The document “National Defence Strategy of the USA -2018” was recently released to the public. It was a great pleasure to peruse this informative document and I would like to share with you the essentials as professionals as also for the layman. A document of this nature informs the Armed Forces of the Government’s appreciation of the prevailing security environment in which they are expected to operate and the likely task they are expected to perform. To assist the armed forces in evolving their doctrines and strategies, re-organising their formations, where necessary and finalising on their capabilities and equipment that would be required to accomplish their allotted tasks.
As the development and manufacture of suitable equipment takes decades, it is essential that the Armed Forces are given the max lead time to evolve the qualitative requirements , identify the development agency , produce the prototypes to be manufactured followed by extensive trials in varied conditions. Given India’s not so strong defence research base, the development time takes even longer. Hence the importance of clearly enunciating the National Defence Strategy. A study of the US National Defence Strategy 2018 would definitely assist those entrusted with this onerous task of formulating India’s National Defence Strategy. With this as the background, I will summarise and bring out the essentials of the US National Defence Strategy for ease of comprehension.
The Strategic Environment
The US visualises an increasingly complex Global Security environment characterised by overt challenges to the free and open international order and the re-emergence of long term strategic competition between nations. Russia and China want to reshape the world order consistent with their aspirations. China is modernising its military, conducting influence operations and predatory economics to influence neighbouring countries to re-align the Indo-
Pacific region to their advantage. China has shown its intent by exerting its influence in the South China Sea and East China Sea by claiming all the islands upto the “nine dash line” and building islands on submerged reefs in the East China Sea with the intent to push the presence of the US Armed Forces further east and undermine South Korea, Japan, Philippines and Vietnam.
Over the past decade, Russia has also exerted its influence in its area of interest especially in Georgia, the Baltic Nations, Crimea and East Ukraine by conducting operations in the “Grey Zone” well short of the international threshold. In view of the increased capability of both Russia and China they are being referred to as “Revisionist Powers” intent to change the existing world order.
North Korea and Iran are considered as two destabilising nations due to their single minded pursuit to achieve nuclear weapons capability. North Korea has demonstrated the capability of having developed an ICBM capable of hitting the US territory at Guam. As regards Iran, despite having signed the UN treaty forgoing its attempt to develop nuclear weapons, the US government, especially under Donald Trump, seems eager to abandon the treaty. Despite that, Iran’s influence has spread across the Middle East through Iraq, Syria and Lebanon (Hezbollah). This has put the US ally, Saudi Arabia under pressure to maintain its dominance in the region. Both North Korea and Iran have been clubbed as “Rogue Regimes”.
Challenges to US Military Advantage
For decades the US has enjoyed uncontested and dominant superiority in every operating domain. This however has drastically changed and every domain is contested - land, sea, air, space and cyberspace. The US now faces an even more lethal and disruptive battlefield across all domains conducted with increased speed and reach.... the security environment is also affected by rapid technological advancements and the changing character of war.
The drive to develop new technologies is relentlessly expanding to more countries with lower barriers of entry. New technologies included advanced computing, “big data” analytics, artificial intelligence, robotics, directed energy weapons, hyper-sonic and bio-technology--- technologies the US banked upon to give them that additional edge in future wars. New commercial technologies will change society and ultimately the character of war. Many of the new technologies will come from the commercial sector hence non-state actors will also have access to them.
Non-state actors threaten the security environment with increasing sophisticated capabilities. Terrorist, Trans-national criminal organisations, cyber-hackers and other non-state actors have transformed global affairs with increased capabilities of mass destruction.
Objectives: US Department of Defence
Aim -The US Department of Defence will be prepared to defend the home-land, remain the pre-imminent military power in the world and ensure the balance of power remains in its favour.
The strategic approach to be adopted for capability development which requires the seamless integration of multiple elements of national power-diplomacy, information, economic, finance, intelligence, law enforcement and military. Hence all elements of national power need to be integrated to ensure that the US can influence operations in the expanded competitive space.
Be Strategically Predictable but Operationally Un-Predictable: The US military strength and integrated action with allies will demonstrate their commitment to deterring aggression, but by dynamic force employment, military posture and unpredictability in operations it is expected to gain military advantage.
Fostering a Competitive Mind Set: To succeed in the emerging security environment, the Joint Forces must out-think, out-partner and out –manoeuvre the threats that could manifest. This is achievable by:
• Building a more lethal force.
• Strengthening alliances and attracting new partners.
• Reform the department for greater performance and affordability.
Building a More Lethal Force: The surest way to prevent wars is to be prepared to win one. Hence the size of the force and its capabilities matter. The salient aspects are:
• A joint force must have the desired capability to gain and maintain information superiority, develop, strengthen and sustain US security relations.
• Modernising the armed forces is key to success. Hence the FY 2019-2023 will have targeted an increase in personnel and capabilities to achieve the modernising programmes with special reference to nuclear forces, space and cyberspace as war fighting domains, C4ISR, missile defence, joint force lethality and force manoeuvre.
• Evolve Innovative Operational Concepts: Modernisation is not defined solely by hardware; force structures and methods of employment must also change. The need to anticipate how adversaries would employ new concepts and technologies and ways to counter them.
• Cultivate Workforce Talent: Recruiting, Developing and retaining a high quality military and civilian workforce is essential for war fighting success. Therefore greater emphasis needs to be laid on enhancing Professional Military Education with focus on independence of action especially in degraded or loss of communication environment.
• Expand Indo-Pacific Alliances and Partnership: There is an urgent need to have an open Indo-Pacific region that provides prosperity and security. Hence the need to bring together bilateral and multilateral security relationships to preserve the system.
Reforming the Defence Department
The current bureaucratic approach, centred on exacting thoroughness and minimising risk above all else, is proving to be increasingly unresponsive. Therefore the need to transition to a culture of performance where results and accountability matters. Greater emphasis needs to be laid on budget discipline and effective financial stewardship.
No doubt the National Defence Strategy has been very well articulated under the stewardship of Lt Gen Jim Mattis, Secretary Department of Defence. It brings to the reader a clear and unambiguous message that the US Armed Forces need to be ready to face the multi-faceted challenges that they are likely to face in a rapidly changing security environment. Such a document is essential for all Governments to their Armed Forces informing them of the changed circumstances in which they are expected to operate and what capabilities they must possess to deter war and if need be execute it with clinical finesse.
Reference: Summary of the 2018 National Defence Strategy of The United States of America “Sharpening the American Military’s Competitive Edge”.