The strength of the U.S. military rests on power projection, C4ISR, jointness, lethality, and robustness. If the world stays benign, these features will remain its long suit; if not, these features could be called into question.
Adaptiveness helps bridge the gap between the expected and the actual future. Chapter fourteen suggested why a gap may arise at the macro level. But microfactors also call for adaptiveness. A known adversary could have unexpected strategies. If its equipment is unfamiliar, identification based on recognizing a profile or electronic signature could be misleading. If its doctrine is unanticipated, new operational countermeasures will be needed. At the same time, unexpected opportunities (e.g., new technologies) can arise that an adaptive military will want to incorporate rapidly.
An adaptive military must have agile warfighters, trained in the known but capable of dealing with the unknown, aware that it will not have all the answers but capable of learning what is needed for victory. Yet, institutions matter because they form the context into which agile warfighters are recruited (thus they are mutually reinforcing), and they can enhance or impede the ability of warfighters to adjust to change. Systems can help or hinder warfighters, especially in extending their battlespace awareness. Systems and institutions both will need to adapt to the ongoing revolution in information technology--not just to the opportunities it presents but also to any challenges realized by adversaries.
Troop levels, mobilization, doctrine, and alliance structures are all issues for the United States in adapting to a less friendly world of larger and nastier foes and messier situations.
With the end of the Cold War, the DoD lost its large foe and, understandably, reduced its manpower and material. A new major power (and, to some extent, a messier world) could reverse that. How can the DoD best face the challenges of a reconstitution?
If size were a matter of scale-up, one approach would be to maintain an officer corps and training base to facilitate expanding from today's specialized high-technology military to one in which large cohorts of rapidly trained fighters man the front lines. This approach, however, has several problems. First, the day of the mass military here may have passed as early as 1970. Compared with their fathers, today's entrants have greater access to information, broader familiarity with networked rather than hierarchical organizations, and hence greater resistance to rote discipline. Second, the skill levels of even front-line infantry today need to be much higher than popularly perceived. Not only is the gear more sophisticated, but in today's global fishbowl every mistake is likely to be widely broadcast. Third, without some reincarnation of the Cold War, the requirement for large armies is incompatible with a low public tolerance for casualties.
Reserves may be a repository of institutional adaptiveness. The Gulf War reinforced the notion that, in regard to major theater wars (MTWs), combat forces should be active and the reserves ought to specialize in support functions. Perhaps some of the reserve forces could be a repository for combat skills (e.g., riverine operations) that appear outmoded but may find unexpected use. Individual reservists could be rotated into combat units to return such skills to the active force. Conversely, nothing justifies retaining a skill to operate obsolete equipment.
Force XI: Wired soldiers
Industrial as well as manpower mobilization has been a traditional response to the possibility of a large and active foe. As inventories decline, bases are consolidated, the role of contractors grows, the defense sector closes underused facilities, and the challenge of mobilization increases. Consolidation of the defense industry into three large firms (Lockheed Martin, Boeing, and Raytheon) has narrowed the industrial base. An unexpected buildup could force the United States to look beyond traditional suppliers. Their learning curve might be uncomfortably long, but they would have sunk less intellectual capital in existing weapons, capital that could have gone to an RMA.
To face larger foes, the United States would have to have friends (a messier world also calls for partners, but political cover for unpopular operations is often the driving factor). The issue of how to structure coalitions becomes important. In the Cold War, allies manning the Central Front each had their zone to cover. By 1996, European allies had recognized U.S. preeminence in C4ISR and strategic lift, and NATO worked out arrangements by which U.S. intelligence, long-range lift, and strike capabilities would permit other countries to conduct out-of-area operations. Other combinations also might work, but they take up-front planning, mutual exercise, the careful integration of doctrine and expectations, and the mutual recognition that their consideration does not presage U.S. policy shifts (e.g., to allay fears that the United States expects NATO partners to take all the casualties).
Two Experiments with Universal Networking
Two broad experiments--the Army's Force XXI (TF XXI), and the Navy's Cooperative Engagement Capability (CEC)--testify to both the U.S. military's eagerness to adapt and the conceptual models within which adaptiveness is pursued.
The purpose of Force XXI is to put tactical information into the hands of the soldier by automating the generation and distribution of battlefield information, orders, and related message traffic. The heart of Force XXI is called the Appliqué: a computer terminal for every vehicle (dismounted versions are being explored), which offers soldiers a constantly populated map of the battlefield and allows them to receive status reports on mission assignments, logistics, and ambient factors (e.g., weather). The Appliqué and its servers are linked by a tactical internet covering 1,000-plus users per brigade over constantly shifting network topologies. In March 1997, the Army Experimental Force (EXFOR: the 1st Brigade of the 4th Infantry Division) went to the National Training Center to see what difference its new configuration would make. It lost, as does every unit that trains there, but its performance demonstrated (1) that internetworking can halve the time required to plan and conduct operations and (2) that a lot of sensors are needed to stay current with enemy dispositions, but (3) that forcing others to gaze skyward for UAVs quickly tires them. Overall, the Army has concluded that, by providing a situational capability never before demonstrated, TF XXI was a successful proof of concept of the value and combat potential of digitization down to the platform level. The first digitized division is slated for the year 2000; the first such corps, for 2004.
Navy CEC was designed against the air threat (e.g., from cruise missiles), especially in littoral waters. Until now, each ship's radar would build incoming missile tracks by itself, on the basis of what it saw. CEC allows each radar to provide semiprocessed data to all other ships, supports a common data-fusion algorithm, and creates a consolidated track. Data exchange reduces dimensional inaccuracies; permits more frequent data acquisition; allows sharper beam focussing; provides earlier alerting; and supports common IFF determinations. Passing tracks to other ships permits one ship to engage a target on the basis of what other ships see. Undergirding CEC is a robust communications system with several orders of magnitude in improvement to bandwidth and electronic countermeasures.
Similarities between CEC and TF XXI are telling. Both programs were accelerated after impressive demonstrations. Both seek operational improvement through improved command and control. Both exist, in part, to systematize advantages offered by the global positioning system (GPS). Both programs cost in the low billions. Most of that money went to improve communications systems according to each service's structural paradigm, with the Army widening and the Navy deepening their respective nets. Both reinforce each service's reigning paradigm--the Army, by giving soldiers what they supposedly need to know; and the Navy, by reinforcing the position of the capital ship.
Both programs will probably expand their coverage. TF XXI is capable of extending tactical internetworking to the Marines, allies, close air-support units, and missile defense. CEC may be adapted to underwater and power-projection operations. Meanwhile, the Ballistic Missile Defense Office has its prototype of the System of Systems. The Air Force is initiating programs to fuse information gathered by its four tactical intelligence aircraft--AWACS, JSTARS (designed to communicate only to special trailers), Cobra Ball, and Rivet Joint--into rapidly deployable squadrons for real-time data fusion. Eventually these programs are bound to grow into one another. Foresight today may determine whether the result is a smooth meshing of gears or the noisy fight over sectors, budgets, protocols, and standards.
Unexpected nasty foes (and other potential large enemies with similar capabilities) may cause the failure of key warfighting assumptions and create the need for new doctrine. Constant experiments, battle laboratories, and what-if exercises ought to be the rule in the military, even at the expense of high readiness ratings.
Although tomorrow's world is ineluctably joint, innovation may be enhanced when services compete for similar missions. Thus it may be healthy that the Army and the Marine Corps are exploring different and even antithetical concepts of how to use information on a dynamic battlefield, or that the Army, Navy, and Air Force each view the SCUD problem in various ways. As long as each service prefers to differentiate itself from others, each will probably develop a unique approach to problems. The more solutions there are, the greater the likelihood that one will fit the unexpected contingency (if losing approaches can be shed when proven less fit).
Because many of the nasty technologies work against power projection, the need for new doctrine in this area is critical. The United States would need ways to project force without necessarily projecting forces. Long-range, stand-off strike cannot be used for all aspects of warfighting, but it can destroy enemy platforms at a distance and thereby weaken foes in confrontations with the lighter forces that local allies would field. Small, lethal, highly mobile units on the battlefield (as advocated by the Defense Science Board summer 1996 study of Tactics and Techniques for 21st Century Warfare, and tested in the Marine Corps Hunter-Warrior exercise of 1996) can supplement or enhance stand-off strike. Such units would carry a two-week supply and most of their firepower would come from offshore units. Marines would "infest" enemy territory (rather than storm ashore), assess contested terrain, discern targets, and call for fire from over the horizon. Army officers now talk of "massing fires rather than forces" on tomorrow's nonlinear battlefield. Before the Gulf War, few airmen would have accepted, much less applauded, replacing manned aircraft with unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), but the Air Combat Command has since formed its first UAV squadron and sought and won tactical control of all UAVs in theater. UAVs were used more aggressively in Bosnia (despite worse weather than in the Gulf), and their numbers and roles will only increase.
JSTARS (top) and AWACS (below) aircraft detect
ground and air targets, respectively
The ability to field new equipment rapidly in response to contingencies is another attribute of adaptiveness. Both the 1982 shoot-out in the Bekaa Valley (where Isreali jets shot down over 80 Syrian jets without loss) and the Gulf War suggested a growing gap separates what works well and what does not. In a crisis, one may need only the few really good items increased (and sharply). Yet picking winners prior to combat is hard; were it otherwise, production of the losers would have ended far earlier. The need for selective mobilization favors modularity in systems design (so components of losing weapons can be diverted to production lines for winning ones), commercial components (to extend the potential mobilization base), and software that can be rewritten in the heat of combat (as Patriot missile software was, to work against the SCUD--although a shortfall in performance suggests improvement is needed). To meet contingencies, systems may have to be fielded well before their initial operational capability (IOC) has been certified. In a typical program, performance issues are worked on first, and the ability to test, maintain, and upgrade a product comes later. But the latter are what makes weapons fit for war. Otherwise they are fragile and vulnerable. Up-front attention to such factors, as well as interoperability and security, ease the task of fielding systems when needed, rather than when scheduled.
Coping with the stresses of a messier world may force the United States to cooperate with a wider variety of partners than it is accustomed to: not only coalition partners but NGOs, PVOs, local power centers, and commercial enterprises. U.S. military operations in politically unsettled regions mean working with local powers that may not meet U.S. standards in all respects. Adapting to such a future requires familiarity with the nuances and power relationships of other cultures. It means that, in a broad sense, the United States needs to be able to connect to and disconnect from them quickly.
Combined operations, like joint ones, are often a matter of developing standard doctrinal interfaces and a common set of concepts. Both permit innovation by all parties with less concern that evolutions by one may constrain the actions of another. Good interfaces allow the formation of task forces from elements trained and supplied by individual services, other countries, and nonmilitary institutions.
Messy situations also may call for the U.S. military to interoperate more closely with contractors. Their role has grown from near zero in the Korean War, to modest but vital in the Vietnam conflict, to critical in the Gulf War (JSTARS required Grumman employees on board), and to essential in the Haiti operation. Their use may very well have turned the Balkan war around for Croatia in 1995. When information accounts for 10 percent of operational effectiveness, it is the tail; when it is 90 percent, it is the dog. And information can be privatized in ways that the application of force cannot. The free market is a powerful adaptation mechanism, but one to be used with care.
A Revolution in Military Affairs
A current revolution in military affairs (RMA) can be traced back to the late 1970s with the development of precision munitions and off-board sensors. Barring global conflict, it is likely to play out well past 2018. Such an RMA rests on two tenets: the ability to put ordnance precisely on target from stand-off distances and the ability to conduct military operations more quickly (and, thus, to operate inside an enemy's decision loop).
*Precision. Precision weaponry (PGMs such as tactical missiles, torpedoes, and laser-guided bombs and rounds, plus armor within 3,000 meters) can kill targets whose location is known in real space or by general position plus by traceable signature. Precision offers first-strike kills (by the second shot an enemy may have run for cover), less collateral damage, and a smaller logistics burden and thus faster responsiveness. Precision is not guaranteed: jamming, spoofing, and other tricks can break a target lock; targets can be out of range, or can outrun (rarely) or outmaneuver (more commonly) the PGM. Targets can be armored, bunkered, or buried or can shoot back (e.g., as the U.S. Navy's Phalanx gun shoots back against cruise missiles). Yet, over time, smart money must be on precision weapons as they get faster, more maneuverable, stealthier, and more discriminating.
The trend in precision weapons is toward information-based control. Shorter range PGMs (e.g., TOW antitank missiles, or laser-guided bombs) require the targeter to be within sight of the target, thus at risk. These are being supplanted by PGMs that can acquire a target based on their own internal intelligence, and those that can go to a specific point (e.g., cruise missiles or JDAM bomb kits)--and, ultimately, to a track provided externally. Stand-off operations make shooters more difficult to spot and reach and give them time to hide or get back to shelter after they shoot.
All this shifts the basic wellspring of military efficacy from firepower to information. If seeing a target is tantamount to killing it, then seeing others and staying hidden become the two reigning requirements of combat. The U.S. military has, by far, the world's best eyes: from space-based sensors to aircraft such as AWACS, JSTARS, Cobra Ball (infrared), and Rivet Joint (signals intelligence), UAVs (for video and synthetic aperture radar [SAR] imagery), sea-based and counter-battery radar, and a host of unmanned ground sensors. By 2018, the U.S. military will be fusing the various bitstreams produced by such sensors into a unified picture of the battlefield that can be sliced and diced to the needs of any warrior. As for hiding, some U.S. forces can use stealth; electronic warfare and operating out of range are other protective measures.
The United States will probably maintain its long lead over rivals in illuminating the battlefield to its own advantage, but the underlying technology is already available to all. UAVs and medium-range cruise missiles are international commodities. Commercial space-based assets can take communications up and return one-meter imagery down. Everyday electronic equipment may have great military applicability (a 17-gigabyte digital video disk could hold the entire United States imaged to five-meter accuracy). Thousands of Third World engineers trained in core states can integrate pieceparts into systems. What results may not meet U.S. standards, yet the additional capability others get by buying off the shelf may exceed what extra benefit the U.S. military gets by pushing the envelope. Information technology enables a revolution in U.S. forces; a like empowerment in Third World militaries may compel U.S. forces to move forward.
*Reducing Cycle Time. Information technology helps to reduce the time required to conduct operations, a critical factor when two cycles compete for primacy: taking advantage of suddenly vacant terrain; spotting and killing a SCUD launcher inside the time it takes to set up, fire, and take it down; and distinguishing between an innocent fishing boat and a hostile missile-launcher in a crowded port before the launcher fires.
Indicators of reduced cycle time are ubiquitous. It is becoming increasingly possible to rewrite Air Tasking Orders (a three-day re-planning process in the Gulf War) between launch and engagement. Tactical internets let armies disseminate orders more quickly, permitting faster responses to evanescent opportunities. A deft combination of networks and electronic tags permits lean logistics; depletions at the front are immediately reflected in production starts in CONUS, so the pipeline is always full--but with little waste.
*Applications. Information technology coupled with stand-off precision strike systems yields a mode of combat in which forces scan the battlefield, sift the few targets from the background, sort them by priority and weapon, then strike. Such warfare works better if terrain is open (e.g., air, sea, desert, plain, farmland), rather than closed (e.g., forest, jungle, mountain, swamp) or cluttered (e.g., city); in the latter, adversaries can hide or mask themselves as civilians. Dense terrain requires denser, more heterogeneous sensors. Separating targets from background in cluttered terrain requires a knowledge of things to be supplemented with a knowledge of habits and prior actions. But even in cluttered terrain, a good system helps by monitoring more of the terrain in less time; sending forces out against dangerous anomalies and massed units; helping forces interdict supply; and highlighting inevitable enemy mistakes in concealment that reveal them to be targets.
The RMA is more of an improvement in some domains than others. It will probably not suffice to make the U.S. public rethink its aversion to full-scale military intervention in messy conflicts. Yet it may allow U.S. forces to run the stand-off portion of the conflict, while the local friend (the adversary's intended victim, which has little choice in the matter) runs close-in aspects amply supplied with information and systems (with liaison) from the United States. Stand-off warfare should not be confused with hands-off interoperation. Current and foreseeable technology still means that making an ally's information systems work with the systems, forces, weapons, and doctrines of allies takes time, attention, and work--and will have to be performed over and over as technology and operations evolve.
Over the last few years, some observers (such as Admiral Owens, former Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff) have argued that an emerging "system of systems" would link DoD sensors and weapons systems, enabling networks, databases, and what is often called the Revolution in Military Affairs (RMA). An ability to mix and match components within a broad defense architecture could contribute greatly to adaptiveness.
The adaptiveness of the System of Systems will rest in large part on how tightly linked its coherence is to any specific doctrine. One interpretation of Joint Vision 2010 envisions a typical scenario in which the United States gets involved by first sending out a panoply of sensors to overlook the battlefield. Interesting intelligence would be shuttled to fusion nodes staffed by intelligence analysts who translate bitstreams into targets. Moving targets would be posted to long-range attack aircraft, others to long-range missiles. Where discrimination is difficult or the risk of collateral damage high, small mobile teams (e.g., Rangers, Special Forces) would be inserted and supply the final go or no-go decisions. After stand-off strikes disorient and decimate foes, larger maneuver units storm in to put foes to flight.
The temptation to build a System of Systems around such a doctrine is powerful. People prefer to counter knowable threats, determine their characteristics, devise countermeasures, and implement them in system design. How robust would such a system of systems be against the unknowns of the bleaker dimensions? War teaches the value of learning under fire and using lessons of individual engagements to come up with new ways to do business. Were doctrine hardwired into the System of Systems, the normal difficulties of changing complex software (e.g., the year 2000 problem) would aggravate and delay change and confound adaptiveness.
The need for adaptiveness calls into question the current preference for the complex, costly, hardened, and specialized systems that dominate defense acquisition. The assumption that foes can target neither sensors nor communications relays if they operate beyond 200 kilometers (e.g., JSTARS, Aegis, low-earth orbit [LEO] satellites) may not withstand serious challenge by a large foe. Less expensive commercial-grade items--especially sensors and offboard weapons--may be individually less survivable, but when networked may be collectively more robust. Communications will permit warriors to operate farther apart, but techniques to disperse ground command centers (with their copious electronic emanations) will have to follow if these centers are to survive.
If the United States hones its ability to project force rather than forces, the role of information will change. Traditionally, intelligence prepared the battlefield by locating enemy concentrations and vectoring forces to encounter them. Technology is giving modern forces greater confidence in the ability to locate individual equipment for precision strike. Exploiting such technology will require explicit attention to the requirements of battlefield illumination, not only in open but difficult terrain. Continuous, rather than intermittent, battlefield coverage will be needed to win contests between the U.S. cycle time (to spot, identify, and classify a target, assign it to a platform, engage the weapon, and hit the target) and the foe's (to emerge from cover, fire and move, and return to cover or bunker). Using such intelligence may require weapons that can be directed to a moving spot on the map (advances may be needed in geolocating image-identified targets). The combination of stand-off target acquisition and stand-off target prosecution drastically thins the need for forward projection.
Adaptiveness cautions against placing too great a reliance on looking for the expected. One common method of identifying adversaries is to generate a template of their assets and habits and then match sightings to them; this helps in interpreting electronic intelligence and defeating cover, concealment, and deception. Granted most rogue states use equipment of Russian design or manufacture (and in accordance with Soviet doctrine), but what if a nasty foe were to adopt a cheap RMA by outfitting itself with commercial goods (or close derivatives) and use them according to commercial, rather than military, logic? Templates and doctrines hard-wired into intelligence and engagement systems might fail to recognize ground truth on the battlefield.
Against a nasty foe that would attack U.S. ability to project power, the United States would need to counter strategies to disconnect components of the System of Systems. Threats include the physical destruction of nodes and links, electrical shock (e.g., EMP), jamming, and computer hacker attack. Hiding and hardening techniques can mitigate the risk of physical destruction and electric shock. Jamming can be countered by many techniques, including beam focussing, steerable antennae, spread spectrum, and redundant encoding. Hackers can be stymied by cryptographic methods, semantic- and protocol-level firewalls, anomaly-monitoring software, and the use of read-only media. Redundancy, in number and niche (e.g., different systems would operate at different frequencies or use different protocols) is another approach, one that, incidentally, favors an agile, distributed network over a few complex platforms.
Adaptiveness often means making do with less connectivity. Warfighters can be trained to function under both copious and austere information conditions (as the Marine Corps is doing). Substituting mission-type orders for a commander's fingertip control has many advantages (even when links are secure). Filtering out low-priority messages and repeating critical ones help cope with constrained links. Images can be compressed or replaced by symbols and drawings. Bulk data can be deployed forward (e.g., digital video disk, CD-ROMs). Precise mapping, pseudolites, and inertial measurement systems can mitigate the loss of GPS.
Making Systems More Adaptive
Some ways to make systems more adaptive are traditional and well understood:
- Multifunctionality. The Navy's Phoenix missile, the Air Force's B1B bomber, and the Army all-source analysis system (ASAS) all were built to defeat dominant threats (Soviet naval aviation, air-defense systems, and tank operations, respectively). So highly tuned were they to the Soviet threat that, with its collapse, they proved less useful. Tomorrow's weapons systems need more generic capabilities.
- Robustness. A system needs to be able to degrade gracefully--that is, it must remain useful even after several features have been compromised by unexpected counters (e.g., information warfare).
- Logistics. The more easily a system can be transported, operated, and kept in repair under austere conditions or away from maintenance facilities, the more situations it is useful for. Systems that only specialists can work lose value if specialists are unavailable.
Other ways to enhance adaptiveness are newer:
- Nonlethality. The growing frequency of operations other than war (coupled with the ubiquitous presence of the media) has made a virtue of being able to control people without harming them. Nonlethal systems could have antipersonnel features (which incapacitate people or, at least, persuade them to leave), antimaterial features (which can dissolve rubbers and plastics, convert gasoline to gel, slick roads into impassability), and antielectronics features (e.g., high-powered microwaves, electrical shorts).
- Interoperability and composability. Jointness, networking, and the potential of data fusion all put a premium on designing systems that can be used with one another. Today's systems, by contrast, often wrap sensor, processor, communications channel, database, and workstation into one hardwired complex. Information would be more easily shared if a system's functionalities (e.g., sensor, processor, and display) were designed as standard modules. Interoperable systems facilitate the assembly of joint and combined task forces.
Adaptiveness can also be fostered by pushing information down into the ranks so that operations can be devised and carried out within smaller units.
Meeting the canonical invasion (e.g., 15,000 pieces of equipment rolling over relatively easy terrain) by maneuver in corps is the basis for the organization of ground forces. The digitized Army empowers battalion-level headquarters with powerful tools--such as the maneuver control system (MCS), the all-source analysis system (ASAS)--and ties lower echelons into these tools by feeding soldiers maps and command-menus from higher level systems.
Yet much of this equipment remains too expensive, heavy, or just too rare for mobile field use. In Bosnia, although headquarters were richly supplied with data, information available to ground units below the division level was not appreciably greater than it was 20 years ago. Messy situations, by nature disorganized, often call for a capacity for context-related situational awareness and operational planning at the company level (roughly 200 persons) or lower. Without greater participation in the digital infrastructure, warriors will of necessity revert to stubby pencil work, guesswork, and learned doctrine.
To influence the evolution of messy but hazardous situations, U.S. forces may need to leverage their information superiority through local forces. Sharing intelligence with allies and coalition partners (e.g., in peace operations) remains an ad hoc art, and even though no technology prevents sharing battlefield illumination at the rate of a billion bits per second, planning for plugging foreign forces into U.S. information flows is still embryonic. If nothing else, such adaptation must reflect the fact that local allies, especially in underdeveloped nations, start with different equipment, their own doctrine and rules of engagement, a reduced capability for either stand-off or precision warfare, and less advanced logistics systems.
Those possessing only hammers tend to see the world as nails. A system optimized to confront armored invasions may see them in any environment, even one with other driving factors. At best, the system will be useless and the U.S. advantage in dominant battlespace knowledge vitiated. At worst, conclusions drawn from the automated processing of bad data can drive out intuition from close experience.
Militaries composed of agile warriors can confront the unexpected and learn to use their tools as appropriate (e.g., when helicopters assume roles assigned to tanks). But as more responsibility is placed on information systems, those systems will need to be more agile. Building flexibility into a software-dominated system is complex, and its ramifications can only be discovered by experience. An adaptive system of systems would look to knowledge-processing, open construction, natural-language capabilities, and bottom-up systems integration for robustness and would require more from users consistent with giving them greater freedom. Such a system may be harder to build and control (although perhaps easier to manage). It may not be more powerful--indeed, it would probably be less efficient at any one task because it must accommodate more heterogeneous input--but it would span a wider range of operational contingencies and should cope with heavy information warfare: physical, electronic, and rogue code attack. Such a system would be an expression of the point in scientific history when lessons from biology begin to cross paths with those from physics.
Adaptive institutions are characterized by broad rather than focussed capabilities, competing points of view, flexible rather than fixed doctrine, and the potential to grow by mobilization and linking with partners. Adaptive systems are open to new capabilities, robust under expected stress, highly reconfigurable, relatively unstructured, and interoperable to facilitate mix-and-match recombination.
Adaptiveness is not free, and preparations made to adapt in one direction may not necessarily favor others. As it is, foes do not grow large overnight, and, if they do, the problem of scaling up existing assets and institutions is relatively straightforward. Messy situations, when they cannot be avoided, can be countered by an incremental shift in emphasis from conventional forces to those even now dealing with small-scale contingencies. But a truly nasty foe will require a response that stresses the adaptiveness of U.S. institutions and systems, which will involve long-run processes.
Space and Adaptiveness
The use of space was once limited to a few advanced nations, but now even developing nations use it as a medium for global information collection and exchange. The United States is especially dependent upon space capabilities today for military uses, but also for economic, diplomatic, political, and social uses. Its global economy, international transfer of funds, telemedicine, telecommunications, conversations between world leaders, diplomats, scientists, and educators are dependent on operational space capabilities. Decisions about the environment such as knowing where to plant crops or where to replant the Amazon River Valley are enhanced by use of space capabilities. This carries implications for U.S. national interests as well as national security interests. As more militarily useful space capabilities are developed, the United States becomes increasingly dependent on them, which, in turn, translates into a recognizable vulnerability to potential adversaries.
Because satellites are more vulnerable to antisatellite weapons the lower they fly, they face a tiered vulnerability. Low-earth orbits support today's surveillance and tomorrow's communications (e.g., Iridium, Teledesic). Medium-earth orbits support today's navigation and tomorrow's communications (e.g., Inmarsat's ICO) and could also be used for continuous surveillance (four Hubble-class telescopes in a medium-earth orbit could depict most of the globe at two-meter resolution). Geosynchronous orbits support early warning, meteorology, and communications. Detailed ISR and low-power communications are most vulnerable; navigation and continuous ISR the next most; and high-power communications, early warning, and weather the most survivable. Other threats to the effective use of U.S. space assets include disruption (e.g., through jamming) as well as attacks on ground stations and other uplink and downlink components. Practically speaking, without access to space systems, U.S. forces would be lost, blind, and out of touch, and the economic and social fabric of the nation would be frayed.
Attacking U.S. space assets is not easy. Direct antisatellite operations require spacelift capability, which few outside the nuclear league possess. It takes a decade or more of concentrated work to build it from scratch. Even among spacefaring nations, antisatellite operations have yet to be perfected. However, exotic space weapons (e.g., directed energy weapons such as lasers, radio frequency, or high-power microwave systems; direct ascent or co-orbital kinetic energy weapons) are not needed to degrade space products and services. An adversary need only put debris in orbit in such a way that intersects other satellite orbits to have an effective, albeit nondiscriminating, antisatellite system. Information warfare techniques, such as logic bombs and Trojan horses or electronic warfare that severs links to space systems, can also be just as effective as high-technology space weapons. Whatever the method, the attack is likely to precipitate a U.S. counterattack, so a foe's first strike, given the consequences of failure, must be decisive.
Four responses are possible. First, the United States could launch satellites that are stealthier. Nevertheless some satellites must radiate power to earth and so will be hard to hide. Satellites could also be hardened, or configured to shoot back. Second, the United States could field enough satellites with overlapping coverage so as to withstand the loss of a few satellites (or keep enough spares on-orbit and move then into (place as needed). Third, the United States could develop a rapid reconstitution capability. Very small satellites, capable of reaching orbit using rockets mounted beneath the wings of large aircraft, could support communications and surveillance. The potential vulnerability of launch sites to terrorist attack suggests that alternative launch mechanisms may be an attractive option for their own sake. Fourth, substitutes could be found for satellites: pseudolites placed in precise locations can substitute for GPS signals (and by 2018, much of the world will be mapped to one- to five-meter resolution); UAVs can provide surveillance and reconnaissance; fiberoptic lines (which might be streamed to the front) can provide long-haul communications. But these are highly imperfect substitutes (e.g., their use would require considerable software to be rewritten). There is really no good alternative to a vigorous presence in space.
U.S. military planners may also have to adapt to the strong possibility that adversary access to space may make forces visible and thus vulnerable in new ways. Commercial imagery with 1-meter resolution will be available commercially within a few years; 3- to 5-meter resolution is already on the market. Commercial-grade GPS services are open to everyone. Adversary access to communications constellations may complicate U.S. efforts to impede adversary command and control. As space capabilities become more sophisticated and accessible, they can be exploited by potential adversaries with minimal investment: networks, software, and computers. Arrangements in advance with allies and other spacefaring nations to deny rogue states the use of space may protect U.S. forces. Yet, with 500 satellites already in orbit, and an estimated 1,200 to 1500 possible over the next 10 years, adversary access to space will become easier and denying it will become harder.
Ought the United States to pursue space denial capabilities? Jamming and attacks on ground receivers are clearly legitimate, and information operations may be a routine feature of future warfare. The United States is developing some antisatellite capabilities. Yet, any decision to use such a capability must be carefully weighed. The United States could target adversary space assets, but many foes will rely on third-party assets, and it may be hard to know which assets are being used by whom and for what purpose. Even friendly countries may not want to let the United States know of its commercial arrangements with "customers." Absent such information, it is difficult to develop a space denial strategy.
Although space is not a region in the sense that, say, Europe is, it is a region of national strategic interest with unique characteristics. U.S. policy can seek to shape how the region of space is used and protected. International engagement on space policies and issues between the United States and other spacefaring nations via the United Nations, through country-to-country contact, or via dialogue with space consortia (e.g., the European Space Agency, the International Telecommunications Union, Intelsat, Inmarsat), will help shape and influence the international space environment. As outlined in the National Military Strategy, the United States can promote trust and confidence by encouraging measures that increase national security and that of allies, partners, and friends through our military contacts, international military education and training, and the sharing of information from space capabilities. In addition, cooperation among the U.S. Government, allied nations, and commercial players can inhibit the ability of rogue actors to enjoy unfettered access to space. Conversely, deterrence can be used to dissuade others from attacking U.S., allied, and commercial space assets.
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