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Is a new cold war on the horizon?

I have recently been reading the Dagger Brigade posts (2nd Brigade Combat Team, 1st Infantry Division, which the author once commanded) as it moves around Eastern Europe training with allies as part of Operation Atlantic Resolve—a program to demonstrate NATO resolve to deter the Russians for dramatic attacks and conquest of its previous kingdom (satellite countries).

Atlantic Resolve and other NATO activities in Eastern Europe and the pledged increase in force capabilities seem to assume a conventional force attack by the Russians.  This approach is called into question by current Russian activities.

Russia is aggressively building up its nuclear forces and is expected to deploy a total force of 8,000 warheads by 2026 along while modernizing its deep underground bunkers, according to reports citing Pentagon officials.

The Russian force build up implies several aspects of its view of future warfare.  The 8,000 warheads will include both large strategic warheads and thousands of new low-yield and very low-yield warheads. These will circumvent arms treaty limits.   Russia’s new doctrine is one of using nuclear arms early in any conflict.

This new doctrine as it evolves seems to combine the use of low and very low yield nuclear weapons in conjunction with attacks by tactical ground forces.  Simultaneous it seeks to maintain strategic deterrence by having a modernized mobile strategic arsenal.  The mobility of the strategic forces enhances their survivability.  Part of this deterrence effort includes fortification of underground facilities for command and control during such a nuclear conflict.

The United States and NATO are watching this alarming expansion as to determine if Russia is preparing to break out of current nuclear forces constraints under arms treaties, including the 2010 New START and 1987 Intermediate-range Nuclear Forces (INF) treaties. Russia has already violated the INF accord by testing an illegal ground-launched cruise missile.

This Russian nuclear arms buildup is among the activities being studied by the ongoing Pentagon major review of US nuclear forces called the Nuclear Posture Review.  The conclusions of the review are expected to be disclosed early next year—possibly coinciding with state of the union address by the president:  He is on the record as saying: “I want modernization and rehabilitation… It’s got to be in tip top shape,”

The current posture review reverses the views of the Obama administration which called for reducing the role of nuclear weapons and the size of the arsenal. The cut back in nuclear forces by Obama was based on assessments—now considered false by many officials—that nuclear threats posed by Russia and other states had been lowered significantly, and that Moscow and Washington were no longer considered enemies.

The Obama administration based its strategic nuclear deterrence and warfare policies on the incorrect and outdated assumption that the prospects of US.-Russia military confrontation had been reduced sharply. However many have noted that since 2010 Russia, China, and North Korea have been engaged in steadily building up their forces with new nuclear arms and delivery systems, while Iran remains an outlier that many experts believe will eventually decide to build a nuclear arsenal. The Obama administration did not react to this changing strategic situation.

The Pentagon’s new posture review is based in part on a reversal of the outdated Obama-era assessment.  Most likely it will include:

  • Recognition of an increased global nuclear threat
  • Recommendations on increasing the US nuclear force modernization—warheads and delivery vehicles
  • A recommendation to revise US and NATO warfighting doctrine, tactics and techniques.

To many this may result in a modernized version of the Reagan era capability gap and a cry for almost drastic efforts to close the gap.  This will be a major fight for resources that President Trump could lose based upon liberal intransigence and an unwillingness to accept the threat.  Will the US and NATO react in time and with appropriate responses?

Is NATO’s Atlantic Resolve soon to be an inappropriate activity when the Russian nuclear threat is considered? OR can it or should it be modified to include the artillery battalion in the deployed brigade combat teams (BCTs) have nuclear warheads available?  Should the deployed artillery battalions train for the conduct of nuclear operations?  Should the ground forces train for operations in a nuclear environment?  Should additional nuclear capable systems be deployed with the BCTs?  These are all questions that NATO and the US need to consider as the efforts to deter Russian aggression continue.

Is the cold war returning?

Coup and counter coup in Saudi Arabia

Recent events in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA) are confusing to some and of concern to others.  The conservative monarchy has been upended by its new crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman (known to the media as MbS).

The 32-year-old prince, acting under the auspices of his father, King Salman, has been busy since replacing his uncle in June of 2017 as crown prince,  Domestically, he has launched a radical transformation of the kingdom by making sweeping arrests of dissidents, Islamists, and even members of the royal family.  He has even given women the right to drive.

His upheaval would not have been possible without upsetting the balance of power arrangements which have maintained stability in the kingdom.  KSA was built on balances of power with balances of power the National Guard, lead by the previous crown prince was located in and around Riyadh. Conversely the Army is located on the periphery of the country and oriented outward. The army and the national guard are basically the same size.  The air defense forces are separate from the air force.  The Mutaween (also called the Islamic Secret Police) offset the secret police.  There were also coalitions within the royal family, however their conflicts rarely came to light until the current coup or counter coup by MbS.

In 2015 MbS was appointed by his father as Minister of Defense.  On April 22, of this year Prince Fahd Bin Turki was promoted to Lieutenant General (LTG) and appointed commander of the Royal Saudi Land Forces (RSLF).  LTG Fahd had once been the commander of the Saudi Special Forces.  This is one of MbS’s steps to upset the balance of power. He selected LTG Fahd and I am sure cemented his loyalty.  LTG Fahd also comes from a different wing of the royal family thus securing additional loyalty within the family.

Next he had the commander of the National Guard placed under arrest along with the Commander of the Royal Saudi Naval Forces.  He assumed control of the ministry of the interior.  In another move to upset the balance he had the role of the Mudaween dialed back extensively.

He also assumed control of the economic planning agency. He has pushed the sale of Saudi ARAMCO, the Saudi Oil Company, suggesting that it would bring several trillion dollars if placed on the open market.  He is also pushing for decreased dependence on oil as a source of income for the kingdom.

Finally, he arrested numerous princes and other financial leaders on grounds of corruption and froze their assets, thus potentially recouping many billions of dollars if their gains are found to be the results of corruption. It is interesting to note that the royals who are imprisoned in the Ritz Hotel in downtown Riyadh are guarded by Saudi Special Forces on the outer perimeter.  On the inside it has been reported that the security is provided by contractors who would be loyal to whoever was paying the bill.  (Another example of the balances of power being upset)

On the international front he launched a blockade against its neighbor Qatar, tightened the ongoing siege on Yemen, threatened to torpedo the fragile government in Lebanon, and sought to shore up a coalition against archrival Iran, which leads the Shia sect of Islam. On Sunday, he chaired the first-ever meeting of the Saudi-led Islamic Military Coalition of 41 Muslim countries where the group declared a global war on terrorism.

Some have suggested that : “He is dragging the country — with Western critics kicking and screaming — into the 21st century.”

In many ways MbS may be  seeking to fulfill a longstanding Saudi dream of leading the Arab world, and has sought to rebuild strong ties with the Trump administration, with over $7 billion worth of precision munitions having been purchased recently.

Any domestic forces that might have been arrayed against MbS are now  weak, with most of his rivals held in luxury prisons, keeping a low profile, or under house arrest. Civil society is fragmented after decades of repression and cooptation. Saudi Arabia has always been politically restrictive, and could yet become even more so under MbS.  However because he could be the dominant figure in the lives of Saudi citizens for the next half century, no one wants to cross him.

If MbS becoming the crown prince was the coup, then the counter coup was the upset of the balance of power by either muting or gaining control of the balancers.  Finally if there was a group of royals and financial leaders who were plotting a counter coup then the latest efforts might be called a counter counter coup.

The international activities of the next few months as MbS seeks to counter the growing influence of Iran will be important to watch.

Nuclear weapons and their employment–media deception

The media, amid rising nuclear tensions with North Korea and concern over the potential for war, has captured some unfortunate discussion by the Strategic Command (STRATCOM) commander. He reportedly said that he would resist President Trump if he ordered an “illegal” launch of nuclear weapons.  What an illegal launch of nuclear weapons is was never clarified.

STRATCOM is the command that controls the strategic weapons commands of primarily the Navy (submarines and carrier based aircraft) and the Air Force (bombers and silo based missiles).  It is STRATCOM that would issue the orders to the selected commands to employ selected weapons system against selected targets.  These targets and systems are each accounted for in the Strategic Integrated Operational Plan (SIOP).

Air Force General John Hyten, commander of the US Strategic Command (STRATCOM), reportedly told an audience at the Halifax International Security Forum in Nova Scotia, Canada that he had thought a lot about what to say if he received such an order.

“I think some people think we’re stupid,” Hyten reportedly said in response to a question about such a scenario. “We’re not stupid people. We think about these things a lot. When you have this responsibility, how do you not think about it?”

There are two issues about this story that are worrying:

  1. The media attempt to characterize the president as unstable and reckless has only the folk image that it is trying to create as a basis for such a portrayal.  Such characterization when it involves nuclear weapons would be truly damning.
  2. Both the question and the answer do not do justice to the way that nuclear weapons would be employed.

As mentioned above, nuclear weapons are targeted based on the Strategic Integrated Operational Plan (SIOP). The SIOP is a master list of targets and these are allocated weapons and delivery systems for multiple different scenarios/contingencies/situations.  A president cannot just tell the Secretary of Defense or a field commander to “nuc” a desired target.  That is just not how the system works.

The SIOP has matured and changed since the beginning of the nuclear era in 1945.  There are numerous personnel from each of the services involved in building and refining the SIOP on almost a continuous basis.  Targets change, weapons system availability changes, and contingencies change making the process extremely dynamic and closely controlled and tightly held.  When the president would order the execution of some part of the SIOP it would be based upon a situation and the best advice that he could get from both the intelligence and operational communities of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and other agencies.  It is not a unilateral decision done in the “dark’ as the question and answer would imply.

Unfortunately for the STRATCOM commander the details of the process of using nuclear weapons is highly classified and could not be part of his answer.  If he was thinking he probably would have said something to the effect of implying reckless behavior on the part of the president is not something that it is useful to discuss.  At this time if I was the Secretary of Defense or the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff I would have a “chat” with General Hyten.

It is deplorable that the effort to demean President Trump has reached this level of reporting—the creating of false implications and news.


Vietnam: Part V “This is what we do” (July to December 1967)

This episode has three major thrusts.

The first focuses on American casualties in the Central Highlands and south of the DMZ that divided North and South Vietnam.  The DMZ was part of the Paris accords of 1954 that ended the French Indochina war. There is also a discussion of enemy body count.  The argument was that demographics argued that the North Vietnamese did not have the manpower to replace their losses.

I have also been a critic of body count as a measure of combat effectiveness and thus a measure that a side was “winning.”  Body count does not measure will to endure.  Many have argued that body count as measured in number of body bags was the US weakness that our opponents discerned coming out of the Vietnam War.  Saddam Hussein, in an attempt to deter the US from restoring Kuwait in the first Gulf War, claimed that the US should prepare for many body bags. This weakness came from the weekly body count—US and opponents—that were released by the Military Assistance Command Vietnam.

The second thrust was that body count meant that the US was winning.  This is juxtaposed against a belief that all relevant measurements showed that the US won the war before it started.

Third is a teaser for the upcoming episodes as Hanoi lays plans for a massive surprise offensive.  What the episode does not reveal is that the fights around Con Thien and the DMZ were really a test by the NVA.  The North Vietnamese leadership wanted to verify that the US would not invade North Vietnam.  Once assured by the actions along the DMZ they were free to move more than 2 divisions towards Khe Sanh for January 21st attacks there.

If the authors of this series were really interested in a strategic analysis that above would be apparent.

North Korea and media madness

The media has gone wild in reaction to North Korea’s announcement of a detailed plan to launch a salvo of ballistic missiles toward Guam, a US territory and major military hub in the Pacific.

The announcement warned that the North is finalizing a plan to fire four of its Hwasong-12 missiles over Japan and into waters around the tiny island.  The media hasn’t made the differentiation between the island itself and the waters near the island. The report said the Hwasong-12 rockets would fly over Shimane, Hiroshima and Koichi prefectures in Japan and travel “1,065 seconds before hitting the waters 30 to 40 kilometers away from Guam.” It would be up to Kim Jung-Un whether the move is actually carried out.

If North Korea were to actually carry out its threat and launch missiles into the international waters near Guam it would certainly constitute an escalation of the war of words that have enveloped the Korean Pennisula.  Such a missile test would clearly pose a potential threat to a US territory upon launch. This would put the United States in a much more complicated situation than it has been during previous missile launches.

When initially launched how long would it take to determine the impact point and thus if the launch were a test or an actual first shot in a potential conflagration.

It is extremely unlikely North Korea would risk potential annihilation with a pre-emptive attack on US territory. It’s also unclear how reliable North Korea’s missiles would be against such a distant target.

The current escalation of tensions could lead to pressure for the US and Japanese military to try to shoot down the North’s missiles in midflight if they are heading over Japan and towards Guam.

Guam has the airbase from which many of the aircraft that might attack North Korea would be launched.  Thus it represents a potential pre-emptive target.

This potential of a pre-emptive strike raises the stakes significantly.  Would the US launch on warning of an attack?  Would it prefer time to consider options by destroying the missiles before they impact?

The launching of a salvo of four missiles by the North Koreans might be an attempt to make it harder to intercept all of the incoming missiles. Conversely, North Korea is only believed to have 5 launchers for the Hwasong-12 missiles.  Why would they use and thus put at risk 4 of their 5 launchers in a test?

The situation is full of risk and miscalculation but it is not as grave as the media madness would suggest.

Disarming North Korea

In previous articles we talked about multi-domain or cross – domain operations.  We also talked about the crisis on the Korean peninsula.

As the North Koreans continue their missile launches and the US postures with B1 sorties, ICBM launches and THAAD intercepts speculation continues about what a strike against North Korea would consist of.

The first option would be some form of limited strike to destroy a missile before launch or against the North Korean nuclear facilities.  These limited strikes would be escalatory and the great unknown is what the North Korean response would be?  Would they play the limited escalation game where existing defenses might be adequate to counter the attack or would their response be massive?

One could always hope for the limited response but must be prepared for the massive one.

The second option would be a preemptive strike.  It is the more complex and in fact interesting from a pure strategic analysis perspective.

We said in an earlier post that any armed conflict against North Korea had to have several elements:

  •       Surprise
  •         Defenses in place to guard against missile, artillery and ground attacks—protect the hostages that are the people who live in Seoul
  •        Seek to decapitate North Korea—destroy its leadership or at least deny their communications and eventually lead to regime change and unification

There would appear to be four phases of such a military campaign:

  1.          Preparation
  2.          Deployment
  3.          Execution
  4.          Consolidation

The preparation phase will consist of the detailed planning necessary to surgically, accurately and in a synchronized cross domain approach allocate weapons systems, service component assets, etc. against multiple targets.

The critical and most difficult part of the preparation phase would be the diplomatic efforts to insure that the Chinese and Russians would not interfere with such an operation and would remain mum about its impending nature.  Such diplomatic efforts could have two potential outcomes:

1.       The desired neutrality of the Chinese and Russians, or

2.       Either the deterrence of the North Koreans – they wouldn’t want to provide even a minimal provocation or the desired provocation would occur.  Thus the timing of the diplomatic efforts would need to be added to the complex synchronization matrix

A separate diplomatic activity during preparation would be bringing coalition partners into the fold so as to integrate their assets and ensure that they are taking defensive actions while maintaining secrecy.  This is a tall order!

One of the critical aspects during the preparation phase is targeting and then weaponeering.  One must assume that after 60+ years since the end of the active fighting in the Korean War that a very detailed target data base has been developed and maintained.  Weaponeering is the process of assigning weapons based on target damage required to a target.  In the weaponeering process where cross domain activities will be critical.  Mixed service component weapons will be assigned different targets in a target set or they will be assigned to a specified target to insure the required level of damage.  The result will be Joint Integrated Prioritized Target List (JIPTL).

Deployment, having been planned for, during the preparation phase must position the forces to execute their planned missions

Execution must be violent and simultaneously bring all of the resources to bear.

Consolidation will be a time consuming process of unifying the Koreas.

To achieve the above objectives will be difficult.  Surprise will be difficult to achieve if the North Koreans can see defenses on alert or offensive forces deploying.  The North Koreans cannot be allowed to attack first given the 21 million captives that they hold in Seoul.  We are thus talking about a pre-emptive attack or one based upon minimal provocation.  Defenses cannot be established overnight.  It is taking months to establish the THAAD system in South Korea.  Activating counter-fire radar and other defensive sensors would be a sure tip off of preparations for counter fire.  Deploying naval and air assets into the theater will take time and cannot be done without the possibility/probability of detection.   However, maybe some of this could be obscured as being part of a pre-announced exercise.  (Could this be why the North Koreans keep trying to get combined exercises cancelled?)

Thus the key to the deployment phase is to do most of it very slowly (like a build up for an exercise) so that the threat perception is reduced.  The actual initial attacks in the execution phase must be huge and use precision efforts based upon the JIPTL—kinetic attacks. Cyber attacks to facilitate the air and missile attacks by spoofing or jamming radars.  The use of cross domain fires, such as ground force missiles attacking naval vessels as detected by overhead or sea based sensors. Stealth air craft to deliver disarming munitions on critical missile sites, air bases, communication nodes and artillery positions.  Cruise missiles would be used to support all of the other efforts.  The targeting must be accurate and wide reaching. Both cyber and kinetic weapons would be used to disrupt critical communications and at least temporarily decapitate the regime leadership.  Given the North Korean propensity for tunneling many of these munitions would have to be penetrating munitions or what are called “bunker busters”.

Imagine if you can the simultaneous attack by cyber efforts to deny the North Koreans selected command and control capabilities while precision guided munitions are destroying their navy and air force.  Other ground based artillery and missiles are assisting in that effort and are seeking to destroy as much of the North Korean artillery that can range Seoul as possible. Simultaneous with the destruction of the North Korean navy and air force and the attrition of the deployed artillery forces, the artillery near the DMZ and other combat support aircraft would be destroying any attacking forces. All of this would be occurring while the leadership is at least temporarily blind and without communications.

Given the amount of artillery the North Koreans have deployed north of the DMZ all of their artillery cannot be destroyed in this initial decapitating preemptive attack hence the follow on attack will have to be based upon counter fire capabilities.  Also with the beginning of the attacks airmobile forces will have to be on strip alert to deploy to counter any North Korean infantry who are coming out of how ever many tunnels they have built under the DMZ.

It is obvious in just considering the complexity of synchronizing these multi-domain combined activities that there needs to be a command and control capability that works across service component lines and nationality lines that is extremely precise while being agile and flexible.  We cannot be sure that such a capability currently exists.  As mentioned in the article about multi-domain operations the Air Force advocates the use of a Combined Air Operations Center (CAOC) to perform this synchronization.  This is to suggest that the joint force commander would operate from a CAOC and use its tools plus many more.  In building an air tasking order a NATO CAOC has tools that allow the display of the control measures and the flight paths of all of the  different types of aircraft planned to support an effort over a 24 hour period—multiple types of missions include offensive, defensive, surveillance air-to air refueling, etc.—very complex synchronization.  The software in the alliance command and control system (ACCS) displays all of this in an accelerated manner so that the commander can review the plan and approve it.  This capability is a beginning but the other service component contributions to the multi-domain attack need to be included in the integrated synchronized plan.  They currently cannot be.  In short the ACCS planning tools might provide a start point but they are air only focused.  The Joint Force commander needs more for this multi-domain and multi-nation effort.

In conclusion the biggest problem with the concept of multi-domain / multi-nation operations is the lack of synchronizing tools with the precision required to plan and execute an offensive action of the magnitude suggested in this paper

Maybe the first step in multi-domain operations needs to be at the tactical level where there are fewer variables and systems to be considered?

What is strategy?

Strategy, strategize, strategist—are the most misunderstood and misused terms in our jargon.  To start our dialogue on strategy and strategic events we need to first understand what strategy is.

This is especially true in understanding the war on terrorism and other events of today.  Napoleon in his time had it about right – it’s the idea of getting men to a certain place at a certain time – synchronization of time and space.  That’s a challenge even today, especially with the modern equipment where you don’t have the fuel where the tanks are going to run, or the artillery is not positioned to support the attack.

The Joint Chiefs of Staff refer to strategy as the integration of the psychological, economic, political and military means to achieve a goal. To make it simpler– Strategy is the mix of:

  • Ends –what do we want to achieve? What’s the goal? What’s the objective?
  • Ways–How are we going about it?  Are we going to attack or are we going to defend? Are we going to preempt? Are we going to use diplomatic or economic resources only?
  • And the Means—the resources—for the military–sea power, air power, ground power.

For other sources of influence there are psychological, economic and political resources that can be applied to achieve the objectives.  Therefore to build a strategy you have to combine objectives, resources and ways (approaches and techniques). You have to have them in balance.

There are many who would argue that we have had periods in our history where the ends or the means have been out of balance with the ways.  When one reflects on that he could liken strategy to a three legged stool  – when  the stool seat is not level—i.e. one leg is shorter or longer than the others—the stool is hard to sit on.  Likewise a strategy that is out of balance is hard to execute and unlikely to be successful.

In coming articles we will examine examples of bad and good strategies.  Is there a strategy behind the sometimes dysfunctional activities that are reported?  What is the true story behind the story?  These are some of the issues that we will examine in the future.

The categories listed on this page give you an example of what we are going to examine in the future.