TCS Daily

A Revolutionary Review

By Melana Zyla Vickers - February 6, 2006 12:00 AM

Every day, highly skilled and trained U.S. Special Operations Forces work to find, kill or capture insurgents and terrorists in Iraq and Afghanistan, training locals to carry the fight themselves and using unconventional methods to achieve victory. Though they are a tiny component of the U.S. military, 300 Special Operations soldiers were the principal U.S. boots on the ground in the 2001 Afghanistan war, and in the continued war against terror have become the sine qua non of victory.

Almost every week, U.S. unmanned aerial vehicles fly over the mountainous border region between Afghanistan and Pakistan, firing at targets where U.S. intelligence suggests Al Qaeda leaders are holed up. Though UAVs were at first pooh-poohed by the military and the ones seeing action right now are actually flown by the CIA, the UAVs have become essential in the war on terrorism.

Every year, while the U.S. pays attention to the war on terror, the rising military power that is China improves its ability to counter American defense technology and -- should it ever choose to -- to use missiles and other weapons to turn the American military bases and aircraft carriers within its reach into sitting ducks. Though stealthy, "long-range strike" weapons systems have been more talked about than developed, such systems, including a long-range stealthy bomber and a carrier-based Unmanned Combat Air System (UCAS), are the only aircraft against which China's growing reach would not threaten.

Special Operations Forces (SOFs), UAVs, long-range stealthy strike weapons -- these are three areas of military investment that could have great payoff if more resources were devoted to them. This is particularly true for the UAVs and long-range strike, which have for too long been neglected and bypassed in a fighter-enamored Pentagon.

Indeed, if these were typical times, the Pentagon would continue to ignore these areas' potential, and instead fund its usual pet projects -- cumbersome, short-range Cold War-era weapons systems of little relevance to today. But rather remarkably, the Pentagon has recognized that times have changed. In its Quadrennial Defense Review, due to Congress today, the Pentagon not only recognizes the essential role of SOFs, UAVs, and long-range stealthy strike weapons, it moves to invest heavily in them in the coming years.

  • Ninety "A-teams" of 12 Green Berets, plus more Special Mission Units: Under the QDR the Pentagon will substantially increase the number of Special Operations Forces, improving U.S. ability to hunt and kill terrorists. As 80% of deployed Special Operations Forces are currently fighting full throttle in Afghanistan and Iraq, the greater numbers are much needed. A similar number of classified "Special Mission Units" of Special Operations soldiers, such as Delta Force soldiers, will be added as well.
  • More, longer-range, and specialized UAVs: Under the QDR the Pentagon will build more armed Predator and surveillance UAVs and will build or deploy 12-24 special UAVs designed for use by Special Operations Forces. In addition, it will build a special pilotless UCAV that can fly from carriers, but whose long range will allow the carriers to stay further away from the enemy than short-range fighter aircraft permit.
  • An unmanned, stealthy long-range bomber by 2018: Under the QDR the Pentagon will develop and deploy a long-range stealthy bomber, probably unmanned, that can fly from its base in the United States, out of the range of enemy missiles, to its target on the other side of the globe.

Of course, these investments have a price. With defense budgets already bursting at the seams, this dedication to new areas of endeavor can only come at the price of old, less useful areas. The old stuff, including short-range fighter programs and Navy surface combatants among others, has to be cut.

That's not going to be easy. Even though this year's funding for the beginning stages of these programs is likely safe, there is reason to fear that as the bills for these programs grow into the billions of dollars in subsequent years, Congress and even the military leadership may balk at making room for them in their budgets. Congress is set in its ways, and politicians devoted to the weapons built or housed in their constituencies will try any argument to keep them from getting cut in favor of new ones. Consider that since the 1980s, despite the sea-change of the Cold War's end and new military circumstances, Congress has eliminated only about a dozen weapons systems.

Perhaps they'll take the Secretary of Defense's lead with the QDR and chart a path for major change. An early indication of whether they've done so will be the House Armed Services Committee's own, first-ever defense review, due later this spring. Change would certainly be welcome -- and it would be in the best interest of the United States.


Sobering up to reality
The Counterrevolution in Military Affairs
Weekly Standard, February 6, 2006

...Against terrorists, we have found technology alone incompetent to master men of soaring will--our own flesh and blood provide the only effective counter. At the other extreme, a war with China, which our war gamers blithely assume would be brief, would reveal the quantitative incompetence of our forces. An assault on a continent-spanning power would swiftly drain our stocks of precision weapons, ready pilots, and aircraft.

Quality, no matter how great, is not a reliable substitute for a robust force in being and deep reserves that can be mobilized rapidly...

...We will develop the means to defeat the majority of, if not all, improvised explosive devices. But the suicide bomber--the living, thinking assassin determined to die--may prove impossible to stop. Even if we discover a means to identify him at a distance from our troops, he has only to turn to easier targets. Virtually anything the suicide bomber attacks brings value to his cause--destruction of any variety is a victory.

The paradox is that his act of self-destruction is also an undeniable assertion that "I am," as he becomes the voice from below that the mighty cannot ignore. We are trained to think in terms of cause and effect--but the suicide bomber merges the two. The gesture and the result are inseparable from and integral to his message. Self-destruction and murder join to become the ultimate act of self-assertion...

history repeats
China is going to try to do to the US what the US did to the USSR. Will anyone have the courage to stop them.

People are not made on an assembly line
Special Operations Soldiers are not created by simply allocating more positions or funds for them. They are dynamic individuals who must be recruited, screened, and trained. You don't plop a beret on a Soldier's head and suddenly - presto! - he's an elite Spec Ops Soldier. This is the same lesson that keeps getting beaten upside our heads over and over that we can't seem to learn. You can't draw down forces and then suddenly build them up when trouble arises - this goes for the military as a whole and it goes for branches of each service.

If we suddenly ramp up slots for our Special Operations community then we will definitely see their ranks grow. But the strength of our Special Forces is not in their quantity or their funding. It is in the amazing effectiveness of each individual. To quickly inflate the ranks of the Special Forces by over 1,000 Soldiers will require standards to be lowered - OR - it will result in 90 additional teams that are dangerously undermanned, which results in a negligible and possibly negative net result.

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