Is there any reasonable basis on which to say, “We can afford this aircraft carrier, but not that armored unit; we can afford this artillery, but not that submarine?” Military security would be easy to provide were it not also vital to ensure against economic disaster. This latter demand in effect places a ceiling on the funds available for military defense, and within this ceiling the foremost problem is to decide exactly what forces we must have “in being.” Fortunately, there is a logical process by which to make this decision.
Let us first concede to an aggressive enemy the initiative with respect to commencement of hostilities. We have habitually given our adversaries the first turn at bat, and for fundamental reasons that have remained valid at least up to the present. If, then, all the lines of action open to this enemy are projected into the future, it is possible to visualize numerous ensuing military situations. In fact, if these situations are projected in all their varying detail, the number of different possibilities approaches the number of stars in the universe. It could not be hoped that a defense would be planned against each and every one of them.
Faced with the incapacity to provide detailed plans for all the situations that might arise, an all too common failure is to select a single one from among these many possibilities, and say, “This is it; this is what will happen.” It thus becomes unnecessary to undertake the burdensome thought involved in the more complicated process of coping with numerous different situations. Instead, it becomes quite a simple matter. One makes a decision for the enemy which leads to a particular situation. One finds a satisfactory solution to that situation, and—just like that—security! By now one has become so intent on the one possibility that all others have been subconsciously rejected.
This all too prevalent sort of thinking is always based on some unstated assumption. An assumption, in the military sense, has a special function and a singular meaning. If the prop falls, that is, the assumption fails to materialize, the plan will not stand up. In other words, if one particular plan is based on assumptions, there must be other plans with other assumptions, in event the first ones fail to become facts.
For purposes of illustration, take a hypothetical war plan based on the assumption that we have control of sea communications between X and Y. Let us say that there is doubt about this matter. Relations with Y have not been up to par, and Y has even turned the jaundiced eye on economic aid. Of course, if it did not make any difference whether or not we had control of sea communications between X and Y, then our assumption is no assumption at all. The plan would not depend on it. On the other hand, if we know that we would have communications between X and Y, then we would still have no assumption. We would be dealing with a fact. But in this case we do have an assumption, and the plan depends on it for success.
One might ask, “Why not develop just one plan, a plan sufficiently broad in scope to cover all possibilities?” The answer lies in that plan itself. It can be written in a few lines. At the highest echelon it would read, “Be prepared to fight a war.” On all lower echelons it would read, “Operate as directed with forces to be assigned.”
The answer must be somewhere between the one plan with no assumptions and the galaxy of plans with so many assumptions that the forces in the field reach pandemonium keeping track of which plan, where, and when, until there is really no plan at all.
The key to this dilemma is to isolate those factors which not only remain in doubt, but also are of sufficient magnitude to exert a major influence on the general nature of the effort and the composition of the forces required. These factors become the strategic assumptions.
Here we are considering three plans; or more accurately, three situations for which plans are required—the three wars that face us!
One of these situations has received more than its share of speculation. Ever since Hiroshima it has been unusual to pick up a magazine or newspaper without finding an article or column portraying supersonic bombers and guided missiles hurtling thousands of miles through space and pouring atomic destruction on their targets with unerring accuracy.
This fad of “educating the public” commenced immediately after World War II. At that time the public was somewhat the victim of over-salesmanship. Effective ranges were not what they were made out to be; we did not have the missiles or the weapons in quantity; and we were not able to hit targets with unerring accuracy.
Now, about a decade later, the situation has changed. We have overcome or compensated for all the deficiencies. We have weapons of mass destruction in stockpile. One might gather from press releases that we have quite a number of them. Guided missiles are in production and are operational in all services. To overcome range problems, we have developed the technique of refueling in flight, particularly within the U. S. Air Force. We have the capability to launch missiles from submarines and surface ships, from which points of vantage they need not go thousands of miles. We have provided carrier-based aircraft with the ability to carry nuclear weapons. Insofar as hitting targets with unerring accuracy is concerned, we now have thermo-nuclear weapons that are not especially demanding with respect to accuracy. The war of the magazines and the artists is no myth. It has become a very realistic possibility.
Under these conditions are we justified in planning on the basis that there could be a war using mass destructive weapons? If we were to assume that a war would be fought with mass destructive weapons, would the assumption be valid? Would the assumption pass the “prop” test? It undoubtedly would. So much of our effort and so many of our forces would be useless if these weapons were not used that the plan would actually depend on their use for its success.
Would the assumption qualify on the basis of being a question of doubt; that is, something other than a fact? Surely there is no certainty that we will be forced into a war with atomic weapons. We can not completely ignore the shreds of evidence that the world is becoming a little more mature through the ages. The aftermath of such a war is grim to contemplate, and does not encourage precipitous action leading to such a conflict. Since there would be little to gain from such a war, it is entirely conceivable that it will never be fought, especially if the respective adversaries fully appreciate the potentialities of their opponents. The war becomes more improbable as the potentialities continue to grow.
On the other hand, all the people in the world are not self-determining in their actions. There are the chances of misguided leadership and of local flare-ups that grow into bonfires. And most important, there is the unfortunate circumstance that if potential enemies are capable of delivering weapons of mass destruction, and we are not, they will not be overly concerned about what happens to us.
It seems clear, then, that we might have to fight such a war, that we must be prepared for it, and that the nature of the effort and the forces required would be sufficiently unique to justify preparing a plan based on the specific assumption that weapons of mass destruction will be used.
What sort of a war might this be? Obviously, a fast-moving war, with the emphasis on terrific destruction. It might stop as quickly as it started, perhaps even by mutual consent. With hundreds of cities demolished and tens of millions of casualties, reconsideration might point out the futility of continuing the conflict. After all, wars are fought for purposes—objectives—and what would have become of them? What, indeed, would have become of that last ace-in-the- hole excuse for belligerency, physical survival?
Of course, the war might not take such a turn at all. It might be fought through to exhaustion of men and weapons and be settled ultimately by physical occupation of enemy territory. The war might become a long war, with both sides struggling to obtain raw materials and provide logistic support to armies battling amid the ruins left in the wake of mass destructive weapons.
There is a great deal of danger in failing to regard this war as a special type of war. It would be a grievous error to presume that these new weapons of mass destruction were “just other weapons” and could in all cases be effectively integrated into the techniques of non-atomic operations. This is particularly pertinent to naval operations. The atomic weapon of Hiroshima stature was not too imposing a threat to the naval task force at sea. What the A-bomb was to cities, however, the H-bomb has become to the naval task force.
Gaping pitfalls await the belligerent who attempts to “force” the weapons of mass destruction into his conventional operations. For example, it would be nothing but self- delusion to engage in a World War II type amphibious training exercise in which the “enemy” were spotted a few low-yield atomic weapons—weapons of sufficiently low yield to permit the landing to be successful. Some might consider that inclusion of atomic weapons in such an exercise would be a forward looking step. Actually, it would be the worst sort of mental preparedness. If the enemy were a real enemy, he would undoubtedly use a weapon that could do the job. Moderate dispersion efforts and token assaults by helicopter would make not a particle of difference in the results.
It would be fruitless to try to project this war very far along its course. However, there are certain apparent requirements in the initial phases. There is need for great emphasis on speed and mobility, for tremendous striking power, for the greatest possible decentralization of authority and control over the offensive effort, together with a maximum interchange of information among commands. And there would be the need for the weapons themselves, the nuclear bombs and warheads; and for the delivery systems, the aircraft and missiles.
For the Navy the foremost requirements would be for ships that could carry the delivery aircraft and missiles—attack carriers, nuclear-powered guided-missile submarines, the fast guided-missile ship that must replace the battleship and cruiser of today, and the highly specialized logistic support that would keep them all mobile and fully employed. If amphibious effort were required, it would be for highly mobile landing forces rapidly deployed by air from ship to shore. There would be no place for boat waves circling off the line of departure, just as there would be little or no use for commerce destruction on the high seas, gun duels between battlelines, or even extensive antisubmarine operations at sea. All these might come later, but they would have no part in the significant effort at the outset. This would be the all-out atomic war, and the criterion for force requirements would be the ability to put weapons of mass destruction on targets and, within the limits of economy of force, to keep them off one’s own vital targets.
To be consistent with previous statements about assumptions, it is necessary to consider the alternate situation, based on the contingency that weapons of mass destruction will not be used. This assumption qualifies for the same reasons as its opposite. First, the force requirements would be sufficiently different from those in the plan for using mass destructive weapons that the course of the war would be markedly influenced should the assumption prove in error. Second, the assumption certainly is not a fact, because mass destructive weapons exist.
The deterrent effect of nuclear weapons applies primarily to nuclear weapons. It is not nearly so strong a deterrent to hostilities of another nature. Even if the human race should recognize the futility of an atomic war, it has not proved itself so mature as to desist from fighting altogether. As an analogy, a man may injure himself by kicking his bare foot against a stone wall in a moment of anger, but it is extremely unlikely that he would cut off his foot with a meat axe in the same emotional state.
There is a distinct possibility of the non- atomic global war.
The nature of this war has been given entirely too little consideration. So much attention has been concentrated on the nuclear holocaust that we have been distracted from this other growing threat to security and from what we shall need to face it. Consequently, there has been a strong disposition to regard the forces of World War II as adequate for any non-nuclear development. Such is far from the case. The continuous need to improve the so-called conventional weapons did not cease with the first atomic test. No more did trends in warfare techniques grind to a sudden halt. The requirements to successfully prosecute a non- atomic war in the future outstrip by far our maximum capabilities of World War II.
On the ground we may visualize increased mechanization, fast-moving mobile forces slashing deep behind enemy lines. The war on the ground would be marked more by movement than by mass. Logistics, to a greater extent than ever before, would be a criterion of success. Individual initiative and judgment on the part of the field commander would play an increased role relative to other factors. In a rapidly changing tactical situation on the ground, vital decisions necessarily would be made on the spot, in accordance with the situation existing at the time. There would be no opportunity to execute detailed schemes of maneuver worked out months ahead of time by large general staffs planning and over-con- trolling the movements of the forces in the field.
The new mechanized forces would be augmented by large airborne forces capable of moving units of division size distances of many miles in a matter of a few hours and providing them with full support in their new positions. These airborne movements would be by helicopter rather than strewn- out parachute drops which lack the requisite compactness and the capability to move equipment.
The entire air effort would require reorientation to support the operations on the ground. Denied the atomic capability, one could ill afford to repeat, for example, the pouring of vitally needed air effort into the bottomless pit of the ball-bearing factories, or into ineffectual “interdiction” diversions. Air power would play the decisive role in the non-atomic war, but the result would depend less on how much than on how used. In this connection the ground commander would require absolute control of the aircraft providing him support. This condition would hold whether the aircraft were land-based or ship-based, although the variety of tasks for carrier-based aircraft would result in their less frequent availability for such purposes.
The naval war would cover the span of naval operations in both the Atlantic and Pacific during World War II. Keeping the sea lanes open for raw materials and projecting ground-based forces overseas would retain their stature as primary naval functions. But this would be done (from our point of view) in the face of numerous high speed submarines, an anti-shipping air threat exceeding that of the submarine, and a mining threat to the terminal points of the shipping lanes possibly greater than the other two combined. These circumstances generate tremendous requirements for mine countermeasure forces and for the striking power that can eliminate the submarine and air threats at the source. These must be initial forces, because, until the battle of the oceans has been settled, other forces can not be moved overseas and supported in sufficient strength to be decisive.
Some naval forces would inherit new tasks, and we in this nation must be alert to will them their inheritance in time. We must not let the splendid performance of the submarine force in World War II, for instance, perpetuate a non-existent anti-shipping war at the expense of the many vital warning, reconnaissance, guided missile, and antisubmarine functions that only submarines can perform.
In amphibious operations, evolution of tactics similar to those of the ground forces might be expected. The same lightning speed would be required, with most of the movement by helicopter, and the remainder in high-speed hydrofoil landing craft. The same requirements would exist for decentralization of control and for decision by the commander on the spot. Perhaps each “helicopter transport” would have its own supporting forces, separated physically many miles from others of its type. Thus employed, amphibious warfare could play a more predominant role in the continental ground effort, tying down many times its own strength in enemy forces by virtue of mobility and surprise.
Perhaps the non-atomic global war would not be fought entirely along these lines. One or another of the belligerents might fail to recognize some of the trends in evidence and, for example, might not decentralize control of the ground forces, or might not direct the air effort in support of the ground forces. His enemy would have air support right over his front lines, where it would be most needed; and his enemy would be unfettered by over-centralized direction of the air effort through some quasi-authoritative agency termed an “operations center,” where the fundamental partnership of command authority and responsibility had been abrogated. Against such freedom of action, the ground commander would be hampered by the delays inherent to over-centralization and would not even exercise command authority over the aircraft supporting his ground effort. In fact, he would be fortunate to receive any air support whatsoever, because the air effort would doubtless be directed toward the “interdiction” of an “over-extended” enemy. The more overextended the enemy, the greater the interdiction effort," until, finally, claim could be laid to a great tactical air victory in the theater of operations. But by this time, the enemy would have become over-extended all the way to the sea, and our belligerent would not be in the theater of operations any more!
The foregoing is a brief account of what the non-atomic global war might be like. Again, it is a war that might happen, a war for which we must be prepared, and a war that requires particular kinds of forces. It is also a war that requires continued development of weapons and techniques. It is definitely not a war in which the entire burden can be carried by second line aircraft, moth balled ships, World War II field pieces, and stultified command relationships.
The third war that faces us is the peripheral war. This is the war characterized by successive hot spots in the cold war—the sores that break out on the surface of the rimland, festered by the poison inside. This is not an atomic war. There is no way of localizing atomic war geographically, or limiting the use of mass destructive weapons in the sense of yield or of military targets. They either will be used or not used.
No more is this the non-atomic global war. The non-atomic global war would require mass operations on a continental scale directed toward a known geographical area and the forces to be employed would be determined accordingly. The peripheral war, on the contrary, would be fought by forces having singular characteristics that would make them suitable for operations in numerous far-away, but relatively small, geographical areas.
There are two assumptions for this war; first, that weapons of mass destruction will not be employed; second, that the geographical area of conflict will be relatively limited. If we test these assumptions as we have our previous ones, they will be found to be just as valid.
This is the type of war with which we have once again become familiar, as a result of Korea. It is the kind of war that was given very little thought prior to Korea, as a result of over-emphasis on the atomic global war.
This is not a new kind of war. This is the most common type of war in history, the war of limited objectives and limited geographical boundaries. This is the type of war in which semi-matured man most often has become involved. “Matured” because he has not let it develop into a war beyond his control. “Semi” because he has resorted to it in his failure to find any other means of resolving his difficulties. This is the type of war that we forgot after World War II, so fascinated and distracted had we become with kilotons and supersonics. This is the war that has perhaps the highest probability of occurring, whether or not it subsequently might lead to one of the others. And this is the war where the minimum necessary force at the proper place at the right time can be the best deterrent.
This is the collective security war, the sanction in the interests of international peace and security. It is the war that can be fought within the framework of world and regional security agencies and to some extent within the rote of international law.
This is the war that requires forces with the capability to move wherever they are needed and to sustain themselves with a minimum of point-to-point logistic support. It might be fought across the shores of any one of a dozen oceans or seas. It requires tremendous naval effort, ready ground forces, and mobile air forces.
This type of war can also vary widely in degree of intensity. It might or might not be a full-scale war within its geographical limits. In some cases it might be more of a police action to restore order, where very definite limitations would be placed on the degree of force used and how that force would be employed. Hence, it is a war which requires versatile forces that can exercise control over their effort.
This is the war for which the U. S. Navy is particularly suited, with the integrated Marine Corps and naval air arm, all ready to be employed whenever and wherever needed.
Three wars face us. We are able to determine the forces that will provide a reasonable security for each of these three possibilities. However, the forces are not identical for each situation, and it was in part the dissimilarity of forces that necessitated considering three instead of merely one of three possibilities. Furthermore, it would doubtless prove economically infeasible to provide the forces in being for each of these possibilities at the same time. The question still remains unanswered as to which of the forces we can afford, relative to the others, within a reasonable economic ceiling. In addition to the probability of occurrence of each situation, the following considerations are paramount in reaching a decision.
(a) Which forces are suitable to more than one situation?
(b) How long will the forces last?
(c) What are the acceptable costs to us should any of these situations develop?
(d) What would be the results of failure in each of these situations?
Which forces are suitable to all three situations? Obviously, there is more worth in forces that provide a threefold deterrent to war than in those that serve as a deterrent to only one of three possible wars. The carrier with its embarked air group, for example, can be a major factor in all cases. Inherent economy lies in the fact that certain forces need not be replaced by alternates for each possible development, but rather fit neatly into the plan for any situation that might arise.
How long will the forces last? How often must we replace an army with current turnover rates? What is the service life of a particular aircraft? How long does a ship last? The military can not have everything, and they can not continually replace everything they have. With the constantly accelerating pace of development of new weapons and equipment, the taxpayer is forced to take a generous view of the replacement problem in the interests of his own security. At the same time he has a duty as well as a right to ask himself, “How long will this give me any security?”
It would seem that our security is relative, and we must be ready to accept less than full preparedness for all situations that face us. The existence of forces sufficient to cope with each situation would assure victory with acceptable losses to ourselves. But “acceptable losses to ourselves” is no -fixed quantity. What would be acceptable in an all-out atomic war surely would not be acceptable in a localized action thousands of miles from our home shores.
We must weigh our preparedness. The composition of forces for defense must consider not only what we need for each situation but also what losses will be acceptable to us under each situation.
There is always the risk of failure to be considered whenever the full requirements for preparedness are reduced. This risk, and its consequences, will vary with each of the three situations. Failure in a localized conflict might not be so disastrous, at least immediately, as failure in an all-out atomic effort.
Needless to say, forces that are geared to preventing such failure in the most threatening situation must be given extra weight in determining force requirements for that situation. Dependent upon the other factors previously discussed, that extra weight may partially or entirely be offset in the final decision of what forces are required “in being.” The World War II type amphibious operation, for example, appeared to be of vastly diminished usefulness in the global atomic war. Its total usefulness, however, must be evaluated with the qualification that there is a higher probability of an actual amphibious operation than of an atomic war.
If we follow the above reasoning in establishing our force levels we maximize our security within the economic resources available to us. If we fail to follow this process we expose ourselves to a potential enemy as being particularly vulnerable to a certain set of circumstances, which he as the aggressor can choose by virtue of his initiative in commencing hostilities.
We may rely on the great military commanders for precedent. Napoleon was wont to dispose his forces and ask himself the question, “What now can the enemy do?” Or, as the elder Von Moltke would put it when addressing his staff, “Gentlemen, I notice that there are always three courses open to the enemy, and that he usually takes a fourth.”
Let us trust that our force levels are so determined that there are no courses left open to the enemy.