Defense Industrialist

Why Russia Focuses on Electronic and Drone Warfare

Russia’s war in Ukraine has brought into question the very notion of NATO’s Article 5, as concerns grow that Estonia might lie next in the Kremlin’s attention. Russia’s posturing in Ukraine, however, should be seen as that of a weaker power trying to avoid confrontation with a stronger power. It is not that Ukraine could defeat Russia in an outright war, but that Russia actually fears a confrontation with NATO. This is partly why Vladimir Putin has been employing his so-called hybrid warfare, which is essentially war without declaring war. In order to conduct such an operation, one needs soldiers in well-trained in asymmetric operations, sophisticated electronic and cyber capabilities, and excellent intelligence. The Russian drive for army modernization has thus focused on the use of electronic and cyber systems, and drones. In this regard, NATO members need to recognize the threat from these seemingly less menacing tools of war, and improve defenses against them to counter future assaults.

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Even broadly available technologies are not equally well exploited by all powers.

At a speech on Tuesday at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, Northrop Grumman CEO Wes Bush urged the US Defense Department to temper its enthusiasm for commercial technologies. As Politico Pro reported, Bush observed that the wonders of commercial markets notwithstanding, no one but actual defense contractors would build stealth aircraft, hypersonic missiles, and offensive cyber software. “All R&D is not equal when it comes to national security,” Bush continued, because “commercial technology, being inherently broadly available, offers no national security advantages by definition.” Or does it? On the contrary, a country’s strategic position, its armed forces’ absorptive capacity, and its industry’s skills in systems integration can substantially determine who will garner the military advantages of commercial technologies.

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The Pentagon needs a comprehensive rethinking of its public and private industrial support.

The US Congress isn’t allowing another Base Realignment and Closure process (BRAC). People at the Pentagon aren’t even supposed to think about it, at least not on the job. But at least the House version of the 2016 authorization bill does require yet another comprehensive review of "force-structure plans and infrastructure inventory.” Infrastructure sounds like BRAC, and the need for another round hasn’t receded. But better yet would be factoring the Defense Department’s business needs into another BRAC, so that public and private capacity can be better balanced for future needs.

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Done right, deeply cutting headquarters can free human resources for the fight.

Earlier this month, Federal Times noted how the House version of the 2016 US National Defense Authorization Bill would mandate a 20 percent cut in headquarters staff across the Defense Department. As authorizations are not strictly tied to appropriations, the mandate could be hard to enforce. After all, two years ago, then-Secretary Chuck Hagel said that he wanted 20 percent too, but effectively no progress has been made. The challenge starts with accounting: in January, the Government Accountability Office reported how the Pentagon can’t even reliably report how many people it has on staff. Regardless of the innumeracy, the sentiment follows a widespread conviction that there are just too many people working behind the lines. So what to do? Profound changes to the military’s career management model are needed, but profound changes could free valuable human resources for battle.

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The Navy Secretary’s speech on managing talent was founded on sound economic principles.

In his speech at the Naval Academy this morning, Navy Secretary Ray Mabus announced that he intends to profoundly reform the way his department manages people—the human capital that drive the physical capital of its ships and aircraft. He admits that progress will proceed at a pace somewhere between “the speed of my pen” and “the speed of Congress,” but the breadth of the initiative indicates earnestness. Are the changes sensible? The idea that one can analyze people as self-developing assets was pioneered by the late Nobel laureate Gary Becker, and his book Human Capital offered eight observations on how it is managed, and on how it manages itself (see page 30 of the 3rd edition, University of Chicago Press, 1993). Those principles have been borne out by decades of economic research, and most usefully, Mabus's innovations seem very much in line with many of them.

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How reforming an arms industry can save a country

Ukraine currently finds itself struggling against separatists in the East, but the solution to this problem might not rest in foreign aid and weapons. The Ukrainian military industrial complex has been a significant player in the country’s economy and can help to supply Kiev’s own defensive needs. Not only this, but Ukraine also has the ability to make significant profits in the global armaments industry and break free from its debilitating interconnectedness with Russia’s military industry.

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The Emirates will bring to Camp David a strong case for buying F-35s.

For their support for a treaty to put the Iranian nuclear program on ice, the Gulf Cooperation Council governments are coming to Camp David with shopping lists. Specifically, the GCC states have signaled in advance that they will want advanced weapons, including F-35 stealth fighters, to counter a potential resurgence in Iranian power. But not everyone in American government is enthused about that quid pro quo. As Jay Soloman and Carol Lee reported in the Wall Street Journal, Senator Lindsay Graham of South Carolina says that he is

very worried that President Obama will promise every military toy they’ve always wanted and a security agreement short of a treaty, with the understanding they have to be sympathetic to this deal. If I get a hint of that, a whiff of that, then I would do everything I could to block every bullet and every plane.

That’s condescending. In the first place, GCC governments face a serious threat. Any ratifiable treaty would need to release the $100 billion of Iranian money that’s impounded in Western banks. The Iranians seem natural troublemakers, and that sort of windfall could finance a lot of trouble, either in the form of Russian weapons or legions of Hezbollah mercenaries.

Indeed, in their recent paper Artful Balance: Future US Defense Strategy and Force Posture in the Gulf (March 2015), Bilal Saab and Barry Pavel argue for not just a security agreement, but that actual treaty that Graham fears. Even short of signed papers, the US should want GCC countries strong enough to stand up to the Iranians on their own. The US would like to continue to backstop them, but without that culturally unappreciated heavy local presence. This means continued reliance on naval power. But Saab and Pavel also argue that the US Navy needs ultimately to stop sending its super-carriers into the Persian Gulf, as they are too easy for the Persians to target in those constricted waters.

The alternative is what Byron Callan of Capital Alpha Partners recently called "Airpower for Now”—strike aircraft and precision standoff weapons capable of keeping threats to the GCC far from the GCC. That gets to the second issue with Graham’s quip about “every military toy”—not all Arab armies are as useless as the Iraqis that crumbled before ISIS. There’s a reason that General Mattis calls the Emirates "Little Sparta.” They get the job done. As such, they should be trusted to know what they need, and not just what looks cool.

There is that matter of Israel’s "qualitative military edge," enshrined in law at 22 USC 2776. No other state in the Middle East is supposed to get American weapons that would denigrate Israel’s ability to "defeat any credible conventional military threat … while sustaining minimal damage and casualties.” Again, not every army is Iraq’s. After taking a vicious beating from the Israelis in 1967, the Egyptians came back and handled them pretty roughly along the Canal in 1973. In 2006, Hezbollah reminded the Israelis not to get complacent. So one can understand the concern. But Egypt is now friendly, and has long had F-16s and M1 tanks. Turkey vacillates, but has long been promised F-35s. And if lacking diplomatic relations, the GCC hates those Hezbollah guys. So who’s looking after whose security?

That is, there is some space and time for political maneuvering. The Emirates' military prowess, coupled with their political reasonableness, could provide cover for a sale of F-35s there, but not elsewhere. Moreover, any promise of F-35s to the UAE Air Force would be subject to the production schedule: lots of development partners, including Israel, must get theirs before new customers take deliveries. Even a signal of a future sale would undo some of the damage to America's reputation as a reliable arms supplier, which France has usefully exploited in Dassault’s string of recent sales of Rafales in India, Egypt, and Qatar. And while France deserves accolades for helping keep threats at bay, the US might want to get back in the game. The GCC lives in a tough neighborhood, and could use a few more of those bullets and planes.

James Hasík is a senior fellow at the Brent Scowcroft Center on International Security.

The reflex to gain military leverage from yet another technological revolution is misguided.

It seems clear what is foremost for Deputy Defense Secretary Robert Work these days. At the Pentagon’s April 9 press conference endorsing “Better Buying Power 3.0,” Work said the impetus for his new “offset strategy” is an urgent concern about “a steady erosion of our technological superiority that we have relied upon for so long in all our defense strategies.” The day before, he had implored students and staff at the Army War College in Carlisle, Pennsylvania to join the initiative’s modernization campaign “to identify the technologies, identify the operational and organizational constructs . . . to fight our future adversaries.”

The time is surely right for the Pentagon to focus its attention on retooling military capabilities. The counterinsurgency wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have, of necessity, imbalanced our forces’ readiness for other kinds of conflict. And the flat outlook for U.S. defense spending will continue to impose trade-offs that test priorities. But the occasion for this initiative also arises from historical changes within the arenas of economics and technology. And while there is plainly an appreciation of how the distribution of economic power and diffusion of technologic know-how is transforming the threat, too little is being said about how these factors also will shape the particular leverage the U.S. and the West can employ to offset adversaries’ comparative advantages. Simply put, I believe our reflex to gain that leverage from yet another technological revolution is misguided.

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If people matter, then selling military culture merits the same attention as the money.

My recent essay “Bomber Command” (noticed as far off as Taiwan) elicited commentary from a friend in the Navy Department, an organization that knows something about visual details and marketing:

     "Bomber Command" is similar. "Bomber" itself is kind of blubbery and round, and it takes a little bit of thinking about context to place its merits as a term. But add that "Command" and that just adds up instantly to a sweeping thought about a vast black omnipresent prowess.

     Meanwhile, "Global Strike Command" is clearly shooting for a similar theme, but only manages a tepid clinicalism. Cybernetic, clean-cut blue-suiters come to mind when imagining GSC. Maybe even a missile silo in the third-order afterthoughts.

     But "Bomber Command" is ceiling fans in steamy rooms, massive paper maps on the walls and tables, aviator sunglasses worn inside the dimly illuminated planning rooms. You know that there's a bottle of whiskey, bourbon, or maybe a scotch in every metal desk drawer. And lit cigars everywhere—a thick blue haze invoking even more intensely stifling heat and deliberation.

     "Bomber Command" would send a better message than the rather fey “GSC”.

As I noted in that earlier essay, the culture of the Strategic Air Command did ultimately work corrosion upon the whole of the US Air Force. With that momentum, in the bureaucratic Sixties and Seventies, USAF leaders worked hard to hunt down and kill whatever organizational culture they could find. They even hated Robin Olds’ mustache. Then, in the 1980s, the Tactical Air Command under General Bill Creech brought all that glory back to general acclaim. He even re-emphsized the importance of ground crews in the process. A lot of total quality and realistic training also brought back TAC, but the patches and the flight jackets mattered.

Fast forward a bit. Just about two years ago, Space Command under General William Shelton did away with those flight jackets, to "standardize uniform wear… in a resource-constrained environment,” and to "to create synergy among all personnel across the command.” The move was estimated to save $670,000. There are few things more contentious in the military than who gets to wear a flight jacket or brown shoes or certain colors of beret. The questions matter, and the answers are not obvious. But synergy? And to save what?

These are not academic arguments, where the battles are intense, as Henry Kissinger once said, precisely because the stakes are so low. Names and imagery matter because recruits sign up and veterans stay for more than the variable housing allowance and that twenty-year retirement. They also come and stay because they value the culture, the purpose, and the esprit de corps. So the imagery and the very names of the outfits leaders lead are worthy of top-level attention. There are worse efforts out there than Global Strike Command, and Eighth Air Force is still pretty resonant. As my colleague August Cole likes to remind us, speculative art and fiction are needed for imagining how we will deliver security in the future. This business of realigning sixty-some B-1Bs is a separate reminder that marketing matters in how we sustain the business of security today.

James Hasík is a senior fellow in the Brent Scowcroft Center for International Security.

Whatever happens with the F-18E or F-35C, the US Navy needs a carrier-based drone now.

Earlier this year, Chief of Naval Operations Admiral Jonathan Greenert said that he believed that the F/A-XX, the Navy’s planned eventual follow-on to the F-35C, would be "optionally manned". On 15 April at the Sea-Air-Space conference, Navy Secretary Ray Mabus leaned further forward, noting how he believed that "the F-35 should be, and almost certainly will be, the last manned strike fighter aircraft the Department of the Navy will ever buy or fly.” At the same time, Mabus announced that he would be establishing a new post of deputy assistant secretary of the Navy for unmanned systems—a secretary of drones, so to speak. That evening, Senate Armed Service Committee Chairman John McCain said that “I hope the sentiments expressed by Secretary Mabus… will be reflected in the Navy's future programmatic decisions.” For as the senator knows, that’s where the actual plans depart from the strategic narrative. The program is still focused on manned aviation, and that questionably supports future strategic needs.

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