So I was pondering a few scenarios the other day, and I began to think about strategic planning in the event of a major war with China. In every conflict, the Achilles heel of each of the involved parties is usually logistics. Armies may be raised, equipped, trained and sent to fight. Unless you can sustain the force, however, your victories will be few, and your part in the conflict short. Probably numbered in days. There is an adage which states: “Amateurs discuss tactics. Professionals discuss logistics”.
In the two previous world wars (and make no mistake, if China and these United States go to war, it will be global in effect, if not in actuality) US Strategy was taking the war to the opponent’s turf, and starving them of all resources needed to continue the war. We used our immense resources to fight our way through the enemy’s defenses, and to overcome their numbers. Germany and Japan tried, in WWII, to halt our logistical tail, which was enormous, through submarine warfare. The US simply made more ships, more supplies, and over time increased our ASW efficiency and capability through lessons learned and technology.
Now comes a potential (some would argue inevitable) conflict with China. Does that same model of strategic logistical support still hold water? These United States have outsourced a great deal of our manufacturing capability, and we have a pitifully small industry to depend upon for shipbuilding, let alone the supplies those ships will carry. Our ammunition manufacturing capabilities were strained just keeping up with demand for a small-scale conflict in Iraq and Afghanistan. How would we be able to supply the ammunition needed for a major conflict? How would we get it to where it needs to go?
Perhaps we should examine the strategic philosophy and consider a new approach. Rather than take the fight to the enemy, and depend upon a long and fragile tail for our support, would it not make sense to let the fight come to us?
There is another adage that says it is best to fight your wars on someone else’s land, and where possible, with someone else’s troops. However in this postulated conflict, we will not have that luxury. My idea is to fight the war over empty space, mainly the ocean.
In this new scenario, the US uses what would amount to a skirmish line, small but powerful forces to harrass the enemy and slow him down while major assets withdraw within a protective arc of land-based defenses, an area within a few hundred miles of the Continental United States. That’s the first strategic step.
The second step is to attack the enemy’s shipbuilding industry, and port facilities. You can’t build warships and repair damage without the proper yards. Not today. You can’t ship supplies if the harbors and port facilities are wrecked.
While those attacks are going on, we engage the enemy surface units with our submarine forces. Germany, of course, tried to do this, as did Japan, but were unable to effectively use their submarine forces because they didn’t have any strategic means to attack US production facilities. Our yards, harbors and factories were untouched and thus continued to easily replace lost resources. Today, we have sufficient conventional forces to accomplish what the German and Japanese couldn’t: destroy yards, factories and harbor facilities.
With those wrecked or severely impacted, it makes submarine warfare easier. It makes surface units, especially logistic resources MUCH more valuable, and forces the enemy to use more and more expensive escorts to protect them. In short, we starve the enemy’s warfighters of the resources needed to sustain their operations and accomplish their missions.
We are a military facing severe reductions in force while being required to maintain the same level of operational commitments. Given that, why take the fight to the enemy? Why not make the enemy come to us and fight on ground and under conditions of our choosing?
While considering this question, I’d urge you to visit the website of the Military Sealift Command. Take a good long look at the resources they have available to support US combat forces. Consider that those same vessels are tasked with global support, based at different locations, and the chart shows gross numbers. Some will be in readiness, others in repair. Not everything will be available all the time. There are, in my opinion, too few ships to do what we would need to do. Think also about how many ships we would have available for escort duty. I’ll say this much: We don’t have enough. If you have the time, download the pdf of the MSC’s ship inventory. Put it on your wall and look at it from time to time and think about that question: How much is enough?