National Security

We're Not Going to Need a Bigger Boat

The problem with the Navy and Air Force's belief that they can do it all.

After over a decade of large-scale stability operations, the U.S. military is looking for a new vision to guide the future development of the force -- one that does not involve many boots on the ground or the risk of numerous casualties. To that end, the Pentagon is preparing to meet emerging threats that demand high-end capabilities and involve fighting from a comfortable distance. At the same time, however, it is discounting threats that require capable ground forces.

The U.S. Navy and Air Force have focused in particular on preparing for "anti-access" challenges -- in essence, challenges to America's ability to go where it wants. The goal is for the United States to retain its ability to project power and respond to any contingency, anywhere in the world, while protecting free movement through international waters and airspace.

The military's answer to anti-access threats is the concept of "Air-Sea Battle," laid out by the chiefs of the Navy and Air Force in a recent article in Foreign Policy. Air-Sea Battle calls for integration of naval and air forces to destroy enemy missiles and other high-end capabilities intended to deny freedom of movement to U.S. ships and aircraft. These plans call for over-the-horizon precision strikes with long-range missiles, bombers, and stealth fighters.

Embedded in the concept of Air-Sea Battle is the assumption that, because anti-access threats can be dealt with at a safe distance, there will be no need for ground forces -- be they soldiers, Marines, or special operators. If future wars demand any boots on the ground at all, it will not be until after the Navy and Air Force have decimated the enemy's defenses with long-range strikes -- or so the theory goes. But that's where Air-Sea Battle goes wrong: It is just as likely that ground forces will be needed to ensure access for air and naval forces as the other way around.

Ever since the Gulf War in 1990, when the U.S. military demonstrated its ability to decimate anything visible from the air in a matter of days or hours, potential adversaries have been developing innovative ways to conceal key weapons and military infrastructure so as to protect them from long-range precision strikes.

States like Iran and North Korea -- as well as guerrilla forces like Hezbollah -- have adapted by concealing weapons in jungles, forests, mountains, and in populated areas where they cannot be seen from the air. Iran has reportedly buried much of its missile and nuclear infrastructure deep underground, where, even if it can be located, it may be beyond the reach of precision bombs.

Among the many lessons of Israel's botched war against Hezbollah in 2006 was that airpower alone is not sufficient to halt rocket attacks from southern Lebanon. Hezbollah had dispersed its rockets and other high-end weaponry and hidden it in hills, forests, and populated urban areas -- blunting the effects of advanced airpower.

Locating Hezbollah's rockets required placing forces on the ground backed by close air support -- a task for which the Israeli military was woefully unprepared. Israel had for years focused on strategic airpower and neglected its ground forces. When the time came, it proved unable to locate or defeat Hezbollah's many small units and rocket sites. Even the country's vaunted air force performed poorly when it came to integration with ground forces. The Israeli defense establishment had underestimated its technologically less advanced but resourceful and adaptive adversary -- a blunder that cost the country dearly in terms of blood, treasure, and credibility.

Likewise, the leaders of the U.S. Navy and Air Force today underestimate the degree to which the enemy gets a vote. Future adversaries -- be they North Korea, China, Iran, Syria, or non-state actors such as Hezbollah -- will not leave their weapons out in the open where they can be quickly destroyed from a safe distance. They will hide them in difficult terrain, underground, and in populated areas in an effort to neutralize the effects of precision bombing.

Locating the right targets to strike will be the main challenge of the future. Meeting it will require deploying ground forces to conduct deep reconnaissance, collect intelligence, call in airstrikes, and destroy weapons and military infrastructure that cannot be targeted from the air.

Advances in surveillance technology will no doubt play a role in helping locate hidden weapons sites. Yet much of this capability is limited to what can be seen from above or picked up on the airwaves. Surveillance drones flying through hostile airspace are likely to be shot down. Smaller drones that might fly beneath the radar have shorter ranges and have been employed most successfully by ground forces.

In the face of more advanced anti-access threats, it may be necessary to insert troops covertly from low-signature ships or aircraft. These troops will need to move quickly and quietly, fan out in small formations, leave a light footprint, and sustain themselves logistically -- all of which will require high levels of training and technological support.

U.S. troops did something similar in the initial phase of the war in Afghanistan -- spreading out across the country in small units, identifying Taliban targets, and calling in airstrikes. These forces also engaged groups of Taliban fighters, resulting in a fair amount of ground combat. Air power played a key role in decimating the Taliban's military capability, but only because it was guided by precise intelligence gathered by troops on the ground.

The U.S. military had little trouble gaining access to Afghanistan because the Taliban did not have the capability to shoot down U.S. aircraft. Clearly, this will not be the case in all future conflicts. As the Air-Sea Battle concept implies, such conflicts are most likely to occur with more technologically advanced adversaries. Still, ground troops will be necessary because remote naval and air assets will be unable to locate and destroy enemy military hardware from afar.

Against adaptive adversaries, land forces will be needed to identify key nodes of enemy firepower and command and control. Once identified, they can be destroyed from the ground or by precision strikes called in by land forces, thereby ensuring access for naval and air forces and, if necessary, larger formations of ground forces.

The idea of fighting from afar with advanced weaponry while keeping U.S. troops out of harm's way will never cease to captivate the imagination of military planners and civilians alike, especially after years of ground combat that have claimed thousands of American lives. Unfortunately, war cannot be fought at a safe distance or in a sanitized manner. Like past wars, future conflicts will require more than a few brave men and women to go out and see the lay of the land.

The U.S. Army and Marine Corps will most likely see deep cuts in the coming years. Both forces expanded as a result of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and need to be brought back down to size. At the same time, America's ground forces need to be transformed to meet emerging threats, not merely cut across the board to save money for standoff warfare. They will also need to be integrated better with the Navy and Air Force after years of irregular warfare on land.

Achieving this will require new investments in training and education, as well as research and development. Otherwise, the United States could end up like Israel in 2006 -- without capable ground troops in a war that can't be won from the air.

U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Nicholas Pilch

Argument

Cristinanomics

Argentina’s crazy plan to save the economy through money laundering.

Argentina's President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner has hit on a novel way to try to alleviate her self-inflicted economic free fall and acute shortage of hard currency -- invite money launderers from around the world to put their dollars in Argentine banks with no questions asked.

That's not, of course, the official plan. But this month's move is the latest in a series of steps that seem more rooted in magical thinking than in economic reality that have pushed Argentina ever closer to financial ruin and international pariah status. The government-sponsored amnesty to allow any amount of dollars from anywhere in the world to find a home in Argentina, with no questions asked, was passed into law last Wednesday. The justification is the need for hard currency because the current economic policies have drive up the value of the "blue-" or black-market dollar to 10 pesos while the official exchange remains pegged at 5 pesos.

In recent months, the Fernández de Kirchner government has imposed import and export policies that have led to chaos, shortages, massive capital flight, and a 20 percent fall in foreign reserves. The president has ramped up her attacks on the independent media while spending hundreds of millions of government dollars on advertising to shore up official media outlets, while moving aggressively to neuter the independent judiciary that has consistently blocked her worst impulses from becoming law.

In its foreign relations, Argentina, through expropriations and contempt for international law, has antagonized traditional allies such as Brazil, Spain, and the United States -- while growing ever closer to Iran, a U.S.-designated state sponsor of terrorism allied with Venezuela and Cuba. Argentina has become a major way station for Bolivian and Peruvian cocaine headed to West Africa and then onward to Europe, while the government's anti-U.S. rhetoric has grown increasingly strident. The International Monetary Fund has threatened to suspend Argentina for falsifying economic data in order to hide the impending collapse.

The architects of these unorthodox policies are a group of messianic young presidential advisers and government officials known as "La Cámpora," who believe they are the vanguard of a transformational generation that will help Argentina regain its rightful place as a world leader. Their leader is Máximo Kirchner, the president's son. One of the Camporista's leaders is Cecilia Nahón, appointed ambassador to the United States at the end of last year.

As a matter of policy, Camporistas do not speak to independent media, choosing instead to use government-controlled social and traditional media to spread their message and attack their enemies. No government official, including members of congress, responded to interview requests for the report that informed this article, or for the article itself.

The Camporistas take their name from Héctor José Cámpora, an unconditional ally of the late dictator Juan Domingo Perón and of the armed radical left wing of Peronist movement that became the Montonero guerrillas. Cámpora served as president for 49 days in 1973, just long enough to sign an amnesty to allow Perón, then living in exile, to return and run for president.

Most of the Camporistas cut their political teeth in radical university politics in the early 2000s as the country in 2001 defaulted on some $100 billion in sovereign debt and fell into chaos. Now they offer a blend of Marxism, Fascism, and utopian policies that has led to Argentina's free fall rather than its rebirth. The group, with Máximo's support and the president's ear, has taken over many of the most important government revenue sources, including the national airline, Aerolineas Argentinas, which, since being re-nationalized, loses $2 million a day and operates with virtually no accountability or oversight, according to airline audits and investigative reports.

Nahón's mentor and co-author of many academic publications, Axel Kicillof, was the CFO of the airline as it imploded, and is the architect of the 2012 expropriation of the Spanish oil company YPF, whose oil production has dropped sharply since the takeover. Kicillof, now deputy minister of economy, and Nahón also helped engineer the "nationalization" of billions of dollars in private pension funds, now also under control of Camporistas.

It is this casual disregard for the rule of law and the rules of economics that make the decision to open the financial sector to billions of dollars in suspicious money so alarming. Earlier this year, before the law was proposed, the State Department had already expressed concern that "money laundering related to narcotics trafficking, corruption, contraband, and tax evasion occurs throughout the financial system." Senior members of the Fernández de Kirchner government are currently involved in a widely reported roiling money laundering scandal in which the president's deceased husband and predecessor as president, was allegedly involved.

The president's own auditor general asked the Senate not to pass the law "because of the opening it entails for the possibility of laundering," he said, and called the measure a huge invitation for criminal groups to have their money "legitimized through fictitious companies."

But with vital midterm elections coming up in October -- and The Project, as the Camporistas call their long-term plan of political domination (their motto is "Let's go for everything"), at risk -- it is unlikely the Fernández de Kirchner government will modify its course. With her popularity sliding, corruption scandals simmering, and inflation rising, she is likely to continue to pour money into failed policies to stave of collapse until after that vote.

Fernández de Kirchner has decided to operate outside the rule of law and international standards of accountability and transparency. It is time for the United States and others to begin treating her government as the rogue state it has become.

Maxi Failla/AFP/Getty Images