Taking a Measure of the Asian Defense Challenge: Shaping a Way Ahead

By Ed Timperlake

At an Air Force Association breakfast seminar, Ed Timperlake, Rick Fischer and Gordon Chang looked at the Asian defense challenge and ways to deal with it.

What follows is the presentation by Ed Timperlake given at the breakfast seminar held on May 20, 2014 and the full transcript can be found here:

AFA Breakfast Meeting May2014

It is in a conversational style but contains a number of key points relevant to our discussion of the Second Nuclear Age.

Rather than give you the view “as Ed sees it”, I’d like to give you a couple of data points and let you all decide what to do with them.

I became editor of a web site, Sldforum.com after I left government.

And as such, I have a guest editor for this year, Paul Bracken, who is a Yale professor who wrote the book “The Second Nuclear Age,” and I commend that book to all of you, it is a very impressive work.

What Paul did was he took a look at all the various emerging problems coming out of the first Nuclear Age Cold War. I will tell you what he diagnosed for the 2nd Nuclear Age — when I asked him while reviewing his book –Professor you’ve looked at this and you’re a very smart guy, one of the smartest, — what do we do about it?

And he said if I knew what to do about it; ”I would have put it in the last chapter.” We all currently don’t know, and that’s the problem.

We’re facing a Brave New World here.

My dad was a Navy nuke submariner, so I went to the Naval Academy but took a window seat by being a Marine aviator. I grew up immersed in the Navy nuke deterrence world, and it was very impressive, Admirals Rayburn and Rickover were giants.

But I also grew up watching the Air Force movies: James Stewart and bombers. God, I loved those movies. In one Jimmy Stewart begins by flying a B-36, and then he flies a B-47 from CONUS to Asia. The point of that is that the Air Force and Navy team won the Cold War on the nuke deterrence side. America owes then a very long victory lap. They faced our strategic enemies down by pure, in your face,— come at us, we’ll come right back at you.

I was President Reagan’s director of mobilization, planning and requirements. I had all the sites; I also had the continuity of government (COG) plans. I knew the deterrence world very well. As we come into this world, this Second Nuclear age it is all similar but also very different.

One data point, in 1998 I went to Sevastopol and I was a guest of the Ukrainian Navy and their Chief of Naval Operations. I was with the Professional Staff of the House Committee on Rules, with Chairman Solomon. The Chairman was a very smart serious man and had Congressional throw-weight to gain access.

We got on a boat and toured the Sevastopol harbor as guests of Ukraine CNO. He was a big tall man, very impressive, and had been a Soviet submarine commander, who transitioned to become the chief of naval operations of the Ukrainian navy. Our tour guide traveling on the water throughout the harbor pointed out Russian ships and Ukraine ships.

And my read today is the same after my tour of the Russian Black Sea Fleet. The Russian Navy embraced tactical nukes at sea, they really did embrace them with a passion. And my pure guess is since they had them, in ’98, they still had them in the Fleet in that harbor when the recent unpleasantness with Ukraine broke out.

I wrote an article, it didn’t get much traction, but I looked at Putin as a rational actor, and concluded that if he has a threat of Ukrainian forces storming into that harbor and grabbing Russian Navy tactical nukes, that would be a very big problem for him.

So that dynamic could have been a motivation for direct Russian action in Sevastopol. Make of this what you will, but get the Intel community to look at it. When you play with the Russians, you play with tactical nukes and our Navy has taken a step back from that.

In continuing to discuss of Russian deterrence and TacNucs and if necessary warfighting the Russian military equation in the Pacific tends to be more nuke oriented. They can’t handle China conventionally the quantity of PLA conventional weapon throw-weight to the Russian throw-weight is against them, so they feel the need for tac­nukes in the Pacific

Which now takes us to the brave new world of Korea, and this is where I am perhaps getting a little provocative.

I looked at Korea. I’ve been briefed about the Korean military situation. I was briefed by an Army four-star in Korea in 1998. I’ve walked into North Korea. Those of you who have been there, you know you can do that. There’s a building, you walk in that crosses the border, and North Korean military forces comes down and growls at you. The brief before you go in the building is please don’t flip them the bird or give them anything they could use in a photo for propaganda purposes.

You sit there in this building and have a lot of very skinny people in army uniforms snarl at you through a window. They do that, it is most amazing.

But here’s the point, the Dear Leader III or IV, whatever he is in their lineage, has threatened to annihilate everybody. I published an article about the US Army in South Korea. I made a case in which the Army in looking for an enhanced mission after Afghanistan and Iraq created Pacific Pathways, and they added an additional Army Four Star in the Pacific. I argued that they needed to rethink their con-ops.

What they are proposing in Pacific Pathways is taxing Air Force lift to fly them around the Pacific. Specifically AF heavy lift would be moving additional conventional forces around the Pacific.

My argument to the US Army on the Korean Peninsula is wait a minute, since the 1950s you’ve help build a South Korean army to a fighting force of over 500,000 capable troops.

And they are very capable. “ROK Ready” is a term of art that was told to me and means just that.

The Army has 28,500 Army troops in South Korea, so if it is critical to send 800 additional Army Mech troops they have missed the entire point of the new threat.

The reason why is simple you can’t go head-to-head conventionally with a madman with a nuclear weapon with the ability to launch that weapon on a whim. So my argument to the Army command over there, which I haven’t gotten much traction on yet, is that the deterrence warfighting posture on the Korean Peninsula has migrated to an Air Force air command issue.

I will propose this, but I haven’t written the article yet, is that the US commanding general on the Korean Peninsula should shift from the Army to the Air Force, because airpower is the solution to stopping the Dear Leader. You find him and you kill him as fast as you can. You cannot do a clank-clank tank battles or artillery duels not against a madman with a Nuke.

The Dear Leader is going to kill a lot of people, regardless of how many troops or Air Force planes are in the air, because he gets the first shot, with 20,000 artillery tubes and MLRS they can pull a lanyard –in five seconds a lot of people will die. You’ve got to go immediately after the Dear Leader and his senior leaders. It is a regime killing decapitation strategy and that is the Korean issue and airpower can do just that.

In looking at China initially in the nineties I thought, “hmm.,” China has kept their strategic forces minimized.

But later into the 21st Century I noticed China was different, they love missiles,  and their Second Artillery is huge. And they did this for their anti-access, area denial posture. To my friends in the Navy, and I’ve said this and I will write on this many times, I think a lot of it is pure hollow posturing so far.

We who have been in the military, have been in exercises, many of us have fired missiles. We have taken off in airplanes or been afloat or on land and practiced our skills and tested our weapons. We have shown that process to the world we have an open media. And we know our skills good and bad and if we bungle a shot, all know it.

The Chinese have asserted anti-access, area denial.

However, I wait for just one shot they have taken that proves to me they can take a IRBM , do over-the-horizon ground, sea or satellite search, find a maneuvering ship at sea, launch their missile have it go on trajectory, come down find a ship, go into end game maneuvering and sink it.

Prove to me just one test. I’m not minimizing the threat, I never, ever minimize threats, but let’s be a little bit realistic before we row ashore and surrender our swords and say we can’t fight in the Pacific.

Now how can we fight in the Pacific?

Well that’s a different issue.

I think quite frankly, Korea leads the way, with Japan, then Philippines and on into Taiwan and down into Vietnam following. I’ll lay that out very quickly and then I’ll back off.

I really did see a role for “Big Army”. We interviewed for SLDINFO.com — a very impressive Air Defense Artillery (ADA) Army general, my co-author did that interview. He was a Patriot Commander and now also a THAADs commander, and he said , “I’ve been at war for 30 years.”

That caught me by surprise, because on reflection it is very true.

I was in the White House for Desert Storm. The Patriots were used not only to kill Scuds, but they were also used to send a deterrence signal so that the Israeli air force would not fly.

In the White House during Desert Storm one of our biggest fears was the Israelis especially their Air Force would engage. And I like the Israeli air force, trust me, they could do the job but it might have shattered the Arab nations contribution to our Desert Storm alliance. .

So we used the Patriot as both a killer and a deterrent. Well now we have the next generation. We have the THAADs. General “Hawk” Carlisle, the AF four-star out in the Pacific, is a very visionary commander, came up with two concepts.

He came up with the Rapid Raptor.

What is that?

Well that is the idea where you start teaming a C-17 with and a division or “four ship” of F-22 Raptors. And the Generals vision is “places, not bases.” And all of a sudden you start moving your air forces around the Pacific to various bases so that you’re not a sitting target.

Because one things the Chinese can do, because and they proved hitting a diagram of a carrier in their desert is throw a missile at a fixed point “Boom”, they hit it. Everybody goes, oh my god, they can do that.

Well, Werner von Braun could do that for Germany in WWII. . The great quote about him was, he wrote the book, “I Aim at the Stars.” and as the comedian Mort Sahl said the subtitle should be “but sometimes I hit London.”

So the problem we have is that the Chinese can actually hit stationary targets, and they have the coordinates of all the air bases. As an aside rapid runway repair is essential along with revetments.

But you also have a defense in depth issue here with THAAD.

What does this really mean as a practical matter?

If the Chinese are building their rocket forces, and they are; and the American Army sees the right way to do “Pacific Pathways”, they can flood the zone with ADA– THAADs. And Patriots.

There are 9,000 islands in the Japanese chain, and 7,000 in the Philippines, and also around Korea they have a lot of islands. We can go out and pour concrete and put firing positions all over the place, complicating the targeting problem of Chinese missiles.

Consequently, if you have that, you’re beginning to build a passive deterrence factor that can go active, so it’s not provocative, but can win a war.

The Pacific then becomes a better place for the American forces to maneuver and fight.

I’m a big proponent of Army THAAD and their Pacific Pathways if done smartly, and not more tanks and Mech infantry flooding the Pacific to introduce themselves to various countries is ADA focused it can make a huge difference.

The Marines are doing something slightly different.

They’re putting F-35B out there, afloat, which is going to be a world-changing airplane. People criticize me for   being a big advocate for the F-35. But I do think the F-35 has a deterrence factor at the strategic level, that has yet to be determined.

To tell everybody in the audience here a little bit about it is the F-35 can passively search and sense incoming threats.

An F-35 on a test flight over Pax river Maryland sensed a missile launched 800 miles away at the Cape in Florida. This was just by accident. Flying around in a test plane over Pax River – then boom, see in the cockpit a missile light off from Florida is a game changing technology.

What does that really tell us?

It tells us if you get into a satellite war, we’ve have a second tier of ISR assets embedded in human active decision-making F-35 pilots.

The F-35 fleet will create a honeycombed grid at a tactical flying level that has strategic capabilities and huge implications..

What are those strategic capabilities?

I’ll get to China and end this discussion.

China has done some unique things.

Again, as the director of mobilization my job was both counterforce/countervalue targeting, which is what we did, and also continuity of government (COG). America Continuity of government was a big deal in the first Nuc Age and was critical, and it still is even more so now.

How do you survive so you can fight the war?

It got pretty ugly at the end of the Cold War. Very few people know this but I can talk about it now. In our hardened ground sites, you had about a half hour more of life because the nukes were so accurate they could dig you out but it took several strikes. So we could fight the war as they were coming at you: launch and fight, and launch and fight and then die—but it was successful deterrence.

Well the Chinese have gone underground– and Phil Karber at Georgetown gets full credit for this – the PLA Great Underground Wall. They have gone underground to build many hardened tunnels.

People have estimated many miles of tunnels, I don’t know the real number but I seen 3,000 miles mentioned.

Well what happens then is not only do you have this ability to disguise and hide your strategic deterrence ICBM rocket force, on movable TELs, so you can move them out of a hole, pop it up, and it’s ready to go. You do not know that they’re going to do this until they do it.

And the Underground Great Wall also gives them continuity of government for state survival. So that is of significant concern. They haven’t really announced it much except I’ve seen some videos.

The dilemma of the second nuclear age is some Cold War Deterrence with thinking about changes in deterrence and warfighting because proliferation to other states specifically as mentioned North Korea,

Let’s go to Libya for a second.

Why do this?

Because, Qaddafi was de-nuking. He was an intel source against bad guys yet they decide to kill him. Okay, got it and it was ugly.

But that was also a signal to Iran. If Qaddafi kept his nuke, I don’t think, Odyssey Dawn would have had the trigger pulled I just don’t believe that. So Odyssey Dawn was a terrible signal to Iran in my opinion.

The second one, which just recently happened was Ukraine had a deal to de-nuke, they did just that and Russia picked a fight.

That’s another signal to Iran. “Hey, nukes have value”

So the point being in this the second nuke age is that proliferation that could quickly accelerate. Nations embracing Nuc weapons can cascade? Because if Japan doesn’t think we’re serious they can go nuke almost overnight. They’re that good.

Where the Middle East is concerned, I’m a big advocate of protecting Israel, and a big proponent of the IAF. I know them, and have a few friends in the IAF.

And if Iran comes close to having a bomb, I think Israel will not let that happen,   but somehow Iran announces a bomb. The Saudis can buy a bomb overnight, there is enough money in many Middle East nations to buy nuclear weapons. So the whole thing turns into a Middle East tinderbox.

Where is this going?

I don’t’ know, I just offer these data points to worry about.

Finally the terrorist loose nuke threat has to be discussed.

My number one fear is the Chechens who are very capable, nasty people. If they get their hands on a device stand-by, you don’t know where they’ll put it. So you have all these dilemmas.

Finally have India vs Pakistan.

I asked an AF three star when he visited India about their deterrence equation and was told essentially is we have 1.3 billion people, you want to fight with us, you’re gone., we will survive.

Now that’s a pretty tough deterrence. But, you know, he may have had a point, since they also believe in reincarnation. So the point being is, all these dilemmas are out there.

I yield to your judgment on what to do with them.

The one advocacy position I’ll have, and I am mostly with an Air Force audience so I hope I finally have a friendly crowd, is that if I was in the next administration, I would really look a transitioning our Korea four star Command to the Air Force as opposed to big Army.

The US Army did a great job. They won to date by building effective ground deterrence but now the problem is different. I think, it is time for an Air Force four-star to do the strategic planning to stop the craziness of a Nuclear weapon enabled North Korea.


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