by Ryan Pearce
December 15, 2010

On November 24th, nary a day after the North Korean shelling of Yeonpyeong Island on November 23rd 2010, the United States dispatched warships of the 7th Fleet, including the USS George Washington (CVN-73) as a show of force. This, of course is only a portion of the expected response that the United States would show in any situation of a similar nature, especially as it is an anticipated that the armed forces will be called upon on an increasing regular basis as a “Power Projection” force. With this future mandate, the image of a massive nuclear powered aircraft carrier steaming just offshore—with nearly a hundred fighter-bombers on its flight deck—will quickly become a staple for any viewer of CNN and its contemporaries watching the evening broadcasts. While these vessels and their air wing make a clear showing of the modern U.S. military’s strength, what remains unclear is their role in every facet of the world stage. The threat of an aircraft carrier steaming off the coast of whatever country in the past has been more than sufficient to cause many warring states to come to the peace table. However, one must realize that these particular instances have involved threats easily engaged by F/A-18E/F Super Hornets dropping massive quantities of precision guided bombs on relatively fixed infrastructure. In essence, the states that have backed down at the sight of an American warship; have had something to lose to the sheer firepower that these vessels can unleash. Visions of the first gulf war, with fighters launching sortie-after-sortie against powerplant, communications nodes, and other industrial targets is a very clear reminder that an aircraft carrier steaming off your doorstep is not a threat to be underestimated.

However, that was the past. The future of modern warfare, and thus the future of the Navy lie in how it will deal in Conflicts-Other-Than-War (To be abbreviated as COTW/OOTW). Many of these conflicts involve small regional states controlled by dictators or warlords who are always moving. The most appropriate historical examples of what future OOTWs will look like will resemble the guerrillas of Vietnam operating on the Ho Chi Minh trail, the Iraqi insurgency, or operations similar to those Somalia and Bosnia. Very rarely is there any fixed infrastructure. In a very real sense, the costs needed to launch a single Super Hornet, armed with a single weapon on a single sortie against a target in this new environment will be multiple times than the target they’d be called on to strike is worth.

What is now needed is a new vision in Operations-Other-Than-War. Beyond just warships, beyond just new airplanes, and beyond new tanks, but in fact an entire shift in strategy. Former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeild saw this reality, and out of this, his Transformational Warfare policy has become a perverted roadmap for the Department of Defense, and will likely shape defense policy (and by defacto, international political policy) well into the future. Unfortunately, the current idea of transformational warfare only translates into a modernization of the concept of HyperWar (Kearney, Thomas & Bailey, Rosanne, “Combat Enters Hyperwar Era,” Defense News). Transformational warfare’s wiz-bang gadgetry doesn’t address the fundamental flaw of too much for too little.

Although it is only my opinion, a vision of Scaled Response including facets from both Transformational Warfare as well as Conventional Warfare would be ideal, as it would combine the capability to engage in peace support operations (PSO) at an extreme level of aggressiveness, whilst also being fully able to respond to full scale regional conflicts with no loss of capability. This duality eliminates the problem of the “Hundred Dollar Problem/Thousand Dollar Solution” that currently plagues the Department of Defense. Some steps have already been taken to reduce this problem, namely the testing of the laser guided Advanced Precision Kill Weapon System and the introduction of the GBU-39 Small Diameter Bomb. Both weapons go far to reduce the cost and more importantly, collateral effects of these more compact and more focused weapons compared with their contemporaries.

I ask all of you to not mistake my thoughts on the subject as a supporter of Transformational Warfare, and in fact to understand that I find the idea fatally flawed. Be that as it may, the idea of a light, highly responsive, extremely lethal reactionary force is borderline genius, as long one understands that the need for a conventional military is not extinct. Much to the chagrin of many in the defense community, the threat posed by conventional standing militaries in the Middle East by Iran, or in Southeast Asia by China, still shows that the need for a conventional armed forces is still highly necessary at present–and well into the future. However, “Transformationalists” are right about one thing, Quasi-conflicts will become more prevalent in the modern world stage.

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