NEWS

7 ways for the US military to get its swagger back

While the Pentagon's new strategy is being released in 2018, it feels more like the year 2000 on Capitol Hill with members itching for the maverick spirit of then-presidential candidate John McCain's campaign bus, the Straight Talk Express.


McCain's "Straight Talk Express." (Image from Wikimedia Commons user Kevin Rofidal)

The substance of the document is classified at the request of Capitol Hill, but there is a growing consensus about how to grade its success or failure. It is past time for a new National Defense Strategy that seeks to break the mold in honesty, clarity, conciseness, and fresh thinking. As an official articulation of Pentagon doctrine, this is an opportunity to mend the broken dialogue between the military and the government and people they serve.

To be relevant beyond a few news cycles, the Pentagon's new defense strategy must:

7. Connect the strategy with geopolitical reality.

The most recent generation of strategies has repeatedly watered down the Pentagon's force-sizing construct with each iteration — from the aspirational objective of fighting two wars at once to the declinist "defeat-and-deny" approach. Since a 2014 defense strategy was published, the dangers of a lack of credibility in American military power and political willpower have become evident in Ukraine, Iraq, and North Korea — just to name a few.

The newest defense strategy should emphasize three theaters of importance. As it is getting harder for planners to differentiate between war and peace, the need for a strong American presence in Asia, Europe, or the Middle East cannot be wished away as politically inconvenient. Planners should size forces to maintain robust conventional and strategic deterrents forward in all three of these theaters while equipping a force for decision in the event deterrence fails.

To effect this change, the strategy must clearly differentiate between forces and capabilities required to prevent a war versus those needed to win one. Unfortunately, the panoply of threats spanning from North Korean ICBMs to ISIS demands the American military maintain a broad array of capabilities.

A North Korean ICBM (Image from Wikimedia Commons)

6. Tie means with ends.

Even with declining force-sizing constructs, U.S. forces have largely continued to do all that they have done under previous super-sized strategies. The armed forces have been asked to do more with less, resulting in various missions being shortchanged, ignored, or dropped altogether as the supply of American military power is consistently outstripped by demand.

Consequentially, there is now a general dismissal of strategy because the reductions in force structure proposed in each iteration have not resulted in substantive changes in operations of the force. Nowhere is this more tragically clear than in the U.S. Navy's Pacific Command. It is time to stop putting the cart before the horse by constructing budgets and then diving strategies, as the budget caps have encouraged but unrealistic strategies have exacerbated.

5. Identify what missions the military can stop doing.

Effective strategy is about choices and tradeoffs. In the last year, cargo shipments to Afghanistan were delayed due to hurricane relief, a private contractor evacuated U.S. troops after the fatal ISIS ambush in Niger, and the Air Force outsourced "red air" adversary training to non-military pilots. Instead of papering over these realities, the new strategy should identify what needs to be restored and which ancillary assignments may actually be more efficiently conducted outside the military.

Combat missions should not be exempt, either. For example, the sustained use of naval aviation to provide fire support to counterterror fights in the Middle East that could be resourced with light attack aircraft or artillery is expensive and ties up increasingly scarce aircraft carriers better employed elsewhere, particularly in Asia.

4. Prioritize among threats.

Claiming the five challenges of China, Russia, Iran, North Korea, and persistent counterterrorism operations are all equally important is not a strategy — it is the absence of one.

Policymakers must clearly rank the relative severity of these threats to help planners prioritize and make tradeoffs. Given the limited supply of American defense resources, not all of these threats can receive the same amount of attention or bandwidth — nor should they.

Also Read: Iranian protests have ebbed, but the anger remains

3. Don't let perfection get in the way of good enough.

The military needs more extant force structure and capabilities rather than an obsessive hunt for technological silver bullets. Putting too much stock in the wonder weapons of the future could be the military's ruin — not its salvation — if it comes at the expense of immediate and medium-term needs.

If enemies know we are weak today but will be strong tomorrow, they have every incentive to strike sooner rather than later. Leaders should balance the acquisition risks introduced by speculative technological gambles with tried-and-true systems suited for immediate use to diminish any window of opportunity for aggression.

2. Recognize the Pentagon is a more than a Department of War — it is a Department of Defense.

As the largest federal agency, the Pentagon engages in a bewildering variety of deterrence and presence missions every day, in addition to fighting. It also supports part-time forces, families and children all over the world.

It is called the Department of Defense for a reason, and the strategy should reflect these large organizational, financial, educational, and bureaucratic demands. For example, while achieving reforms and efficiencies are noble goals, the belief that ongoing organizational changes will result in tens of billions in potential savings that can be reinvested elsewhere within the defense budget has yet to be proven.

1. Finally, stop scapegoating Congress and tackle problems head-on.

While sequestration has degraded the military's capacity and capability gaps and encouraged the self-destructive practice of constructing budgets before inventing strategies to justify them, budget caps must cease to be the blame for all the military's woes.

The western front of the United States Capitol, the home of the U.S. Congress. (Photo: Architect of the Capitol)

An over-emphasis on budgetary neglect creates the false expectation that a higher topline alone will solve the Pentagon's problems overnight. The National Defense Strategy will need to address not just America's declining fiscal ability to support all instruments of national power, but also the deteriorating international situation. Higher spending can alleviate the former, but new investments will need to be tied to clear strategic goals to address the latter.

It took years for the Pentagon to realize its current predicament, and it will likewise be years before it overcomes its contemporary challenges. To get there will require a redoubled commitment to the military by Congress through stable, sustained, and sufficient defense funding. But the Pentagon must also do its part to ensure that when fiscal relief arrives, there is a thoughtful strategy in place commensurate with the multitude of threats assailing the United States today. Now is the time to go big and bold.

NEWS
Rosie Perper

Russia wants America's spot on the Human Rights Council

Russia wants a spot on the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) following the US's withdrawal on June 19, 2018.

Russia quickly swooped in on the empty seat and put forward its candidacy for a three-year term starting in 2021.

"The UNHRC operates on the basis of the principles of impartiality, objectivity, non-selectivity, constructive dialogue and cooperation. It is a UN body that, like the entire UN system, is called upon to serve all Member States, not just one country or group of countries," Russia's UN mission said in a statement. "Unfortunately, our colleagues in Washington do not understand this or do not recognize it."

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Articles

This Microsoft training fast tracks veterans into sweet tech careers

Solaire Brown (formerly Sanderson) was a happy, gung-ho Marine sergeant deployed in Afghanistan when she realized her military career was about to change. She was tasked with finding the right fit for her post-military life – and she knew she wanted to be prepared.

Injuries sustained during mine-resistant vehicle training had led to surgeries and functional recovery and it became clear Brown would no longer be able to operate at the level she expected of herself as a Marine.

Like many of the 200,000 service members exiting the military each year, Brown knew her military training could make her a valuable asset as an employee, but she was unsure of how her skills might specifically translate to employment in the civilian world.

Enter Microsoft Software & Systems Academy (MSSA), a program Microsoft started in 2013 to provide transitioning service members and veterans with critical career skills required for today's growing technology industry.

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GEAR & TECH
Dave Smith

This video of a drone with a flamethrower will haunt your dreams

Watch the video in the tweet below. Are you experiencing both amazement and fear? You're not alone.

This video has been making the rounds on Twitter recently, but it was actually filmed a little over a year ago. According to Gizmodo, an electric-power maintenance company in Xiangyang, China, had been using these flame-throwing drones to burn off garbage and debris from electrical wires.

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Articles

This band hires vets — especially when they go on tour

As veterans re-enter the civilian workforce, many struggle to make the transition. This is why opportunities (ahem — touring with famous heavy metal bands) for employment are so important. Five Finger Death Punch has made it a mission to offer such opportunities.

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Gaming

How you can use your military skills in survival games

Military leaders loves to take their troops into the backwoods for a quick impromptu land navigation class. Even when troops should be gearing up for combat in desert environments, they still teach them how to survive in forests. There is a lot of cross-over things to consider, regardless of where you're at — like seeking shelter, finding water and food, how to create warmth, and survive the elements.

While it's great to have these skills in your hip pocket, it can also make you way too intense when you go camping with your civilian friends. They will, however, make you just the right amount of intense when you play a survival game.

All the fun of surviving in a zombie-infested hellscape without actually having to survive in a zombie-infested hellscape!(DayZ by Bohemia Interactive)

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Veterans
Debbie Aragon

This veteran found his lifeline at the end of a leash

After battling night terrors and the pain and anxiety of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder for decades, an Air Force veteran found his lifeline at the end of a dog leash.

Ryan Kaono, a support agreement manager in the Air Force Installation and Mission Support Center, vividly remembers a few years ago when he would regularly find himself in the depths of fear and despair; reliving troubling images from deployments as a security forces military working dog handler and later as a logistics specialist.

Kaono's wife, Alessa, said she felt helpless, with no idea how to help him.

"You see a look in their eyes that they're suffering but you don't know what you can do to help them. It's a terrible feeling watching someone suffer through PTSD," she said.

Those memories seemed so hopeless at times that Kaono attempted to end his life.

After taking numerous prescription drugs in 2010 in a bid to permanently end his pain, Kaono finally reached out for help and started receiving the support and understanding he needed.

Ryan Kaono, a support agreement manager with the Air Force Installation and Mission Support Center, takes his service dog Romeo for a walk around the building.(U.S. Air Force photo by Armando Perez)

"I had previously attempted (suicide) but this time I actually sought treatment," Kaono said.

After being hospitalized for his suicide attempt, the veteran began a treatment program at the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs hospital in Los Angeles.

"When I was first diagnosed, group therapy didn't work for me," the Hawaii-native said, "so I actually left the group and started volunteering at a (German Shepherd) rescue in California."

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Dogs had always played a part in Kaono's life from when, as a toddler, his family's old English sheepdog, Winston, picked him up by the diaper to deliver a wandering Ryan back to his front yard.

"I realized (while volunteering at the rescue) that the interaction with the dogs really made me feel better," he said.

Not content to just help himself, Kaono worked with the VA hospital to help other veterans interact with the rescue dogs and promoted animal therapy.

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5 boring details a Space Force private will get stuck on

The Space Force is presumed to be exactly like our current military. Over-the-top recruitment videos will only lead to utter disappointment, just like any other branch. "You'll get to see the world," the recruiter will promise, but we all know you'll probably just be seeing it from a desk back on Earth. Even in many years when the need for space infantrymen comes up, it'll still be filled with all the same BS that happens down here.

Think about it. There will still be NCOs and officers who will still need to bide their time until closeout formation. The only difference will be that it'll take place 254 miles above the Earth's surface. And how will latrines work? Who will clean them?!

You know the answer.

1. Literally cleaning the ship absolutely spotlessly

Remember those novelty "space pens" that you can find at souvenir shops? The joke on the back is that America spent a butt load of cash trying to get a pen that could write upside-down and with zero-G's but those crafty Russians just used a pencil. Hate to burst that bubble but no one uses pencils in space for a very specific reason.

Any bit of dust or flakes caused by just regular everyday things, like pencil shavings, could mess with electrical systems while it's floating around in space.

That's just from man-made stuff... then you have to worry about the stardust

(NASA)

2. Vacuuming all that stardust

Of course no one down here can see it, but space is actually pretty filthy. There's plenty of dust on the outside the atmosphere from when the universe was formed and we can't go around with an unclean space ship. Most of it is microscopic but NASA astronauts regularly have to clean the dust or else it gets everywhere.

Any spacewalk done will suck in plenty of that minuscule specs of dust whenever the bay-doors open. When the astronaut comes back into the oxygen-filled area, the dust will follow. And some poor space private will have to vacuum all that up.

You can't honestly expect lieutenants to clean up after themselves when there are privates available, now can you?

3. Police calling space debris

All of this is just to clean up the inside of ship — there's also the outside. Satellites and other man-made debris deteriorate eventually and even a 1cm paint flake could zoom low orbit faster than a bullet. Those flakes can rupture panels and cause all sorts of hell on the ship.

This problem is magnified with even larger pieces of debris, like a baseball sized scrap of metal hitting anything at 4.76 miles per second. To prevent Newton's Second Law (force is equal to the mass times acceleration) from obliterating everyone on board, it's up to the space privates to handle it.

I want this globe spotless or no one is being released.

(NASA)

4. Container organizing... but in zero G's

At first, it seems like this would be so much easier in space. You wouldn't have to lift heavy things because it's near weightless now. And astronauts are notorious about taking only what they need into space. But that's the silver-lining. Trying to tie things down and organizing things to take up as little space as possible is the real problem.

A space private's Tetris skills will be checked as there isn't any room for open space.

Good luck finding that ONE serial number for the change of command layout.

(NASA)

5. Repairing the exterior of the ship

There is a diminishing return on enjoyment. The first time you go on a space walk, it'll be beyond your wildest expectations. Your 1,348th time going on a space walk to scrub the stardust off the window because the Colonel is coming won't be as great.

Even more high-stress would be making repairs on the spaceship. Any minor mistake and either you die alone or everyone gets sucked into the vacuum of space.

Imagine losing a wrench and sending it soaring into Earth's atmosphere.

(NASA)

GEAR & TECH
Christopher Woody

The Air Force is finally getting its long-delayed new tanker

The Air Force and Boeing have reached agreement on delivery of the long delayed KC-46 Pegasus tanker, with the two sides expecting the first aircraft to arrive in October 2018, according to Bloomberg.

Boeing's original deadline to deliver 18 planes and additional materials was August 2017, but the $44 billion program has been hit by numerous delays and setbacks, and the Air Force said this spring it expected Boeing to miss its deadline to deliver the planes by October 2018, with the first KC-46 not arriving until the end of 2018 and all 18 planes by spring 2019.

The delivery of the first KC-46 by October 2018 is two months earlier than the Air Force anticipated. Matthew Donovan, the Air Force undersecretary, told Bloomberg the timeline was "aggressive but achievable." Under the new schedule, the other 17 planes will arrive by April 2019.

The Air Force plans to buy 179 of the KC-46. Once it begins receiving them, the service will start phasing out its older KC-10 tankers. It will hold on to 300 of its KC-135 tankers, which average 55 years old. That would expand the tanker fleet to 479 KC-135s and KC-46s from the current 455 KC-135s and KC-10s.

A KC-46 Pegasus refuels an A-10 Thunderbolt, July 15, 2016.(Boeing photo by John D. Parker)

Under their contract, Boeing is responsible for costs beyond the Air Force's $4.82 billion commitment. But delays in delivery could mean the Air Force will have to keep 19 KC-135s in service through 2023 at a cost of up to $10 million a plane annually.

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The most serious problem facing the tanker has been the risk of its refueling boom scraping the surface of planes receiving fuel, which can damage stealth aircraft and potentially ground the tanker.

Other issues include the operation of the remote vision system, which is used to guide the boom; problems with the unexpected disconnection of its centerline drogue system, which is used to refuel aircraft; and concerns about the plane's high-frequency radio, which uses the skin of the plane to broadcast. The latter two issues were downgraded to category-two deficiencies early 2018.

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