Situation Report

The Battle for Resiliency in Asia: it’s the hardeners versus the dispersers

Dempsey returns from Israel; How many FSOs one Osprey could buy, and more.

It's not yet clear the Obama administration is going to put its money where its mouth is on the pivot to Asia. One example of that fear may be found in the outcome of the debate on basing in Asia that is now being waged inside the Pentagon. As the military rebalances its personnel, assets and resources to the East, it's focused on "resilience" and what it will cost to achieve it. But for all the talk of the pivot, it's not clear the resources are there to back it up.

"It just seems as though it's a big change but doesn't amount to a big bill," Loren Thompson of the Lexington Institute told Situation Report. "It's mostly words." Read more below.

Dempsey is returning from Tel Aviv. The chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Marty Dempsey, visited Israel and saw the "Austere Challenge 12" exercise in which the U.S. played a prominent role. Dempsey toured different exercise sites, visited an Israeli air base, and met with both American and Israeli personnel participating in the exercise. He also visited an Iron Dome air defense system with Lt. Gen. Benny Gantz of the IDF. Dempsey didn't take reporters with him, and no one is under the illusion that Dempsey would want to make news on Israel days before the presidential election at home. Dempsey's spokesman, Col. Dave Lapan, told Situation Report this morning that Dempsey and Gantz "shared thoughts on regional security issues and missile defense capabilities" and discussed the threats facing Israel from rockets and missiles, Iran, and instability in neighboring Syria.

Lapan: "The visits gave General Dempsey a first-hand look at some of the missile defense capabilities. Iron Dome is a successful program in which the U.S. has assisted with Israel's defense and Austere Challenge is a large-scale, combined exercise designed to test the abilities of the two countries' armed forces to defend Israel against rocket and missile attacks from anywhere in the region."

Yeshiva World News report:

Meanwhile, there are more than 11,500 National Guard forces on active duty or in the process of activating across 13 states, as first responders and FEMA work in the aftermath of Sandy. This includes forces from DC, Maine, and West Virginia. One of the hardest hit areas was in Hoboken, NJ, where flooding has trapped some city residents who are in need of evacuation and supplies. The Guard arrived there late last night, according to the Hoboken Patch.

Welcome to Wednesday's Halloween edition of Situation Report, where the only scary thing in our world today is deadline. Follow me @glubold. Or hit me anytime at And sign up for Situation Report here: or just send me an e-mail and I'll put you on the list.

CNA's Henry Gaffney, Jr. doesn't like all the warmongering and didn't like John Arquilla's piece on FP. Arquilla used Obama's comment in the last debate about how military strategy isn't like the board game "Battleship" as a peg to explain how military strategy actually does resemble the game. Gaffney worries about the "war-mongers in our midst" who fear their professions will be threatened without the prospect of war. Gaffney, who spent 28 years at the Pentagon and is now at the CNA, responds: "So John Arquilla says, ‘Sea wars have become far more cat-and-mouse matters, whose outcomes have become critically dependent on the need to see the enemy first.' I wonder what sea wars of the past he has in mind? And aren't we now decades past from Jutland and Leyte Gulf? And what sea wars of the present does he have in mind? It looks like Arquilla and the rest of the benighted U.S. defense community is all anxious about the great sea war with China, having nothing else to dream up war for.  Self-fulfilling prophecy? I hope not. Poor China! They go to war, they would be committing economic suicide given their dependence on sea traffic to get their oil and distribute their goods, all for the sake of grabbing a few rocks in their adjacent seas. Luckily, it is now said in the U.S. that Air-Sea Battle has nothing to do with China. I'm relieved." Read Arquilla's piece here:

Today the Center for American Progress releases a report on the need to create a "unified budget" for national security and foreign policy. "The members of our Task Force agree with the near-universal consensus that sequestration is more about political maneuvering than sound budgeting practice," members of the task force wrote. "But we argue that the amount of cuts to the Pentagon budget mandated by both parts of the debt deal is readily achievable with no sacrifice to our security if the cuts are done in a thoughtful manner over the next decade." The task force also thinks the savings in the American defense budget should be "redeployed" to other parts of the government -- largely to non-military programs -- that help the country and its homeland "prevent global crises from escalating into military confrontations." Unifying the security budget, the task force says, creates a better balance among all "security tools."

Quick trade-offs, per by the task force: Instead of using $75 billion to absorb cost overruns of weapons in development, spend the money to protect the international affairs budget and have $23 billion left over; instead of spending $5 billion to maintain spending on military R&D commit funds to deficit reduction; instead of spending $90 million to buy one V-22 Osprey, implement programs to train foreign service officers and diplomats for better cooperation with international organizations; and instead of spending $15 billion to finance "systemic inefficiencies" in the military's healthcare system (excluding cost of caring for injured or disabled vets, which is separate), fund 95 percent of the Department of Transportation's investment in clean fuels R&D, green emissions technologies and sustainable transportation projects. One more: Instead of $2.6 billion for one Virginia Class sub, fully fund the White House's commitment to fund international peacekeeping forces - and have $500 million left over.

The report went live at 7a.m.:

Since we missed it, maybe you did too: the powerful image of soldiers guarding the Tomb of the Unknown at Arlington, apparently taken as Sandy bore down, went viral. But it was actually taken in September, Poynter reported Monday afternoon. That said, soldiers do guard the tomb under extreme conditions unless it gets unsafe and, Tribune reported, appeared to stay on post through most if not all of the storm -- as they've done since 1948.

The pivot, and the hardeners versus the dispersers, con't.

There are two camps in the Pentagon debate over how to pivot to Asia: the hardeners and the dispersers. Dispersers believe the best way to foil China is to locate assets and personnel across many bases or temporary platforms around the region; hardeners thinks existing bases should be strengthened to make them sturdy enough to weather an attack -- and recover quickly to sustain fighting.

As talk of the end of the Afghanistan war grows louder, there is little enthusiasm among Americans for building up bases and deploying assets to another part of the world. Indeed, the lack of political motivation to take the pivot seriously may well jeopardize Pentagon plans to establish strategic footholds in the region to counter a rising China. Yet it is, apparently, the focus of effort for planners in the Pentagon who have been charged to pivot east.

Some believe there are few good options, even between hardening bases versus dispersing them, as there are few places to which to disperse and little hardening capability that could make a difference if China were to attack.

Hardening, say, bases on Guam means spending billions of dollars to build or expand runways and create the ability to quickly repair facilities once they are hit, as well as building bunkers or other hard facilities in which to store bombers like the B-1 and -2 and fighters like F-15s, -16s and -22s and -35s.

That means real money, and so far there isn't a sign of that coming. While the Navy largely appears to be well budgeted for the pivot, and, under a President Romney, would get funding for more ships and facilities -- the Air Force isn't likely to see funding levels increase dramatically even with the pivot.

Dispersing forces -- and relying on partnerships with countries like Vietnam, Singapore, the Philippines, Thailand, and Australia with which the U.S. could co-locate with much smaller footprints -- could place American assets further from harm's way. It could also be far cheaper and create a more effective strategic effect against China if it were to become a real adversary. By creating a presence across a region in many, smaller places, American assets could be more effective in countering China if it were to become a real adversary.

Those arguments sound appealing at a time of a budgetary squeeze and leave little enthusiasm to harden U.S. bases.

"When you talk about basing, that money will be hard to find," one military officer in the Pentagon familiar with the debate said. Spurring Congress to "put money overseas" doesn't have the constituency it needs, the officer said. "There are no champions for it."

Even among those who do advocate for hardening bases, there is recognition that hardening will help only so much.

"The fact of the matter is, against an enemy with good, long-range capabilities, we can't harden our bases enough," says Mark Gunzinger, a senior fellow at the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments in Washington. "We just can't do it, and it would cost a lot of money."

Dispersing and diversifying, has the added benefit of expanding American partnerships and creating a stronger alliance across the region, he says.

In the end, Pentagon planners -- and budgeters -- will have to achieve a balanced approach between basing and dispersal, he says. "Precision targeting relies on precision intelligence," he told Situation Report. "If you can blind your adversary so they can't form an accurate picture of the battle space, then you have a significant advantage."

A "diversified base posture" allows the U.S. to play a "shell game" with its forces, creating confusion among the Chinese about whether those forces are in hard targets or dispersed among many softer ones.

Noted: Loren Thompson will vote for Obama, but not because of his positions on foreign policy or national security. Romney is better from those standpoints, he says.

Celebrating Guns

  • Al-Jazeera: Wedding gunfire brings down power lines, starts fire, electrocutes 22 in Saudi Arabia.


On Simmer

Presidential Accord


Situation Report

Thousands of Guardsmen are activated for Sandy

Dempsey: rumors around Carter Ham’s departure from AFRICOM are “absolutely false;” At portrait unveiling, Gates explains what contributed to his departure, unleashes zingers, and more.

The Pentagon has activated more than 7,500 Guardsmen to respond to Sandy across seven states, but mostly in New York and New Jersey, areas that have been crippled by the hurricane. But the number of Guardsmen activated is expected to grow, Situation Report was told this morning. The National Guard was helping local first responders and FEMA at evacuation shelters as well as opening up roads and bridges and conducting search-and-rescue operations up and down the East Coast.

The storm packed a wallop up and down the East Coast, but hit New York and New Jersey the hardest, killing seven. As an example of the kind of devastation Sandy has caused, the head of the 108-year-old New York city subway system said had "never faced a disaster as devastating" as the one Monday night.

DVIDS story:

Welcome to Tuesday's edition of Situation Report, where we feel for those who are having a much harder time of it today. Follow me @glubold. Or hit me anytime at And sign up for Situation Report here: or just send me an e-mail and I'll put you on the list.

The intensity of coverage over the Benghazi attack has created rumors that Gen. Carter Ham was fired. In recent days, bloggers have speculated that Defense Secretary Leon Panetta's announcement of a replacement for Ham, commander of AFRICOM, was a quiet way of removing the general after, they allege, that he refused orders to "stand down" on the night of the attack in Benghazi. Those promoting this storyline, like, seem to be seized by a story line that sounds like it's straight out of the movies. "General Ham then received the order to stand down. His response was to screw it, he was going to help anyhow. Within 30 seconds to a minute after making the move to respond, his second in command apprehended General Ham and told him that he was now relieved of his command."

The truth is that Ham was never relieved of command, and continues to serve in the job to this day, officials tell Situation Report. Yet other blogs have fanned the rumors that Ham was let go over the attack, including James Robbins on the Washington Times. Robbins, who cites the tigerdroppings blog, has a bit more incredulous take: "This version of events contradicts Mr. Panetta's October 25 statement that General Ham advised against intervention. But so far there is nothing solid to back it up. Maybe Ham attempted to send a reaction force against orders, or maybe he simply said the wrong thing to the wrong people."

Robbins' posts include a statement from Pentagon Press Secretary George Little who discounts the notion altogether: "The insinuations in your story are flat wrong.  General Ham is an outstanding leader of AFRICOM. Future leadership changes at this important command have absolutely nothing to do with the attack on American personnel in Benghazi.  The leadership changes have been long planned."

There was enough speculation about Ham that Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Marty Dempsey, traveling in Israel, also issued a statement: "The speculation that General Carter Ham is departing Africa Command due to events in Benghazi, Libya on 11 September 2012 is absolutely false," the statement attributed to Dempsey said. "General Ham's departure is part of a routine succession planning that has been going on since July. He continues to serve in AFRICOM with my complete confidence."

Ham, well respected and admired among those in the E-ring for his thoughtful, evenhanded approach, was tapped for AFRICOM in part because of the special skills necessary for that job. The AFRICOM mission had always been largely misunderstood by many leaders in Africa because it was seen as leading to military deployments that Africa didn't necessarily want. But Ham was seen as someone who could help bridge the gap between the U.S. military and Africa. Many believe that effort is now on a better track than when AFRICOM was first created. Although Ham only just began the AFRICOM job in March 2011, he was expected to leave the command after a year or two - long before the attack in Libya.

Dempsey is reviewing the "Austere Challenge" joint exercise in Israel, the largest one ever conducted there in which the U.S. has played a part. There are more than 3,500 Americans participating in the exercise. Dempsey is not traveling with a reporter as is customary for the Pentagon's senior officer for most trips. But his spokesman, Col. Dave Lapan, provided excerpts of his remarks during meetings with President Shimon Perez and Defense Minister Ehud Barak. Peres said the "sheer friendship" with the U.S. helps to "deter dangers and to face enemies."

Peres to Dempsey: "I may say that you yourself have gained a great respect by our commanders and our government and I want to thank you. Not just personal friendship, military friendship -- it's a meaningful one politically and militarily. But I can say in a sense of humor that we can provide enough dangers to maintain this friendship, and we don't have a choice but to do so."

Dempsey: "It's a real opportunity our soldiers to work with Israeli soldiers, our airmen to work with Israeli pilots, and our mariners, our sailors, to work with Israeli sailors, 'cause this exercise covers all of those domains to ensure that we have a layered cooperative, collaborative, common defense against the threats of missiles and rockets to Israel."

Romney missed an opportunity during the debate to rebut the president on his "Battleship" remark. John Arquilla, writing on FP, says that military strategy actually is a lot like the board game: "[S]ea wars have become far more cat-and-mouse matters, whose outcomes have become critically dependent on the need to see the enemy first, so as to be able to strike before being struck. Just like in 'Battleship.'" Romney could have said something along the lines of how he wants smaller "but still well-armed vessels for the U.S. Navy, not just a handful of extremely expensive, highly vulnerable aircraft carriers and a few dozen submarines," Arquilla writes.

Bob Gates returned to the Pentagon for the first time since leaving and explained partly why he left. The former defense secretary and several dozen others braved the elements to attend his portrait unveiling at the Pentagon yesterday. The many empty seats attested to Hurricane Sandy's impact, but a number of his former colleagues, friends, and family members turned out for his first appearance in the building after leading it for five years. His brief remarks included tributes and roasts of colleagues and took shots at some of the duties he endured as secretary. But he also spoke candidly about one of the reasons that he left after serving two presidents, Bush 43, and Obama.

Gates, who as defense secretary frequently got emotional when talking about the troops, said Monday that he left his job at the Pentagon in part because he was starting to care too much.

"That was a responsibility that weighed on me every day I was secretary," Gates told an audience about a third of the size of what was expected. "So much so that toward the end of my time in office, I could barely speak to the troops or about them without being overcome with emotion. So much so that, frankly, I began to worry that my devotion to protecting them was beginning to cloud my judgment and diminish my usefulness to the president, and it thus played a part in my decision to retire."

The painting, by Ray Kinstler, the "de-facto portraitist of official Washington," as Gates said, will occupy prime real estate on the E-Ring, on what amounts to a "double lot" area of wall space that is twice the size of the area allocated for Rumsfeld.

Gates used the opportunity to sling some zingers and establish his parting thoughts on his duties as secretary and some of the individuals who peopled his tenure:

On Chairman Adm. Mike Mullen: "Mike was never shy about disagreeing with me, but unfailingly steadfast and loyal -- to me and to the Presidents he served -- once a decision was made."

On press secretary Geoff Morrell: "...Other curiosities that linger include Geoff Morrell's sense of fashion, which I'd never seen before or since -- best described as Tommy Hilfiger meets Thurston Howell. However he looked doing it, Geoff's work with the press was invaluable to what we accomplished here -- in many cases acting as the ‘bad guy' so I didn't have to."

On special assistant Robert Rangel: "I also miss Robert Rangel's raised eyebrow, usually in response to some half-baked idea or poorly thought out proposal -- in many cases my own. I can say with confidence that Robert got more done with fewer words and less bombast than anyone in the history of this building. Robert, whatever they're paying you now isn't enough -- and that's saying something." [Rangel now works at Lockheed Martin.]

On CNAS: "I always figured that, at least during the Obama administration, my CNAS outreach was pretty well covered by the morning staff meeting."

On the Doomsday plane he flew for five years: The E4B has a new nickname since Panetta begun using it -- "It's no longer ‘the Big Brisket,' it's the ‘Airborne Cannoli.'"

On the many meetings he attended around the world, often begrudgingly: "I confess that back at the CIA, I would have been less motivated to win the Cold War if I had known that the result would be NATO conferences in which 28 defense ministers are present, all of whom are entitled to speak and all of whom take advantage of that opportunity." The exception? The defense minister of Iceland, Gates said.

One of the "less edifying" meetings: "the experience of being shaken down by the defense minister of Kyrgyzstan for rent of the Manas air base."

The unveiling was a who's who of the Gates era and beyond. It included (but wasn't limited to) John Young, James Clapper, Ryan Henry, Bob Work, Robert Rangel, Ray Odierno, Joe Kernan, Thayer Scott, Robert Hale, Michele Flournoy, Geoff Morrell, Jeremy Bash, Jon Greenert, Ryan McCarthy, Bob Scher, Ash Carter.

Quiet consensus: There was nodding agreement among many of the guests that the Kinstler painting of Gates doesn't look like a lot like Gates.

Gordon Adams thinks the U.S. asks too much of our military. When he saw a story about something the Seabees are doing in Cambodia - "not a war zone!" - it made him think out loud about what the proper role for the military after a dozen years of war. Adams, writing on FP: "The assumption that we have to bolster security around the world using Special Operations forces, the Seabees, and other non-combat military capabilities has expanded this type of engagement, with health clinics, schools, and wells (is that the recipe in the Seabee handbook?) springing up in the Horn of Africa and across the Sahel region. And now in Cambodia. It all sounds very nice and gung-ho American. But it is both the wrong approach to assistance and dangerous to our security."

The Two Sudans


Twelve Years and Counting