What Operation Allied Force Can Teach Us About Capabilities Needed For Future Military Operations
Mr. David A. Ochmanek , Senior Defense Analyst, RAND
Operation Allied Force--NATOs effort to compel the leadership of the former Yugoslavia to stop terrorizing the ethnic Albanian population of Kosovo and to permit a NATO-led international monitoring force into the province--represents only a portion of the full spectrum of operations for which U.S. military forces must prepare. Nevertheless, it occupies an important portion of that spectrum, in that such operations are likely to be quite typical of those that U.S. forces are called upon to conduct in the future, and that they feature many demands similar to those of larger-scale operations. In order to determine what sorts of capabilities are called for, it is necessary first to gain insights regarding the things that U.S. forces might be called upon to do in the future: What missions might such forces be asked to carry out? Using what operational strategy? Against what sorts of adversaries? Under what constraints?
This paper approaches the question of capabilities from this perspective, addressing these and related questions.
Objectives. Ask a military professional in the United States what the chief purpose of the American armed forces is and he or she will most likely reply, more or less by rote, To fight and win the nations wars. This answer should receive only partial credit. The first objective assigned to U.S. forces is to deter actions by others (principally, states) that might be detrimental to U.S. national interests. More broadly, this objective can be stated as seeking to shape the behavior, perceptions, and calculations both of adversaries and friends, providing incentives against aggression or other destabilizing behaviors, and incentives for cooperative action in the pursuit of common interests. U.S. military forces do this, in part, by having the capability to win wars, if it comes to that. But the mark of a truly successful military posture and strategy is peace.
There is another sense in which fighting wars is, increasingly, an inadequate description of purpose for todays military establishment: To a growing degree, national interests in the United States and other Western countries are also being defined to encompass humanitarian dimensions. As our conceptions of who constitutes our neighbor expand, and global communications become ever more encompassing and ubiquitous, the line between national interests, as classically defined, and purely humanitarian concerns will become more blurred. Hence, military power and capabilities may be called upon to deter or to stop actions that cause undue suffering to civilian populations, even if those populations reside in regions far from the locus of important economic or strategic value, and inside the country perpetrating the atrocities against them.
In the early stages of the Kosovo crisis, U.S. and allied military forces were poised offstage, as national leaders and diplomats worked to devise and negotiate a peaceful settlement to the dispute. The threat (implicit or explicit) that these forces might be used to compel Yugoslavian compliance with the will of the broader international community was an important and ever-present factor in those negotiations. Regrettably, it was not, in this instance, sufficient to preclude conflict.
As they did during the Cold War, U.S. military forces (and the commitment to employ them in defense of common interests) provide an important part of the glue that holds together the members of NATO and other alliances. U.S. forces possess many capabilities that are unique or, at a minimum, in very short supply in the forces of other nations. This uniqueness is part of what accounts for the fact that the United States is the security partner of choice for most of the worlds leading states, and it enhances the ability of the United States to play the leading role in responding to crises with military dimensions.
If deterrence fails, of course, forces may be called upon to fight. The nature of the fight can vary widely, depending on the scope and intensity of the operation. Specific operations will also be characterized by different approaches, varying the mix of objectives among coercion, prevention/ compulsion, and intra-war deterrence:
· With coercion, one seeks to apply or threaten ones adversary with sufficient costs so that he changes course. The decision to terminate or to continue the conflict remains with the enemy.
· Prevention and compulsion seek to physically deny the enemy the ability to achieve his objectives. Inherent in these approaches is the need to wrest all initiative from the enemy, rendering moot his decision about war termination.
· Intra-war deterrence is important in cases where the enemy has the capacity to expand the conflict beyond the scope within which one would prefer to contain it. This objective demands both superior military capabilities at higher rungs on the escalation ladder and a rational adversary.
Operation Allied Force was unusual in that it was conducted almost entirely as a coercive campaign. Because the United States and its allies were unwilling, at the outset of the conflict, to deploy large formations of ground forces into Kosovo, they were unable to prevent Serbian forces from terrorizing the Albanian population there or to compel them to vacate the province. Instead, air attacks were used in an attempt to convince Slobodan Milosevic that a continuance of his aggression was unwise. Secondarily, the attacks sought to create conditions within Kosovo such that allied ground forces could eventually be deployed there at acceptable cost and risk, laying the basis for a campaign of compulsion.
Threat. The challenges posed by Serbian forces, both in Kosovo and in Serbia proper, are fairly representative of smaller-scale contingencies that U.S. forces might confront elsewhere. The enemys military was centered on ground forces, in this case, a mix of regular military units (motorized and leg infantry complemented by modest numbers of artillery and armor assets), paramilitaries, and police. These ground forces were supported by 1960s-era ground-based air defenses (SA-2, SA-3, and SA-6 radar-guided SAMs, man-portable infrared-guided SAMs, and anti-aircraft artillery), albeit with a fairly robust command and control infrastructure. Yugoslav air interceptors numbered around one hundred, only a handful of which were forth generation fighters (MiG-29s).
That this antiquated SAM threat gave as much trouble as it did to NATOs air operations should give one pause, for the threat is not standing still. A wholly new generation of Russian-built SAM systems, featuring long-range, maneuverable missiles, and powerful, mobile phased-array radars is available on a cash and carry basis. These SA-10s, SA-12s, and other systems will soon be showing up in the inventories of various regional powers in substantial numbers and will pose qualitatively new challenges to U.S. and allied air operations.
Other weapons that did not figure in Operation Allied Force but that should be anticipated in future operations are offensive missiles--cruise and ballistic--that are becoming increasingly available. As the range and accuracy of these missiles improves, adversaries will have growing capabilities to complicate the deployment of outside military forces into their region and to suppress the operations of those forces once they arrive. Specialized conventional payloads (e.g., cluster bomblets) can be effective against unhardened targets without requiring the attacker to resort to the cosmic roll of the dice represented by crossing the threshold of chemical, biological, or nuclear weapons use against the United States. In extremis, weapons of mass destruction might be used as well.
Constraints. Operation Allied Force highlights a number of constraints that will generally govern U.S. military operations. The most important of these--casualty intolerance--springs from the fundamental reality of a strategy that seeks to bring a modicum of order to an unruly world (or, at least, key parts of it). That is, there is and will remain an endemic asymmetry of interests between the United States and its allies on the one hand, and the nations against which they intervene on the other. Kosovo provides a clear illustration of this. Milosevics hold on power has depended crucially on his ability to appeal to Serbian nationalism. Hence, Kosovo mattered very much to Milosevic: He almost certainly believed that his political (and, perhaps, physical) survival depended on Serbias continued control over the province.
NATO, by contrast, had no such vital interests at stake there. As deplorable as the Serbian atrocities in Kosovo had been and could become, the NATO nations were fighting for more amorphous interests--the enforcement of minimal standards of state conduct, the prevention of human suffering, the avoidance of refugee flows, and the cohesion and future relevance of the Atlantic alliance. Moreover, the pursuit of these interests was complicated by cross-cutting concerns, including the desire not to antagonize Russia and worries about setting legal precedents that might undermine state sovereignty. For these reasons, the military strategy harnessed to NATOs diplomatic initiatives had to be capable of achieving its objectives while risking minimal friendly casualties.
This constraint was made all the more salient by the fact that alliance cohesion was essential to the conduct of the operation. The United States was not in a position politically, morally, or logistically to attack Serbia unilaterally. Therefore, the cost and risk of Operation Allied Force had to be kept below the breakpoint of each ally: This chain was only as strong as its weakest link.
Nearly as important was the need to minimize civilian casualties that might arise from allied operations. The humanitarian justification for NATOs intervention underscored the inadmissibility of a strategy that would involving destroying villages in order to save them--an approach that, tragically, characterized some U.S. operations in Vietnam.
Together, these factors placed high demands on NATOs military planners and forces: They had to devise a strategy that made it clear to Milosevic that he would suffer very seriously for continued resistance to NATOs demands, even though he knew we were not prepared to suffer much or for long. An asymmetry in stakes creates the need for commensurate asymmetries in risk.
Opportunity. Fortunately, the military forces of the United States and, to a lesser extent, its allies, enjoy tremendous advantages over enemy forces and, thus, are today able to meet most of the demanding conditions placed upon them. They owe their good fortune first to the fact that NATO nations spent the past several decades investing in forces that were intended to deter and, if necessary, fight to a standstill, the forces of the Soviet Union. While we can debate the extent to which the Soviet armed forces of the 1970s and 1980s actually possessed the capabilities with which Western analysts credited them, there is no doubt that the presence of dozens of Soviet divisions in Central Europe posed a serious military challenge to the West. In response, the NATO nations fielded sizable forces with modern equipment, realistic training, and doctrine attuned to the demands of large-scale theater warfare. Military R&D and defense industries were sustained in an attempt to keep these forces a step ahead of the Soviets technologically. The United States went further, investing tens of billions of dollars in inter-theater mobility assets and a worldwide base structure for power projection.
Despite a decade of downsizing, the legacy of these investments remains. Recent breakthroughs in a new generation of weapons and support systems can help to ensure that the United States and its allies maintain and, in some areas, expand their lead over post-Cold War adversaries. Key developments include:
· The ability to conduct surveillance across an entire theater in near real time, using multiple phenomenologies
· The ability to control the operations of a large number of forces dynamically, employing the right assets at the right place and the right time in response to a rapidly changing situation, so as to engage the enemy most effectively
· The ability to deny such information and control to the enemy
· The ability to deliver lethal fires accurately against a wide range of targets
· The ability to reach even highly defended targets reliably and with low risk of losses via stealth, standoff, and defense suppression.
Together, these and related developments are allowing U.S. and allied forces increasingly to see most of what the enemys forces are doing, to hit most of what they see, and to damage most of what they hit. These capabilities offer tremendous leverage: modest sized forces, properly equipped and employed, can achieve in days what massive forces used to need months to do. Moreover, friendly casualties can be substantially reduced, while unwanted civilian losses and damage to civilian infrastructure can be minimized. All of these advances yield capabilities well-suited to the demands of U.S. military strategy.
For our purposes, this strategy has two main dimensions: the projection of influence and the projection of power.
Projecting Influence. In peacetime, U.S. forces are called upon to prevent the coercion of friends and to promote a durable balance of power. Stationing and deploying U.S. forces in a region on a routine basis, provides tangible evidence of the United States commitment to the defense of its allies and its interests there. To be effective in this role, U.S. forces must be capable of responding to challenges that might arise with little or no notice, preventing adversaries from achieving faits accomplis while U.S. reinforcements arrive from outside the theater. U.S. forces abroad must also be supported by a rotation base sufficient to maintain a presence without creating an operations tempo that exceeds sustainable rates. And their presence abroad must not be offensive to host countries. On the contrary, U.S. military deployments abroad ideally should build trust, confidence, and goodwill between the United States and its allies.
Projecting Power. U.S. strategy for power projection recognizes the demanding nature of the tasks and conditions of conflict, as outlined above. Specifically, it acknowledges that U.S. forces most often will be called upon to respond to crises or thwart aggression in areas far from their home bases. Clever adversaries will use deception to mask their intentions, hoping to render ambiguous any signs warning of aggression and thus delay the dispatch of U.S. reinforcements. For these reasons, the enemy will usually have both the operational initiative and numerical advantages in the opening phase of conflicts.
When these facts are considered beside the fact that U.S. forces will be expected to win decisively and to send home few body bags, the demanding nature of U.S. strategy becomes manifest. Under these conditions, U.S. forces must be capable of deploying over long distances rapidly, perhaps fighting their way into the theater of operations. They must be able to commence combat operations quickly and to sustain them far from home. And they must be able to accomplish a wide range of objectives in situations ranging from small-scale humanitarian intervention to large-scale theater war.
The following is a short list of more specific types of capabilities called for by U.S. military strategy. Some of these emerge directly from the allied experience in the Balkans, while some are derived from assessments of a somewhat broader range of missions.
Overwatch. CINCs and policy makers have developed a vast appetite for information on the status and location of the military forces of adversaries and for other information about their capabilities, activities, and intentions. This has led to a proliferation in the number and type of reconnaissance assets trained on such nations as North Korea, Iraq, Serbia, and other areas of potential conflict. In addition to the daily flow of information provided by these sensors, preparedness demands that U.S. government agencies maintain huge data bases and mapping and targeting materials on something like a dirty dozen potential adversaries. Advance analysis of potential target sets and key facilities within them is also required.
Intercontinental and Intra-theater Mobility. Forces capable of halting a sizable armored offensive must be able to arrive in Southwest Asia and Korea within days of the order to deploy. This means that heavy assets, including air-to-ground munitions, ground support equipment for aircraft, and armor for ground forces employed in the initial defense must be prepositioned in theater or afloat. Even so, large-scale airlift from outside the theater remains essential. And aerial refueling aircraft are needed, both to permit the rapid deployment of combat and support aircraft and to make the airlifters more efficient.
Command of Deployed Forces. U.S. and coalition commanders must be able to manage assets at their disposal from the outset of an operation. This means, in the first instance, having access to the information provided by theater-wide reconnaissance assets. It also means having up to date information on the status of friendly forces and assets in the region, and being able to communicate with them. In theaters where large-scale operations might be undertaken quickly (e.g., SWA, Korea, and southern Europe), the basic facilities and communications infrastructure needed are already in place. Elsewhere, the time needed to set up operational command and control can be reduced by relying increasingly on the ability to reach back to facilities outside of the theater via high bandwidth communications.
Dynamic Control of Forces. Much attention has been paid in recent years to improving sensor to shooter links. Actually, the correct mantra should be sensor to controller to shooter. Shooter platforms, be they airborne aircraft or MLRS batteries, can easily become overwhelmed with data, which it is not their job to assess. Too, they need direction if they are to be employed most effectively. It is up to controllers to play these roles--constructing the big picture of the unfolding operation and assigning shooters to targets accordingly. This dynamic control function is practiced sporadically in peacetime, almost always within a single service. This means that commanders in wartime must lash together a dynamic control function on an ad hoc basis. Operation Allied Force was no exception and the alliance paid a price in terms of reduced effectiveness.
Early Enablers. U.S. forces must be capable of forcible entry, in its broadest sense. This means, among other things, ensuring that forces arriving at ports, airfields, and naval operating areas in the theater of conflict are protected from air, missile, naval, and terrorist attacks. This, in turn, calls for air defenses, theater ballistic missile defenses, anti-mine and anti-submarine warfare assets, and base security teams.
Even as these rear area assets are being secured, priority will be given to breaking down the enemys air defenses so that the airspace can be opened to operations by airborne surveillance and strike aircraft. Gaining air superiority rapidly requires a combination of stealth aircraft and missiles, standoff attack weapons, airborne jammers, and specialized SAM suppression aircraft and missiles. Operation Allied Force highlighted the importance of developing operational concepts for suppressing and destroying SAM radars and launchers even when they are not active--a need that will become more acute as newer and more capable SAM systems are deployed. The operation also revealed that the demand for airborne jamming support far outstrips the supply. Virtually every EA-6B that could be pressed into service was employed in Operation Allied Force or other high priority operations elsewhere. The fact that the EA-6B fleet is getting long in the tooth adds urgency to this shortfall in capabilities.
The same could be said for many of the surveillance and control platforms mentioned above. Like defense suppression aircraft, these are considered low density/high demand assetsunits that in peacetime and wartime always seem to be in demand. If we are to avoid a more or less constant hemorrhaging of skilled people from these units, more will have to be fielded.
Because early arriving air forces will normally be outnumbered by enemy aircraft and because time will often be of the essence, air-to-air exchange rates must be highly favorable to U.S. forces. In wargames involving fairly capable future opponents, only exchange rates of 20:1 or better are sufficient to permit rapid deployments and effective early attacks on enemy ground forces.
Increasingly, passive defenses against chemical, biological, and nuclear weapons will be called for as well.
Dominating Operations. Wresting the initiative from the enemy will mean gaining dominance of operations in the air and on the surface. With dominance of operations in the air an enemys strategic assets--national level command and communications, fixed facilities housing weapons of mass destruction, transportation networks, electrical power generation, and POL distribution--become laid bare to attack. And large formations of surface forces--land or naval--are also susceptible to observation and attack, particularly when they move.
Making best use of air superiority means equipping attack aircraft with advanced, guided munitions. Operational Allied Force revealed once again that precision guided munitions are essential to high-leverage, low-attrition, low collateral damage attacks. It also revealed a chronic pattern of under-investment in these weapons in the United States but even more so among the allies. Air launched cruise missiles and other standoff weapons were in particularly short supply. The Joint Direct Attack Munition--an inexpensive means of attacking fixed targets accurately in all kinds of weather--showed exception promise. More work is needed on new weapons that can allow air forces to attack mobile targets, such as armored vehicles, artillery, SAM components, and missile TELs--in poor weather.
Operation Allied Force also reminded us that one dimensional strategies can be vulnerable to tactical and operational counters. Not surprisingly, air forces alone were unable to stop small groups of thugs from terrorizing unarmed civilians. And with no organized ground force in Kosovo to compel Serbian forces to move or concentrate, air forces often had trouble locating and attacking those forces effectively. These difficulties were exacerbated by the terrain, foliage, and weather characteristic of the Balkans.
Joint operations, involving coordinated maneuver and fires of air, land, and naval forces, offer the prospect of synergies that were not available in Operation Allied Force. But in contingencies that feature short warning, long deployment distances, and an imperative to keep friendly casualties to a minimum, joint operations may not be an option, at least in the opening phases of the conflict.
Ground combat is an inherently dangerous business. In order to do what ground forces uniquely can do--compelling enemy forces to move, concentrate, and fire; patrol areas in detail, especially in complex terrain; pacify populated areas--it is often impossible to avoid placing those forces within range of the enemys most numerous direct and indirect fire weapons. Since World War I the principal answer to this problem has been armor, tactical mobility, and superior firepower--three attributes reified in the tank. The price for this, however, has been weight and, hence, time to deploy.
Put simply, U.S. ground forces are faced with the need to revisit the tradeoff between strategic mobility and survivability. As the Armys leaders have acknowledged, our heavy armored forces are difficult to deploy rapidly and our light infantry forces lack the survivability and punch to enable them to prevail against an armored opponent. As the Army and Marine Corps work to find ways to make forces for the close battle more mobile and survivable, we had better ensure that our longer range firepower assets--principally air- and missile-delivered weapons--are as effective, robust, and flexible as we can reasonably make them. Because they will perforce bear the brunt of many future campaigns.
Interoperability With Coalition Partners. Especially in smaller scale operations in pursuit of less-than critical national interests, coalition operations will be the norm. The sine qua non of effective multinational operations in training. There is simply no substitute for working out common tactics, techniques, and procedures in the field and in advance among coalition partners. A common language helps too. During Operation Allied Force the value of secure, interoperable communications became manifest. Such a capability would allow controllers to assist and direct shooters and surveillance assets more effectively and also permit in-flight coordination of multinational strike and support packages. The advent of digital voice and data link communications gear should make the fielding of such systems much more affordable. Many of our European allies also lacked the capability to fly and deliver precision ordnance at night and in poor weather, thus limiting their participation to times of the day that made them more vulnerable to air defenses.
Affording It All
All of the above begs the questions: How much do these new capabilities cost and where shall we find the money to pay for them? The answer lies first in an examination of the current Future Years Defense Plan (FYDP) and the budgets that are likely to be available to pay for it. Programs to provide most of the capabilities highlighted above are already in place, albeit often not in the numbers or with the timeliness of delivery one would like. But if the FYDP and the years that followed it were affordable, the additional money required to field a force robustly equipped with additional desired capabilities might be only a couple billion dollars per year. The problem, of course, is that the current plan does not fit underneath the budget toplines likely to emerge from future appropriations processes. Readiness problems suggest that operations and maintenance budgets are underfunded. And entire generations of platforms are reaching the end of their service lives. So current budget levels will not be adequate to sustain todays force levels indefinitely. Talk of trillion dollar surpluses notwithstanding, this years struggle to fund federal discretionary accounts shows that DoD is unlikely to see major, real increases in budget authority over the next five to ten years. Hence, one is left with a choice among the usual set of unappealing options:
· Cut or stretch modernization programs
· Try again to delete low priority spending by such politically unpopular moves as closing unneeded bases, eliminating pork barrel programs, or reducing forces, such as the Army National Guards combat configured units, which have little prospect of getting to the fight
· Reduce active duty force structure and/or endstrength.
The downsides of each of these approaches are well understood and need not be rehearsed here. The options that are strategically appealing are too often found to be politically dead on arrival, while those that are feasible politically too often cut into the very capabilities needed for effective operations.
Two lessons emerge for consideration by the next administration: First, the next president will need to husband carefully his (or her) credibility on military matters so that dealings with the Congress on these matters can be undertaken from a position of maximum strength. This means, among other things, insulating decisions about base closures and resource allocation from calculations of electoral advantage. It also means spending ones limited military reform chips on issues that matter most to fielding real capabilities.
Second, setting aside the politically sensitive spending areas, there are no easy cuts left. The last Quadrennial Defense Review refrained from cutting active duty force structure or eliminating major modernization programs because the leadership was convinced, rightly, that everything in the program had value. But not everything has equal value. It must be accepted that if we are to invest adequately in high-leverage capabilities for meeting the demands of challenging future contingencies, some capabilities of marginal value will have to be foregone. The more success the Administration has in convincing Congress to do away with pork, the less real capabilty needs to be on the table. Perhaps by making it clear that such cuts may be unavoidable, a new Administration can set the stage for a serious consideration of cutting pork.
At the heart of any review of capabilities there must be an analytical process that sheds more light than has heretofore been the case on the consequences of various force structure and program cuts. One culprit is that the a range of scenarios that has subjected to serious operational-level analysis has been too narrow. Another is that the analytical tools applied to these reviews (for the most part, theater-level computer simulations) too often obscure more than they illuminate because they operate at too high a level of aggregation and their internal workings are opaque, both to decision makers and, frequently, from those who use them.
By now, we have had a decades worth of experience with the demands of the post-Cold War security environment. And we have been able to test key components of next-generation operational concepts, both in field experiments and in real conflicts, including Operations Desert Storm, Deliberate Force, and Allied Force. It is time to choose.
 David Ochmanek is a defense analyst at RAND. The views expressed here are his own and do not necessarily reflect those of RAND or the sponsors of its research.
 In addition to considering their combat effectiveness, newly developed munitions should be evaluated in terms of the lethal litter they might leave on the battlefield. Unexploded ordnance, especially cluster munitions, have created a serious problem for the residents of Kosovo and other theaters. More careful design of fuzes and other components can reduce to a minimum the portion of ordnance that does not detonate.