Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Why the F-35? Building "Partner Capacity"

One of the past strengths of NATO's old "AirLand Battle" doctrine was the fact that it wasn't just a US doctrine, but it was an alliance doctrine that permitted and encouraged the development complementary capabilities and forces throughout the alliance.  This gave it much more strength than had it been an US only doctrine.

The same sort of requirement exists if the new doctrine, requiring different coalition members in different parts of the world, is going to be successful.  In their AEI paper, "Mass and Supremacy: A Comprehensive Case for the F-35",  Thomas Donnelly and Phillip Lohaus make the case for "building partner capacity" with this end in mind.

In fact, while many look only to the "Pacific pivot" portion of the doctrine, there are really three containment coalitions - the "China Deterrence Coalition", the "Iran Containment Coalition" and the "Limited-War Contingency Coalition".  Each requires partners in different parts of the world who are on the same doctrinal sheet of music and bring complementary weaponry and capabilities to the coalition. 

That is what the F-35 offers such a doctrine.

Here's the problem in a nutshell:
If AirSea Battle remains a US-only initiative, not only will it have less operational utility, but it will introduce a new element of strategic weakness. A coalition whose members fight in very different ways is dangerously vulnerable.
That means, like the NATO of old, common platforms and common capabilities build a synergy and a mass of their own and are critical to the success of such coalitions:
Common platforms and systems make tactical integration much easier as well. Indeed, the wars of the past two decades have underscored the widening gap in tactical proficiency between the United States and its foreign partners. The US introduction of fifth-generation aircraft represents an even larger fork in the road: if America’s allies do not take the same path, the gap in coalition capabilities could become crippling. Conversely, sharing the F-35 would close much of that gap. 

An even greater force multiplier would be logistics commonality. In recent years, small NATO nations have begun to pool resources to sustain their F-16 fleets, and in Afghanistan, the Dutch took on what amounted to a common sustainment mission for coalition F-16s at Kandahar Airfield in Afghanistan, which allowed smaller nations to make larger contributions to International Security Assistance Force air operations.

A common F-35 would allow for both more robust and more flexible logistics and sustainment— and with fixed sites such as airfields and ports held increasingly at risk, these are two keys to a credible conventional-deterrent coalition in East Asia. “Distributed” logistics will not just be efficient, but also militarily effective. Finally, broadening the F-35 defense industrial partnership would cement the bonds of any coalition. Because of the long-term nature of multinational procurements—and the large sums of money involved—they can be even more reliable instruments of security partnership than treaty alliances; the penalties for failing to meet program obligations would be serious across the coalition, and thus the incentive to meet the obligations would be great.
The key here is "interoperability".  The brilliance of involving partner nations (and potential partner nations) in the manufacture of the F-35 is the de facto commitment it engenders in those partners to such interoperability.  And that interoperability is the key to creating the synergy and the mass necessary to make the AirSea doctrine successful.

The success of the coalition-creation process in East Asia depends on the success of the F-35 pro- gram. As evidenced above, America’s most important partners in the region are already part of the program or are poised to become so; nor is it impossible, down the road, to think that India would consider the prospect. Yet, these partner commitments are contingent, most of all because the partners are uncertain about America’s own commitment.
This, of course, is true of all three of the coalitions.  If we show signs of a lack of commitment, especially in tough budgetary times, our partners and potential partners will too.  That's why statements like this, recently made by SecDef Panetta while in Italy, are so important:
“I want to thank Italy for their participation in the Joint Strike Fighter program,” Panetta said at an appearance with di Paola at the Italian Defense Ministry. “I want Italy to know that the United States is fully committed to developing this essential fighter for the future.” 
The future of any coalition and doctrine is going to be found in coalition members being able to bring similar capabilities to the conflict and engaging in true interoperability.  The F-35 provides that key, not only with its advanced capabilities, but through involving coalition partners in its manufacture and deployment.


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