Game-Changing Environment Vexes Planners, Warfighters

April 2011
By Robert K. Ackerman
E-mail About the Author


Vice Adm. Richard W. Hunt, USN, commander, U.S. Third Fleet, addresses the audience at West 2011 in San Diego.

Predicting the next conflict takes a back seat to flexible planning.

The dynamic environment that defines trends from social development to technology innovation is wreaking havoc on attempts to plan an effective national security structure. Coupled with severe budget limitations arising from the global economic crisis, this rapidly changing milieu is revolutionizing warfighting in ways that cannot be countered—or even predicted—on short notice.

Revolutionary ideas are leaving the think tank and entering the policy realm as defense institutions grapple with reforms amid exceedingly rapid change. With information technology serving an increasingly vital role in warfighting, finding new ways of acquiring and managing it has become paramount. And, as adversaries adapt their tactics to avoid U.S. strengths and exploit potential weaknesses, the ability to adapt U.S. forces is essential to prevailing on the battlespace.

These were among the many issues discussed at West 2011, presented by AFCEA International and the USNI from January 25-27, 2011, in San Diego. Titled “After the Long War: What’s Next?” the program focused on technologies and trends that are changing the way adversaries fight.

Many speakers and panels offered controversial topics spiced with exchanges between participants and the audience. They covered wide-ranging subjects such as U.S. Navy shipbuilding, budget priorities, air doctrine, cybersecurity and the People’s Republic of China.

The advances being made by adversaries were cited by Dick Diamond Jr., national security trends and strategic issues analyst with Raytheon Integrated Defense Systems. While moderating a panel on unmanned systems, Diamond expounded on how the vaunted U.S. military technological superiority may be waning as other countries acquire advanced technologies at an affordable price. Precision-guided munitions and surveillance in particular now can be had by foes who will use them to upset U.S. warfighting doctrine.

“We may not be able to conduct our favorite American way of war in the future,” Diamond said.

He explained that the United States may not have the luxury of being able to position forces forward for a period of time so that they can commence fighting at a moment of their choosing. These forces would be vulnerable to other countries that are procuring high-technology weapons at affordable prices. As a result, maritime forces will need to be positioned farther away from shore.

Vice Adm. Richard W. Hunt, USN, commander of the U.S. Third Fleet, offered that the U.S. Navy must adopt a holistic approach to operational missions. Giving the kickoff address, Adm. Hunt said that the United States must conduct operations geared toward winning over countries instead of taking their support for granted.

Adm. Hunt singled out humanitarian assistance as one way of building U.S. strength among diverse countries. He noted that many nations “could go either way” in supporting or opposing U.S. national interests, and the United States could swing them into its support column by providing rapid and effective relief in the event of a disaster.

“It’s not just kinetic power … we must be a global force for good,” Adm. Hunt declared.

However, the fleet commander did not belittle the importance of kinetic operations. He warned that U.S. naval forces had become too defensive in their outlook and needed to adopt a greater emphasis on offensive capabilities. He cited missile defense and cyberspace security as two areas where too much emphasis had been placed on defense, and he called for a renewed emphasis on strike.

“We’ve stepped away and become too defensive,” the admiral declared.

Adm. Hunt called for the Navy to develop offensive capabilities to take the fight to the adversary instead of merely being reactive. In particular, he said that defending cyberspace is necessary, but the force also needs to focus on an effective offensive cyberspace capability—“look at it from a warfighter perspective,” he suggested. “If we lose our computers … the way we operate today cripples us completely.”

One challenge the United States faces is the potential for a high-end conflict from a peer competitor. Technology advances are leveling the battlefield, and the United States must address that fact technologically and strategically. This and other challenges are compounded by global shifts such as climate change—which may increase the amount of navigable seas as the North polar icecap melts—the global economic crisis, resource competition from emerging giants such as China and India, and globalization in general.


Maj. Gen. Melvin G. Spiese, USMC, deputy commanding general, 1 Marine Expeditionary Force, describes some of the challenges facing the U.S. Marine Corps.

Some of those concerns were echoed by Maj. Gen. Melvin G. Spiese, USMC, deputy commanding general, 1 Marine Expeditionary Force. Gen. Spiese also warned that nations, including friends, will act in their own interests, so the United States could have difficulty assembling an alliance or even getting support from some allies. Because nations change their policies over time as their national interests shift, the United States should not place itself in a position where addressing U.S. concerns depends on the policies of another nation.

Gen. Spiese added his observations about how global changes are compounding the military’s mission. The Corps is pursuing a dual-track approach to meeting its challenges. It is strengthening its traditional expertise in amphibious operations, which likely will grow in importance with the majority of the world’s population living in littoral areas. And, it will pursue innovative tactics and technologies to meet emerging challenges.

Noting that the Marine Corps is a capabilities-based force rather than a platform-centric one, the general related that it is experimenting with new tactical organizations in its warfighting laboratory. The Corps also is looking at new systems that would extend its capabilities in specialized areas.

“The U.S. Marine Corps has never met the nation’s needs by being conventional in its approach,” Gen. Spiese declared.

Budgetary concerns hang over the entire Navy, and they threaten to derail vital modernization efforts. Capt. R. Robinson Harris, USN (Ret.), director, advanced concepts, Lockheed Martin Mission Systems and Sensors, cited studies warning that the growing national debt is a threat to national security. Ronald O’Rourke, a specialist in national defense with the Congressional Research Service, told a panel audience that the sea service already is underfunded for its shipbuilding requirements. Cuts in that area could have severe repercussions for the force.

Part of this was a result of the Navy not committing supplemental defense funding toward procurement. As a result, it does not have any procurement programs it can cut.

“Some of the lower-hanging fruit in terms of efficiencies already have been picked,” O’Rourke said.

Efficiencies alone will not be sufficient to make budget cuts, he continued. The Navy likely will identify future efficiencies, but they might not be effective if the Navy is forced to make substantial budget cuts.

If the Navy is afflicted by severe cuts, it might cut back on ocean deployments by limiting them to a few chosen areas, O’Rourke suggested. Unmanned air systems (UASs) could help meet capability goals, and the Navy could extend the operational lifetimes of some older ships and submarines.


Tough budgetary decisions that might need to be implemented are the focus of panelists (l-r) Capt. Mark R. Hagerott, USN, professor of science, technology and military history, U.S. Naval Academy; Capt. Victor G. Addison, USN, OPNAV N51 Advanced Concepts; Capt. Stuart B. Munsch, USN, branch head, Office of the CNO (Naval Strategy); Ronald O’Rourke, specialist in national defense with the Congressional Research Service; and moderator Capt. R. Robinson Harris, USN (Ret.), director, advanced concepts, Lockheed Martin Mission Systems and Sensors.

Yet even severe budget cuts could be a boon to modernization. O’Rourke noted that, in the economically depression-ridden 1930s, the Navy had to develop new and innovative solutions to put to sea a force that could serve national security interests. Those innovations ultimately helped the Navy win its battle for Pacific supremacy against Japan in World War II.

One dynamic assessment came from Undersecretary of the Navy Robert O. Work. Confining his remarks to the recent Navy budget submission, Work nonetheless gave candid and colorful assessments of Navy priorities and programs. He offered an optimistic view of future Navy procurement that he supported with the “whys” of the service’s decision making.

Money that would have been spent on now-canceled programs has been re-allocated to other programs to accelerate their progress. This will result in considerable savings, Work noted. With the Navy “buying smarter,” it will acquire exactly the same equipment that it bought last year, but for $8.5 billion less.

Among the items that the Navy is buying smarter is the littoral combat ship, or LCS. Calling it  “one of the most misunderstood ships in the Navy,” Work explained that its two-contractor approach is saving the taxpayers $2.9 billion. And, if one particular LCS design proves to be faulty or insufficient, the Navy can redirect its acquisition to the other shipbuilder.

Some of the canceled programs either were in trouble or not effective for their mission, such as the ALQ-99 jammer for the EA-18G. Others, such as the Marine Corps Expeditionary Fighting Vehicle, had overcome program problems but posed cost challenges further down the line. And, the F-35B short takeoff vertical landing aircraft has been delayed two years so that its problems can be addressed—of which Work said, “We are absolutely convinced that we will fix the problems in the F-35B.”


Robert O. Work, undersecretary
of the Navy, explains Navy
budget priorities at West 2011

Work did express worries about the Navy’s restrictions under the continuing resolution. Saying that it was one concern that keeps him up at night, Work explained that the Navy is capped at 2010 levels and cannot begin new programs. The service faces serious difficulties with those limitations. “We’ve got to get that fixed,” he charged, “or it will force the Department of the Navy to make stupid and irrevocable decisions.”

Effective shipbuilding will require a close partnership between government and industry, according to Vice Adm. Marty Chanik, USN (Ret.), vice president of business development for Northrop Grumman Shipbuilding. Adm. Chanik cited serial production as the best way to maximize quality and cost savings for major shipbuilding programs. The admiral emphasized the need for a strong shipbuilding base working closely with government. He called for an incentive program for capital investment, predicting a greater return if improvements are realized over the length of a program.

Airpower has been at the core of Navy power projection since World War II, but new concepts are forcing the sea service to take another look at how to use it. A panel focusing on the air-sea battle concept drew diverse conclusions about the future of ocean airpower. One point is that the United States may need an entirely new generation of warfighting aircraft, both manned and unmanned, to wage successful combat against future adversaries. Even the best existing and planned combat aircraft may not meet those needs.

Rear Adm. Jim Bebee, USN (Ret.), executive director, commander, Naval Air Forces, warned that the atrophying of the industrial base for legacy systems means that the United States must move into the next generation of aircraft.

Col. Mark Gunzinger, USAF (Ret.), senior fellow at the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments, warned that, “Many of our current investments will not be a good fit for the future.” He added that U.S. forces increasingly will be operating in a non-permissive environment, and he pointed out that F-35s will not have the necessary range to conduct operations in large theaters such as the Asia-Pacific region.

China Among Key U.S. Concerns

The People’s Republic of China is high on the list of concerns for U.S. policymaking, and a special discussion focused on strategic dialogue between the two nations. Moderated by David Hartman, former host of “Good Morning America,” the discussion comprised opinions offered by Adm. Timothy J. Keating, USN (Ret.), former commander of the U.S. Pacific Command, and Dr. Xinjun Zhang, associate professor of public international law, Tsinghua University, Beijing.

Adm. Keating allowed that the relationship between China and the United States is defined by “strategic mistrust” that must be overcome if the two nations are to improve their relations. The admiral called for a greater understanding through transparency and communication, and he cited a need for China to be more responsive to U.S. efforts at improving communication.

Zhang offered the Chinese perspective on the relationship by saying that his country feels threatened by U.S. surveillance ships and aircraft at the edge of its coastal territory. The idea that the United States is trying to encircle China is becoming more prevalent among the Chinese people, he added.

Adm. Keating countered that “close to the coast” is relative, and the United States strictly adheres to international law and never enters Chinese territory when its ships and aircraft pass near China’s internationally recognized borders. Zhang, a professor of international law, allowed that the Law of the Sea Treaty was drafted ambiguously, adding, “It’s very good for us … lawyers.”


Dr. Xinjun Zhang (c) emphasizes a point about China in a discussion with Adm. Timothy J. Keating, USN (Ret.) (r) as moderator David Hartman (l) listens.

The admiral made clear that, as long as China kept its intentions a secret, the United States would continue to fly aircraft and sail ships near China to collect information that might aid in painting an accurate picture of China’s policies.

Both men agreed on a basic goal with regard to North Korea—stopping its nuclear weapons program. However, Adm. Keating emphasized the urgency of quick action before North Korea developed an effective nuclear arsenal, while Zhang called for patience to maintain stability while all sides worked toward the same goal.

Zhang opened up a new window of dialogue by saying that he did not believe that China’s actions—including the massive changes that define Chinese society today—were being driven by any kind of vision. Many of these policies have emerged from approaches introduced by former vice chairman Deng Xiaoping, whom Zhang described as being too pragmatic. This lack of vision has plagued much of Chinese policy, Zhang said.

Zhang also offered that China is far less monolithic than most people realize. China has “a very complicated government,” he said, as it tries to run a diverse country rife with different ethnic groups and languages. Maintaining stability is important both to China and to the rest of the world, and he warned against pressuring China on human rights and other internal policies.

“I cannot imagine the consequence to the globe without a stable ruling government in China,” Zhang declared.


Cyberspace Acquisition, Management Challenge Planners and Operators

One of the most urgent requirements for reform involves information technology, and two top Defense Department experts offered their take on the way ahead for reforming its acquisition and management. Elizabeth A. McGrath, Defense Department deputy chief management officer, and David Wennergren, Defense Department assistant deputy chief management officer, told the Thursday luncheon audience that revolutionary changes could be coming to information technology acquisition if participants sign on for conducting business in radically new ways.

McGrath and Wennergren described how their office is proposing a new approach to information technology procurement that would emphasize transparency both to improve performance management and to build trust. The goal is to create a culture of outcome-based measures.

Wennergren noted that all processes for information technology production must change. Some of these changes may require new or revised laws. McGrath explained, “We are looking to break down the existing process for information technology procurement to have more modular, faster delivery of these capabilities.” She added that currently, “We’re not hitting the capabilities in the first five years.”


Elizabeth A. McGrath, Defense Department deputy chief management officer, discusses information technology acquisition reform with David Wennergren, assistant deputy chief management officer.

These vast changes proposed by the office will require all participants to do their part, or the effort will fall short. “It’s a matter of choice,” McGrath declared. “If we decide we won’t, then we are detracting from the department’s goals.

“I’m not painting a picture of doom and gloom,” she continued. “The opportunities are sitting right there in front of us.”

At the heart of information technology concerns is security. Rear Adm. William E. Leigher, USN, deputy commander, U.S. Fleet Cyber Command, stated that cyber operations will require a considerable amount of intelligence, which in turn will be useful only with careful planning. Cyberwarfare cannot win a war on its own, but its indirect approach could succeed where direct action cannot. And, cyberwarfare operations must be synchronized with those of the other warfighting domains.

Terry Halvorsen, Department of the Navy Chief Information Officer, described cyberspace as “just another battlespace.” He elaborated that it has some characteristics that are different, but others are similar to those of the other domains. Halvorsen offered that the United States “is on the wrong side” of spending in that it invests way too much money on cyber defense, when instead it should spend much less and be willing to accept some cyber casualties.

One information technology problem facing many defense and homeland security organizations is data sharing, and the U.S. Coast Guard in particular faces many hurdles in that arena. Its missions are becoming more complex, and its requirements for sharing data are growing exponentially with the threat.

Rear Adm. (S) Stephen Metruck, USCG, chief of staff, Eleventh Coast Guard District, said that the threats facing the Coast Guard may be combining to pose a greater danger to the United States. So, the need for data sharing across agencies and services is more vital than ever.

However, many firewalls prevent government agencies from linking their databases, even within the Department of Homeland Security. In some cases, the only solution is to place people from different agencies side-by-side so they can share views on their computer displays, the admiral observed.

And these threats may be joining forces. Drug smuggling, alien immigration and terrorism are finding common ground and advantages to be gained by combining their tactics and technologies. Semisubmersible craft used to smuggle drugs from South and Central America to the United States are becoming more sophisticated to the point of being minisubmarines. These craft also could be used to smuggle terrorists and weapons of mass destruction past border patrols.

Security at the border is not sufficient to protect the United States from these threats. “Goal defense” is not an effective way of stopping adversaries, Adm. Metruck explained, so the Coast Guard is striving to head off threats before they near the homeland.

The admiral described how the Coast Guard is working to develop new methods of detecting and identifying threats before the marauders launch their plans into action. Operation Focused Lens, for example, looks at places from where attacks may come. The goal is to detect anomalous activity before a smuggling or terrorist boat is launched. Marina operators would be engaged through an outreach program to report suspicious signs such as boaters practicing illegal activities.

The Coast Guard also is seeking increased maritime domain awareness at the tactical level, with a focused and coordinated presence in areas where small boat attacks may be staged, originated or executed. For ocean operations, it is looking at deploying the FireScout unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) on its national security cutter. It also may employ a maritime Predator UAV. Adm. Metruck stated that shifting from manned to unmanned systems offers a great deal of potential for Coast Guard maritime domain awareness.


Defense Doctrines, Processes Face Fundamental Shifts

Policy shapers offer a view of a potentially new era—if their proposed changes come to pass. A recent Defense Science Board study explored military adaptability, and its two chairmen gave their audience a glimpse of its results. Alfred Grasso, president and chief executive officer, the MITRE Corporation, and Dr. William A. LaPlante, head, Global Engagement Department, Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory, described the four themes that dominated the study: aligning the enterprise with an operational cadence; creating global situational awareness through small teams developing contextual awareness; preparing for degraded operations; and human capital.

Discussing the operational cadence theme, Grasso pointed out that a planning-centric environment does not align well with the current situation—it must have a closer link with the operators. Functional development teams, such as those used for the development of the F-117 stealth fighter, are a good approach.

Grasso supported the idea of planned adaptability. “Adaptability often is viewed as a responsive act,” he said. “However, adaptability and preparation are inexorably linked.”

Looking at creating global situational awareness, Grasso stated that a key element is the exploitation of open source information. With more than 500 exabytes of information residing on the Internet, the Defense Department is woefully underinvested in this discipline, he said.

LaPlante charged that U.S. forces are not well prepared for degraded operations. He noted that one common characteristic is that militaries that trained with realistic degraded operations—brutal honesty and realism—did much better than those that did not. While the realism of degraded operations across the services is good at the command level, the operational level is another story. With two exceptions—cyber and space—the realism is not there at that level. He called for more realism in operational exercises, and he cited the advantages of red/blue teaming—where technicians and engineers find vulnerabilities and fix them simultaneously.

To address the human capital issue, LaPlante focused on hiring authorities. The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency has 20 hiring experts, while the entire Navy also has 20. He called for greater exploitation of hiring experts, especially for distinctive disciplines such as intelligence.


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