Wednesday, October 24, 2012

From Bayonets to Stealth Fighters: An ongoing discussion about military capacity

While the dust from the final presidential debate continues to settle, I would like to kick up a deeper discussion on President Obama's comment about horses and bayonets, as well as dig deeper into the problems about discussing the complex topic of military and security capabilities in a dynamic world.

For those who did not watch the final debate and are catching up on the context of the many 'zingers', here's what went down. Responding to Governor Romney's argument that the U.S. navy is now smaller than at any time since 1917, Pres. Obama advised the Republican party candidate to spend a little more time studying how the U.S. military works.

          "You mentioned the Navy, for example, and that we have fewer ships than we did in 1916, Well,     Governor, we also have fewer horses and bayonets, because the nature of our military's changed. We have these things called aircraft carriers, where planes land on them. We have these ships that go underwater, nuclear submarines. And so the question is not a game of Battleship, where we're counting slips."

This statement about the changing nature of the military is the real focus of the President's comments on Monday because it broadly opens up the topic about how the U.S. can maintain military superiority and security. Foreign Policy magazine published two articles related to this topic: 1.) "Does the military still have horses and bayonets" and 2.) "This might be China's third J-20 stealth fighter", and these articles provide some information on the spectrum of military strategic capabilities and threats. 

Joshua Keating writes, in his article about horses and bayonets, "While Army recruits no longer charge dummies with bayonets fixed to their rifles, they do still receive training on how to use a knife or bayonet as a handheld secondary weapon in close combat." Even in the age of high-tech weaponry and drones, soldiers still need the physical strategic advantage over their enemy. The demand for hand-to-hand combat will always play a role within the military, despite historical practices with bayonets fading from basic training. Horses play a more ceremonial role with the military during funerals and other official events, but their utility for combat is not useless because special forces along with the Northern Alliance charged on horses while attacking the Taliban on Mazar-e-sharif in 2001. Overall, the most basic aspect of the U.S.'s military capacity remains essential for its general strategic strength, but the world of security threats and interests is far more complex, as stated throughout the debate by Pres. Obama.

Now, going beyond the basics of horses and bayonets, Pres. Obama continued to emphasize how the U.S.'s strength is not measured merely by the number of any one particular part of its military complex but by the capacity to strategically affect strategic threats. Within the last two weeks, Hannah O. and Alexandra L. presented two very important and complex issues threatening U.S. security: cyber attacks and an aggressive China, hence the pivot to Asia. Over the last few weeks, China has been scrutinized for possible cyber attacks on the U.S. and its allies, and recently China appears to have produced another J-20 stealth fighter.

In John Reed's article about China's new J-20 stealth fighter, he lays out the capabilities of China's military investments. This new fighter is speculated to either intercept bombers or strike military threats outside of China because it is engineered to be fast with cruise missiles. The other issue about the new fighter and other Chinese engineered jets is that they are made from the plans stolen (hacked) several years ago by Lockheed Martin for the developing F-35. These significant threats to the U.S.'s interests in the Pacific region add to the complexity of military threats and issues of capacity.  

Though the plethora of military issues are difficult to mention in a single debate or blog, it is important to reemphasize that the real debate about military strength does not depend on the number of ships around the world. Instead, it depends on the military's strategic capacity to defend, contain, resolve, and prevent against real threats.    

So, here are my questions to everyone:

1.) The president has emphasized that the U.S. has military capabilities that outshines the former capacities of the military 100 years ago, but will the price tag of this shiny technology eventually hit a wall, especially in the midst of threats for budget cuts?

2.) How should the discussion on the U.S.'s military capabilities be more accurately addressed in a multipolar world with various international organizations focused on mutual security?  

3.) Also, who needs a knife in a nuke fight?

1 comment:

Lightman said...

Thanks for the shout out. I greatly appreciate it, of course. To address your questions:

1) In the interest of easing the national debt, I'm sure some of us would love to think that the price tag for this shiny new tech might eventually make policy-makers balk. Do I foresee that happening in the near future?...not really. Obama has proven more than willing to reserve the funds for exciting new tech, while slimming down the traditional military. So, be assured, whoever is elected in November--I don't think that the fun new tech is going to take a hit just yet. And I don't anticipate a lot of public support for such a policy. Whether or not these programs should be cut/slowed is another matter entirely.

2) The presentation we saw this Monday provides a good answer to this question. As was explained in the "Pivot to Asia" presentation--the US military presence in the Pacific Ocean is being trimmed down to smaller units to more effectively respond to threats and specific situations that might present themselves (e.g. piracy). Perhaps the United States should consider this on a systemic level, perhaps they already are--I am by no means an expert in this topic. Your point about various multinational organizations focusing on mutual security...doesn't the United States provide most of the muscle behind that anyway? So is it a moot point? If I'm wrong, please correct me.

3) Your question answers itself. If the guy can't push the button, he can't fire the nuke.