So, you think you want to engage in the push and pull in the NATSEC marketplace of ideas? As a reader here, I think you do.Now and then I get emails
Slovene Psychoanalytic Philosophy vs. the Chinese Porcupine's Quills
In training, equipping and manning your Navy for the next war, the further you get from the last time you fought the kind of war you will fight next, the more uncertainty there is on how it will be fought.
You can guess, you can surmise, you can do your best to wargame and benchmark similar wars – or vignettes of war – to help guide you on the path towards making sure the young men and women you will call on in the future to perform violence on your behalf will be given what they need to win.
War is always a dark room. Regardless of how much you prepare, you will quickly find that you have things you don’t need, things you have some but not enough of, other things you need now that you had no idea would be that important, or the most infuriatingly those things you need but foolishly (in hindsight) left behind.
For the entirety of human history, this has been true. The only thing that is certain at the outbreak of war is uncertainty.
That is why in peace you need an open and aggressive exchange of ideas. You need brutal honesty. You need rigorous testing with an eye to victory at war. When you become focused on other things, you only amplify the error differential that grows each year between what you think you will need and what you will really need.
As a natural part of this process, in peace you are always looking for that bit you don’t know you need – that “known unknown.”
That search puts some people over their skis when it comes to technology. DDG-1000 and LCS along with other legacies of the Age of Transformationalism that peaked 15-yrs ago are perfect examples of this.
Sadly, the recognition of this excessive dismissal of technology risk seems to have spawned a few unnecessary reactions, reactions that are encouraged by some who see such reaction as a benefit towards the defense of the empires they have built to protect their legacy ricebowls.
This dynamic is best seen in the very clunky progress – or lack of it – in the Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) area.
UAS are not new; they date back well over half a century. Advances in materials, communications, computing, and the promise of AI in the last decade have been an accelerant enabling UAS to perform missions not previously realistic UAS mission sets.
There is a broad spectrum of opinion of UAS, from the “must have a man in the loop at all times” school to the “let loose the AI gods of war” school.
At least today, I am somewhere in the middle. Using the template of UAS in the strike role as a reusable TLAM, I think we should be aggressively moving towards strike options. UAS as a tanker? A good first step so we can work out the kinks of having these in the airwing.
Over the last six months I’ve detected a drift. If anything, a bit of a retreat. If nothing, we seem to be intentionally backing away from experimentation – forward leaning but clear-eyed experimentation that can help us mitigate that error that comes from the “known unknowns.”
Now that we’ve wandered in to Rumsfeldland with knowns and unknowns, I’d like to bring up a follow-on to that famous press conference from a decade and a half ago – the concept of “unknown knowns.”
From Errol Morris’s 2014 documentary, “The Unknown Knowns”
Confused? It’s ok, - most people are. Here are Rumsfeld’s two definitions not quite in alignment with each other - but they work;
“Things that you possibly may know, that you don’t know you know.”
“Things that you think you know, that it turns out that you did not.”Either way, the whole concept is illuminating. Here’s another take on it from Slovenian Psychoanalytic philosopher Slavoj Žižek;
…the things we don't know that we know-which is precisely, the Freudian unconscious, the "knowledge which doesn't know itself," as Lacan used to say.There is a lot more than engineering, science, money, and politics in getting UAS right. No one has the right answer. There are some – usually on the extremes – who have the wrong answer, but the right answer is out there.
The only way to get to the right answer is that creative friction that comes from open, direct, and aggressive discussion about needs, wants, strengths, and weaknesses. Priorities and prejudices. Motivations and desires.
When it comes to UAS, Jerry Hendrix stepped up to the plate today in National Review to bring this discussion back above the natsec ambient noise.
In a surprise visit towards the end of yesterday’s Midrats, Jerry gave us a heads up about the article coming out, and I’ve been pondering it through the day and decided to push out the post I was going to do today to the right and instead fold it in to some broader broodings I was having over the weekend outlined above.
Jerry goes a bit further and faster than my preferences with UAS, but his points are solid and well deserve a full reading and considerations.
Here’s a few pull quotes for you to ponder;
...to fight and win within the emerging great-power competition. This new environment, at last recognized in President Trump’s National Security Strategy and the Secretary of Defense’s National Defense Strategy, requires the Navy to strike enemy capitals and other vital centers of gravity from range, but the Navy’s decision to bypass a carrier-based strike asset, and now even to push off its acquisition of an unmanned mission tanker, suggest that it is not taking A2AD great-power competition seriously. Its decisions place the future relevance of the entire maritime service, at least as it is presently composed, at risk.Green eye-shade decisions drift from complacency spiced up with a lot of arrogance and an environment where professional excellence was seen as victory over "competing" community platforms are the primary cause of our retreat from not just defense in depth, but attack from a distance.
These were all deliberate decisions. Professionals who should know better gleefully danced on the grave of the VA community and then the F-14 community. There is a lot of Beltway squid ink to explain why, but the best explanations are best explained by marriage counselors, psychologists, and high school Vice Principals.
The short picked-on kid wound up on top of a mountain made on the bodies of those who used to tease him - and others who were easy pickings. We went from the slightly insecure, "No slack in light attack," to "All we have is light attack because we killed and ate the rest."
And so, on our Hornet and Super Hornet filled, monoculture airwings, we have this;
The average unrefueled range of the aircraft embarked on super carriers during the 1950s was over 1,200 miles, allowing those aircraft to conduct missions deep into the Soviet Union, but somehow in the post–Cold War generation the Navy forgot the lessons of World War II and, by retiring long-range aircraft such as the F-14 Tomcat, A-6 Intruder, and A-3 Skywarrior without analogous replacements, allowed the average strike range of the aircraft embarked on the super carriers to decline to less than 500 miles, pulling the super carriers back into the threat range of those who would make themselves enemies of the United States.Like the decision to abandon the heavy fighter/strike "Super Tomcat" and organic tanking, we once again find ourselves willfully blinding ourselves to our weakness.
We are setting ourselves up to repeat the fears during the Guadalcanal campaign of the safety of our only viable carrier in the area, USS Saratoga (CV-3). We will save her by making her combat ineffective, damaged, or exhausted for much of the early campaign - letting the battle be fought by the rest of the fleet at a freighting cost in men and ships.
For some reason, despite the obvious statement of importance assigned to great-power competition and balancing capabilities and capacity in the face of A2AD challenges in recent strategic documents, the Navy has assigned little priority to the development and production of the MQ-25 aircraft, which is placed at the far end of the current five-year budget and not expected to reach initi,al operational capability until 2026. Perhaps this is because the original impetus for the mission-tanker program, the need to relieve pressure on the Super Hornet inventory, has been relieved by congressional decisions to restart the FA-18E/F production line. In fact, the Navy seems so comfortable with its fighter-attack-aircraft inventory that it has made the decision to retire or “strike” 140 older aircraft ahead of schedule to avoid the higher costs associated with maintaining them. Perhaps the Navy is unsure of whether it needs an unmanned tanker at all, or perhaps it wishes to forestall its final commitment to the program until it has come to a better understanding of its future requirements.Carriers are what they have always been - your most effective offensive platform and your hardest platform to defend. Time-distance can amplify what is good or bad depending on what you put on that carrier.
The real strategic challenge facing the Navy is a requirement for penetrating deep strike from the carrier deck. The Navy needs a new aircraft to perform this mission. Given the mission profile, a range of 1,000 to 1,500 miles out and then back, the density of A2AD surface-to-air defenses, and the ten-hour-plus flight duration, the aircraft should probably be unmanned. The Navy should not forget the lessons of World War II that Admirals Mitscher and McCain wrote down after they lost multiple carriers while operating well inside Japan’s then-advanced A2AD environment. At $12.9 billion apiece, our modern carriers are too dear to the force fiscally and strategically to risk against the current threat.
The Navy would be well served if it were directed to return and review the requirements associated with the UCAS-D program ten years ago and refocus its efforts on creating a new unmanned, all-aspect stealth aircraft that is capable of operating from the carrier deck and hitting targets deep inside enemy territory. If the Navy does not take these steps, it will risk allowing its carrier force and, in fact, its entire accompanying surface fleet, to lapse into strategic irrelevance."...ten years ago."
To use a measurement of time I coined three years ago, what is that, something like 2.5 worldwars ago?