I concluded my last post with the thought that by exposing our shortfalls in nuclear readiness, and subsequent increase spending to fix it, Russia may be emboldened but the perceived weakness. I was about to write about how this may also be fueling the increased military build-up of China (along with increasing tensions between China and Japan) when this article caught my interest.
A fully armed Russian navy vessel sailed to within 30 miles of Scotland, of the coast of Moray Firth, about a week before Christmas. There the Russian vessel sat, unchallenged by any Royal Navy vessels since budget cuts have eliminated any maritime patrols off the coast of Scotland. The HMS Defender had to be launched from Portsmouth and sail 600 miles to Moray Firth. A response time of over 24 hours. Upon arrival, there was a "stand-off" according to the Daily Mail article but eventually the Russian warship left and returned to join-up with a Russian task force on maneuvers in the Baltic Sea.
It was obvious the Russian vessel waited until the British destroyer showed up, basically measuring response times. The Russian vessel had armed cruise missiles on deck, obviously so that the RAF reconnaissance aircraft would determine the legitimacy of the threat. It was widely known that the Royal Navy no longer was running patrols in the area. According to Interfax, the Russian vessel was sheltering in the area to avoid severe weather.
The obvious conclusion is Russia is signaling a more aggressive posture to the rest and proving that the old Allied powers of Europe just can't respond as they once did. This particular incident may also have something to do with Scotland nearly realizing its independence. According to Jonathan Eyal from the Royal United Services Institute to conclude, "The Russians may also be inspecting nuclear installations in Scotland, with a view towards the independence referendum. Certainly the Russians would see the country as more vulnerable if it were no longer part of Britain."
The events off the coast of Moray Firth is eerily similar to a Dec 5th incident where a Chinese naval vessel tried to stop the guided missile destroyer, USS Cowpins. Unlike the incident between Russia and Britain, this occurred in international waters. Like the Moray Firth situation, the Dec 5th incident demonstrates a more aggressive stance by China related to its declaration of an air defense identification zone (ADIZ) in the East China Sea.
The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan relayed heavily on drones as a way of dealing with the threat, which is primarily ground based. Drones are a high-tech, low-risk way of waging an insurgency type war. Small, precision guided weapons launched from these platforms are devastating on small ground targets. Drones are of course excellent surveillance/reconnaissance platforms that can remain on station for long periods of time.
However, the mistake is to use the last war as they way of fighting the next. We may continue to engage insurgents for some time, however the next war is very unlikely to resemble those fought in either Iraq or Afghanistan for the last 10 years.
Those same tactics may not be nearly effective against a large, conventional military force such as China, Russia or North Korea. The punch carried by drones is still diminutive compared to that of manned aircraft or surface vessels such as the ones involved in the events above. A drone can't get close enough to launch a weapon against an armed surface vessel. This means we would still have to rely on conventional naval or airpower, which also means risking US troops.
Naval power is still the key to power projection, something that has been overlooked since Desert Storm. Protecting sea lines of communications is something the recent troubles with Somali pirates should haver reminded us.
US Naval forces have primarily been used for the carriers and unconventional forces (SEAL Teams). Conventional surface and underwater forces have not played as much of a part as other forces. This make it easier for Congress to reduce the number of surface ships and patrols available.
There is also a misunderstanding of increased lethality equalling the need for fewer assets. Our missiles and guns have become more lethal, accurate and have greater range than ever before. It means it takes fewer hits to take out a target which means you need fewer assets. That is a lovely synergy for the budget-cutting planner or legislator. What goes without being said is you still need to have a presence in order to deliver the strike.
Ah that's where long range strike comes in you say? In the early days of the war in Afghanistan, a single B-2 set an endurance record of a 36 hour round trip from its home base in Missouri to Afghanistan and back. Impressive except if you needed a target taken out sooner than 36 hours, you would be dead. The US has quietly been increasing its presence in Guam and has now staged B-2s there as well.
More lethal may require fewer assets but some assets still need to be in present in order to strike. The Russians and Chinese have not forgotten this.