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The Army’s improved Paladin 155 mm howitzer recently impressed officials at Yuma Proving Grounds. The tests sent an improved projectile to an altitude of 50,000 feet and a distance of over 40 miles. The goal is a range in excess of 60 miles.
Each armored or mechanized brigade includes a battalion of 18 such howitzers. However brigades are currently hard pressed to acquire targets independently out to 60 miles away. This suggests that other changes need to follow in intelligence acquisition and overall doctrine of how divisions and brigades will fight the battle.
I would ask my readers for their ideas/suggestions on changes on doctrinal and equipment that the new artillery capability will necessitate. Let’s hear from you.
While the media spasms[i] over the corona virus as a way to get rid of President Trump, we should be examining critical lessons that we should learn with respect to military preparedness.
The corona virus (Covid-19) outbreak is causing some disruptions in military productions and activities. Right now these are precautionary. The bigger issue that these disruptions highlight is the issue of single source procurement. Will external sources being interrupted result in more producers returning to the US? Are self-imposed risks acceptable?
Some of the disruptions in military activities include:
- Lockheed Martin has held up production of F-35s in Italy and Japan. They have told employees to stay home for the next week. However, Lt Gen Fick (Program Manager) said that he does not anticipate any other disruption to the supply chain and that the Joint Program Office (JPO) is not taking any deliberate steps to actively curtail any ripple effects due to the corona virus that may further go through the F-35 supply chain.
- The Indian Navy (IN) has postponed the 10-day long ‘Milan 2020’ multilateral exercise it was expected to host in the Bay of Bengal for 31 navies. The IN said in a statement on 3 March that this year’s iteration of the biennial exercise, which was scheduled to begin on 18 March, has been deferred after taking “the safety of all participants and travel restrictions imposed by the spread of Covid-19”
- The Pentagon will decide soon how to prepare for the upcoming military moving season with the outbreak based on whether the new COVID-19 virus is still active in late spring through early fall, a military doctor said Wednesday. Presently travel to and from Korea is halted.
- Military families in Italy are facing a third week of school and day care closures. They are also facing a two week quarantine when/if they return to the US.
- The Army is screening new recruits before they enter basic training. Any found positive for COVID-19 will be quarantined.
It is certain that these are only the tip of the iceberg. What is most important is what are we learning from the ongoing disruptions? Are we examining supply chains to see where we have potential bottlenecks? Are corporations and government entities willing to pay the price for some redundancy or are they going to take a risk? Risk might be acceptable in some categories or cases but not others. Examples where risk may not be acceptable include pharmaceuticals, long lead time parts and components for essential military equipment, critical personnel skills.
The obvious other casualty of this virus scare is globalism. When critical things have been allowed or even encouraged to be externally produced and then become unavailable due to disruptions in production and thus the supply chain in addition to looking for alternate production providers we might just question the whole philosophy that caused the problem—globalism.
A peacetime example that could occur next week to military units because of personnel replacement disruptions. As an armored brigade commander I had over 100 tanks to maintain. In my direct support maintenance unit there was only an authorization for 2 turret mechanics with a critical skill. If one of those authorizations was not filled and the other individual was on special duty my turret problems went unresolved until I could find a work around. So an efficiency in personnel created a maintenance bottleneck and reduced readiness of several tanks. Was this an acceptable risk? Not to me but surely to the bean counters in the Pentagon. Surely they considered the risk. But what if the bottleneck is not anticipated or there is not a work around. This example applies as much to the supply chain as it does to personnel. Is there a workaround whether it be alternate suppliers or backup capabilities? Redundancy is not necessarily bad.
These are the questions that we should be answering. We should thank the Covid-19 for forcing the consideration of the risks created by what were thought to be the efficiencies of single source and function operations and globalism.
[i] “Unfortunately, we have been able to assess that accounts tied to Russia, the entire ecosystem of Russian disinformation, has been engaged in the midst of this world health crisis,” Lea Gabrielle, head of the State Department’s Global Engagement Center, testified before the Senate on Thursday.
She went on: “We saw the entire ecosystem of Russian disinformation at play. Russian state proxy websites, official state media, as well as swarms of online, false personas pushing out false narratives.”
My friend and fellow Khe Sanh district headquarters warrior wrote the following as a tribute to all of the warriors involved in the defense of the District headquarters. I should note that john earned the silver star for his bravery during this fight, I share very deeply John’s admiration for all of the warriors involved.
14 Marines, 24 BRU PF’s, 4 Army advisors, 131 Vietnamese Regional Forces – a total of 173 warriors
- Over a thousand NVA were killed, unknown how many were wounded
- Over two hundred KIA’s can be credited to our ground forces
What we did as a team is hard to match in combat history when we review all the facts:
- No American lives were lost, and none were severely wounded
- Our ground forces were fighting as a composite larger group, some as independent small two-man teams
- We were never over run by NVA or anyone else
- Our BRU fought as hard and long as any of us
- Our battle was in daylight
- NVA were as close to us as thirty feet
- Most of our kills were done between fifty to thirty feet from us
Regional Forces took the largest attack and held their positions
- They received our highest losses of the 36-hour battle
Men to be acknowledged:
- , Bruce Clarke, credited for at least 800 KIA NVA by calling in:
- Over 1,000 VT rounds of artillery
- Over 30 air strikes
- Nin, commanded 133 Vietnamese Regional Forces
- Sgt Jim Perry, dealt with many of our wounded comrades
- Russell, Cpl. Verner R., and his BRU PF are credited with at least 40 plus KIA NVA
- McKinnis, and Still, LCpl. C.E. (Butch) took positions of leadership and kept that position throughout the battle, are credited with too many to count KIA NVA.
- All fighting warriors did more than their share to make the attacking regiment combat ineffective
US Advisory Team Khe Sanh Ville
Clarke, Capt. Bruce B G
Perry, SFC. James
Nhi, Capt. (District Chief)
915th RF Co.-Two Platoons – (131 warriors)
CAC – OSCAR Company
Stamper, Lt. Thomas B.
Boyda, SSgt. Robert (Gunny)
OSCAR – 1
Bru Popular Forces
Balanco, Sgt. John J.
Russell, Cpl. Verner R.
Loshelder, Cpl. John (Lou)
Mc McKinnis, LCpl. Howard
Ramos, LCpl. Jose
Reyes, LCpl. Ulysses
Still, LCpl. C.E. (Butch)
Vera, LCpl. Antonio
If any fighting force can match our performance, I have not read, heard, or have knowledge of during any part of any combat in the entire history of Khe Sanh (1962 – 1975). Our job was to kill the enemy, with the least amount of losses. That is how we win wars!
Gentlemen you are the Best! I am so proud to have served with all of you!
Without the following men and units, the battle would have been doomed to complete failure with all of us being killed or captured:
OSCAR – 2 — Also simultaneously fighting heroically for their lives and killing a substantial amount of NVA
Bru Popular Forces
Harper, Sgt. Roy
Sullivan, Cpl. Dan
Batchman, LCpl. Frank
Matonias, Pfc. Daniel
Roberts, Corpsman John
Artillery Support – 13th Marines, 1st Battalion, Battery C
Forward Air Controllers (FAC)
– Britt, Capt. (ordering in 30 ea. fast mover air strikes in and near our defensive wire)
– Cooper, Capt. ; Flying – L-19 observation plane
Quang Tri Province Advisors
– Brewer, Robert – Senior Advisor (CIA)
– Seymoe, Lt.Col. Joseph – Deputy Advisor (Army) (KIA)
282nd Assault Helicopter Company
– Stiner, Capt. Tommy
– McKinsey, WO (KIA)
– Howlington, Spec.-4 (KIA)
– Elliott, Pvt. (MIA)
– Hill, Sgt. (KIA)
– Williams, SP5 Danny (KIA)
– Thirteen American pilots (KIA)
– Fourteen American crew members (KIA)
256th Regional Forces Company, ARVN 1st Division (most – KIA}
– Seventy-four RF soldiers (KIA or missing)
As was to be expected after the US attack on General Qassem Soleimani the media speculation, comparisons with the Clinton impeachment and scare mongering has dominated the “news” media.
First we should establish the known facts:
- A US strike[i] killed General Qassem Soleimani, the powerful head of Iran’s elite Quds Force, in Baghdad
- The Quds have been responsible for the death of hundreds of US personnel in Iraq.
- The attack unfolded early on Friday local time in a precision strike on two cars that were carrying Soleimani
- Soleimani had just arrived in Baghdad on a flight from Syria and was leaving the airport when he was hit
- The attack also killed Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, leader of Iranian militias in Iraq which led the attacks on the US embassy in Baghdad.
- Both the US Secretary of Defense and Secretary of State have stated unequivocally that the Iranians, using their proxies such as Hezbollah, Hamas and the militias in Iraq were plotting attacks against US personnel and interests in the region.[ii]
- The attack has therefore been categorized as a deterrent or preemptive attack.[iii]
The media hype has focused on the unrest that this attack is going to create. The speculation includes:
- Terrorist activities in the middle-east against US military and other targets
- Attacks by “sleeper” cells in the US
- Efforts by Iran to close the Straits of Hormuz
- Attacks against Israel by Iranian proxies
- Cyber-attacks anywhere in the world
The media has even gone so far in at least one case to refer to the attack as an assassination. Of course this is an attempt to create another article of impeachment as assassination is against a US avowed practice as outlined in an Executive Order signed by Ronald Reagan. This attempt is far fetched, but shows how desperate some “pundits” are. The General was a military combatant on a battlefield and had just been responsible for an attack on a US embassy. End of the assassination impeachment idea!
Each of the above attacks by Iran is possible. One can be sure that US, Israeli and Saudi forces are watching for any and all such attacks. One can also expect that any indicator of the possibility of a given type of attack could cause another pre-preemptive effort.
What if this attack, when coupled with the effect of the embargoes against Iran, is the tipping point that causes Iran to truly seek accommodation by pledging to withdraw its support of proxy forces throughout the region and agreement to adhere to a realistic regime of inspections and limits on its nuclear program in exchange for the lifting of the embargo. Most will find this unlikely. It does clearly define the US goal vis-à-vis Iran.
A possible scenario is that Iran does seek revenge by one of the above types of attacks and it is soundly stopped or pre-empted. How many such rebuffs can Iran tolerate before internal domestic pressures cause political change?
Finally. Might this attack convince the Ayatollah Ali Khamenei that he is also at risk and be another cause of an Iranian reversal of policy? Only time will tell, but all of the gloom and doom punditry is most likely just irresponsible punditry.
A follow up attack today killed another Quds Force leader.
As this gets posted the media is full of reportedly inflamed rhetoric from Iran and its proxies. Reportedly Iran has at least 35 targets on its target list, which could include US bases, ships, etc. and Saudi and Israeli targets. We will follow such engagements, preemptions and reactions and report again in coming days.[iv]
[i] 1. The speculation also abounds on the nature of the attack. In one article the attack is described as an airstrike, a drone attack and a helicopter attack. For sure it was one of these. Each could launch precision munitions that could track and engage the two vehicle convoy. The exact platform from which the munitions were launched may never be released.
3.. Obviously, there was an ongoing surveillance of Soleimani using multiple means. The New York Times reported that Friday’s attack drew upon a combination of highly classified information from informants, electronic intercepts, reconnaissance aircraft and other surveillance techniques. This shows how important the General’s activities were.
4. John Bolton is even reported as hoping that this will be the beginning of efforts to cause regime change in Iran. We will see.
The Army is looking at extending the range of its Precision Strike Missile to 800 KM. This come following the dissolution of the INF Treaty which had limited ground based missile ranges to 500 KM. The Army’s Precision Fires Cross-functional team will ill conduct its first flight tests from two competitor companies before the end of the year. After the tests the Army will talk to the competitors about pursuing the extended ranges.
The announcement that the US would re-position some of its 1000 troops in Syria to avoid their being engaged by Turkish soldiers if they invade has created another firestorm in the media.
Now that the Turks have started their attack there are numerous reports flying around:
- Civilian targets are being attacked
- The Kurds have requested that the US impose and enforce a “no fly zone.”
- The Senate is considering severe sanctions against Turkey
The media and even some Republicans fear is that Kurdish fighters may be attacked by Turkish armed forces moving into north-eastern Syria. In essence the media and other pundits are saying that the lives of US soldiers should remain at risk in order to protect the Kurds.
Hidden in all of this punditry are several hard facts:
- The Kurds, with US support are holding 11,000 ISIS prisoners. An attack on the Kurds would possibly result in their freedom.
- There are only about 50 Special Forces that are being tactically relocated.
- The US has always wanted the US presence in Syria to be a short term operation
- Now that the Turks have invaded their stated goal is to create a free zone in Syria so that many of the refugees that are in Turkey can be relocated to this safe zone
- There is no indication that the Russians in Syria will get caught up in engaging the Turks—if that should happen it could trip the NATO obligations of other states to come to the assistance of an attacked ally. There are even reports that the Russians were trying to negotiate some form of cease fire.
What I seem to have missed in the reporting is why the Turks chose to attack into Syria now. Probably missed because there are so many possible explanations:
- Expansion of Turkey’s geographic area of control
- Resettlement of Syrian refugees
- Further destabilizing Assad of Syria
- Weakening/destroying the Kurds
None of these explain the current timing. Could the real reason be because Erdogan is in trouble politically? The above objectives could all be valid but the domestic political situation is responsible for the present timing.
If the Turks don’t attack the Kurds and their US Special Forces advisors there will be no problem. The US will have reduced its footprint in Syria and be on the way out, leaving the resolution of the conflict to regional actors with the Kurds secure in an enclave away from the Turkish border.
So when you cut everything away the media frenzy is about US credibility in supporting allies in the future. This assumes that the Kurds are being deserted by their Special Forces advisor / assistants and especially that their logistical support and air support will be shut off. It is difficult to see that happening if for no other reason than the 11,000 ISIS prisoners that they hold.
In a perfect world the Kurds and Turks could coexist and the Syrian refugees could be relocated from Turkey into this safe zone. Such a coexistence would be a very fragile one.
Strategically, there is still something missing from the above discussion. We will watch the situation and update it as appropriate in the future.
We’ll see what happens.
Preamble: While I was on my hiatus the United States and Russia abrogated the Intermediate Range Nuclear Force (INF) Treaty. This is a treaty that I was involved in negotiating so I provide some insights today.
In1987 INF Treaty was agreed to between the US and the Soviet Union. The negotiations had their genesis in the NATO Dual Track Decision of 1979. In December 1979, the United States and its NATO allies adopted a long-term strategy to remove the threat posed by new Soviet intermediate-range missiles.
The Dual Track Decision was built on “two parallel and complementary approaches.” First, the United States agreed to deploy intermediate-range missiles of its own to Europe. European nations—Germany, Italy, the UK and Belgium agreed to have either ground-based long range cruise missiles or modernized Pershing missiles—Pershing IIs (PIIs)– stationed on their territory. Second, it would leverage these new missiles in an arms control negotiation with Moscow with the aim of convincing the Soviets to dismantle their weapons. The negotiations both within the US government and those with our NATO allies were extremely divisive.
In fact, as a participant in the intra-governmental activities I can attest to the issues involved. One short vignette might make the point. In 1979 the US and NATO were involved in the Mutual Balanced Force Reduction (MBFR) negotiations where the allies were seeking to reduce Soviet conventional forces in Eastern Europe. Part of the offer from NATO included the removal of nuclear capable Pershing I (PIs) missiles for a Soviet Tank Army. The Army Staff had been unsuccessful in convincing the Carter Administration that it was impossible to negotiate away Pershing Is (PIs) in MBFR and PIIs in the INF negotiations that were to be. Finally we took a model of a PI and a bag of parts over to the State Department. We tore the PI model apart and then using the bag of parts we build a model of a PII. Finally the light came on in Foggy Bottom.
Within Europe there were numerous anti-nuclear demonstrations. It was necessary to have multiple nations basing the new systems to insure that alliance resolve was maintained.
After 8 years of negotiations the resulting treaty required the United States and the Soviet Union to eliminate all of their nuclear and conventional ground-launched ballistic and cruise missiles with ranges of 500 to 5,500 kilometers. The treaty marked the first time the superpowers had agreed to reduce their nuclear arsenals, eliminate an entire category of nuclear weapons, and employ extensive on-site inspections for verification. As a result of the INF Treaty, the United States and the Soviet Union destroyed a total of 2,692 short-, medium-, and intermediate-range missiles by the treaty’s implementation deadline of June 1, 1991.
Like all arms control agreements between the US and the Soviet Union there were continual claims of treaty violations by both sides. The United States first alleged in its July 2014 Annual Compliance Report to Congress that Russia was in violation of its INF Treaty obligations “not to possess, produce, or flight-test” a ground-launched cruise missile having a range of 500 to 5,500 kilometers or “to possess or produce launchers of such missiles.” Subsequent State Department assessments in 2015, 2016, 2017, and 2018 repeated these allegations. In March 2017, a top US official confirmed press reports that Russia had begun deploying the noncompliant missile. Russia has denied that it is in violation of the agreement and has accused the United States of being in noncompliance.
In December 2017 the Trump administration released an integrated strategy to counter alleged Russian violations of the treaty, including the commencement of research and development on a conventional, road-mobile, intermediate-range missile system. In October 2018, President Trump announced his intention to “terminate” the INF Treaty, citing Russian noncompliance and concerns about China’s intermediate-range missile arsenal. Then in December, Secretary of State Pompeo announced that the United States found Russia in “material breach” of the treaty and would suspend its treaty obligations in 60 days if Russia did not return to compliance in that time. In February the Trump administration declared a suspension of US obligations under the INF Treaty and formally announced its intention to withdraw from the treaty in six months. Shortly thereafter, Russian President Vladimir Putin also announced that Russia will be officially suspending its treaty obligations as well.
Last August the United States formally withdrew from the INF Treaty.
The formal stated reason for withdrawal from the Treaty may have been Russian Non-Compliance, however in the second Obama Administration the US began its tilt away from the major threat being in Europe towards concern about the Chinese threat in the Pacific. One of the problems with defense in the region was that the US was prohibited from basing ground based intermediate nuclear forces on the littorals of China because they could range into Russia. Many work arounds were considered such as basing cruise missiles on barges—hence technically not ground based. Elimination of the treaty has solved this problem.
The US Army has been working on developing the hardware that would have the Army fighting a long range defense of islands in the Pacific without significant naval support. Strange task organizations of limited maneuver forces, but layered air/missile defense and engagement means out to 500 miles to engage a hostile naval force and attrite it without naval or air support have been looked at. If I were a sceptic I would suggest that this is the Army seeking to remain relevant in the Pacific Theater.
The Russians’ paranoia about being invaded from the expanded NATO (its Eastern European buffer seized after World War II is gone) is the reason for the basing of longer range nuclear forces in Eastern European Russia. The Russians perceive a strategic need to base intermediate range nuclear forces in the old treaty area to be able to deter the much expanded NATO. Can there be a new INF Treaty? Will the international dynamics be such as to create a win-win situation for the two sides?
Preamble: We have taken a sabbatical from writing articles for the last 18 months in response to the venom that is out there in the media. However, the US response to the Iranian attacks seems to indicate a completely new US approach to global stability. Therefore I felt duty bound to spell out my thoughts and respond to those who can only see their hate of this administration.
The recent Iranian attacks on the Saudi oil facilities in north eastern Saudi Arabia indicate an escalation by the Iranians. Why? Do the Iranians perceive that the US is powerless because of the Democratic calls for impeachment? Are the sanctions and limits on Iranian oil exports taking such a toll that the Iranians feel that the world will react to Saudi oil output short falls and try to force the US to relax its containment of Iran?
The lack of an American kinetic response has the world wondering what has changed in the US approach to the world. By listening to the president’s speech at the UN yesterday it is now very clear that the President does not see the US as the world’s policeman. In the name of regional stability the US is deploying defensive capabilities to Saudi Arabia.
The recent attacks show the deficiencies of the Saudi military. In spite of extensive expenditures their missile defense capabilities are still inadequate in the face of Iranian cruise missiles. Reports indicate that the problems are both the training of the force and the needs of a modern missile defense.
Missile defense requires the ability to intercept multiple types of missiles through a complex spectrum of missile types. Most missile defense systems can be overcome by a volume of missiles. The Israeli “Iron Dome” system attempts to discriminate based on a calculation of impact points. Will incoming missiles hit critical assets? The Saudi system has not reached the degree of sophistication required to make such a discrimination automatically.
The lack of a kinetic attack illustrates the new Trump Doctrine—allies must protect themselves and respond to attacks using their own capabilities. The US will assist where necessary to maintain stability until the allies have developed their own capabilities. This approach means that the Saudis and the Gulf Cooperative Council members should respond to threats. The US may provide technical assistance in such a response, but one should not expect US forces attacking Iran unless US forces have been directly engaged by Iranians.
The military situation in the Gulf is truly asymmetric, but in a different way than the discussion of conventional forces versus terrorists or unconventional forces. The Iranians have devoted a significant part of their defense development to offensive missiles and small attack boats, while the Gulf States have focused on air power and defensive forces. As noted above the Iranian missile assets can most likely overpower the defenses of the Gulf States. However, a series of preemptive attacks might go a long way in leveling the battle field. One could even envision the Apache attack helicopters that the Saudis have being able to go in under the Iranian radar and doing extensive damage.
Will the Saudis/Gulf States respond? The answer to this question is probably in the Iranian hands. If they push the opportunity that they may perceive exists because of the political situation in the US they may in fact cause a reaction with extensive US support. On the other hand if the new status quo continues nothing may happen. The status quo favors the Saudis and the Gulf States as the political situation in Iran may continue to deteriorate and they can enhance their defensive and offensive capabilities.
Reports indicate that new legislation in the Senate proposes to authorize US military cyber warriors to go on the offensive against Russian attacks on the United States in cyberspace. It also mandates a cyber deterrence doctrine.
These same reports indicate that lawmakers were disappointed in the administration’s latest cyber policy. The Senate Armed Services Committee’s fiscal year 2019 defense policy bill designates clandestine military operations in cyberspace as “traditional military activities.” This affirms the secretary of defense’s ability to order cyber operations. A related section of the bill “authorizes the National Command Authority to direct US Cyber Command to take appropriate and proportional action through cyberspace to disrupt, defeat and deter systematic and ongoing attacks by Russia in cyberspace,” the report states:
(a) In General.—It shall be the policy of the United States, with respect to matters pertaining to cyberspace, cybersecurity, and cyber warfare, that the United States should employ all instruments of national power, including the use of offensive cyber capabilities, to deter if possible, and respond when necessary, to any and all cyber-attacks or other malicious cyber activities that target United States interests with the intent to—
(1) cause casualties among United States persons or persons of our allies;
(2) significantly disrupt the normal functioning of United States democratic society or government (including attacks against critical infrastructure that could damage systems used to provide key services to the public or government);
(3) threaten the command and control of the United States Armed Forces, the freedom of maneuver of the United States Armed Forces, or the industrial base or other infrastructure on which the United States Armed Forces rely to defend United States interests and commitments; or
(4) achieve an effect, whether individually or in aggregate, comparable to an armed attack or imperil a vital interest of the United States.”
There are several interesting aspects to this Congressional proposed strategic policy.
1. The concept of cyber deterrence as a doctrine.
2. That deterrence of cyber-attacks may also be achieved by the use of non-cyber responses.
The congress determining national security strategy is by itself unique. The formal authorization of a cyber deterrence doctrine opens the whole realm of what is deterrence?
My UCLA graduate school professor (Bernard Brodie who was one of the founders of deterrence doctrine thought of deterrence as” a strategy intended to dissuade an adversary from taking an action not yet started, or to prevent them from doing something that another state desires. A credible nuclear deterrent, he wrote, must be always at the ready, yet never used.”
Subsequently the capacity to harm another state was to be a motivating factor for other states to avoid it and influence another state’s behavior. To be coercive or deter another state, violence must be anticipated and avoidable by accommodation.
Deterrence is considered to consist of the capability to inflict such harm and the willingness to do so. Capability is the more easily demonstrated aspect of deterrence. It is achieved through observable tests, news reports or use. Willingness is the hard part to quantify. It is usually thought to consist of demonstrated use or as during the cold war some form of automaticity to the response. With the consequences of a major nuclear exchange being so great during the cold war and automatic responses discussed openly no side was willing to test the willingness of the other.
This lack of willingness to test the other side’s willingness became the source of moderation during the cold war. Simple escalation of the DEFCON or making advanced alert status visible was used as a method of signaling willingness.
How one is to signal willingness in the cyber world is a fascinating question. It may require some cyber ‘skirmishes.” Possibly these have already occurred.
As we go forward in the evolution of strategic thought the concept of cyber deterrence will require significant additional study and the response to questions, such as:
- What is the potential damage?
- What is the nature of escalatory steps?
- What are the defensive measures? (These will most likely be constantly changing.)
This article should open a dialogue of cyber deterrence. Please make your comments and check back for the comments of others.
As the Saturday morning quarterbacks seek to portray the coalition missile strikes in ways that support their own agendas it seems necessary to attempt to provide a multi-dimensional view on the strikes. These dimensions include:
· The military implications of the strike
· The diplomatic messages
· The domestic political reaction
In response to the Syrian attack on its own people using chlorine gas a coalition of British, French and American naval and air forces launched missile attacks against 3 chemical production and storage facilities. The objective of the attack was two fold:
1. Seriously degrade/reduce Syria’s chemical weapons capability
2. Deter Syria from future chemical weapon usage
Reports indicate that the missiles hit and severely damaged their targets. The ability and methodology used for the attacks indicate the ability to synchronize target engagement between multiple platforms and national assets. The US attacks came from naval forces in the Red Sea and the Mediterranean ocean. Air assets launched missiles while over Saudi Arabia and the Mediterranean. While launching the missiles each element of the attacking force took air defense, naval and cyber efforts to protect the force. Reportedly all missiles hit their targets while the Syrian missile defense efforts were an abysmal failure. The Syrians reportedly launched over 40 air defense missiles and none of them successfully engaged a target. (The Russian disinformation campaign reported that there were 103 missiles and 71 shot down.)
Militarily the mission was accomplished. However, some pundits are seeking to use this description of the reaction was to be expected as no matter what President Trump and our allies do there will be detractors who are looking for opportunities to speak against the President.
The diplomatic messages of this strike go far beyond the Syrian government. The clear pronouncement that the intent was not to target Syrian President Assad tells Kim Jung Un of North Korea that the US can accomplish its military objectives without necessarily threatening the regime leadership. (This is not to say that decapitation isn’t an option.) With the upcoming denuclearization discussions between President Trump and Kim Jun Un it is clear that Kim not necessarily feel personally threatened.
The preparations for the North Korea / United ‘States historic meeting are ongoing using multiple different avenues for the preparation of the meeting. Reportedly CIA Director/Secretary of State nominee Mike Pompeo is leading the back channel preparatory talks. The summit will follow a meeting between Pompeo and his North Korean counterpart.
Israel is touting the strikes as a message for Hezbollah and Hamas.
Russia is certainly evaluating President Trump’s resolve to not condone chemical weapon usage. The same is true for Iran as the May Iran nuclear agreement review approaches. John Bolton’s appointment as the National Security Advisor also tends to show an increased hardline by the administration on the major issues facing the United States. Certainly potential adversaries are viewing this whole set of events as a new entity.
The continuing fight against ISIS may have had an unintentional consequence. The net winner of ISIS’s destruction is clearly President Assad and his Russian and Iranian allies. The anti- Assad forces were not capable of filling the vacuum created by the damage to ISIS. The continuing conflict in the region is extremely complex given all of the players. This has been a subject of previous articles and one that we will return to in the future.
True to form the hard left politicians like Nancy Pelosi are condemning the attacks as uncivilized. This condemnation is to be expected. The other side of the aisle has been supportive the attacks. However, there seems to be a universal return to the discussion of the war fighting powers of the President. This is a continual power struggle between the executive and the legislature. This debate is probably more posturing than reality but may continue for several weeks and then return to its traditionally dormant status.
The attack against Syria may be the opening gambit in several future conflicts–Russia‘s desire to increase its posture in the Middle-East, Iran’s goal of forming a Caliphate across the region and its conflict with the Gulf Cooperative Council, and Israel’s continual struggle for survival. These are all issues we will be watching closely.