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Grand Strategy

The RAF’s 120 strong Tornado GR4 fleet may be the next victim in the major defense cost cutting exercise underway in Britain, according to leaked reports to the BBC. From the sounds of it, the British military is about to be gutted by forced government austerity measures as Britian suffers through a sluggish economy.

Britain’s Ministry of Defense is undertaking a “mother of horrors” cost cutting review aimed at realizing somewhere between 10 to 20 percent savings, says defense secretary Liam Fox.

“According to the whisperings from the Ministry of Defence the army may have to give up whole brigades, armoured formations and artillery units; the air force is considering abandoning maritime surveillance aircraft and retiring its fleet of Tornado strike aircraft and Harrier jump-jets; the navy may be made to give up the Royal Marines and amphibious landing ships; and the submarines carrying the nuclear deterrent may be cut from four to three.”

Chop the Royal Marines? I don’t see how the UK pulls off any overseas deployment besides the barest of presence missions if real muscle is cut as the Economist suggests. It’s not like the Brits are capability heavy to begin with; for the past few years, the British Army has struggled to maintain a capable fighting force in southern Afghanistan.

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As independent panel reports go here in Washington, D.C., this one just released by the Quadrennial Defense Review Independent Panel, co-chaired by former Bush administration National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley and Clinton-era defense secretary William Perry, is really awful.

It recommends buying more of pretty much every weapon system or at least replacing the current inventory on a one-to-one basis, maintaining ground forces at current levels, expanding the Air Force, greatly expanding the Navy’s battle fleet and to pay for all of that the panel recommends increasing the defense budget.

For an example of how unserious this report truly is, the panel took as its force planning default the 1993 Bottom Up Review. How a strategic analysis conducted in 2010 can look backwards 17 years to come up with a force planning model is beyond me. Has the strategic landscape not changed dramatically over the past two decades?

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Marine Gen. James Mattis, currently commander Joint Forces Command, will replace Gen. David Petraeus as the next commander of U.S. Central Command, Defense Secretary Robert Gates announced today.

This is a great move. Defense Tech readers will know we are big fans of the blunt speaking Mattis. As Gates said today, Mattis’ intellect and knowledge are truly impressive; he selected Mattis to lead the “red team” that war gamed scenarios that informed the recent QDR.

Mattis has some serious on the ground experience in the CENTCOM region, including as a battalion commander during Desert Storm, he commanded the Marine forces in Afghanistan in 2001 and the Marines in Iraq in 2003–2004.

– Greg Grant

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One of RAND’s bigger brains, Greg Treverton, has an excellent new paper that takes the National Intelligence Council’s Global Trends 2025: A Transformed World, and comes up with the policy implications now that might shape that future.

Money section on the emerging post-Iraq defense policy debate:

“In the context of economic pressure, there will be an immediate debate about what kind of military the United States should have, one that Secretary of Defense Robert Gates prompted. The debated tended to pit the COINtistas—advocates of counterinsurgency capability— against the traditionalists. The first hold that future “irregular warfare” operations will be very labor-intensive because technology will not be able to easily substitute capital for labor. The second argue that the United States should shun such engagements and instead concentrate on sustaining the capability to deter and defeat major military rivals. This argument features the high-technology combat vehicle–intensive forms of combined arms warfare that characterize the “Big” Army, Navy, and Air Force.

Logically, the economic crisis and accompanying strain on defense spending should push the country toward a more multifunctional military that is optimized neither for conventional nor COIN operations but is able to “swing” between these missions. While the foes in Iraq have been relatively unsophisticated technically, the proliferation of PGMs to both conventional and nonconventional opponents (“hybrid warfare”) will make a number of COIN requirements become similar to those of conventional systems (armor protection and jamming, for instance) and will support such a “swing force.”

– Greg Grant

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The Center for a New American Security will hold its annual conference, Shaping the Agenda: American Security in the 21st Century, this Thursday in downtown Washington, DC. Of course we’ll be there to bring you all the defense policy goodness from this gathering of national security all-stars. Today, CNAS released nine white papers covering some of the topics to be discussed at the conference:

Contracting in Conflicts: The Path to Reform
By Richard Fontaine and John Nagl with a foreword by Allison Stanger

Restraint: Recalibrating American Strategy
By Patrick Cronin

Rhetoric and Reality: Countering Terrorism in the Age of Obama
By Marc Lynch

Crafting a Strategic Vision: A New Era of U.S.-Indonesia Relations
By Abraham Denmark with Rizal Sukma and Christine Parthemore

Sustaining Security: How Natural Resources Influence National Security
By Christine Parthemore with Will Rogers

To Serve the Nation: U.S. Special Operations Forces in an Era of Persistent Conflict
By Michele L. Malvesti

America’s Extended Hand: Assessing the Obama Administration’s Global Engagement Strategy
By Kristin Lord and Marc Lynch

Leverage: Designing a Political Campaign for Afghanistan
by Andrew Exum

Broadening Horizons: Climate Change and the U.S. Armed Forces
By Christine Parthemore, Commander Herb Carmen, USN, and Will Rogers

– Greg Grant

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The point man in charge of requirements at the Pentagon, vice chair of the Joint Chiefs, Gen. Hoss Cartwright, just told the services to “wake up!” at a CSIS sponsored conference in Washington, DC. In the real world, not the fantasy bubble of never ending defense budget increases, there are such things as economic dislocation, fiscal deficits and resource constraints, he said.

“You are not going to have 300 to 500 ships. You are not going to have thousands of fighters.” At the same time, America must try and reverse its course of the last decade, which was bringing us to the point where we would have one ship on each coast and one plane on each coast, and focus on quantity to help reverse that stark reality: “We need quantity more than we need that high end exquisite capability. If we can’t figure out how to get to that we’re living in denial of the world we’re in and hoping for the world we want to have in front of us.”

He echoed a theme that we’re hearing more and more from top military leaders, particularly SecDef Robert Gates, in recent weeks: we must think in terms of partnering and building coalitions. Defense planners too often look at a military challenge and say the U.S. military must buy up weapons in sufficient number to meet that challenge (think the rise of China).

That way of thinking must change, said Cartwright. “The reality is we don’t fight alone, we don’t deter alone, we don’t assure alone, everything is done in partnership, everything is done in coalitions… we tend to want to build and buy and field everything ourselves.” That path is no longer affordable.

Cartwright has always struck me as one of the smarter strategic thinkers around. He gets the economic strength equals military strength equation that too many today fail to recognize. “You cannot build strategy in the absence of resources,” he said.

Much more coverage of the CSIS conference on international security at DOD Buzz.

– Greg Grant

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