Super Hercules in the Himalayas

How the United States is strengthening defense ties with India.

Last year, on an official trip to India, I had the opportunity to visit a manufacturing plant in Hyderabad that is assembling the newest variant of America's long-standing tactical airlifter, the C-130J Super Hercules, as part of a joint venture between the American firm Lockheed Martin and the Indian firm Tata. When I returned to India this fall, I had the chance to meet with an Indian Air Force pilot who had successfully landed an Indian C-130J -- and, just as importantly, taken off again -- in the Himalayas at an altitude well above 16,000 feet. He briefed me on the aircraft's crucial role in bringing relief to flood victims earlier in the year in the northern Indian state of Uttarakhand.

On the same trip, I discussed with senior Indian defense officials a recently concluded bilateral military exercise undertaken by members of the Indian Army and soldiers from the U.S. Army's 82nd Airborne Division. While training at Fort Bragg, representatives of our two armies jointly conducted scenarios related to a UN peacekeeping mission and practiced skills ranging from humanitarian assistance to air assault operations.

While none of these events garnered much outside attention, they are the product of years of work between the United States and India to overcome a historical legacy of differing approaches to defense, and are a sign of how far our relationship has come. They also typify the kind of below-the-radar, long-term relationship-building that is critical to the Obama administration's strategic shift in focus toward the Asia-Pacific region.

To be sure, the rebalance to Asia is mostly a political and economic concept, not a military one. And in the military domain, most outside attention has focused on the Department of Defense's recent presence and posture decisions, and our investments in the new technologies and capabilities that will enable us to continue to underwrite regional peace, stability, and prosperity -- just as we have done for the past 60 years. But while the deepening of U.S.-India defense cooperation may not be as visible as some of our other efforts in the Asia-Pacific region, it is a key example of how the Department of Defense under Secretary Chuck Hagel is executing our role in the rebalance.

President Obama, who recently held his third summit in as many years with Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, has rightly described Washington's relationship with New Delhi as "one of the defining partnerships of the 21st century." From the conception of our new strategy, the United States has seen India as integral to a rebalance we're undertaking not just to the Asia-Pacific region, but also within the region, as we complement existing partnerships in Northeast Asia with new bilateral and multilateral collaboration in Southeast Asia and elsewhere.  

As someone who has watched our bilateral relationship mature over a number of years, I've come to believe that the United States and India are increasingly natural partners on the world stage. Though we may not always share identical policy prescriptions, we do share a common set of values and objectives. These include a commitment to democratic governance and human rights; to free and open commerce; to a just international order that emphasizes rights and responsibilities of nations and fidelity to the rule of law; to open access by all to the shared domains of sea, air, space, and now cyberspace; and to the principle of resolving conflict without the use of force.

Likewise, our interests overlap. From trade and investment to education, global health, energy, the environment, and defense, India and the United States share common goals on many of the world's most pressing challenges and opportunities.

In the realm of defense cooperation, we've come a remarkably long way in a relatively short period of time. Today, the United States and India regularly hold senior-level bilateral consultations on regional security issues. Multilaterally, we're each increasing our engagement with key bodies critical to the region's security future, such as the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, and holding productive trilateral talks with partners like Japan. Our militaries train together on land, at sea, and in the air. And perhaps most impressively, our bilateral defense trade has grown from next to nothing at the turn of the century to billions of dollars today.

Ironically, and to the frustration of officials in both countries, this growing trade initially exposed the limits of what the United States and India could accomplish together, due to different approaches to defense trade and military technology during the Cold War that left us with two very different post-Cold War defense procurement systems. The Indian approach placed a heavy emphasis on indigenous development and production of defense goods, and privileged the import of technology that came without strings attached. Conversely, we in the United States had designed a defense trade architecture that prioritized stringent safeguards to protect our systems and technology from all but our most steadfast Cold War allies.

In order to overcome these differences, then-Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta announced during his June 2012 visit to India that the Department of Defense would work with the Indian government on a new effort focused on strengthening and expanding our bilateral defense cooperation. This effort has evolved into the Defense Trade and Technology Initiative (DTI), a joint campaign focused on streamlining and aligning our respective bureaucratic processes to make our defense trade simpler, more responsive, and more effective.

Through DTI, the United States and India agreed to a common goal of eliminating systemic obstacles, so that in the future our defense cooperation would be limited only by our respective strategic, independent decisions, and not by our respective bureaucracies and procedures. Though much work remains to be done, I'm encouraged by what we have accomplished thus far.

First, we're adapting the U.S. export control system in order to more easily release sensitive technology to India. Export controls may be one of the more esoteric areas of defense policy, but because they enable U.S. partners' access to technology that we must otherwise protect, they are also one of the most important. That's why DoD's decision to change its mindset regarding technology transfer to India from a culture of "presumptive no" to one of "presumptive yes" is so significant.

Second, we're taking aggressive action to speed responses by U.S. bidders when the Indian government issues requests for proposals. Within DoD, we're streamlining our technology-licensing processes so that U.S. industry can generate faster responses and thereby be more competitive within the Indian system. Often, this means we complete anticipatory reviews of projects before they are even officially released. These changes not only lay the groundwork for more sophisticated cooperation, but make us more competitive for every sale.

Third, we're growing our joint science and technology collaboration. American researchers who seek and find Indian partners in key research areas will receive priority funding for their projects, an incentive we've previously only ever offered to the United Kingdom and Australia.

Finally, in addition to maintaining a robust pipeline of defense sales, we're taking unprecedented steps to identify innovative proposals for defense items that the United States and India can co-produce and, in the true measure of our common goal, co-develop. We've already proposed to our Indian counterparts several promising ideas from U.S. industry, including an unprecedented offer, exclusive to India, to co-develop a next-generation anti-tank weapon that would address a key requirement for both of our armies. And we're committed to increasing our engagement with industry partners in both countries so that we can identify the best ideas to meet our overlapping security needs.

As I come to the end of two years of service as deputy secretary, and nearly five years of service in the Obama administration, there are few accomplishments of which I am more proud than what the Department of Defense has achieved with India. Actions like those we've embarked upon don't attract headlines, but they do increase collaboration, generate jobs both at home and abroad, and grow ties between two dynamic peoples. The systems, protocols, and, perhaps most importantly, trust we have established ensure that this progress will endure beyond my tenure and that of my Indian counterparts. In the long run, the United States benefits from an Indian military with all the capabilities it needs to meet its growing regional security responsibilities. Even as we face budget turmoil and political gridlock at home, working toward this goal -- quietly, patiently, but ultimately effectively -- is what the rebalance is all about. 

Andrew Harrer-Pool/Getty Images

National Security

No More Easy Wars

America is resurrecting the same strategy that failed in Iraq -- and ground troops will pay the price.

Why is the myth of easy war so appealing to American strategists?

Over the last decade, the United States spent more than a trillion dollars and the lives of thousands of American troops unlearning the tenets of network-centric warfare, the 1990s-vintage belief that precision strikes by coordinated, high-tech forces would allow the country to obliterate critical nodes in enemy defenses. Hostile forces would collapse under such punishment, and opponents would rapidly bow to American desires, making the capability to execute protracted ground wars unnecessary -- or so the theory went.

By 2003, as the United States prepared to invade Iraq, a military-intellectual bubble had built up around these ideas, manifested in the doctrine of Shock and Awe. And for a few short weeks that spring, as U.S. forces launched their first salvos against Saddam Hussein and rolled toward Baghdad, this plan seemed to work -- until it failed catastrophically. No one had planned what to do after U.S. forces threw that first spectacular punch and our enemies decided not to surrender. For the next eight years, the story of Iraq became a story of a U.S. strategic establishment overcoming its own denial, wrestling with the natural consequences of "easy war." Ultimately, it learned that war is not about target lists and networks. It remains an unpredictable, dynamic human endeavor.

Now, suddenly, those pivotal lessons have vanished like smoke. Even though their ideas miscarried, no one has asked the Shock and Awe acolytes to explain themselves. No one has asked why their ideas failed to defeat the opposition in Iraq. While those who claimed that Iraq would be a "cakewalk" took a thrashing, no one has asked how to win the clash of wills from a distance when bombing fails. The easy-war theorists have been spared hard questioning -- in fact, they are once again being embraced.

Today, we are resurrecting the exact same strategies -- most notably in the concept of Air-Sea Battle advocated by many in the Pentagon -- and we are acting as if they are the solution to the problems encountered in Iraq rather than their cause. A coalition of parochial retirees, think tanks, and special interests are using the current political winds to engineer a flawed defense strategy. Their plan virtually ensures the United States will be unprepared for the next war for three reasons. First, they once again are making indefensible assumptions about the future use of ground forces. Second, they are advancing a techno-war solution for all U.S. security needs that cannot even meet today's challenges. Finally, they are building their strategy on tools that are becoming obsolete. In the end, this group is just advancing Shock and Awe dressed up in new language. Many of us have seen this before. It ended poorly.


The new Shock and Awe narrative sleekly avoids accountability for its most recent failure with a slick one-two sales pitch: It tells us that we can choose to avoid protracted ground conflict, and it masquerades as an effective solution to the genuine problem posed by anti-access/area-denial strategies, in which an adversary seeks to militarily dominate a region by keeping U.S. forces out.

In the acolytes' telling, overcoming anti-access can only be accomplished by the technical services -- that, is the Air Force and the Navy -- fighting through sophisticated defenses, which requires massive investments. They then assume away any chance of ground operations. Precision strikes and distant blockades will spare us the mess of combat. The conclusion is to slash the Army, freeing up money for Big Navy and Air Force. Risk is minimal since the Army is easily expandable.

The story is tight and marketable and has just one shortfall: It does not work. Shock and Awe substitutes problems that can be solved by a target list for the thorny questions that U.S. global security interests naturally pose. It appeals to our natural desire for a quick-fix solution that keeps us arm's length from strategic entanglement. It makes us feel good, even if it is totally inadequate and unaffordable in the long run.

If you want a sense of this denial, just look at the recent report co-authored by Hoover Institution fellow Kori Schake and retired Adm. Gary Roughead, the former chief of naval operations. It says: "[T]he current strategy is right to consider fighting manpower-intensive, sustained ground combat or counterinsurgency operations unlikely, and we choose to accept risk in this element of our force design because it is unlikely that political leaders will choose that approach."

But wait. This easy-war serum can't even cure the foreign-policy challenges political leaders face in the near future. How does easy war address the potential collapse of North Korea? How does it resolve U.S. security interests in the Syrian conflict? And dare I ask: Can it prevent Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons?

The specter of North Korea's collapse rapidly unmasks the flawed belief we can avoid or delay ground operations. Preventing the proliferation of nuclear weapons and technology would require identifying, controlling, and examining thousands of sites, tons of materials, and an unknown number of scientists. The problem is tremendously complex and would demand a comprehensive effort. Yet we are telling ourselves that standoff weapons and cyberattacks can do the trick. And failure to prepare for collapse accepts a massive risk: the loss of nuclear weapons into the world's arms market.

The recent debate on strikes against Syria highlighted two massive failures of Shock and Awe. First, airstrikes cannot reliably destroy all stocks of chemical weapons. Second, if they fail to stop the use of chemical weapons post-strike, we would be faced with the question: What next? Furthermore, the debate on arming the rebels shows that we simply don't understand the local dynamics enough to know whom we can reliably support. Finally, we are mulling intervention "if things go south." This real-world problem is much more indicative of the future than grandiose visions of war in the South China Sea.

Meanwhile, Iran has learned how to defeat strike options by watching Iraq's experience. Its facilities lie deep underground, probably beyond the reach of conventional weapons. Any military options to stop Iranian nuclear weapons production would require much more than a precision strike. Where would we be then? Searching for an elusive conclusion to a war with a nuclear state seeking revenge.

The lesson is clear: The resurrected strike-centric narrative cannot address the real challenges we face. The enemy gets a vote, and we do not always get to pick our fights. It's stunningly parochial -- actually frightening -- that people are advancing such a theory after a decade of wartime experience. The assumption that we won't engage in ground operations is indefensible.


Something else should frighten us about easy war: The dated strategy relies on dated platforms whose time is passing, namely aircraft carriers and manned strike aircraft. These weapons are not an effective response to the Chinese anti-access threat that is driving current strategic thinking. Current open-source literature discusses how the Chinese are developing a complex, interconnected defensive web. Air-Sea Battle is intended to penetrate those defenses by using a carrier strike group, which represents unstoppable power almost anywhere in the world -- except within 1,500 kilometers of the Chinese coast, where over 500 cruise missiles and 2,000 aircraft protect the mainland.

Review the math. The Chinese DF-21D anti-ship missile can reach targets over a thousand miles away, while the troubled F-35 only has a 670-mile combat radius. The approach offered by Air-Sea Battle just reprises a failed idea from the past that makes no more sense today. When similar plans were advanced during the Reagan era, Adm. Stansfield Turner commented:

[O]ur Navy is going to be capable of carrying the war right to the Soviets' home bases and airfields. This sounds stirring and patriotic. The only problem is that I have yet to find one admiral who believes that the U.S. Navy would even attempt it.

The point is valid today. How do we prevent a torrent of million-dollar missiles from sinking billion-dollar ships? Defenses against manned aircraft are moving in a similar direction. Worse yet, as costs drop, the number of countries able to keep strike systems at bay will only increase. The conclusion is crystal clear. Most U.S. naval and air investments are being sunk into platforms that are joining the battleship and the armored knight as relics. If we don't change, we're simply buying nostalgia.

Strike-based strategies look ineffective to enemies, aggressive to neutral parties, and unreliable to allies. There can be no doubt that China is the biggest fan of this scheme. The United States is going to sink billions of dollars into a strategy that minimally impacts its objectives. First, the fear that China will actually use its anti-access capabilities to cut commerce routes is dubious. China is a trading power that has little interest in closing sea lanes. Second, easy-war solutions to Chinese aggression aren't credible. Does anyone believe that pinprick strikes will stop Beijing? Can a carrier-based force dominate critical areas over a country larger than the United States? Will a "distant blockade" be noticed by a county surrounded by trading partners? A strike-based deterrence plan against China ignores the long history on this kind of coercion: Wartime populations and modern economies are incredibly resilient and adaptable. China also likes Shock and Awe because it attacks the strong points of its defenses. What better way to get Uncle Sam out of your sphere of influence than coaxing him into attacking a 21st-century defense with a 20th-century offense? Particularly when building his armada bankrupts him. China likes Air-Sea Battle.

China's neighbors should also be concerned about the U.S. obsession with easy war. South Korea is a big loser in this strategy because withdrawal of U.S. ground forces is the logical conclusion to massive reductions in the Army. Most countries in the region fear invasion by the 1.25 million-man People's Liberation Army (PLA) rather than the Chinese navy. A strike-based strategy offers them no meaningful support against the PLA. Delusions about the end of ground war aside, they want a relationship backed with a broad array of power that helps them maintain their independence. If they cannot offset Chinese power, what choice do they have but submission? Here, again, easy war comes up short.

History tells us that land wars simply can't be wished away. Remember: The United States gutted its Army before World War II, the Korean War, and the Berlin blockade. In all three instances, autocratic countries filled the void. In two cases, the strategic costs were grave. The third case nearly ended in a nuclear exchange. The desire to manufacture a "naval century" produces outrageous strategic risk; it could pose obscene human costs. The Kasserine Pass, the Pusan Perimeter, and the Iraq war all resulted from similar shortsightedness. Consider a Rand Corp. scatter plot of deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan: The vast majority of Army personnel have 13 to 29 months of deployment experience. The other services cluster around four to nine months. Even though the United States planned its force in the 1990s assuming away ground campaigns, it stumbled into two. Soldiers paid the bill.

The simple fact is that excessively small ground forces invite war. Regenerating land power takes years. Predicted mobilization of reserves takes months, and unexpected mobilization takes much longer. During that time, we cede initiative to the enemy. Potential adversaries know this and ruthlessly exploit such opportunities. If we want to avoid fighting on the ground, we had best build an army that can win today.


So what's the alternative to Air-Sea Battle? A good strategy needs to make aggression more expensive to adversaries than deterring aggression is to us. We should start by freshening up the strike paradigm. Rather than sinking billions of dollars into carriers and aircraft that have diminishing utility, we need to leap ahead to the next generation of warfare: We need to go unmanned. The technical services should invest in unmanned ships, aircraft, and submarines (except the ballistic-missile subs). If we possessed scores of aircraft-carrying ships with thousands of strike aircraft, rather than a few massive carrier groups, the Navy would be able to protect the global commons much more efficiently. The associated reduction in aviation training and shipbuilding costs would also relieve budget pressure. We could then discard the utopian assumption that land operations are optional. 

We should leverage military-to-military contacts more than ever. Look at the example of Saudi Arabia. For decades, the United States maintained military and diplomatic relations. When Iraq invaded Kuwait, mutual interests converged, and Saudi Arabia became an unsinkable aircraft carrier and staging base. Certainly similar strategies could be employed in Southeast Asia or against Iran. Those relationships that turn to strategic alliance are almost always built on value, and as we've seen, most countries in U.S. areas of interest want help building ground forces.

What we should not do is delude ourselves. Strike-based theories are attractive because they offer deceptively easy solutions. They assume away intractable problems and focus on challenges for which we can engineer clean solutions. They make us feel good. They prey on our desire for the cheap miracle cure. Unfortunately, they are really only good for starting wars, not winning or deterring them. If the bankrupt Shock and Awe theory is dressed up as strategy again, someone will call our bluff. Having assumed away hard choices, U.S. leaders will find themselves stuck with two bad choices: accept an intolerable situation or engage in a struggle for which we are unprepared. That is exactly what happened in Iraq. And if we continue to adhere to the same fallacies, we can be sure it will happen again. There are no easy wars.

U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Alex R. Forster