Change Is Inevitable for Western Militaries

May 16, 2012
By Robert K. Ackerman, SIGNAL Online Show Coverage
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Joint Warfighting 2012 Online Show Daily: Day 1

Quote of the Day: “If you like the complexity and uncertainty of today, you’re really going to like tomorrow.”—Lt. Gen. George J. Flynn, USMC, director, J-7, the Joint Staff

Budgetary pressures, adversary advances and technology changes all will be compelling major shifts in Western military postures over the next few years. As defense spending is reduced throughout the Western world, a range of adversaries from terrorist groups to nation-states are learning new ways of waging—and possibly winning—wars against the United States and its allies. Their capabilities, as well as those of the developed world, are being driven by the technological revolution that promises continued changes across the spectrum of conflict.

These were among the many points discussed on the opening day of Joint Warfighting 2012, being held in Virginia Beach, Virginia, May 15-17. Sponsored jointly by AFCEA and the U.S. Naval Institute, the conference features several panels and speakers complemented by engagement theater presentations on the exhibition floor.

Leading off Joint Warfighting 2012 was a keynote panel comprising (l-r) Vice Adm. C.A. Johnstone-Burt, OBE MA, RN, chief of staff, NATO Allied Command Transformation; Rear Adm. Philip S. Davidson, USN, director, operations and intelligence (N3/N2) and deputy commander, Task Force Two Zero; Lt. Gen. Keith C. Walker, USA, deputy commanding general, futures, Army Capabilities Integration Center, TRADOC; moderator Lt. Gen. John R. Wood, USA (Ret.), former deputy commander, U.S. Joint Forces Command; and Lt. Gen. George J. Flynn, USMC, director, J-7, the Joint Staff.

The democratization of technology is closing the gap between the West and its enemies, declared Lt. Gen. George J. Flynn, USMC, director, J-7, the Joint Staff. Speaking in the opening keynote panel, which discussed the way ahead for joint and coalition operations, Gen. Flynn warned that these adversaries are taking advantage of change, and that trend is likely to increase in the near future.

“If you like the complexity and uncertainty of today, you’re really going to like tomorrow,” Gen. Flynn said.

He elaborated that the battlespace of the past was linear with clear definitions, but the future battlespace is multidimensional with several domains. Now, the homeland is part of the battlespace.

Change is happening faster, and the West is going to have to learn how to operate in this faster environment, Gen. Flynn continued. He pointed out that the Arab spring swept the Arab world in about four months. It caught everyone by surprise and, caught unawares, the West had to react rather than execute its own plans.

And the U.S. military may not be prepared to fight the types of conflicts that are likely to arise in the future, suggested a former vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Gen. James E. Cartwright, USMC (Ret.), the inaugural Harold Brown Chair in defense policy studies at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, told a luncheon audience that the changes that have redefined the U.S. military over the past decade of war may have left it ill-equipped to fight whatever type of war it faces next.

Calling the current U.S. military “an occupation force” that evolved to fight counterinsurgency in Iraq and Afghanistan, the general warned that it is too heavy to move by air to respond to a sudden conflict. This force faces recapitalization soon, so it should be modernized to suit future requirements instead of simply being rebuilt in its current image.

Gen. Cartwright called for applying a strategic outlook to the force. This will be necessary to enable an effective force built under severe budget constraints. Some activities and capabilities should be discarded in favor of others that have more flexibility and offer greater performance improvement, he offered.

He cited unmanned vehicles as one technology that could provide significant improvements in combat capabilities at a reasonable cost. The performance of many military platforms is limited by the presence of humans, and developing next-generation platforms without humans can enable them to boost their performance parameters far beyond what is possible with crewed vehicles. “Unmanned systems have a huge upside … that is limited only by computational power,” he stated.

Meanwhile, even the newest systems may be vulnerable to new types of attacks. Gen. Cartwright declared that the state-of-the-art F-35 strike fighter is “not ready for a world with cyber.” The general related that systems used to have a switch to turn off all electronic emissions. Now, platforms should have a switch to turn off all apertures, which are vulnerable to cyber attack. He added that he sees a nexus coming between cyber and electronic warfare.

Most of the improvements in Western military technologies and capabilities over the past decade have come in land and air forces. Vice Adm. C.A. Johnstone-Burt, OBE MA, RN, chief of staff, NATO Allied Command Transformation, called for maritime force capabilities to catch up with the advances seen by land forces. While there is a push for niche capabilities, the admiral noted that achieving these capabilities will require full capabilities.

Noting that technological investment has advanced militaries, the admiral cited the need for greater intellectual investment. This equation should be revisited at both sides, he said, adding, “We need to think, train and fight differently.”

Virtually all Western leaders acknowledge that future conflicts likely will feature coalition operations, and laying the groundwork for those coalitions now may be the key to success in the future. Adm. Johnstone-Burt called for NATO to energize the relationship between the United States and its European partners so that it can deal with the uncertainty that will define the future. The concept of Europe picking up more of the burden in NATO, which was enunciated by outgoing U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, is a healthy approach that will broaden NATO’s perspective, not narrow it, Adm. Johnstone-Burt said.

The admiral continued that the United States needs to be “an explicit leader in NATO, not an implicit one.” And, Europe must take its place with greater activity in NATO.

“We need the political equivalent of a good man-hug, not a limp handshake,” he declared.

On Wednesday, May 16 at Joint Warfighting 2012: A power-packed lineup featuring Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Martin E. Dempsey, USA; Gen. John R. Allen, USMC, commander of the International Security Assistance Force, via teleconference from Afghanistan; and panel discussions on unmanned vehicles and cyber operations.