Small Wars Journal

Don’t Break The Bank With COIN

Tue, 10/25/2011 - 4:53pm

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Consistent with the definition of strategy in part II of this thesis, the prescriptions will be focused on the ends, ways, and means of U.S. national defense strategy.

These prescriptions will not advocate for particular service roles and missions or platforms – for example U.S. Navy sea-based Joint Strike Fighters versus U.S. Air Force land-based F-22’s to achieve Air Dominance; or U.S. Army land-based missile defense systems vs. U.S. Navy sea-based missile defense systems to achieve Force Protection; or U.S. Air Force air mobility aircraft vs. U.S. Navy strategic sealift ships for Global Mobility.  Rather, these prescriptions are intended to center around strategic, doctrinal, or operational concepts, which will ultimately translate into material solutions in the DoD acquisition portfolio to execute those concepts.

1.  Redeploy U.S. military forces to approximately match their pre-9/11 global posture. Prior to 9/11, U.S. military presence was relatively balanced around the globe in accordance with the 1-4-2-1 strategy.  As argued in Part III of this thesis, while 9/11 introduced a global geo-political shock, it did not fundamentally change the regional geo-political calculus in North-East Asia, the Asia-Pacific Region, the Mediterranean Region, or South America. 

The U.S. emerged as a global power in the early part of the 20th century, and remains a global power at the start of the 21st century.  As an example of this imperative for America to remain globally engaged, President Obama utilized the word “global” and its derivatives (globally, globalized, globalization) 184 times over the course of 52 pages in his 2010 “National Security Strategy."

In light of this overarching national security guidance, it is imperative that the U.S. military is equitably distributed around the globe in support of U.S. global interests.

2. Reconsider returning to the 1-4-2-1 strategic planning construct.  As stated in the concluding paragraph of Part II, in the author’s opinion the 1-4-2-1 strategy of the pre-9/11, post-Cold War era was a prudent hedge against the uncertainty of the future security environment.  Additionally, it is the author’s opinion that the Department of Defense divested from the 1-4-2-1 concept due to the strategic reality (ends, ways, means) of the opportunity costs of investing an excessive amount of resources in two post-9/11 COIN campaigns in Iraq and Afghanistan.  

The author posits a sole additive exception to this prescription:  the imperative to maintain a global counter-terrorism force – capable of delivering global effects through agile intelligence, maneuver, and fires – in all of the domains of war – land, sea, air, space, cyber, and information – to counter the threat posed by Al Qaeda and associated extremist movements who have proven to present a clear and present danger to the homeland and U.S. interests abroad.  Perhaps this imperative could be captured by adding an additional “1”, as in 1-4-2-1-1:  Defend the homeland (1), maintain forward presence in 4 critical regions (4), prepare to fight and win in two nearly simultaneous regional conflicts (2), prepare for and execute smaller-scale contingency operations, and sustain a global counter-terrorism task force capable of rapid, precise counter-terrorism operations (1).

Of note – in light of the bleak Federal fiscal outlooks depicted at the beginning of Part V of this thesis, the 1-4-2-1(-1?) strategic construct may not be affordable.  This issue deserves vigorous national debate on the future of U.S. defense strategy.

3.  Re-balance the DoD investment portfolio.  As depicted in Part IV of this thesis, the execution of two COIN campaigns in Iraq and Afghanistan has upended 50 years of DoD service investment trends, with the Departments of the Navy, Air Force, and Army receiving roughly proportionate levels of annual budgetary authority.  In line with the global nature of U.S. interests and security strategy, DoD should re-focus investment on those aspects of the national security enterprise which bolster national security in the global domains of air, maritime, space, and cyber. 

4.  Reduce the end strength of the services to pre-9/11 levels – and beyond.  In both the private and public sectors in the U.S., technological innovation is reducing the required levels of manpower in any enterprise.  An exception to this is FM 3-24, which posits an enduring requirement for large numbers of troops deployed to an area of operation for extended periods of time.  One of the principal advantages that the U.S. military enjoys over any adversary is technological overmatch.  The excessive investment in manpower and operations & maintenance funding necessitated by the execution of two FM 3-24 COIN campaigns in Iraq and Afghanistan has eroded DoD investment in procurement and research and development funding into future technologies that will preserve this comparative advantage.

5.  Review the affordability of U.S. military operational concepts.  Affordability – or the nominal capacity to generate the means to execute the ways to achieve the ends of military strategy – must be considered in any operational concept that is considered in the execution of a strategy.  This prescription is offered not only in the context of FM 3-24 COIN doctrine; the looming Federal fiscal environment necessitates that all U.S. military doctrinal concepts should be examined on the basis of their affordability, and unaffordable concepts should be discarded.

6.  Re-write FM 3-24 Counterinsurgency doctrine to balance “the interaction of ends, ways, and means.”   In other words, FM 3-24 must properly account for the fact that the scope and scale of any counterinsurgency campaign are determined by the means made available for that campaign.  In the case of the Iraq and Afghanistan COIN campaigns, FM 3-24 demanded the requisite means, with no consideration of the current and future opportunity costs in the U.S. national security investment portfolio. 

The sociological phenomenon of insurgency in armed conflict is deeply rooted in the history of warfare and will likely continue to persist into the future of warfare.  FM 3-24 states that ‘Insurgency and its tactics are as old as warfare itself”and “…That is why insurgency has been a common approach used by the weak against the strong.”

Having said that, what must change is the notion that the U.S. military can afford to meet the FM 3-24 prescribed level of resources required to execute a COIN campaign – for example a 20-25 counterinsurgent ratio per 1,000 residents in an area of operations.  Under FM 3-24 doctrine, a military campaign on the Korean Peninsula – long utilized as a force planning driver – results in a counterinsurgent demand signal of 400,000 to 500,000 troops in the event of an insurgency amongst the North Korean populace (~25 million people).

COINdinistas have often used the term “small wars” to describe counterinsurgency campaigns.  However, FM 3-24 prescribes anything but a “small war” with its force planning requirements; by any definition, deploying 100,000+ troops abroad for an extended duration is anything but a “small war” in the modern context.  And that 20-25 counterinsurgent per 1,000 residents ratio doesn’t account for the all of the combat enablers stipulated in FM 3-24 –  intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance, logistics, air mobility, sea mobility, fires, precision strike, detainee affairs, etc. – the list goes on.

 If the reader accepts that the assertion phenomenon of insurgency will persist in the future of warfare, and concludes that the U.S. military has an imperative to conduct counterinsurgency campaigns in support of U.S. national security objectives, then how should FM 3-24 doctrine be modified?  Perhaps that answer lies in reverting to a previous definition of “small wars” – i.e. the anti-Communist counterinsurgency campaigns in Central America in the 1980’s, where American advisors numbering in the double digits trained, equipped, and mentored indigenous security forces in the art of counterinsurgency… or perhaps in the pacification of anti-colonial insurgencies in the Caribbean and Latin America in the early part of the 20th Century – but those theories are beyond the scope of the study of this thesis. 

 If FM 3-24 is not re-written to account for the resources required to execute the doctrine, the doctrine will price itself out of the business of war.

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About the Author(s)

Sean R. Liedman is a Commander in the U.S. Navy, and authored this thesis while serving as a Federal Executive Fellow at the Weatherhead Center For International Affairs at Harvard University.  He is a career Naval Flight Officer in the Maritime Patrol and Reconnaissance community, and most recently served as the Commanding Officer of Patrol Squadron EIGHT (VP-8).  He earned his bachelor’s degree from the U.S. Naval Academy in 1991 and master’s degree from the U.S. Naval War College in 2002.



Sun, 10/30/2011 - 10:28am

Sean your points are absolutely valid regarding the need to rebalance resources and ensure that future conflicts are given the proper financial consideration.

However FM 3-24 is not the place to do it. I strongly disagree with your point #6. Doctrine must not be constrained by means, operations and campaigns are. Doctrine sets the case for what right looks like. At the NMS level the President owns the Ends, SECDEF owns the Ways, and congress owns the Means. Its up our elected officials to resource campaigns and operations that support our NMS. Its the responsibility of the JCS and SECDEF to ensure the costs of those operations are translated correctly to the bill payers, not Army doctrinal manuals.

Ken White

Wed, 10/26/2011 - 1:11am

In reply to by Move Forward

Move Forward:

Three points:<blockquote>"466 million lbs of aerial refueling occurred which is 70 million gallons of JP8 required. Multiply that by $400 and you get $28 billion for the first half of the year alone."</blockquote>

The Tankers use fuel from outside Afghanistan so the $400. a barrel figure is probably a bit high...

<blockquote>"Is the Libyan conflict "mission accomplished"?"</blockquote> It was not and is not our conflict to make that call.

<blockquote>"So will we tell threats never to fight in isolated areas?"</blockquote> We certainly should not tell them that -- shouldn't tell them anything in fact.

The follow-on to that third point is that it might be better if we stop trying to fix things that aren't ours to fix, things we do not understand. Even better, we should really stop playing by the other guy's rules on his turf. We're supposed to be smarter than that.

Economy of force, maneuver and surprise will almost always beat raw mass. We know that -- but that means risk and we appear to have forgotten how to take that. So, to avoid risk, we throw mass and money at the problem. Doesn't work and we kill a lot of our folks for little or no real benefit and hack off a lot of locals for no good reason other than we've always done it that way. We used to ride to work on elephants, too -- 'til the parking lot attendants got all upset...

Whether the area is isolated or not isn't the point; we've tried the so-called COIN foolishness with a large mass of troops on three occasions in living memory and in varied locations. We obviously do not do it well so the issue is not where we fight but should be <i>how</i> we fight.

One cannot make 'COIN' efforts work as a third party intervenor unless one is prepared to flout all the rules and really control the population. We won't do that and in any event we cannot afford enough Troops to do it in any country much larger than Metropolitan Saint Louis. Your point about Viet Nam is well taken, around 17 million souls in a nation a fourth the size of Iraq and over 1.5M allied troops at peak including Australians, Kiwis, Koreans, Thais, the Viet Namese and us. That math says both Afghanistan and Iraq were doomed to fail and yet we went anyway. I agree with the going, I did not and do not agree with staying...

We should be prepared to go quickly on the slightest provocation, break things and people that need breaking -- and get out. And yes, that means sweeping changes to the way we do business -- they're long overdue.

Move Forward

Tue, 10/25/2011 - 9:04pm

Next, please consider that Afghanistan and Iraq were extremely isolated and have large populations and vast areas with many enclaves of Taliban and al Qaeda on both sides of the border. Vietnam and South Korea are very narrow and close to coastlines making sea resupply and air movement simpler, keeping war costs down. Contrast that with great distances from the Arabian Gulf to Baghdad and Anbar province or areas off Pakistan to Afghanistan.

Afghanistan and Iraq both have nearly 30 million populations and Pakistan has 180 million. Vietnam in 1974 had about 14 million and South Korea probably less back then yet we had 500,000 in Vietnam to secure it, instead of only 100,000 during the surge. True, force structure costs money. Compare the cost of a naval/air force aviator in Vietnam versus today at around $130K. How about the cost of enlisted servicemembers stationed on coasts with high locality adjustments vs. the south and inland U.S. where Army bases are.

Libya has under 7 million in population and was near an open coast and other nearby land bases. A land component still participated...and lost up to 5,000 MANPADs since we wanted no NATO boots on the ground. Now we will watch feuds between multiple tribes and populations of Tripoli, Misrata, and Benghazi who all disagree who should be in charge. Kind of reminds you of Shiite, Sunni, and Kurd disputes does it not? How about Pashtuns vs. Tajiks vs. Hazaras? Is the Libyan conflict "mission accomplished"?

Afghanistan is very rural so getting the fuel to and around that country is estimated to cost upwards of $400 a gallon. That is not a COIN issue. That is a joint issue with jets using extensive fuel quantities to include aerial refueling. In the first HALF of 2011, 466 million lbs of aerial refueling occurred which is 70 million gallons of JP8 required. Multiply that by $400 and you get $28 billion for the first half of the year alone. COIN in isolated areas is not just a land component expense. So will we tell threats never to fight in isolated areas?

Move Forward

Tue, 10/25/2011 - 8:31pm

Nice effort Commander Liedman, however a few countering points.

You mention returning to the 1-4-2-1 from 1993-2001 consisting of i through iv. shown below:

i.Defense of the homeland
ii. Sustaining forward presence to reassure allies and deter adversaries
iii. Preparing to fight and win two nearly-simultaneous MRC‘s, and
iv. Preparing for and executing smaller-scale contingency operations

You say that the Army supports all but number ii. Agree on the others. Disagree on number ii.

i) Agree that all services support it, to include the National Guard

ii) All services sustain forward presence to reassure allies, Army included. The Army is in the South Korea, Europe, the Middle East and elsewhere. It could very easily support global commons mission if located in the Philippines or Spratly Islands. It could patrol ground forces aboard Joint High Speed Vessel and Littoral Combat Ship to supplement Navy and Marine amphibious ship totals and forward presence. It could island-hop using Army helicopters over vast distances to include to Taiwan and the Malacca Straits

iii) All services are supporting two nearly-simultaneous regional conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan. The Army is/was key in both and bore the greatest deployment burden. Certainly, other services had multiple shorter tours. However, one could counter that it took one Ranger 14 shorter tours before the enemy tragically finally got him recently. The Seals have been right there paying the ultimate price as well, often transported by Army helicopters.

iv) Not one, but many smaller scale contingencies have been the norm since 1993 and seem likely in the future given rogue states. stateless terrorists, and the Arab Spring. War with China has not been the norm and is unlikely given our economic ties and forward presence. We are both nuclear armed states. Believe it is no coincidence that no WWIII has occurred because all near-peers have nuclear weapons. Why would we send long-range bombers or launch numerous cruise missiles and UAS deep against a nuclear-armed country? Does the enemy know they have only conventional warheads?