Why the U.S. Shouldn’t Rely on Fancy Equipment to Beat China In a War

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[This is a bit of a tedious and needlessly complex read. However, what it is trying to say is basically simple. It is that in order for the military to win, they will need lots of rather boring ships which are utterly critical in a logistics sense. Logistics is a critical part of warfare. It is often underestimated. Jan]

The combat logistics fleet—oilers, ammunition ships, refrigerated stores ships, and the like—thus plays a prominent part in strategy despite its frumpy image.

by James Holmes

Here’s What You Need to Remember: But by the same token certain mundane capabilities should rank high in the pecking order—and so must the humdrum platforms deployed to carry out missions deriving from those capabilities. Some everyday capabilities act as enablers, helping glamour platforms fulfill their potential. Others advance strategic purposes in their own right.

With apologies to Nassim Nicholas Taleb: never underestimate the impact—and value—of the highly mundane.

Seafaring folk, including yours truly, have a habit of falling in love with glitzy armaments and platforms such as aircraft carriers, stealth fighters, and destroyers festooned with sensors and missiles. The reasoning goes something like this: frontline vessels and aircraft do battle for command of sea and sky. Without them the U.S. Navy and Marine Corps may never win command. And if they cannot win command they cannot leverage command for operational and strategic effect. The sea becomes a bulwark against U.S. and allied strategy rather than an avenue into embattled zones. Maritime strategy falters.

By that logic it follows that top-end hardware should hold pride of place in budgetary deliberations and fleet design. The services should procure lesser implements on a not-to-interfere basis with capital ships. They should forego acquisitions of, say, unglamorous diesel attack submarines for fear of siphoning finite shipbuilding resources from nuclear-powered attack boats.

(This first appeared in 2018.)

But there’s more to it than objective reckoning of priorities. A majesty and allure enshrouds major platforms beyond their strictly military value. They conjure up affection, and affection colors debates over force structure and strategy. Heck, sailors live on board our ships. Ships become home—and home is where the heart is. Or as strategist Edward Luttwak maintains, aircraft carriers, destroyers, and nuclear submarines exude “sex appeal.” Hence the throngs of visitors that descend on New York, San Francisco, and other seaports during Fleet Week. Mariners must disentangle the passions they feel toward their platforms from cool calculation if they hope to design fleets fit to execute strategy.

A prime way to do that is to distinguish between “platforms” and “capabilities,” undertaking the basic linguistic hygiene beloved of thinkers from Confucius to George Orwell. Naming things with precision cleanses the language used in debates over fleet design and in turn makes for dispassionate analysis. I seldom have much use for joint publications, but in this case the definition of capability put forth in the Defense Department Dictionary of Military and Associated Terms illuminates. A capability, says the dictionary, is not a whizbang. It is “the ability to complete a task or execute a course of action under specified conditions and level of performance.” It’s the ability to do a job—not the tool used to do it.

Viewed in that light, choosing which particular tool to add to the toolkit becomes a secondary matter. In fact, the wise handyman selects the cheapest, simplest, least sexy implement adequate to his task. Doing so saves money while getting the job done. The artisanal approach—or as the amphibian pundit CDR Salamander puts it, mariners’ ingrained preference for “Tiffany” ships, planes, and armaments—wastes resources while self-imposing heavy opportunity costs. Heaping excess capacity on a platform costs money, manpower, and other resources that might go to likewise vital purposes, or to buying more widgets and thus adding mass to the fleet. Quantity, after all, boasts a quality all its own.

Describing implements as capabilities, then, obscures the distinction between hardware and the purposes hardware exists to serve. For instance, it’s fair to say that “the ability to render humanitarian and disaster assistance” comes second to capabilities aimed at defeating foes. It’s an important capability. But in a zero-sum competition for resources, it must yield to capabilities that help the U.S. Navy and Marine Corps win maritime command and project power onto land afterward. These are the sea services’ topmost functions and must take precedence over desirable but less pressing priorities. Platforms specially designed for HA/DR must rank behind capital ships or ships that police the sea in the pecking order.

Source: https://nationalinterest.org/blog/reboot/why-us-shouldnt-rely-fancy-equipment-beat-china-war-183832

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