order for the UK as part of the test fleet. BK-3 will be the first C variant F35 handed over to the UK, while BK1 and BK2, of the STOVL variant, will be used for testing thanks to the high commonality between variants, despite being “obsolete” since requirement, in the meanwhile, has changed from STOVL to CATOBAR.

The impact of the new US strategy on the UK, however, could reach further away, helping a rethink on the current carrier plan and general maritime strategy: a more-naval oriented US is likely to influence the UK as well, and help the RN pressing the case for conversion of the second CVF as well. Another source of benefic pressure in this sense is France, with which there’s another Carrier cooperation plan, with british pilots working on Charles de Gaulle and flying Rafales from it.

France craves a second carrier but cannot finance it, and would love to exploit the deck of Queen Elizabeth, with the ship converted to work as “gap-filler” carrier, covering the absence of the “in-role” strike carriers of the two countries, Prince of Wales and Charles de Gaulle.
In 2015, when the QE conversion option will have to be considered in the new Strategic Defense Review, Charles de Gaulle will be docked for a whole year for nuclear refueling, and Europe will be without a carrier strike force. Another source of pressure which the RN could and should exploit.


  1. Gabriel

    A fascinating post. I am intrigued by these American BCTs but I don't know much about USA military formations.

    I was wondering if you could say just a few more words about how they compare with the planned British Multi Combat Brigades. You have said that the American formations number about 4,000 men, that they are standardized and identical in structure, self-contained, and able to be deployed independently. You have also said that they are of three kinds: Stryker, Infantry and Heavy.

    So they are smaller than the planned British MRBs but if they are "self-contained", does that mean that they contain all the other components that the MRLs do to make them self-supporting: e.g. Artillery, Engineers, Logistics units, Signals, Medics, Combat Support etc, etc.

    I ask because I think the MRLs are a good idea, ahead of their time and am hoping that they will not be cancelled in their entirety. If we wanted to retain a specialised Heavy Armoured Brigade, for instance, could some of the BCTs still go ahead? Would we have sufficient manpower and equipmnent?

    Sorry if this is too much to answer all in one go.



  2. I might do a post on the US Army structure, because it is fashinating, and i think it has lessons for the Uk, even if the Multi Role Brigades are a british take on the BCT concept. But Wikipedia has good info on the BCTs, that's what makes me hesitate.

    Anyway, an Infantry BCT has two Infantry Battalions and a Cavalry Battalion on Heavy Hummers, the armoured variant. In addition there's a Field Artillery Battalion with 2 batteries and HQ battery. Then there's the Brigade Special Troops Battalion, which contains Military Police, Engineers, Signals, HUMINT and eventually EW personnel and so along. Last comes the Brigade Support Battalion, with the american equivalent of RLC supply formations, plus Medical Support and REME-equivalent Field Maintenance troop.

    Stryker brigades are larger because they come with 3 Stryker-mounted infantry battalions. They have their own Cavalry/Recce battalion, 3 instead of 2 batteries of artillery, and all the support listed before.

    The Heavy BCT has two Combined Arms Battalions, each with two companies of infantry on Bradley IFVs plust 2 companies of Abrams tanks. The cavalry squadron has recce role with Bradleys and Hummers, then there is as always the artillery (on two batteries) and the supporting tail.

    Hope this helps.

  3. Gabriele

    Amazing! Such a detailed reply and in so short a time. Very helpful indeed. Thanks ever so much.

  4. A pleasure to be of help when i can.

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