Not Enough for the Navy

Retired Naval War College professor Marshall Hoyler reviews Aaron Friedberg‘s A Contest for Supremacy; China America, and the Struggle for Supremacy in Asia, seeing the work as an extended case to support long-range procurement of expensive Navy and Air Force weapons programs. Hoyler, a navalist, acknowledges that Friedberg makes some good points. However, he suggests that if this is all the technical services have to offer for an argument to defund the ground-pounders in favor of jets and ships, then both services are in trouble.

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SSQ: Can We Get Along?

Strategic Studies Quarterly, volume 7, number 4. The Air Force is, unsurprisingly, increasingly fascinated with China, and we reap the benefits again in the Winter 2013 installment of the journal. The lead article asks whether China and the US are looking at an inevitable conflict, or greater cooperation. An op/ed by a retired Air Force lieutenant general delves into whether and how China can join the world’s nuclear arms control regime. Finally, the University of Michigan’s Philip Potter delves into the roots of terrorism in China, and how it is changing China’s approach to security.

Viewing the Pivot from the Air

 

A B-2 Spirit soars after a refueling mission o...

A B-2 Spirit soars after a refueling mission over the Pacific Ocean on Tuesday, May 30, 2006. (U.S. Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. Bennie J. Davis III) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The Summer 2013 issue of the Strategic Studies Quarterly is out, and the Air Force publication spends most of its space this quarter on Asia, China, and the Pivot. Starting with an excellent essay by David Shambaugh (“Assessing the US Pivot to Asia,”) the publication amounts to a quiet announcement that the Air Force Research Institute (AFRI) is now focused on China.

No surprise. But what is disappointing is the AFRI’s failure to ask the most difficult political question: does the USAF have the wherewithal – in doctrine, in training, in force structure, and (most critically) in equipment – to credibly face off against China in even the coldest of conflicts? Of all the services, this is most important to the Air Force, which was guided in its formative years by leaders who were shaped in the crucible of European wars and hardened during the Cold War face-off with the USSR in Europe. Tactical warfare over vast distances is not in the USAF’s DNA, and it is not in the DNA of the aircraft upon which it has chosen to bet its future.

What one can hope, however, is that the AFRI is leading the Air Force by its nose into a future that demands a different kind of air service by compelling the organization to contemplate its challenges and look itself in the mirror. The odds are long: the AFRI sits under the Air Force, and as such depends on the kindness of the very leaders it should be criticizing.

The USAF lacks what the Navy has in the Naval Institute, an independent forum of officers and senior enlisted people who can have an unimpeded conversation about the future of the service. That’s bad. There are Air Force officers with vision who understand that the future of the USAF as an independent service is on the line. That they must depend on an in-house organ to make their case makes it too easy to pull punches, to step back from the brink of saying what needs to be said.

Pick up the new edition of SSQ. If nothing else, it marks and important beginning of a conversation too long delayed.

Today’s Free eBook: Crisis and Escalation in Cyberspace

Crisis and Escalation in Cyberspace
Martin C. Libicki
RAND
2012
198pp

We are starting a new feature of The Peking Review today: our Free eBook of the Day.

While the books featured here will usually have a China hook (and we’ll explain it when it does), the primary purpose of this feature is to simply call your attention to a book we think our readers might find interesting that is available for the effort of a download.

Our first book is Martin Libicki’s examination of what the US Air Force would have to do if it found itself operating in the midst of a cyber-attack. As the most technologically-dependent of the US services, the Air Force makes a superb test-case of the rigors of operating in a hostile electronic environment.

As China is the implicit adversary in a conflict of this nature, it is a compelling read for those of us watching events both immediate and long-term unfold in the western Pacific.

Defending China from the Air

English: Navy Army Air Force fight the enemy p...

English: Navy Army Air Force fight the enemy poster (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

“China’s Aerospace Power Trajectory in the Near Seas”
Daniel J. Kostecka
Naval War College Review
Summer 2012

Over the past four years, a growing meme within the U.S. Naval and Air Force communities has been China’s growing air and space capabilities, especially in the coastal seas of the Western Pacific. That meme has turned into a formative doctrine called “Air-Sea Battle” that the Navy and Air Force are promulgating as a means of demonstrating their continued relevance to U.S. defense.

No surprise, then, that writing on China’s air and sea capabilities has been increasing, and that the tone of the professional writing is starting to get shrill. Naval analyst Dan Kostecka offers a more measured analysis, concluding that while China has made impressive strides in capabilities, the less glamorous but essential doctrine, training, and hardware that would make for a truly invincible shield is not there.

Kostecka identifies several vulnerabilities that weaken China’s efforts in the region. While he does not come out and say it, the Air Force and the Navy would do well in their early Air Sea Battle concepts to focus on exploiting those weaknesses rather than countering the strengths. It’s a thoughtful, smart piece and one that offers a long-overdue counter to the Write Bigger Checks approach to national defense.