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Future Posture

Decisions about where U.S. forces are placed in peacetime reflect many factors. U.S. forces shape environments, as observed in chapter two. The fact or the promise of their presence in a region can dissuade local bullies from aggression and reassure friends of their own security and of the U.S. contribution to it. Confident friends are likely to create military capabilities complementary to, as opposed to competitive with, those of the United States. A benign successful core suffused with U.S. presence can promote defense reform and, thus, a peaceful global polity.

Yet, the specifics of posture--who, where, when--must also reflect operational considerations: how to concentrate more power faster where needed than potential foes can. To have the wrong people in the wrong place at the wrong time means that operations take longer and cost more in terms of lives and resources. Poor posture may thereby affect the course and even the outcome of conflict.

As the United States shifts its posture over the next 20 years it must respond to the changing nature of the threat. But posture also has aspects that necessarily respond to operational factors. One is the proper mix of in-country, off-shore, and virtual (i.e., based in the continental United States) presence. Another is the tradeoff between concentrating capability in a few places and distributing it widely but less thickly. These two are the subject of this chapter as viewed through the lens of the necessary (e.g., larger, nastier, messier challenges), and the lens of the possible as influenced by, among other factors, information technologies.

The Logic of Posture

In business, operations are located in a site that minimizes costs for a particular level of throughput. To some extent, decisions about military posture can be made on a similar rationale. Yet, militaries are ultimately judged not by efficiency but efficacy, whether they can protect the nation and its interests. A peacetime military ordinarily postures itself for wartime contingencies. Given enough time, the United States can put enough manpower and materiel anywhere, but early operations are particularly influential because they can:

And the promise of effective early operations can deter aggression more than might the prospect of eventual defeat (in time the United States might tire), and thus persuade allies to become cooperative, reliable partners. As such, posture decisions for the United States must logically respond to deployment requirements.

How much time the United States will have to move forces into combat will depend on the warning time available. Sometimes forces can be put on alert or sent forward on warning (e.g., what might have been a Soviet move to the inter-German border). But the warning must warn; preparations for invasion often look like raids (e.g., North Korea before the 1950 invasion), feints (e.g., Egypt prior to crossing the Suez in 1973), or exercises (e.g., Iraqi "maneuvers" prior to the invasion of Kuwait in 1990). When the ambiguity of possible precursors is added to the cost of rushing to the ramparts, leaders prefer direct evidence--especially if overt response to ambiguous information might provoke a conflict that might otherwise be avoided. Waiting leaves less time to react. Where terrain is open, important objectives lie near the border, or and where local defenses are weak, the United States must respond more quickly in order to influence the outcome. Transparency is a way to buy time, thus becoming a substitute for being close. If the United States can see a potential aggressor more clearly, it can more easily identify indications and warnings--positively (to move earlier) or negatively (to avoid moving at all). Deploying sensors rather than moving forces in response to a crisis tends to be less provocative.

The Cost of Forward Deployment

Usually, the cost of stationing a soldier overseas rather than at home is higher, because of support requirements (social and physical infrastructure that must be replicated overseas), the expenses of moving and transportation, and the psychological burden of imposed separations and disrupted family life. Some nations have charged the United States rent, explicitly or implicitly (e.g., though foreign military assistance). Some overseas postings, however, are considered an inducement to military service, and some nations (notably Japan and Kuwait) defray the costs of U.S. overseas postings.

On the other side of the ledger, a military on constant or recurrent deployment can realize savings from operating forward. The expense of supporting no-fly zones in Bosnia and northern Iraq was eased by having bases in Aviano, Italy, and Incirlik, Turkey. Not having bases in the Persian Gulf added $20 million a month to the cost of Operation Earnest Will (the Kuwaiti oil-tanker reflagging operation). Another consideration is that bringing together U.S. and allied forces for joint training is cheaper and easier if U.S. forces are already there (although allies could come to North America, as the Germans now do).

What would be most cost effective if rapid deployment were not an issue? Although some countries are generous hosts, with basing costs running to several billion dollars a year, the economics tend to favor keeping forces at home and transporting them as needed.

A posture decision involves not only where, but what: operational units, logistics, or C4ISR elements. Should the United States own the facility outright (and, if so, under what restrictions) or as part of an alliance (e.g., NATO), lease it (again, under what restrictions), or only gain rights to it? What role should private contractors and their facilities play? Should units be assigned there permanently or rotate? What kind of transit rights should the United States seek? What kind of radio frequencies can it use in the neighborhood? Logistics, too, are part of U.S. force posture. The Berlin airlift of 1948 resolved a crisis without war. Intermediate U.S. basing (e.g., in the Azores) permitted rapid resupply of Israeli forces in 1973. On-site and off-shore capabilities help in the transfer of materiel to friends who may neither need nor particularly want to see U.S. forces (e.g., Israel during the Gulf War).

Finally, the overall posture of the United States has to be considered part of an integrated system that cannot be easily analyzed as individual parts (even if Atlantic and Pacific facilities can be considered separately). Forward presence in one zone may require support facilities stretching back to CONUS. An air base here may obviate the need for a similar facility there.

Lessons from World War II and Cold War Basing

Before 1939, the United States had a thin basing structure with one string extending to the Canal Zone and another past Honolulu to the Philippines and Shanghai. World War II led to the largest basing expansion in the history of the world, first to support Allied shipping to Britain, North Africa, Australia, and the China-Burma-India theaters, then to support operations in the Mediterranean, France, and the Pacific Islands. By 1945, 3,000 new bases had been built.

This U.S. basing structure proved dynamic and sensitive to changes in conditions and technology. As the threat to shipping receded, for instance, intermediate bases in, say, South America and Africa were judged redundant. Aircraft operational ranges determined the best distribution of bases, even though aircraft accounted for only 1 percent of goods and 3 percent of human transport. But planners could not bring themselves to rely on projected, rather than actual, operational parameters. Iwo Jima, assaulted mainly to secure basing for the shorter range B25s, might have been avoided had planners bet (correctly) that the longer range B29 would be available by July 1945.

Half the World War II bases were closed by 1948 as some friendly countries sought to reassert national control over their lands. Others were closed later as some countries (e.g., China after 1949, Libya after 1970) turned hostile. The base structure of the Cold War reflected the containment policy against the Soviet Union (and sometimes China) and the continually longer legs of U.S. aircraft. The key bases were all far forward, rather than strung from the United States outward. Events such as the Korean War and France's withdrawal from NATO had important secondary effects. By 1988, half the overseas bases used by U.S. forces were less than 40 years old.

The Necessary

There are still places in the world--the Persian Gulf and South Korea--where an invasion without warning may be undertaken to attain important military objectives, but such threats are less urgent than 10 years ago. North Korea is weak and may not last until 2018. Russia is two-and-a-half countries farther from the Rhine than in 1988. China, a potential major threat, does not share many easily crossed borders with nations the United States might defend. With the end of the Cold War, fewer wars can be reasonably described as proxies for a larger struggle (much as the Korean War was seen as a harbinger for a possible Soviet thrust into Europe).

Many invasions do not mandate a direct U.S. military response: border disputes not affecting U.S. interests (e.g., Libya versus Chad); places with little strategic value; and circumstances either too difficult to handle directly (e.g., Afghanistan) or where victims are at odds with the United States (e.g., Vietnam's invasion of Kampuchea in 1978) or might welcome liberation (e.g., India's move into East Pakistan in 1974). In the expected world of 2018, a few forces in or near the Gulf, and, for the moment, in Korea, might suffice.

But what if the international security environment deteriorates?


If the United States were to find itself oriented against a theater peer, it would want forces arrayed accordingly. To create a new military base may be viewed as provocative and potentially dangerous if the theater peer is strong enough to do something about it (e.g., threaten the host country before U.S. power can arrive to stiffen resistance). Expanding or upgrading key facilities incrementally as a threat grows or becomes increasingly evident may raise fewer hackles (particularly if no threshold exists where crossing one could create a fuss).

The rise of a theater peer raises the importance of having friends and the ability to work with them. Today's force posture should reflect the need to support:

THAAD launch


A smarter foe that could impede lines of communication and hold bases and debarkation points at risk with weapons of mass destruction (WMD) or smart weapons could cause the United States particular difficulties with power projection. Redundancy in communications and operational areas, however, offers flexibility against this contingency, as would preparations for operating by standing farther back.

WMD may pose a special problem. Against nuclear weapons, no base is likely to survive (without a leakproof theater missile defense), but equipment may survive most biological and chemical weapons. A lightly manned but otherwise well-provisioned facility (a pre-positioned capability, as it were) that can be reentered rapidly might be more robust than a heavily manned base from which forces operate.


A series of messy situations in unpredictable places requires the ability to move light forces and associated logistics with C4ISR support into and out of area quickly. Chances are that if the world should become sufficiently messy it would be because of broad forces (e.g., the rise of a messianic ideology, environmental catastrophe, global trade war) that affect many places at once; chaos will be widespread. Concentrating capabilities in any one location may be less useful than dispersion, deployable capabilities, and lift. Should a large-scale noncombatant evacuation (NEO) or the restoration of national services come to matter, the need for rapid redeployment of essential infrastructures will call for facilities that can be taken down, transported, and turned on quickly.

The core could respond to a messy situation by identifying what it values most and protecting it (as opposed, for instance, to an evacuation or broader remediation strategy). If so, force and facility protection issues will arise. Otherwise, it must deal with the fact that while infrastructure is burgeoning elsewhere in the world, it may actually be deteriorating where most needed militarily (e.g., in former Zaire). A protection strategy must necessarily be a broad rather than focussed program that provides security, hardening, and connectivity.


Theater Missile Defense as a Posture Decision

Seemingly modest differences in performance capabilities among competing systems may have wide ramifications for posture. Consider theater missile defense. The current four-layer architecture envisions strikes against missile sites, airborne lasers to kill missiles in boost phase (a program still in the early stages), upper tier missiles for the trajectory phase (a program being tested), and terminal missiles for the descent phase (an ongoing program of upgrades).

Two programs compete for the upper tier--the Navy area-wide standard missile and the Army theater high altitude area defense (THAAD) system. It is unclear whether both programs will go ahead.

Assume, now, that a continental power threatens an island friend of the United States. War has not broken out, so U.S. forces cannot hunt for launchers in country or deploy airborne lasers inland (and thus can do little against missiles launched from deep within national territory). If the United States were to support its island friend, it would have to rely on upper and lower tier missiles--preferably upper tier if the incoming warhead carries poisons. But which one? If THAAD alone were to survive, the United States could offer to base THAAD on the threatened island. This would put the island's government on the spot. It may see deployment as provocative--a prelude to war and public reconfirmation of its defense link to the United States, the continental power's special foe. Thus the island's government might reject THAAD deployment, leaving itself vulnerable and more easily swayed. Were the Navy area-wide Standard missile to survive, the United States could deploy missile-carrying ships into international waters without anyone's say-so (just as it moved two aircraft carriers into the Taiwan Strait in March 1996). The island's government, under U.S. protection, could take time to sort out its position. Unless the United States wants to force the island's government to declare itself, ship-based missile defenses have important advantages.

Upper tier is only one component of the four-layer defense, and engagement systems are but one part of a complex antimissile architecture that includes early-warning sensors, peripheral sensors, threat processors, civil defense (including NBC detectors) and complex command-and-control arrangements, many of which extend into the host country. A first response to a threat may be not moving hardware but seeing to technical and operational interoperability of equipment and hierarchies.

DMZ Korea

New Concepts for Off-Shore Presence

The collapse of the Soviet Empire eliminated the blue-water challenge to the U.S. Navy, which therefore turned its attention to power projection on shore and the supporting technologies. Two emerging concepts are mobile off-shore bases (MOBs) and arsenal ships.

A MOB is like a small floating island, with a 1,600-meter runway (for C17s and other cargo aircraft) alongside port facilities, C4ISR assets (e.g., UAVs), logistics transfer equipment, weapons bunkering, and related inventory. With room for 10,000 troops, a MOB can provide staging facilities. By operating for years in a given region (e.g., outside the Strait of Hormuz), it could magnify the staying power of the fleet without requiring local access rights.

An arsenal ship with Sea Tactical Missile Systems (TACMS) (200-km range) and cruise missiles (2,500-km range) could provide firepower from far away, much as the battleship traditionally did from within 40 kilometers. Stand-off range makes ships harder to hit even if found, while features that reduce the ships profile and other facets of its signature (e.g., coatings, geometries) frustrate finding it. Extensive automation can reduce manning levels to 50, in contrast to the typical complement of a battleship of over 1,200. The chief alternative to the arsenal ship is the submarine with its proven design and stealthiness. But at a billion dollars apiece, submarines cost twice as much as arsenal ships are expected to, their load-out is smaller, and they cannot host tactical rockets.

MOBs and arsenal ships remain concepts, with neither fully supported by funding streams. They make sense as long as the threat to ships comes from mines or volleys of short-range land-based cruise missiles. Yet as (not if) cruise missiles and diesel submarines proliferate and gain range, more of the cost of a MOB will go to self-defense. Arsenal ships are harder to find (yet a swarm of UAVs equipped with synthetic aperture radar could search the ocean and look for an absence of expected waves) but easier to damage. In the long run, neither MOBs nor arsenal ships are foolproof for off-shore presence--but the long run could be 20 years away.

Presence and Nuclear Weapons

Physical presence is often assumed necessary for military power to be credible. Nuclear weapons, however, are a clear exception and this exception may speak to tomorrow's conventional warfare.

By 1960, intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs), nuclear ballistic missile submarines, and the refinement of air-to-air refueling allowed the United States to maintain nuclear forces without any overseas bases. Yet it did maintain a forward nuclear presence: on surface ships, in air bases, and with Army units in Europe and Korea. Although these weapons added fractionally to the country's total nuclear punch, deployment was designed to weave a seamless fabric of deterrence that stretched from conventional forces through tactical nuclear capability to strategic systems. Extended deterrence reassured allies and complicated Soviet military planning. Unfortunately, it also complicated U.S. military planning, and many analysts raised concerns about command and control over such weapons should war erupt.

Since the mid-1980s, attributes of strategic systems have crept into conventional systems. Some strategic systems, such as long-range bombers, space surveillance, or high-altitude reconnaissance, have been adapted for conventional roles. Cruise missiles can also carry conventional warheads. The ultimate expression of this capability could be an infrastructure of ICBMs, each filled with hundreds of antiarmor projectiles, standing alert against a canonical invasion (pending ways to distinguish such a launch from a nuclear strike). At the $20 it now costs to loft a gram into low-earth orbit, such a system may be too expensive for tactical missions. But billions are being invested to drive the $20 per gram down to $5 to $2, where such a scheme may become cost effective (as long as their use does not look to others like a nuclear attack).

Even if such a scheme proved worthwhile, long-range strike, nuclear or conventional, remains an instrument of dissuasion, rather than control. The nuclear analogy does, however, suggest precedents for the psychology of virtual presence. Consider Bosnia: during the 1995 Dayton talks, U.S. negotiators used software to overlay source-based terrain and imagery data to make a technical point (the width of the corridor connecting Sarajevo and Gorazde, which had been behind Serbian lines). The same information served to convince the Serbs that where they lived was nakedly visible to NATO. This visibility was reinforced repeatedly during IFOR operations, as suspected weapons dumps were photographed by Apache gunsight cameras with cross-hairs plain in the pictures handed over to their owners. The psychological effects of having to fight exposed may well have convinced the Serbs to leave the IFOR/SFOR peacekeepers alone.

The Possible

Power projection is rapidly evolving. The model of inserting ground forces has already been amended to include air power and will soon include information power. Because the United States cannot be everywhere with everything, it must mix and match forces to offer the most presence for the least cost. Take the broad issue of on-site, off-shore, and CONUS-based presence.

On-site presence is responsive but expensive, both in dollars and lost flexibility. Being on site permits contact with enemy forces in minutes or hours. A local missile defense can engage an opening salvo of ballistic missiles. Even if war starts elsewhere, forward-deployed forces (e.g., in Europe) often are closer to the ultimate objective (e.g., the Persian Gulf) than if they were in CONUS. But being here makes it harder to be there. If storm clouds rise, the United States may want to redeploy forces--but if the world is generally inching toward crisis and everything is clouding over, host-nation objections may frustrate moving forces away to where they may be more needed.

Off-shore presence--a combination of naval assets and air assets projected from nearby bases--offers greater flexibility. Because new technologies make it possible to measure the effective radius of off-shore presence in thousands of kilometers, broad regions can be covered with fewer assets tied to any one spot. Off-shore presence is also a more flexible instrument of U.S. power because it is less likely to be constrained by host nations. But apart from long-range strikes (e.g., by cruise missiles), reaction times are measured in days, not hours or minutes, whether by an Aegis ship providing radar coverage for missile defense, a carrier with attack aircraft, or a Marine detachment coming in over the shore on V22s. Continuous naval presence requires an initial investment of about $50 billion (for the three carrier battle groups required to keep one carrier continuously on-station) and an ongoing operational budget of $5 to $10 billion a year--and the seas do not reach everywhere.

CONUS-based or virtual presence is the most flexible of the three in that it presupposes the least about where trouble may break out. Long-range bombers can respond within a day, although their capability is limited. If in-theater C4ISR is thin, the only targets that can be effectively targeted will be fixed facilities, dense troop concentrations, or very obvious, slow moving platforms. Close air support or close-in combat forces would be out of the question.

Operations and basing are closely linked in that the shorter the range at which one would fight, the more important it is to be near where the next front line might be. Conversely, if one would operate from around the world, there is no need to take the risks of placing vulnerable facilities far forward. A combination of distributed basing and medium-range (e.g., 200 kilometers) engagement distances can cover a large swath of the world to a roughly equal degree without having to take the effort and, worse, time to move forces.

Four parameters influence the optimal mix among these three models of power projection: deterrence, logistics, long-range strike, and C4ISR. Deterrence and logistics affect the ability to project forces forward, whereas strike and C4ISR speak to projecting force.

Information Technology and Logistics

Information technology can make logistics leaner. Global networking, software to support logistics anchor-desks, the Total Asset Visibility program, radio-tagging of reparable items, and containerized cargoes all make goods in transit easier to trace. This reduces re-supply time (up to 60 percent in test cases in Bosnia) and the amount of logistics that must be kept forward in potentially vulnerable locations. Although a perfectly taut pipeline conflicts with the real-world need to buffer against the frictions of war, modeling and simulation should tell logisticians how to cover contingencies with the least overhang.

Information technology can help disperse logistics by making a network of smaller supply centers work almost as well as one big one. A related challenge is integrating U.S. logistics systems (and those of coalition partners) with facilities of a host nation. Standardization helps (e.g., for networking, electronic commerce, database manipulation, measurement, and product description).


Because others perceive that killing American soldiers would bring the full military power of the United States into combat, being on scene is often held to have deterrent value. But what, in fact, actually deters? Unfortunately, only the failure to deter can be known for sure. Measuring what any increment of forces adds to deterrence is almost impossible, even if its value did not vary with each instrument, opponent, location, and circumstance, as it does.

An enemy that knows that gaining military objectives must bring it into contact with U.S. forces must calculate where the tripwire lies. A few dead Americans have sometimes been enough to bring on a war (e.g., the Mexican War) or considerable punishment (e.g., the 1986 raid on Libya). Yet casualties taken when interests are unclear may not lead to further intervention. The bombing of the Marine barracks in Beirut in 1983 or the killing of 18 Rangers in Somalia in 1993 appeared to have had the opposite effect. Several hundred U.S. soldiers in Macedonia may pose a tripwire to deter a Serbian incursion, but only if political backing for engagement exists. Conversely, few doubt that the United States would honor its Article V obligations if a NATO country were violated, even if no U.S. servicemen were hurt in the invasion.

As the Khobar Towers incident (1996) suggested, the U.S. military cannot provide presence without addressing issues of force protection. More broadly, concentrations of U.S. forces hold American policy hostage both to foe and friend. U.S. attitudes toward North Korea are affected by having 37,000 troops within range of WMD (but millions of South Koreans also live within artillery range of the border).

If war erupts, is having ground and air forces up front necessarily the best way to meet military objectives? No U.S. forces deployed forward today carry enough firepower to win on their own (although they may affect the outcome of an otherwise close contest). Their role would be to hold off invading forces long enough to permit reinforcements to land as far forward as possible. The vulnerability of visibility heightens the advantages of trading space for time. Armies moving forward often must mass or otherwise reveal themselves in the process of overwhelming resistance; they are even easier to detect if they advance into terrain that is wired with a dense sensor grid. Armies moving backward encounter less resistance and thus can move more stealthily. Attackers may therefore incur heavier casualties than defenders. As attackers are thinned out, they are likely to overextend themselves. But basing ties U.S. military behavior to the natural desire of host countries to concentrate power for goal-line stands (a historical problem for NATO). It also concentrates forces and tempts aggressors to use weapons of mass destruction.

A Burgeoning Global Infrastructure

A growing consideration in optimizing tomorrow's force posture is the world's expanding infrastructure: airports, seaports, roads, and communications. Because less of the world needs to be viewed as austere in terms of logistics support, more may be available to U.S. forces and less must be supplied from its own supply bases.

Major airports can support wide-bodied aircraft; they feature long runways, adequate traffic control, and generous loading and unloading

The burgeoning communications infrastructure is evident in the spread of cellular telephony (particularly in areas with weak wireline systems), the proliferation of satellites and very small aperture terminals (VSATs), and the pace at which new fiber-optic lines are being laid across ocean floors. One proposed line from New Jersey to the Mediterranean can carry 10 billion bits per second (bps) and will later support 40 billion bps--enough for 600,000 simultaneous phone calls. By 2018, the world will be able to use serial space-based phone systems (e.g., Iridium, Globalstar, or ICO) and at least one high-bandwidth Internet-based system (e.g., Teledesic or Hughes Aircraft's Spaceway).

Military access to airports and other commercial infrastructures may not be automatic. The terms under which impressive facilities in, say, Arabia or Brazil could be used are neither clear nor explicit. Access may be blocked politically; for instance, military communications are explicitly forbidden on the Inmarsat satellite system--although this rule may have been skirted in past years. Capacity may be committed to nonmilitary users. Military bases have equipment and supplies (e.g., repair parts for weapons systems) that must be hauled to commercial sites--assuming that they are compatible with such equipment. Commercial facilities are poorly hardened against physical attack (e.g., most commercial airports lack revetments) and information attack (e.g., switches, concentrators, or other nodes are unguarded, radio communications are subject to jamming and other interference, and systems software is penetrable). In many cases, the command-and-control software that runs commercial infrastructures both differs from and is incompatible with comparable military systems.

Increasingly, the fastest and cheapest way to take advantage of commercial infrastructure is by subsidizing upgrades in advance of war (e.g., the Civil Reserve Air Fleet program) or prepackaging upgrade kits to support quick deployment. Software patches offer the advantage of leaving a smaller footprint than corresponding hardware upgrades.


The faster U.S. forces can get to the theater, the farther away they can be stationed and still show up on time. Rates of surge into theater can be determined by dividing deployable assets by throughput, which equals lift capacity divided by turnaround time. Between now and 2018, C17s will replace retired airlift aircraft, but the result will be little gain in airlift capacity. Although global inventories of wide-bodied cargo jets will grow over 20 years, unless the Civil Reserve Air Fleet (CRAF) keeps pace, they will be inadequate to meet the requirements for military airlift. Personnel movement presents little challenge: any major metropolitan airport (measured by air traffic control and runways) can land 5,000 people per hour; many can land 10,000.

In rough numbers, if half the expected U.S. heavy air transport fleet of 2018, that is, 60 C5s and 60 C17s, were available to run a 42-hour turnaround cycle, it could lift roughly 150,000 metric tons in three weeks--enough for a heavy division or two light ones. After that, a surged rate of lift could move one division a week (although shipping space would also need to be allocated for air squadrons, allies, and naval facilities ashore). The shorter the distance, the greater the lift capacity, but only slightly: every 1,000 kilometers closer adds only 5 percent to throughput rates. Sealift is cheap but slow, and capacity is unlikely to undergo dramatic change over the next 20 years.

Maintaining a tight cycle puts a premium on minimizing port congestion at both ends, fast loading and unloading, and fast or reduced maintenance. Pre-positioned supplies help, but only if the war's location is known correctly in advance. Advances in information technology can modestly reduce logistics requirements.

Air power can be moved more quickly, but unless strike assets are there when fighting starts, it takes roughly a week before they can arrive in meaningful numbers. As one response to Iraq's "exercise" in October 1994, the Air Force started working on its Air Expeditionary Force concept, in which combat power equivalent to half a squadron can be brought into an improved base with prepositioned equipment within 48 hours; five sites are planned for the Persian Gulf area.


Shooting from close up is cheaper and faster, but shooting from stand-off distances is less risky and more flexible (more shooters can reach any one target). Knowing how well U.S. forces can shoot from far away influences where to put them.

Accuracy--the first consideration--is no longer the best reason for shooting from up close. Direct fire is accurate against moving targets within 3 kilometers (or fixed targets within 5 to 10 kilometers). Beyond that, precision-guided munitions (PGM) must steer themselves to the target, and the global positioning system (GPS) makes accuracy distance-independent. Without GPS, a PGM needs inertial guidance; if fiber-optic gyroscopes work, their .01 degree/hour drift rate should put any PGM within sufficient homing range even if launched from several hundred kilometers away.

Cost is a second consideration. Hypothetical conventional intercontinental systems aside, cruise missiles have the longest range, more than 2,500 kilometers, but at $500,000 apiece, they are costly. A canonical 15,000 aimpoint invasion requires an inventory of 24,000 cruise missiles (some miss) or roughly $12 billion worth (perhaps less: unit costs fall as production rates rise). Within 200 to 300 kilometers, the land-launched Army tactical missile system (ATACMS) or sea-TACMs can do the same job more cheaply (each ATACM costs more but contains multiple bomblets).

Sender UAV

Missiles launched from manned aircraft have a maximum range of 20 to 80 kilometers depending on type. Most aircraft, in turn, have a flying radius of several hundred kilometers, and air superiority aircraft can go a few thousand kilometers. Very-long-range missions require either air-to-air refueling or trade fuel for ordnance loadout. Manned aircraft (with precision weapons) begin to become more cost effective than stand-off precision munitions only if full-scale operations continue for more than a month. To amortize just the purchase cost of an F117 over the cost of a 30-day war (roughly 100 bombs), the cost per bomb is $500,000--before maintenance is factored in. In the long run, dumb munitions are the cheapest weapon against diffuse targets, but they are also the heaviest to haul and the most expensive to man, and their delivery systems are the most difficult to protect.

Dark Star UAV

Meanwhile, the United States is steadily reducing its air-breathing intercontinental punch. By early in the 21st century, the United States will have no more than 22 B2s, 70 B52s, and 95 B1s, and no warm production lines for more. As many or half of these aircraft will be devoted to strategic nuclear missions.

Flight time is a third consideration. The two hours a cruise missile takes to go 2,500 kilometers limit its value against moving targets. Loitering cruise missiles may be available by 2018 (the Tacit Rainbow antiradiation missile program failed, but the low-cost autonomous attack system, LOCAAS, is still going). The ATACMS can reach any target within four minutes, and short-range, air-to-ground munitions take roughly 30 seconds to reach target.

Enemy aircraft cannot now be killed from distances farther than 20 to 100 kilometers, whether from land or air attack. By 2018, the United States may have stealthy (and relatively small) unmanned aerial vehicles with the sole mission of dispatching air-to-air missiles when cued. Untested directed-energy weapons may permit air-to-air engagements from as far away as 500 kilometers.


The ability to watch the world in general and a battlespace in particular may be expensive to set up but, once established, may be relatively cheap to use or extend. Most costs of technology (e.g., software development, systems architecture, testing, training, and user adaptation) are paid for regardless of who is being watched or where. Orbiting surveillance assets do not need be augmented to add new targets (even if today's constellation must evolve to support more continuous coverage, links to the field, data compression, and automatic scene preprocessing). Once global communications are in place, thickening them to meet the needs of a particular theater is secondary (ground terminals constitute much of the extra cost).

                                                                                                            747-400 cargo plane

Detailed battlespace intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR) require local sensors. Some feature great mobility and long sensing range (e.g., joint surveillance target attack radar system [JSTARS], airborne warning and control system, [AWACS], comparable UAVs, Aegis ships); others must be scattered densely and repeatedly. The cost of achieving adequate coverage with unmanned long-range sensors, for instance, depends on terrain, weather, and use. Flying at 20 kilometers, one UAV can cover a territory as large as Kuwait with a vertical viewing angle within 45 degrees. To cover a notional 200 by 200 nautical mile battlefield would require 100 to 150 UAVs on station; using the most expensive UAV for that mission would require $2 to $3 billion in investment (depending on availability on-scene). Some UAVs are cheaper: tactical UAVs run several hundred thousand dollars each, and DoD labs have flown smaller UAVs that, at $5,000 each, are almost disposable. With computer-mounted video cameras at $9 apiece and microphones at three for a dollar, it would take quite a few disposable sensors to drain the Treasury. Coordination software is expensive to write, but once written can be used repeatedly.

C-17 Globemaster II

Basing geography does dictate some C4ISR costs. Central Asia, for instance, would cost more to monitor than Korea. UAVs capable of making round-trip flights of several thousand miles cost more than those that need go only a few hundred miles. Beyond a few hundred kilometers, aerostats are too far away; airborne sensor delivery is more problematic; and longer transit times raise the odds of accident or interception. Radio networks are hard to maintain over long distances.

Fundamental Parameters

Force posture therefore must be viewed in terms of a number of fundamental parameters:


What should the U.S. posture be in 2018, particularly for futures that may feature larger or smarter foes and messier operations? From an operational viewpoint, trends both positive (what U.S. forces can do) and negative (the risks of similar technology in adversary hands) favor standing increasingly farther back from the battlefield. Other trends both positive (e.g., the greater ease of networking and transportation) and negative (e.g., the shadow of weapons of mass destruction) favor dispersion over concentration. The increasing emphasis on day-to-day engagement with allies and coalition partners argues for a posture that makes it easier for U.S. forces to go to others rather than have allies come to us.

As a practical matter, it helps to start within a few hundred kilometers of the action so as to operate with cheap UAVs, air-dropped sensors, upper atmosphere communications relays, over-the-horizon radar, precision rockets (e.g., ATACMS, upper-tier theater missile defenses), and rapid insertion forces (e.g., helicopters, V-22s). The ideal coverage is a network of thinly manned listening posts and potential stock points, all integrated into commercial infrastructures for transportation and communications. Such off-shore presence would be provided by land if possible and by sea if necessary. Strike could be provided from stand-off distances. This structure points to an inevitable evolution away from today's strategy, left over from the Cold War, of concentrating forces forward.


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