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Major Theater War

The ability to respond to operational military contingencies is the keystone of American defense policy. This chapter assesses the capability of U.S. forces to fulfill the Quadrennial Defense Review's (QDR) requirement of a posture to excel at combat operations and thereby prevail in contingencies liable to be encountered, especially major theater wars (MTWs) against rogue states.

Although risks undeniably exist, U.S. forces today offer confidence in their capacity to fight and win wars. Because of adequate size and high quality, they are superbly effective at operating on the modern battlefield. Current threats may be less severe than in the Cold War, but now is no time for complacency. Existing contingencies could pose serious challenges, and tomorrow's threats may be more dangerous than today's. U.S. forces must remain ready for near-term wars while constantly improving so they can win future conflicts. As argued elsewhere in this volume, the capacity to win MTWs is not the only consideration in U.S. defense strategy but it would require the United States to use force in order to achieve decisive victory.

Current U.S. Forces

In the event of war, American military strategy calls for decisive operations aimed at quickly defeating the enemy, attaining key political-military objectives, and minimizing casualties to U.S. and allied forces. The QDR calls for sufficient forces to handle two MTWs in distant theaters in overlapping time frames, in addition to many kinds of operations other than the event of two MTWs. For example, large forces are needed to carry out normal peacetime operations--including peace support missions and limited crisis interventions--in the three theaters of Europe, the Persian Gulf, and Asia. Similarly, sizable forces would be needed to wage a single MTW while also meeting normal requirements in the other two theaters. U.S. defense strategy is more complex than only being prepared for two MTWs, and U.S. force requirements are judged accordingly.

Principal Combat Forces

The QDR retained a force posture similar to that adopted by the 1992 Bottom-Up Review (BUR). This posture is about two-thirds the size of the Cold War posture and costs less than the big defense budgets of the late 1980s. The QDR cut overall DoD manpower by about 8 percent: active military personnel is to be 1.36 million by 2003; one Air Force wing will be shifted to reserve status; 35 Navy surface combatants and submarines will be retired; and up to 12 Army National Guard brigades will be eliminated, while other brigades will be transferred to logistic functions.

These combat forces are supplemented by important support assets. Army divisions are backed by large combat support (CS) and combat service support (CSS) units--at corps and higher echelons--which provide such essential services as artillery, helicopters, supply of ammunition and petroleum, oil and lubricants (POL), maintenance, and engineers. Air Force fighter wings are similarly supported by aircraft that perform several missions (e.g., command and control, reconnaissance, electronic warfare, and defense suppression). Navy carrier battle groups are accompanied by an underway replenishment group of logistics ships. These support assets play an unseen but critical role in making U.S. forces strong.

Why U.S. Forces Excel

Some observers may question whether the QDR has chosen the right force posture, but practically no one quarrels with the notion that U.S. forces excel at carrying out combat operations and waging war. Why is this the case? What accounts for their military excellence? Clearly, the pillars are good people and effective technology, but even excellent personnel must be organized and used effectively. Excellence is relative. Today's forces may suffer shortfalls and deficiencies, yet they are better at modern combat operations than their potential enemies. The future challenge is to preserve and enhance excellence.

Principal Reasons for High Quality of U.S. Military

Attributes of High Quality

U.S. forces are large enough to meet warfighting requirements postulated by the QDR but not far larger than everybody else's. The United States has a large military posture and defense budget to meet global responsibilities, but in numerical terms its forces do not dominate the military balance in the three key theaters. Other countries have large forces; indeed, recent enemies have made a specialty of assembling quite large forces. In peacetime, the principal effect of U.S. forces is to shift regional balances at the margin in ways that have a high-leverage, stabilizing effect. In wartime, U.S. forces can concentrate, but even so they ordinarily aspire to defeat the enemy not by swamping it with large numbers but by outfighting it. Their excellence thus is not based on quantity but on quality. The following attributes account for this quality:

Global power projection

U.S. defense strategy is focused on protecting overseas interests and requires the capacity to project military power to key theaters. The United States has a good power-projection capability because of major improvements since the 1970s. Four reasons account for this capability. First, large U.S. forces are deployed in three theaters on a peacetime basis: 109,000 personnel in Europe; nearly 100,000 in Asia; and 25,000 in the Persian Gulf. U.S. overseas combat forces total eight Army and Marine ground brigades, six and a half fighter wings, three carrier battle groups, and three Navy Amphibious Readiness Groups (ARG) or Marine Expeditionary Units (MEU). This presence provides not only deployed combat forces available on short notice in key locations, but also well-developed military infrastructure and reception facilities. Initial defense operations can begin almost immediately, and reinforcements from the continental United States (CONUS) can begin to contribute on arrival in these theaters. The effect is to reduce vulnerability to surprise attacks while enabling the United States to amass large forces for decisive operations within a few weeks or months, not years.

The second reason is that most U.S. forces in CONUS are designed for overseas expeditionary missions. They are equipped with strong combat forces and large logistics assets that allow them to deploy overseas on short notice, operate for lengthy periods in austere environments, engage in intense combat, and conduct a full spectrum of defensive and offensive missions. No other nation has configured such a large portion of its military for this purpose. Indeed, most focus on their immediate regions and, consequently, can deploy only small forces (e.g., a single brigade or division, one to two air wings, and a few ships) far beyond their borders. The United States surpasses all of them in expeditionary capabilities.

The third reason for U.S. power-projection capability is that it has strategic mobility forces. These are important because of the vast tonnages that must be moved in deploying large forces: e.g., a three-division corps has thousands of vehicles and can weigh nearly a million tons. Without good mobility, moving large forces overseas would be very time consuming. Although current U.S. mobility assets may still suffer from shortfalls in some areas, even so they can deploy forces overseas far more rapidly than 10 or 20 years ago.

Mobility assets come in the form of pre-positioned equipment, intertheater airlift forces, and sealift forces, each important in the mobility equation. The United States has sizable pre-positioned assets in the three theaters: 10 ground brigade sets ashore and afloat, plus fuel and ammo stocks for ground and air forces. Its airlift forces include 314 heavy military transports backed up by civilian transports. Sealift forces include about 100 DoD-owned cargo ships plus access to commercial ships. Provided these assets are available, the United States could deploy a force of two to three divisions, four to five air wings, and one to two carriers to a distant overseas location within one to two months. Within several months, it could move virtually the entire available U.S. force posture of 13 divisions, 24 fighter wings, and 8 to 10 carriers. Further, it could distribute these forces among several theaters or concentrate them all in one.

The fourth reason is that the United States enjoys control of the air and sea lines of communication to the three key theaters--control provided in part by U.S. forces and in part by allied forces. In Europe, for example, NATO allies provide military bases and escort forces as support for transit through the Mediterranean toward the Persian Gulf. In the Persian Gulf and Northeast Asia, allies provide local air defense and sealane defense for arriving forces. In consequence, enemy forces would be hard pressed to interrupt the flow of U.S. forces to key theaters threatened by war.

This capacity for global power projection is the foundation of defense strategy and all other capabilities are built on it. The United States is a Western Hemisphere nation faced with the task of protecting interests in three widely separated theaters in the Eastern Hemisphere. It is also a maritime nation that must be able to conduct demanding continental campaigns in each theater. Power projection allows the United States to be an effective superpower in Europe, the Persian Gulf, and Asia at the same time.

Intelligence, planning, and information dominance

Large operations require intelligence, planning, and information dominance--areas in which U.S. forces excel.

Within the Pentagon, civilian and military staffs develop coordinated plans, programs, and budgets for each service component and theater. Regional commanders in chief develop operational plans (OPLANS) and associated time-phased force deployment data (TPFDD) for coordinating the flow of forces overseas. They also develop detailed campaign plans for employing forces in a variety of operations. The effect is to enhance the speed with which forces are deployed overseas and increase their effectiveness upon arrival. In addition, the U.S. intelligence community provides better information on each region than is available to any other nation, thereby giving U.S. forces an important advantage as they deploy and begin operations.

B1 bomber

As has been the case since the late 1960s, U.S. forces enjoy information dominance because of superior C4ISR assets. No other nation comes close to matching the United States in these assets, in strategic terms or on the battlefield. New intelligence assets and digitized communications systems are accelerating information processing and increasing the speed with which far-reaching decisions can be made and complex military operations launched. Such data systems permit commanders to blend the operations of several divisions, wings, and CVBGs into a coordinated, swiftly moving campaign. They permit delegation of authority and initiative to lower echelons, enhancing force effectiveness. And they provide commanders with knowledge of enemy forces and operations. The effect is to create major advantages in concentrating U.S. forces and using maneuver and firepower, increasing the likelihood that U.S. forces can win critical engagements decisively.

Joint and combined doctrine

Successful warfighting requires bringing the service components under the control of a single theater commander. The capacity to perform joint operations is key to combat effectiveness, because it means that separate service components can work together on behalf of a common plan. Nations lacking this capability inevitably have weaker forces. Nearly all military establishments encounter trouble in trying to blend the operations of their land, sea, and air forces. The United States, although not immune to this problem, has by a wide margin made the greatest strides toward fostering joint doctrine, enhancing the capacity of its force components to work together. This progress started in the 1970s, when efforts were begun to better coordinate U.S. air and ground operations. In particular, air assets and operations were tailored not only to win the air battle but also to assist the ground battle. This emphasis on jointness has been expanded in the form of reorienting naval forces toward littoral operations. The Navy and Marine Corps now are increasingly capable of working with both the Army and Air Force in continental campaigns. For example, naval forces now perform air defense and deep-strike missions, and Marine units can operate alongside Army units in defensive and offensive operations.

Soldiers boarding C130

The benefits of jointness were demonstrated in Desert Storm, when all three service components worked closely together to carry out a truly joint campaign. Critics point to the difficulties and deficiencies encountered, but, overall, the effort was a major success. U.S. forces decisively defeated a large, well-armed opponent with few losses to themselves. A victory this large would not have been possible in the past and was significantly influenced by joint operations. In particular, the early air campaign so eroded Iraqi forces that it set the stage for a sweeping ground campaign, which was conducted by the Army and Marine Corps working together and supported by the Navy and Air Force that speeded the advance.

The services currently have overlapping capabilities that foster joint operations. Critics charge that the effect is unnecessarily to inflate force requirements and have urged greater specialization of roles and missions as a way to trim budgets and forces. A common allegation, for example, is that the United States has four air forces, three air defense systems, and two armies when presumably only one of each is needed. If total assets match total needs, however, overlapping capabilities do not translate into unnecessary redundancy. Too much specialization may result in loss of jointness in ways that might sacrifice the synergy of all components working closely together. In earlier decades, the services specialized to the point of largely ignoring one another, to the detriment of their overall capability to wage war. The lesson of the recent past is that properly planned joint operations reduce, rather than inflate, force requirements, because they enhance force effectiveness. For this reason, emerging U.S. military doctrine emphasizes jointness.

The capability to conduct combined operations with allies and coalition partners is also quite important. It may determine the capacity of a multinational force to carry out a single, integrated campaign. U.S. forces are often viewed as operating by themselves, whereas in reality they work closely with foreign military forces in all three theaters. This is true not only in peace but also in crisis and war. In Europe, U.S. forces are embedded within the NATO integrated command and multinational formations in order to conduct a full-spectrum of missions. The Implementation Force/Stabilization Forces (IFOR/SFOR) mission in Bosnia is a classic example of a NATO operation in which the United States provided only about half of the forces or less. In the Persian Gulf, Desert Storm was a combined operation in which Arab and European coalition partners provided up to one-third of the total forces. Another Persian Gulf War might witness a similar pattern. In Asia, a new Korean War might find the United States providing only one-fourth of U.S.-ROK ground forces, albeit the bulk of air and naval forces. Recent developments suggest that Japan will have an increasing role in providing forces and bases to support the deployment of U.S. forces, thus increasing the emphasis on combined planning in Asia.

The trend toward combined operations is likely to grow in all three theaters, especially if global requirements increase while U.S. force levels are held constant or decline somewhat. Critics point to the problems and barriers that hamper progress. The capability for these operations has greatly improved in all three, but more needs to be done. In the future, one problem will be to encourage allies and partners to improve at power projection and to encourage the more willing to participate in missions in distant areas, so that the burdens will be fairly shared. Another problem will be how, as U.S. forces improve through the ongoing revolution in military affairs (RMA), they can remain interoperable and compatible with foreign forces. These are important challenges, but they are not reasons to scale back the combined planning compelled by military and strategic realities.

Decisive battlefield campaigns

Success in combat requires mastery of the "operational art"--the ability to wage a decisive battlefield campaign that takes advantage of U.S. strengths and capitalizes on the enemy's weaknesses. This especially is the case when American and allied forces are fighting outnumbered yet must win quickly with minimal losses. This trend seems destined to accelerate as warfare becomes increasingly driven by agile forces, high technology, and swift operations. Most likely, victory will go to the side that can best concentrate forces through fast-paced maneuver and apply lethal firepower. U.S. forces are developing the new doctrines, weapons, and other assets that will allow them to increase excellence in this arena, yet enemy forces, too, have learned from Desert Storm and also will be improving.

A successful campaign requires the orchestration of many missions with many different forces, coordinated to have a strong combined effect in unraveling and defeating the enemy. Air forces must perform the missions of gaining control of the battlefield airspace, close air support destroying the enemy's air force and logistic support structure, and disrupting its efforts to reinforce front-line troops. U.S. ground forces must block the advance of enemy forces, destroy them through direct and indirect fire, and launch counterattacks to eject them from key terrain. Naval forces must seize control of key ports and waters, launch amphibious flanking attacks, and contribute air defense and strike forces to the battle. This combination of missions, conducted in synchrony at high tempo, is the basis of a successful wartime campaign.

Desert Storm demonstrated the professional skill that the Armed Forces have acquired. Improvement began in the late 1970s, when the emphasis in U.S. doctrine started to switch from linear defense and stationary firepower to nonlinear concepts, maneuver, and long-range fires. New weapons such as the Abrams tank, the Bradley infantry-fighting vehicle, combat aircraft with better avionics and munitions, and cruise missiles greatly aided this transition. In recent years, U.S. forces have begun to acquire new assets such as Joint Surveillance and Target Attack Radar System and Army Tactical Missiles (ATACMS) that allow them to fire deeply and effectively into enemy rear areas. The consequence is a steadily improving capability to blend nonlinear operations and deep strikes.

The QDR process and Joint Vision 2010 called for using technological innovations and information superiority to help carry out four key operational concepts: dominant maneuver, precision engagement, focused logistics, and full dimensional protection. These concepts make effective use of existing weapons and prepare the way for new weapons and systems in coming years. The goal is to make U.S. forces even more effective at carrying out decisive battlefield campaigns against potential enemies who themselves will be improving.

Robust forces

Demanding battlefield campaigns and their missions can be successfully mounted only by robust forces. The more ambitious the campaign, the more robust must be the forces. Four pillars of strength are required: scale (i.e., sufficient numbers), readiness, modernization, and sustainment. Developing all four is difficult: most military establishments are strong in only one or two. U.S. forces today excel at all four.

Sufficient personnel is partly a product of mass: the presence of enough combat and support units to carry out the required missions in adequate strength. But it is also a product of balanced and diverse assets. For example, air campaigns require a mix of combat aircraft that can fly air superiority, deep strike, interdiction, and close-air support sorties. Ground campaigns require a mix of armored, mechanized, infantry, airborne, air assault, artillery, and attack helicopter formations. Naval campaigns require not only carriers but also other surface combatants (such as cruisers, destroyers, and frigates), submarines, and amphibious assault ships. The exact combination of required triservice assets will vary from one campaign to the next. Desert Storm was a classic armored battle, but a Korean War would include major infantry operations. An entirely different campaign might require fewer ground and air forces but more naval and marine forces. The U.S. force posture is marked by its diversity; it possesses enough forces to conduct almost any mission, or combination of missions, with considerable strength. It can carry out many different types of campaigns, a critical requirement for a nation with global responsibilities and many operating environments.

USS Maine

Readiness is a product of many factors: e.g., high-quality officers and enlisted personnel, full staffing by active troops, extensive training and exercises, well-maintained weapons, efficient procedures, and the capacity to operate at a fast tempo. Because U.S. forces emphasize all these factors, they have higher overall readiness than any other forces in the world. The consequences on the battlefield are immense. For example, Air Force and Navy pilots conduct training missions at an average of 220 hours per year. The NATO average is 170 hours. Air forces of potential enemies often train only about 50 hours per year. U.S. pilots are far better at flying the full spectrum of air missions and thus
better prepared to win the air battle decisively. Another example is ground operations. A U.S. Army heavy division can fire over 1,000 tons of ammunition per day, and its battalions can perform complex combined-arms operations at a high tempo. A typical enemy division might be able to fire and operate at only half this rate. These differences translate into U.S. dominance in ways numbers alone cannot suggest.

Modernization requires high-tech U.S. weapons and munitions that match or exceed those of an enemy in certain key features:

Since the early 1980s, when the defense buildup gathered full steam, U.S. forces have benefited from a sweeping modernization program that has given them the world's best weapons across the board. Critics debate the extent to which U.S. weapons are better than those of others--West European weapons are often of comparable quality--but Desert Storm suggested that U.S. models are superior to Russian-made weapons, more than had been realized. In recent years, the United States has not been acquiring new weapons in large numbers but has been developing better munitions, C4ISR assets, and other technologies. The effect has been to preserve a clear margin of superiority in overall modernization.

Sustainment is often overlooked as a determinant of power, but it ordinarily determines which side wins a prolonged slugfest and can be surprisingly important even in short wars of a few weeks. An air force that can fly each aircraft at a rate of one to two sorties per day for an extended period will have a large advantage over an enemy that can sustain fewer than one sortie per day. Similarly, an army's effectiveness is heavily influenced by whether it can supply its combat forces with fuel and ammo, repair damaged vehicles, keep roads open, and replace casualties with fresh troops. An army with capable assets in these areas will have the advantage over one less endowed. At the risk of simplifying a complex subject, U.S. forces are well known for their impressive sustainment. Some support assets may be too large, others too small, but specifics aside, the overall conclusion is that U.S. forces have better sustainment than almost any other military establishment.

Not One Factor, But Several

The reputation of U.S. forces for superb quality is due, therefore, not to any single standout factor but to several that work together cumulatively. U.S. forces excel today, but 25 years ago their readiness, modernization, and sustainment were by comparison low, and their strategic mobility assets were not nearly as capable. The huge transformation that took place in the intervening years is a product of adequate funding, careful planning and programming, innovative thinking, procurement of new technologies, development of new doctrine, and a great deal of hard work carrying out sweeping changes. These factors are the underlying reasons for the excellence of today's U.S. forces and they will determine whether they remain excellent tomorrow.

This qualitative superiority is not necessarily permanent. The effect of even minor changes in technology, doctrine, and training can be profound. For example, the ground battle could be transformed if enemies were to acquire new kinetic energy and high explosive, antitank (HEAT) munitions which could penetrate U.S. tank armor. The air battle could be transformed if enemies were to acquire air defense radars that could resist U.S. jamming and suppression and surface-to-air missiles (SAM) that could reliably shoot down U.S. aircraft. Enemy progress in developing better doctrine, higher readiness, and more effective structures also could narrow the U.S. margin of superiority. In the past, armies that triumphed in a war often found themselves defeated only years later--by the same enemy, who had learned from past mistakes. Vigilance is the best guarantee that U.S. forces will retain, and improve on, their excellence.

Dealing with Rogues

These U.S. military capabilities provide basic assets for fighting wars, but the exact manner in which they are used will depend on the specific situation. Excellence in combat operations does not in itself guarantee victory in war. Mounting decisive interventions to defend U.S. interests requires deploying to the scene with the right forces at the right time, and then employing them effectively. An MTW could occur in several places. The QDR called for a U.S. posture that can respond to expected events while preparing for the unexpected.

Tomahawk missile

Persian Gulf and Korea

The litmus test is the capability to win regional wars in the Persian Gulf and the Korean peninsula, where the possibility of conflicts exists today. How would U.S. and allied forces probably respond to these contingencies, and what would be the prospects for success?

Any attempt to examine these contingencies should take into account several factors that might affect the outcome: force commitments on each side, warning time, mobilization and deployment rates, strategy and doctrine, operational effectiveness, lethality of the weapons, and morale. Neither contingency can be viewed as predetermining a single, irreversible outcome. In each instance, many options are possible--for good or ill--but some are more probable than others.

In both theaters, the threats posed by possible adversaries are less severe (though potentially nastier) than a few years ago. Even so, were these contingencies to take the form of short-warning attacks, both could pose serious challenges to U.S. and allied forces. The principal requirement would be to mount an initial defense while rapidly deploying large U.S. reinforcements from CONUS. The principal risk would be that some territory might be lost in the initial stages that might be hard to regain. Although U.S. and allied forces would probably win both wars, it might be after a costly struggle. Continued improvement to U.S. and allied forces, to reduce vulnerabilities in the initial defense, will reduce the risks remaining today.

F/A18 firing Sidewinder missile

U.S. Commitments

This defense strategy is predicated on handling both these MTWs nearly at the same time. In all likelihood, only one war would erupt in any single moment, but, even then, the United States would be compelled to withhold sufficient forces to deter a second war, and to win should it occur. The United States would probably deploy only about half its available combat posture to each theater.

For both wars, separate or simultaneous, the outcome would hinge on the ability of U.S. reinforcements to deploy in a timely fashion. In event of a single conflict with no worry of a second one, U.S. mobility forces could be concentrated on that theater, thereby easing the task of responding. In event of concurrent conflicts, the task would of course be harder. But even then, U.S. air forces, light ground forces, and local naval forces could converge on the scene quickly. Larger forces would follow later, strengthening U.S. or allied defenses, or both. The principal challenge would be to defend successfully while such building is in progress.

Phases of Combat

In both contingencies, U.S. forces would join allied forces to mount a campaign likely to consist of three phases. Phase 1 would aim to halt the enemy invasion in forward areas and protect key assets and terrain features. Once the attack was halted, Phase 2 would be characterized by operations aimed at destroying enemy forces and pursuing related battlefield objectives while building large U.S. forces through reinforcement. Phase 3 would be a decisive counterattack aimed at destroying enemy forces, restoring borders, and achieving key political goals. In the aftermath, U.S. forces would withdraw in a manner reflecting postwar requirements.

During all three phases, U.S. forces would attempt to gain information dominance of the full breadth and depth of the battlefield. They would then employ the doctrinal principles of dominant maneuver, precision engagement, focused logistics, and full dimensional protection. Forces from all components would work together to carry out a coordinated, fast-tempo campaign of deep strikes and close engagements that take advantage of superior U.S. weapons and munitions. Using a combination of firepower and maneuver, their overall goal would be to fracture the enemy's cohesion and then defeat it.

A campaign depends on the war being fought. The Persian Gulf and Korean contingencies are similar in that both potential adversaries are medium powers that could pose short-warning attacks by large, well-equipped forces. But they differ in important ways. In the Persian Gulf, the terrain is flat and open; in Korea, it is rugged and closed. In the Gulf, an unyielding forward defense is a flexible goal; in Korea, it is imperative. In the Gulf, airpower and deep strikes would dominate the initial defense; in Korea, ground power and the close battle would dominate. In the Persian Gulf, U.S. forces would provide about two-thirds of the total ground and air assets; in Korea, they would provide only about one-third.

Data show that both Iraq and North Korea have enough forces to contemplate aggression with a multipronged attack. Their equipment may be less modern than that of U.S. forces, but it is serviceable, and both countries would enjoy numerical advantages over local U.S. and allied forces in the initial stages. Overall, the Persian Gulf contingency seems the more menacing, because so few U.S. and allied forces are deployed there in peacetime. But owing to Seoul's proximity to North Korea, war would pose serious dangers. Each conflict thus mandates an effective U.S. military response.

Although Iraq today has fewer forces than in 1990, its posture of 23 divisions and 316 combat aircraft provides enough strength for a well-focused attack, assuming readiness is adequate. This posture permits a swift-moving, comprehensive offensive with limited but effective forces. In 1990, Iraq attacked with larger but ponderous forces, which paused at the Kuwait-Saudi border, giving the United States the time to respond. Since Desert Storm, Iraq may have developed better mastery of the operational art.

A Persian Gulf contingency might begin with a surprise attack by local Iraqi forces, but a full Iraqi mobilization would take days, allowing some warning. An Iraqi attack might aim not only to sweep through Kuwait but also to advance far southward in order to seize Gulf oilfields and major parts of Saudi Arabia. Such an attack would be conducted across flat desert. The initial battlefield would probably be up to 300 kilometers wide and 250 kilometers deep, but many Iraqi forces might be strung out in column formations on key roads. Iraq presumably would seek to rush southward, to defeat outnumbered U.S. and allied forces before U.S. reinforcements could arrive in strength, and thereby attempt to set the stage for a political settlement favorable to itself.

U.S and allied defensive operations would be influenced by the open terrain, which invites mobile ground warfare and aggressive use of airpower. Because so few U.S. forces are ordinarily deployed in the Persian Gulf in peacetime, prompt deployment of large U.S. tactical air forces from CONUS would be key to Phase 1. These forces would try to defeat Iraq's outclassed air forces and then to inflict major destruction on enemy tank columns. Deep-strike operations, including near real-time targeting of armored forces, would thus be the centerpiece of Phase 1. Ground forces would establish blocking positions on key axes of advance while conducting a mobile defense in depth. Steady deployment of U.S. ground forces would strengthen the defense, broaden options during Phase 2, and permit a decisive counterattack in Phase 3, which could aim at destroying enemy forces and occupying enemy territory.

In Korea, the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK) possesses larger forces than Iraq, and they are already deployed along South Korea's border. A war could explode after a warning of only a few hours or days, not weeks. Unlike in the Persian Gulf, this attack would be prosecuted along a narrow peninsula on mountainous terrain. It would probably be accompanied by massed artillery fire, commando raids, and chemical weapons. Initially, the primary battlefield would be only about 125 kilometers wide and 100 kilometers deep. The DPRK attack would be conducted against well-prepared ROK forces in fortified positions and against larger U.S. forces than in the Persian Gulf. Most probably, the DPRK attack would aim at seizing nearby Seoul by advancing down the Kaesong-Munsan, Kumwa, and Chorwon corridors. If successful, North Korean forces might also try to conquer the entire peninsula before large U.S. reinforcements arrive.

The U.S.-ROK defense plan would be shaped not only by the threat but also by the mountainous terrain. Korea is commonly regarded as rugged infantry terrain that invites neither mobile ground warfare nor heavy air bombardment, but North Korea has assembled large armored forces that are critical to exploiting breakthroughs, and these forces would pass down narrow corridors that are potential killing zones for U.S. airpower. A new Korean War would bear little resemblance to the conflict of 195053.

During Phase 1, U.S.-ROK forces would conduct a vigorous forward defense aimed at protecting Seoul. Their campaign would be dominated by combined-arms ground battles waged with infantry, artillery, and armor. U.S. air and naval forces would conduct close air support, interdiction, and deep strike missions. After Phase 1, U.S.-ROK operations in Phase 2 would probably focus on seizing key terrain, inflicting additional casualties on enemy forces, and rebuffing further attacks. Phase 3, to start when the U.S. ground buildup was complete and ROK forces were replenished, would be a powerful counteroffensive aimed at restoring the ROK's borders and destroying the DPRK's military power.

Prospects for Success

Either war could pose serious challenges that would stress U.S. responsiveness. In both, the length of the conflict and its ultimate cost would be influenced by fighting in the early stages. If initial enemy attacks were halted without serious losses, success might be attained quickly. If not, both wars might prove prolonged and difficult.

Prospects are good that U.S. and allied forces would win both wars. A principal reason is the ability of the United States to rush large reinforcements to these theaters and to mount decisive operations with its superior forces, which possess major qualitative advantages over an enemy. Both wars, nonetheless, could be costly, bloody affairs, although U.S. operations would aim to minimize casualties.

Both wars pose risks that are inevitably part of combat, almost irrespective of the quality of defensive preparations. One risk is that both conflicts could erupt at the same moment, not a few weeks apart. This development could strain the U.S. airlift and sealift capacity in the initial stages and could result in early shortages of specialized capabilities (such as combat service support). The effect might slow the U.S. buildup in one or both theaters, thereby weakening the early defense effort. The buildup could be further delayed if some U.S. forces were already committed to operations outside the two MTWs when a conflict erupts.

Another risk is political and more prevalent in the Persian Gulf than in Asia. It is that Iraq might recruit allies to its side and that Saudi Arabia and other Gulf countries might not respond adequately. This development could prevent the United States from deploying forces as quickly and efficiently as envisioned in current plans. In Asia, a lukewarm stance by Japan or opposition by China and Russia might have a similar effect.

M1 Abrams tank, Bosnia

A third risk is military and comes in several guises. Iraq or North Korea or both might use weapons of mass destruction (WMD), if not nuclear weapons, then chemical and biological weapons (see chapter eleven). Even in purely conventional war, both enemies might show unexpected skill in employing asymmetric strategies that exploit vulnerabilities in the U.S. reinforcement plan (e.g., by destroying key airfields and mining ports). Another military risk is that allied forces, which are key in both theaters, might not fight so well as expected. Beyond these risks, war is inherently dynamic and unpredictable. The offense has the advantage of seizing the initiative, and sometimes the breaks go against the defender. Even a well-planned defense can be rocked back on its heels.

Although the United States will base its plans on expected events, it will need flexibility to respond effectively to different events, including the unexpected and unwelcome. Provided it retains such flexibility, the United States will be justified in having confidence in its capacity to prevail against today's rogues. It does not, to be sure, enjoy certainty, especially of quick and easy victories. But given the risks cited above, the principal danger is not that U.S. forces might be defeated but that early reversals might occur (e.g., Kuwait or Seoul might be temporarily lost). Phases 2 and 3 could then prove prolonged and high casualities could be incurred. Barring a calamity, the United States and its allies would eventually win--although at a higher cost than otherwise, because the arrival of large U.S. reinforcements would tip the warfighting balance decisively.

The prospect of eventual success does not diminish the importance of continuing to work hard at reducing the serious risks that still exist in both theaters. The dangerous situation in the Persian Gulf particularly requires ongoing efforts to reduce vulnerability to short-warning attacks, to ensure entry of U.S. forces against opposition, and to upgrade U.S. and allied capabilities for the initial halt-phase of operations. Continuing improvements to U.S.-ROK defenses on the Korean peninsula also are needed. Both situations are volatile, and there is a difference between a confident defense and a perfect one. "Confident" defenses have done poorly or even lost on more than a few occasions when the unexpected occurred. Events may turn out better than expected or worse. Moreover, past "better than expectations" (i.e., the 1991 Gulf War) are not the best basis for gauging future wars. The case for improvement in the Gulf and Northeast Asia lies in the ability to help safeguard against the improbable while further enhancing the capacity of U.S. and allied forces to win the most probable wars.

AH64 Apache


Conversely, today's rogues are not justified in having confidence at all. Their prospects of gaining early victories are low, and they face the near certainty of eventual defeat. By a wide margin, their best strategy would be to avoid war with the United States. For this reason, even though the Persian Gulf and Korea may remain dangerous places, wars in these locales seem unlikely to occur. The likelihood that deterrence will remain intact is based on the premise that U.S. forces will remain adequate to win both conflicts, singly or in combination. A weakened U.S. defense posture could produce less deterrence. Because the Persian Gulf and Korea are not the only places where major wars could erupt, the requirement for a powerful U.S. warfighting capability probably will not disappear, even if in the coming year one or both of these contingencies were to erode significantly.

Operatiion Desert Storm


Other MTW Conflicts

Although wars in the Persian Gulf and Korea are the principal focus of current U.S. defense planning, unexpected conflicts plausibly could occur in other places. Europe is one possibility, as are other regions. Although these areas seem peaceful today, the rapid pace of global change makes them candidates for conflict not only for the long term but also, to some degree, in the next five years. After all, few people in early 1990 could foresee war breaking out in the Persian Gulf any time soon. But the unique features of these conflicts must be recognized in preparing U.S. forces for wars that might have to be fought.

There are several possible contingencies. One is an MTW conflict in a different place, that is, a regional war with a medium-size power that would require the use of U.S. forces similar to those planned for Korea and the Persian Gulf. A second possibility is a bigger war with a large state turned hostile or a large coalition of medium powers. A third possibility is a lesser conflict (i.e., a small MTW) that would require deployment of smaller but sizable U.S. forces on unfamiliar terrain.

For the near term, the prospect of a lesser MTW on unfamiliar terrain may be a contingency worth worrying about. Such a conflict could require commitment of up to two to four divisions, three to six fighter wings, and two to three CVBGs--a small but significant portion of the QDR posture. Deploying this force would be easy if the conflict were to occur at a location where the United States has been building a military infrastructure for many years, such as Western Europe, the Persian Gulf, or Northeast Asia. Deploying these forces to locations where an infrastructure does not exist would be a different matter. Possible sites might be Eastern Europe, Turkey, North Africa, the Middle East, Southeast Asia, or Cuba. The United States could deploy naval forces to locations along a seacoast but would be hard pressed to deploy large ground and air forces quickly if the necessary bases, facilities, and supply lines were not available. A small-scale contingency (SSC) of this sort might pose a serious challenge, not because the enemy threat would be large but because the United States would not be able to bring its combat power to bear in a timely fashion.

Each of these contingencies may be highly improbable, but the combined probability of one of them occurring is higher. Together they may not elevate requirements for U.S. forces, but they illustrate the importance of not becoming fixated on the Persian Gulf and Korea. At a minimum, they require military plans so that the DoD is aware of the force commitments that might be needed. They also call attention to the need to be prepared to deploy different packages of U.S. and allied forces from those envisioned for traditional scenarios. For example, one conflict might call for mostly ground and air forces, but another might require mostly naval and marine forces. Finally, they illuminate the importance of building a better military infrastructure in outlying regions, e.g., Central and Eastern Europe and Southeast Asia.

Preparing for the Future

Although this chapter has dealt with the near term, a brief mention of the future is appropriate for the simple reason that actions taken today can have a major impact on how the long term is handled. While current threats exist, they mandate continuing efforts to reduce vulnerabilities, particularly to surprise attack and resistance to entry of U.S. forces in both the Persian Gulf and Korea. Additional pre-positioning of ground equipment and air stocks would be a good way to lessen the risks in the Persian Gulf, for example. Improvements in allied readiness, modernization, and sustainment also make sense. The severity of both threats may increase because of ordinary modernization and unexpected breakthroughs in such areas as air defense, antiarmor weapons, offensive missiles, and WMD. These breakthroughs might allow enemy forces to pursue "asymmetric strategies" aimed at weakening U.S. and allied defensive capabilities. Such developments will need to be offset by commensurate improvements in U.S. forces not only in the distant future but also in the near term.

Beyond this, current threats may diminish or even disappear, but contingencies that appear improbable today might be quite real tomorrow. The change could happen by 2010, even by 2005. Success in confronting such threats depends on near-term actions to begin preparing for them. Better planning, more outlying infrastructure, and allied improvements can matter hugely, even if U.S. forces do not change a great deal. Steps to improve U.S. capabilities for the Persian Gulf and Korean contingencies also are important--for example, reducing vulnerability to asymmetric strategies--and can help U.S. forces prepare for other conflicts.

The overall size of U.S. forces may not change much, but major changes may occur in the U.S. overseas presence. The future might produce fewer forces in Europe, more forces in the Persian Gulf, and different forces in Asia if Korea stabilizes but trouble emerges with China. These changes may occur mostly in the long term, but initial steps in the short term can help set the stage. A dynamic stance toward overseas presence can induce allies to develop better power-projection capabilities. It can also help close the growing gap between high-technology U.S. forces that can carry out modern doctrine and allied forces that cannot.

USS Constitution underway in Massachusetts Bay

Equally important, the next few years will witness the initial stages of what may prove a major transition in the U.S. force posture. The QDR said that future U.S. forces will be different in character from those of today. They will rely on enhanced information dominance, new technologies, and new doctrines to increase their capability to carry out modern warfare significantly. The biggest changes will be felt by 2010, when such weapons as the F22, the joint strike fighter, Commanche helicopters, and new C4ISR systems arrive in quantity. In the next few years, moreover, U.S. forces will be developing new doctrine, experimenting with new force structures, and absorbing digitized communications and other technologies.

The manner in which these changes are handled will have an important bearing on U.S. military capabilities five years from now. Equally important, such changes will lay the foundation for how the long term will be handled. They will determine whether the transition to a new U.S. defense posture is a success or failure. Thus they underscore the theme of this chapter that although the United States can be confident of its warfighting capability, it cannot be complacent.

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