Archive for December, 2011

An interesting comment from The National Interest, which can be accessed here.

Colin Gray defined strategy as “the bridge that relates military power to political purpose.” Grant Hammond defined strategy as the harmonisation of power and purpose. Implicit in these definitions – both happen to be my particular favourites – is the recognition that the milieu of strategy involves at least two very different sets of actors.

There is the political actor – especially important in conditions of civilian mastery over the military, but also important in situations where the political-military relationship is much murkier. The political actor occupies the realm of purpose, because all military action is supposed to be purposive. Next, there is the military actor, who tends to occupy the realm of power. Without purpose, that power is meaningless, the act of killing in war no different from that of murder. A soldier who kills the enemy in war is feted as a hero; that same soldier who engages in an act of random killing outside the context of war becomes a murderer.

Both sets of actors are very different, sociologically, psychologically … You can include any number of other aspects here. They speak very different languages, their respective world-views fundamentally different. Somehow, both of them will have to be able to understand one another, and factor each other’s interests and considerations and world-views into their own calculations. Strategy, if this process of harmonisation is done right, is what emerges.

Today, the world of strategy is further complicated by other actors that have entered into this world – news organisations, interest groups, international organisations, non-governmental organisations … again, the list can go on, depending on the imaginativeness of the individual. But the fundamental prerequisite remains – unless and until all these disparate actors learn how to talk to one another, understand one another, and factor everybody’s interests and considerations into their own respective calculations, strategy is not going to emerge.

And in times of conflict and war, the absence of strategy is that sufficient condition for political disaster.


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2 posts in one day!

Something from colleague, Collin Koh, who had a commentary published with The Diplomat. As Collin argues, “while it takes years to build up a credible defense capacity, a crisis in the South China Sea could literally happen overnight. Yet without the requisite military capacity in place, there’s virtually nothing that the Philippines could do …”

At least there is some fairly hard-headed strategic analysis regarding strategic challenges and requirements on the one hand and military capabilities on the other that underpins the Philippine decision. I would argue that too much of Southeast Asian military acquisitions are predicated on toys for boys, and therefore often lack any genuine strategic rationale whatsoever!

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A damning article from forbes.com, which can be accessed here.

It seems to me the essential problem is in the trade-off between getting ‘the best’ as opposed to getting ‘the good enough’. And I think a contributing element to this trade-off is the increasing concern over force protection. Hence modern combat systems have to be all bells and whistles, gold-plating gone insane. Of course we should not send our soldiers into harm’s way without ensuring that they have the best possible equipment, that they go in with minimum risks of bodily harm. But, first of all, it is ‘harm’s way’, which means soldiers always go into places where others would not. It is a very high-risk profession, always has been, always will be. Second, the ‘best possible’ is not always the ‘absolute best’. One is achievable within the resource constraints we face, the other is just idle day-dreaming.

So, while the forbes article focuses on the United States, it is nevertheless a cautionary tale for every other armed forces!

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Richard Bitzinger argues that the European defence industry may be losing the Asian market. Europe’s combat aircraft manufacturers, in losing a potential sale to Japan, could see their future sales to Asia evaporate completely. This could leave the United States in an unassailable position as the world’s predominant fighter aircraft producer. His commentary can be accessed here. He may be my colleague, and I may be therefore biased, but I dare say definitely worth a read!

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Interesting read, courtesy of The Diplomat. I expect some histrionics to come out of this fairly soon. Sigh … I know the Chinese navy is modernising and expanding the extent of its combat capabilities, but I still think there are sufficient qualitative questions to be asked of the Chinese navy. Combat platforms alone do not confer combat effectiveness.

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brilliant article here from wired.com. Focusing on the recent roll-out of the final F-22 to be built, it shows how one can calculate cost of weapons platforms or systems. In the process, it also demonstrates the difficulty in pinning down our policy-makers over the strategic choices they make in defence expenditure and acquisition. The F-22 can cost, depending on the method you use to calculate it, anything between USD137 million to USD678 million. I tend towards the latter figure. Oh by the way, these figures don’t necessarily include the costs of mid-life enhancements and refurbishments either!

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This report on the US Army trying to get in on the action in the one theatre that the US military establishment is continuing to invest on, the Pacific, is exactly what I had previously argued in an RSIS commentary about the potential perils of going overboard with the idea of a joint military organisation.

The idea of a joint military organisation is not necessarily a bad one. In fact there are potentially many good things to be said about jointness. It forces any one service to remember that it does not necessarily have a monopoly over its theatre of operations. World War Two taught us that on the land, the integration of air and land power can create a potentially devastating form of warfare that, if the opponent cannot master, can be at least operationally decisive, if not always strategically decisive. The war in the Pacific showed us that by integrating air and naval power, naval battles not only increased dramatically in terms of the size and scale of a physical battle space, the side that mastered this integration of very different services gained a significant war fighting advantage over its opponent. But also from the Pacific war, we begin to see how land, air and sea components can, if combined with careful strategic thinking, create a truly strategic advantage.

Furthermore, in an age of shrinking defence budgets, ever-increasing costs of new military technologies and weapons systems and the concomitant structural disarmament (I thank Ron Matthews for this idea!), a joint approach in defence management and budgeting hopefully streamlines the weapons acquisition process, reduces inefficiencies, and allows defence budgets to maximise their strategic outputs.

But don’t expect that all three services NECESSARILY have to play together! There must surely be, unavoidably, situations where not all three armed services can meaningfully cooperate. In other words, there are surely going to be strategic situations where a particular service is strategically irrelevant (but, remember, irrelevant ONLY to that particular situation!). We want out military organisations to be joint, but it has to be a process that is thought through intelligently. Don’t do joint for the sole purpose of wanting to be joint. Do joint because it is strategically the smart thing to do!

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