New defense doctrine: Be strategically predictable but operationally unpredictable

New defense doctrine: Be strategically predictable but operationally unpredictable

Navy ships are shown on patrol. “Inter-state strategic competition, not terrorism, is now the primary concern in U.S. national security,” according to the Pentagon’s National Defense Strategy unveiled Friday. (Aaron B. Hicks/U.S. Navy)

WASHINGTON — Creative approaches, sustained investment and being disciplined and adaptive in execution mark the foundation of the Pentagon’s National Defense Strategy unveiled Friday.

In some cases, it is the longtime mantra of “everything old is new again.” In other cases, the strategy document reflects new thinking, new terminology and 21st century realities.

For example, “expand the Indo-Pacific alliances and partnerships” reflects the new emphasis of cultivating India as a robust economic and military partner, in order to project India’s democracy across southern Asia as on offset to China.

That is new. At the same time, “fortifying the Trans-Atlantic NATO alliance” is an embrace of the old, recognizing that the longtime alliance has worked at checking the Soviet Union and needs clear support to continue to deter “Russian adventurism” and terrorism. Now, however the U.S. is asking allies to fulfill their financial and personnel commitments.

The document also calls for developing alliances with unnamed partners in the Middle East, to consolidate gains in Iraq, Syria, Afghanistan and elsewhere and to counter-balance Iran. It gives a nod to sustaining the advantages the U.S. has in the western hemisphere and urges stronger efforts in Africa to counter human trafficking, arms trade, illegal criminal activities, terrorism and influence from outside states such as the unnamed China.

Antarctica and the Arctic, two areas of growing Russian presence, were not mentioned in the public document.

The document warns that the “homeland is no longer a sanctuary” and that the U.S. now faces a “more lethal and disruptive battlefield combined across domains and conducted at increasing speed and reach.”

Longtime adversaries China and Russia are atop the areas of concern, as are rogue nations North Korea and Iran, and “non-state actors” including terrorists, cyber-hackers and trans-national criminal organizations.

And climate change, one defense focus of the Obama administration, is gone.

The strategy states that the primary challenge facing the Defense Department and the joint force is “the erosion of U.S. military advantage vis-a-vis China and Russia. The Pentagon says it now looks to build a more lethal and agile force, shifting away from the post-Desert Storm model.

“Inter-state strategic competition, not terrorism, is now the primary concern in U.S. national security,” the document said.

There was mostly strong initial support for the document’s direction, with ongoing concerns about capacity and mission relevance.

“I applaud the Department of Defense for bringing more clarity to important aspects of national security. However, there are also areas of concern in the strategy,” said (ret.) Lt. Col. Daniel L. Davis, a defense analyst at Defense Priorities, a public policy think tank. He warned that continuing force and operational levels in Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan and elsewhere “ill only see the U.S. conventional advantage shrink further.”

Part of the new efforts begins within the Defense Department, the document said.

For its internal part, the Pentagon needs to “organize for innovation” and “deliver performance at the speed of relevancy.” The current bureaucratic approach is “proving to be increasing unresponsive” the document said. That includes developing a rapid approach from development to fielding new technology, systems and weapons.

To achieve the goal of a more lethal force, the Pentagon calls for modernizing nuclear forces, prioritizing space and cyber space as war fighting domains, layering missile defense systems, enhancing abilities in close combat terrain, developing resistant resilient survivable cyber systems, rapidly application of commercial advances in artificial intelligence to gain competitive military advantages, and transitioning from large, centralized and unhardened infrastructures to smaller, dispersed resistant and adaptive basing.

Bottom line, according to the document: Be strategically predictable but operationally unpredictable.

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