Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Some Thoughts on Future War

North Korea clearly has chosen to pursue nuclear-based security to prevent itself from being coerced politically and militarily by the United States, and gain political respect and legitimacy as a regional power. The nuclear option is insurance against defeat and/or humiliation at the hands of the United States, South Korea, or anyone else. It is worth pondering that as the force structure and technological capabilities that the United States displayed in recent wars are beyond the capacity of any nation in the foreseeable future, the only recourse available to a developing power is the cheaper and more accessible nuclear/ballistic missile option.

Paradoxically, America's search for a conventional combat capability in order to preclude nuclear war has proven so successful, that others seek to counter this capability through nuclear forces. Iraq could have drastically altered the outcome of the war, politically in particular, had they used SCUD attacks earlier and with more powerful warheads. Iraq's missile force structure was both logical and affordable; its poor execution and lack of punch is what rendered it ineffective. We cannot use this lack of combat effectiveness as a planning factor, for other nations may prove better capable of effective employment.

For example, during the Falklands War, Argentina successfully used their very limited number of Exocet missiles to cause considerable damage to the British Nave. Despite recent failures, North Korea's missiles are bound to perform better after failures are studied and corrected. Massive strikes, properly timed and combining alternate conventional, chemical, and/or nuclear warheads can create widespread damage, both in military terms and more importantly in political terms which will dictate the war's tempo and determine what outcome will follow. Strategically, a nation equipped with a missile force which is facing a far better armed and more capable opponent will seek to retain a retaliatory capability, with a secure reserve force which will guarantee unacceptable pain, or cause sufficient doubt as to intentions and capabilities upon the enemy, thus allowing for the maximum room for political maneuver. Our future adversaries will combine mobile missiles for offensive operations, dispersing them in depth, using active deception measures for protection and ensuring its operational capacity. This is the face of future war.

A key doctrinal question that we must answer in future war is what will air superiority do for us against an opponent who combines a nuclear missile force with moderate war aims? Another question we must address is how will we be able to deal with a strategic fait-accompli, such as the Iraqi occupation of Kuwait, before being able to deploy our assets? We must focus on building missile targeting and guidance capabilities, and defenses against missiles rather than stressing the role which airpower played in the Gulf and in Iraq/Afghanistan. In this area space forces can be most useful, providing real-time target updates, reconnaissance, and course correction/guidance to anti-ballistic missiles or offensive weapons.

Warfare is Darwinistic by nature; survival of the fittest is what it is all about. In future war, an opponent may alternately seek to withstand initial blows through dispersion of forces/maskirovka, and selectively attack high value targets with weapons of mass destruction or launch early preemptive attacks against our base/staging areas. On the other hand, it may engage in more subtle operations designed to wear us down politically as was done in Vietnam. In many respects, Maoist protracted guerrilla war strategy is most apropos for this type of future warfare by deception, using missile forces for political effects through military coercion: the enemy attacks, we retreat; the enemy encamps, we harass; the enemy tires, we attack; the enemy flees, we pursue. What will superior technology/air superiority do for us?

Victory in war does not guarantee future success. Airpower has matured and we can take pride in its merits, but these merits cannot blind us to its limitations vis a vis the changing complexion of war. As our defense budget decreases along with our military-industrial capabilities, is an air campaign the answer to future warfare against a nuclear missile armed adversary? We must address these issues now; tomorrow they will be upon us.

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