In “The Pentagon’s Culture of Risk-Aversion and the Infantry Automatic Rifle (IAR) Solicitation,” I argued that risk aversion–more than threat assessment, technological requirements, or even the so-called “good ole boys” network–has come to drive weapons procurement in the United States. The IAR solicitation is one example, but there are many others that show a growing tendency to adopt weapons systems that pose the least risk. The significance of this pervasive culture of risk aversion is that the United States is not simply ignoring the “best” weapons systems but rather is choosing the wrong weapon systems for the threats facing America and, in turn, following wrongheaded policies founded upon risk aversion.
US Naval Institute Blog contributor “Galrahn” makes a similar argument regarding American policymakers’ reaction to China’s development of the DF-21 anti-ship ballistic missile system in “Risk Averse Political Policy Requires High End Focus.”
The DF-21 anti-ship ballistic missile system represents in one capability the most important discussion the Navy is not having, and considering how many discussions the Navy is not having with the American people and Congress; I think that is saying something. The capability specifically raises the fundamental strategic choices that Congress faces, likely in total ignorance, when looking to how many and what type of ships the US Navy needs to build. Countering this weapon system is going to require very expensive ships, and several of them per high value unit (carriers and amphibs). Countering the capability requires additional assets, like rapidly deployable satellite systems, Air Force tankers, UCAVs to extend the strike range of the carrier air wings, and newer, more capable long range strike platforms that may include replacements for the highly capable but enormously expensive Ohio class SSGNs. The range of attack and defense for the US Navy will not only extend out to 2000 nautical miles, but will also be required to range up, perhaps to specifically engage satellite systems that provide guidance to those weapon systems. Most importantly, the US Navy will require large numbers of these very expensive systems, and anything less would represent a calculated political decision to accept the risk. If large numbers of very expensive and capable ships is not the political option available, then Congress needs to be open to other ideas.
Right now, there is absolutely ZERO evidence Congress is open to other ideas no matter what they say, and in person I observed in shock the evidence last week.
As I have thought through the challenges these type of emerging kill weapons bring to the maritime domain, my thoughts have been trending towards the necessity for a new fleet survivability discussion similar to the one raised in the late 1990s regarding littoral warfare by Cebrowski and Hughes. Hughes in particular raises the fleet survivability discussion in his book Fleet Tactics and Coastal Combat, noting that one hallmark of naval combat in history is that it becomes a war of attrition. As a theory, this is accurate, but there is a major political pressure against the theory of attrition that prevents the discussion from even taking place.
I encourage you to read the whole article. It is fascinating reading. Clearly, this is further evidence that risk aversion has lead war planners and policy makers to look to technological solutions (often without adequately addressing threats) rather than confronting the institutional culture of the national security establishment that keeps leading warfighters down this path.