Wednesday, September 10, 2014

The quandary of history's natural vice ideal timeline

We often try to wish on ourselves the things we desire the most, as to imagine the opposite to be a possibility is simply too terrible to think of.

War is that way more often than not. We think that our technology and thinking is so much better than that of previous generations, that this time it will be different. We can prevent war, because no one really wants to go to war - but if we have to, it will be short and decisive - and riding on the wings of unicorns poop'n skittles, we will be victorious! 

History does not work that way. Everyone home for Christmas, indeed.

From a good example of the fruitful ponderings that are coming this year when thinking about WWI, over at the National Interest, Chris Dougherty sets out a marker that is both historically solid - and terrible to think of.
... (there is a) worrying similarity between 1914 and 2014: a failure to prepare for the possibility of protracted conflict based on the flawed belief that conventional war between great powers would be brief and decisive. In 1914, the failure to consider or prepare for a conflict that might last years rather than weeks made war more likely by creating the illusion that strategic goals could be achieved at minimal cost. Today, advances in technology have fostered a similar notion regarding conventional war between major powers. And yet militaries have a poor track record when it comes to predicting the character of future wars, particularly in times of rapid technological change. New military hardware may simply increase the destruction wrought by great-power war, much as it did in 1914, without making the conflict shorter or more decisive. Avoiding a similar catastrophe in the 21st century may therefore require deterring military adventurism by planning and preparing for protracted conflict.
Before World War I, military leaders and statesmen failed to comprehend how technological change had altered the conduct of war. A host of late 19th and early 20th century inventions, including smokeless powder, rapid-firing rifles, machine guns, breech-loading artillery with recoil compensation, reconnaissance aircraft, wireless communication, and barbed wire gave defenders an enormous advantage over attacking forces, yet every major power entered August 1914 with offensive strategies and military doctrines designed to achieve quick, decisive victories.

In hindsight this paradox seems obvious, but few contemporary military thinkers fully grasped how these new technologies would interact on the battlefield, largely because their use until 1914 was one-sided. During the wars German Unification, for example, early versions of some of these weapons were used by one belligerent or another, but not simultaneously by both sides.
That last part - let's bring that in to the now - even ignoring CBRN weapons so no one breaks in to a sweat or piddles themselves;

"A host of late 20th and early 21st century inventions, including long range cruise missiles, armed drones, electronic jamming, real-time ISR, precision weapons, body armor, man-portable anti-armor weapons, early versions of some of these weapons were used by one belligerent or another, but not simultaneously by both sides."

How comfortable are you with our war reserve - especially of ASW and ASUW weapons? Tell me if this hits a note;
U.S. defense spending is another telling indicator of this short-war mentality. Shortages of precision-guided munitions (PGMs) have slowed the pace of U.S. and allied operations in conflicts ranging from Kosovo in 1999 to Libya in 2011; yet PGM stocks remain insufficient to support high-intensity operations for any substantial length of time and there is virtually no slack capacity to increase production. Defense budgets are crafted through a complex bureaucratic and political process, so they do not always perfectly reflect strategic priorities. Nevertheless, the failure to address this persistent shortfall seemingly indicates a lack of planning and preparation for combat operations lasting longer than a few months. A similar situation occurred in 1914. All combatants, but particularly France and Great Britain, experienced shortages of artillery shells. This so-called “shell famine” occurred because military planners had not conceived of the possibility that the war would not be over by Christmas.
What happens when everyone has shot their bolt ... but the lines move nary an inch and national attitudes harden?
... trends suggest that protracted great-power war in the 21st century could be more probable than many strategists or policymakers presently believe. The current proliferation of PGMs and supporting capabilities such as unmanned aerial vehicles could create a firepower-dominant warfare regime similar to that of 1914. When used by both sides in a conflict, these may not enable rapid, decisive operations, but might instead create a massive no-man’s land where large numbers of aircraft, ships, and bases are damaged or destroyed to neither side’s lasting advantage. Even if this worst-case scenario does not come to pass, the qualitative and quantitative advantage the United States and its allies have enjoyed over their military rivals since the end of the Cold War is eroding. Given the narrowing of this gap and the possibility that current and emerging technologies may make operational stalemates more likely, planning and preparing for protracted conventional conflict would allow the United States to hedge against the unpredictability of war while also serving as a powerful deterrent against military adventurism.
Protracted war might also necessitate an ability to absorb attrition in personnel and major systems while maintaining combat effectiveness. This could, for example, push acquisition programs to place greater emphasis on quantity, as opposed to the present tendency to build small number of exquisite systems.
Solution? That is the opening to a "New Look" at how our defense should be postured.

To prevent war, one must prepare for war.
This shift would not be without costs or tradeoffs, but nor would it entail a massive military buildup or a fundamental reordering of American fiscal priorities. Stockpiling PGMs, for instance, would require an up-front investment, but their long-term operations and maintenance costs tend to be far lower than that of ships or aircraft. New technologies including additive manufacturing or “3-D printing” may enable industry to shift and scale production rapidly to meet wartime demand without maintaining inefficient unused capacity during peace. Investments in logistics capabilities such as Combat Logistics Force ships, while not “sexy” are typically quite cost-effective
While great-power war appears less likely in 2014 than it did in the years of perpetual crises that preceded World War I, it would be foolish to assume, as some do, that nuclear weapons or economic interconnectedness make such wars impossible. The United States appears to be entering an era in which its conventional military dominance may be increasingly challenged by a host of rivals such as China, Iran, and a resurgent Russia. Of these, China likely poses the greatest long-term threat, but even China’s stated preference is for short wars. None of these rivals, therefore, is likely to relish the prospect of a protracted conventional conflict with the United States and its allies. If the U.S. military, along with those of its allies and partners, could credibly demonstrate a willingness and ability to conduct protracted, high-intensity conventional combat operations, it would likely serve as a powerful deterrent against military adventurism. Rivals would be forced to weigh the potential gains of military aggression against the costs of a long, destructive conflict, with all its attendant risk of social, economic, and political upheaval. Ideally, this would convince potential adversaries to forego major acts of aggression or coercion. Should deterrence fail, however, the United States and its allies would be better prepared for the long and bloody struggle that might ensue.
Are we even thinking about how our Navy would fight a prolonged conflict? One of attrition on land and at sea? We don't have a mothball fleet anymore. Shipyards are scarce - more than that - do we have the intellectual capacity to think along the lines of those who came before? If so, how do we?

Along the vibe with the warning from FromRussiaWithBias;
... think the unthinkable.

No comments: