Toward a Fifth Armed Service?

May 1, 1988

Washington, D. C.—Barely one year after it launched a new “special operations” command, the nation’s defense establishment may be coming face to face with a daunting question. Should Washington pursue a kind of fifth military service—prepared to fight small, brushfire wars—in addition to the four it maintains for air, land, sea, and amphibious combat

The Pentagon has long suffered criticism that American forays into the world of special operations have been a disaster. This, it is said, made necessary the creation of the unified US Special Operations Command (USSOCOM) in April 1987 at MacDill AFB, Fla.

Proponents insist that the new command is designed mainly to coor­dinate the services’ efforts. But what­ever the original intention, some ex­perts believe that the unit might turn out to be a first step toward the devel­opment of a separate agency.

They note that USSOCOM has al­ready accumulated unique power over budgets for Special Operations Forces (SOF). Plans call for it to exert even greater control over SOF per­sonnel, programs, and doctrine. The question of the hour is how far this trend can go before the new com­mand becomes—in fact, if not in name—a separate entity.

The man at the center of this con­troversy is Army Gen. James J. Lindsay, USSOCOM Commander in Chief. In remarks to Washington de­fense writers recently, he made clear that there will be no backdoor creation of a new service on his watch. He opposes the idea. Even so, he con­cedes such pressures exist. “If you look at the legislation,” says he, “you can see clearly a number of things that smack of my being a separate agency. There are still a number of people who have a deep and abiding interest in SOF who think I ought to be.”

The overall aim is to build military tools capable of intervening in local wars, beefing up friendly forces, car­rying out antiterrorist actions, or striking behind Warsaw Pact lines in a major war. Already, SOF units have bounced back from post-Vietnam days, when their funding was cut ninety-five percent and many of the SOF units were disbanded. Since 1981, the $9 billion that the Pentagon has spent on SOF has created a new Army Special Forces Group, a Ranger battalion, more SEAL strength, and additions to the Air Force SOE Man­power, now 38,000 active and reserve, will soon rise to 41,000.

The truly major innovation, how­ever, was creation of the 318-man command itself—but not, as is widely believed, because it will run wars. “People think of this as being a war-fighting headquarters,” says General Lindsay.

“I’ll tell you up front, I’m not. I’m a provider. I package, prepare, and pro­vide forces” for others.

A “small, surgical operation,” Gen­eral Lindsay states, could be run by the Pentagon. In a big operation, con­trol would pass to a commander in Europe, the Mideast, Latin America, the Atlantic, or the Pacific. He would not press to run it.

The General is not shy, however, when it comes to the vital issue of acquiring resources for SOF. This is his “primary role.” Upon taking com­mand, he says, he determined that “my focus was going to be on making sure that we built a good, solid foun­dation” for SOF.

It is here, he claims, “the logic be­hind [the development of] a fifth ser­vice makes sense.” How? “Very frank­ly,” the General asserts, “if you look at the focus of the services, it tends to be on their prime mission, the conven­tional battle.”

Now, the situation is being altered in ways that raise questions about where the command may go.

The Pentagon has created a new “Major Force Program—its elev­enth—pulling together all SOF pro­grams that are presently executed by the services. USSOCOM is empow­ered to peer over the shoulders of the services and protect this program. Backing this up is a directive from the Defense Secretary’s office that strips the services of authority to tamper with the money in this category.

The strength of this order was shown last December at a time of frantic budget-cutting by the ser­vices. Learning that SOF items had been cut thirty-three percent, General Lindsay went to Defense Secretary Frank Carlucci. “I laid out the pro­gram,” he says. “I got everything back.”

In the future, General Lindsay hopes to strengthen his hand by gain­ing the power to develop a SOF “Program Objective Memorandum,” or long-term force plan. The POM, now restricted to the services, is a bu­reaucratic tool of high order.

As General Lindsay tells it, the question is not whether but only when he will receive his own POM. He has already informed the Pentagon that he will begin building an SOF budget document this October.

USSOCOM appears to be getting a grip on service SOF manpower, too. A prime case in point: the Navy’s SEAL commandos.

When USSOCOM came into exis­tence, the Navy successfully held on to the SEALs, keeping them in the embrace of the Atlantic and Pacific Fleets. General Lindsay, appealing to Pentagon civilians, won out. These forces came under operational con­trol of USS000M on March 1.

General Lindsay says Secretary Carlucci has told the Navy fleets to give up important “administrative control” of the SEALs—that is, to give up authority over pay, discipline, and internal organization. Control would then be exercised by the US Navy component under USSOCOM.

Backed by legislative authority, General Lindsay is pressing to im­pose order on the services’ develop­ment of SOF doctrine. His aim is to produce, by the end of this year, a new joint manual for special operations. This would establish a “framework” for further development of common tactics.

The goal, he explains, is “to make sure everybody thinks alike and works off the same sheet of music” in special operations techniques.

What’s more, plans call for integra­tion, to the extent possible, of Army, Navy, and Air Force SOF schools in a Joint Special Operations Integration Center. “Some people get very antsy when I talk about that,” says the Gen­eral. “But that is my ultimate goal.”

Air Force Programs

For the Air Force more than the other services, the emphasis on re­vitalization of special operations forces carries important hardware im­plications. Air Force SOFs, centered at Twenty-third Air Force at Hurlburt Field, Fla., provide means of clandes­tine infiltration and some fire support to Army and Navy teams. Current Air Force plans are outlined in its 121-page “Air Force Acquisition State­ment” issued as part of the service’s 1989 budget submission.

Four SOF programs are singled out for special attention.

• CV-22A Osprey aircraft. This tilt-rotor craft, able to hover like a heli­copter and cruise like a fixed-wing plane, is described as the “linchpin” of USAF special operations in the fu­ture. Designed for clandestine inser­tion and extraction of secret forces, the Osprey is currently in develop­ment, looking toward a first flight in June.

Initial operating capability of six air­craft is set for 1995. The Air Force plans to buy a total of fifty-five.

• MC-130H aircraft. Known as the “Combat Talon II,” this aircraft also would perform long-range SOF trans­port missions. It has an aerial refuel­ing system, a high-speed, low-level cargo-delivery system, and special lighting equipment. Also included are avionics for terrain-following, preci­sion navigation, secure communica­tions, and electronic warfare.

The Air Force says its plans call for buying twenty-four new Combat Tal­ons. The budget includes a healthy $209.5 million for four in 1989.

• AC-130U gunship. This aircraft also fared well in the 1989 budget wars, with $288.3 million being allocated for six gunships. AC-130H plat­form armed with a 105-mm howitzer and other guns, the AC-1 30U is being developed to provide fire support, such as interdiction of enemy com­munication sites and destruction of antiaircraft positions. Deliveries are to begin in 1992.

There had been some contention over how many to buy. The Air Force announced that it would procure seven. General Lindsay, for his part, claimed he needed twelve to replace twelve aging AC-130A models.

• MH-53J helicopter. This helicop­ter, a highly modified version of the CH-53 craft, is known as the “Pave Low III, enhanced.” A long-range, heavy-lift craft, it will sport integrated digital avionics for secret “black” flights into heavily defended areas. Twenty-third Air Force today pos­sesses eight of the upgraded helicop­ters. Plans call for a total force of for­ty-one by the early 1990s.

The Air Force SOF program should be kept in perspective. Throughout the entire 1990-94 period, the Air Force and other services combined will spend a total of only $5 billion for new SOF airplanes and upgrades—less than the outlay that will be made this year alone for F-15s and F-16s and the Advanced Tactical Fighter.

The USAF S&T Effort

Of far greater significance, in the larger scheme of things, is what the Air Force plans to emphasize in the field of basic science and technology in the years ahead. The Air Force S&T effort encompasses fourteen labora­tories backed by a $1.4 billion annual budget.

The acquisition report cites a dozen of the Air Force’s highest-pri­ority research efforts for the future. A look at some of them:

• Battle information management work shows promise of giving the re­mote commander of the future an in­stantaneous, three-dimensional view of an entire region and the ability to communicate with forces via voice controls and touch. Making such a revolution seem possible are ad­vances in display technologies, sen­sor integration, processing, and de­velopment of computer-driven “artifi­cial intelligence.”

• Integrated photonics is being pursued vigorously to accelerate the arrival of military systems that make use of optical equipment as opposed to conventional electronics. One big payoff, in the words of the report: “Optics are invulnerable to electro­magnetic interference and electro­ magnetic pulse, which promises to invalidate electronic warfare as we know it today.”

• High-performance turbine en­gines are expected to make use of advanced materials and better de­signs, among other things, to provide powerplants with twice the thrust of today’s engines with no additional weight. With such engines, “Mach 4-plus aircraft will be practical,” and radically new global transport aircraft will become possible.

• Supercockpit development, ex­pected to be employed in the Ad­vanced Tactical Fighter, aims to im­prove drastically the pilot’s awareness of his surroundings and to decrease his workload. What seems possible in the near term is a full head-up display with a head-aimed fire-control sys­tem. For the future: voice controls and advanced help from artificial in­telligence systems.

Third-World Naval Threat

Special Operations Forces are not the only ones concerned about the prospect of having to grapple with small, “low-intensity” conflicts. The US Navy’s latest worldwide threat as­sessment contends that the main combat fleets are now up against mounting dangers from smaller powers.

The potential for conflict with heav­ily armed forces in the Persian Gulf and other Third-World areas figures prominently in the seventy-page intel­ligence report. Prepared by Rear Adm. William O. Studeman, Director of Naval Intelligence, the assessment paints a bleak picture of “significant threats” that US warships are starting to face.

What has caused the problem, in Admiral Studeman’s view, is an explo­sion of arms sales to Third-World na­tions in recent years. Says he: “[The presence of] increasingly sophisti­cated arms has become common­place in virtually all regions of the globe, making the Navy’s role of pro­tecting US interests worldwide more dangerous and complex.”

In a sharp departure from earlier times, current and potential Third-World enemies at sea can threaten US warships with modern submarines, advanced missiles, and high-perfor­mance aircraft.

In the Third World, he points out, the magnitude of the threat is under­scored by the fact that there are:

• Forty-eight nations fielding anti-ship cruise missiles.

• Nineteen countries with diesel at­tack submarines.

• Twenty-one powers with naval mining capabilities.

That is not all. A big worry for the future, in the Navy’s view, is the pro­liferation of chemical weapon capa­bilities. Admiral Studeman claims that ten countries possess chemical warfare arsenals. What’s more, five Asian nations—China, Taiwan, North Korea, Vietnam, and Burma—are fast developing such capabilities. Iran is also a conspicuous contender for such weaponry.

What will be the impact of the spread of armaments? The most ob­vious danger is that an American war­ship will fall prey to the lucky shot from a Third-World adversary. With US task forces operating in confined waters, amid highly ambiguous threats and under restrictive peace­time rules of engagement, this dan­ger remains ever present.

Other complications, however, seem to be of equal or even greater significance. One is the extent to which Third-World nations will be able to put stress, on a long-term basis, on the force structure of even a greatly expanded 600-ship, fifteen-carrier US Navy.

The problem is summed up this way by Admiral Studeman: “Greater num­bers of more sophisticated sub­marines will tax our [antisubmarine-warfare] capability to distinguish friend from foe and increase the geo­graphic areas in which our ASW forces may be required to operate. Ex­pansion and improvements in [Third-World] air systems will further com­plicate US at-sea air defense.”

The most dangerous potential ad­versaries, in the view of the Navy, are Libya and Iran. The Naval intelligence document claims that Tripoli’s forces—armed with modern surface-to-surface missiles, hundreds of jet fighters, long-range surface-to-air missiles, and a large inventory of sea mines—pose “a considerable and in­creasing threat” to Navy warships op­erating in the Mediterranean. For its part, Iran can brandish its Chinese-made Silkworm antiship missiles and may be getting China’s F-7 aircraft and Soviet-made Styx surface-to-sur­face missiles.

The Navy report points up a heavy irony. Even as the indigenous naval threat in the Third World grows, Sovi­et naval operations in these waters ap­pear to be stagnant or even receding. This runs counter to earlier predic­tions that the Red Navy was bent on expanding its power-projection capa­bility for intervention in world trouble spots.

The new Navy assessment is un­equivocal on this score: “Soviet forces abroad, such as those at Cam Ranh Bay, Vietnam, or in Ethiopia, South Yemen, Cuba, or the South At­lantic, are still too few and too weak to enable the Soviets to engage in any significant power projection, particu­larly over a prolonged period.”

What’s more, Russian naval deploy­ments overseas in 1987 declined by six percent compared to 1986, the third year in a row that this has oc­curred. The Soviet fleet in 1987 con­tinued to conduct virtually all its ma­jor exercises in waters close to the Soviet mainland—a sharp departure from more aggressive maneuvers in years gone by. Moscow also appears to be deploying its fleet for home-water defense.

Why is this happening? The Navy speculates that Soviet naval restraint reflects tight defense’ budgets at home, increased emphasis on close-in defense of the homeland, and con­cern about the need to protect its nu­clear-missile-carrying strategic sub­marines in the Arctic.

Turmoil in Latin America

If there is any one part of the world that could be viewed as the cockpit of “low-intensity” conflict, it is Latin America.

This area is the scene not only of the sputtering conflict between Nica­ragua’s Sandinistas and US-backed Nicaraguan guerrillas. It seethes with sporadic warfare—in El Salvador, Guatemala, Peru—and with other civil disturbances ranging from eco­nomic conflict to feuds between the heavily armed narcotics suppliers and local governments.

These dangers are much on the mind of Army Gen. Fred F. Woerner, who as Commander in Chief of US Southern Command in Panama is in charge of 10,000 American service­men and responsible for Washing­ton’s military interests in nineteen Latin American nations.

In a recent talk with some Washing­ton writers, the General observed that this “southern flank” of the United States historically has been insecure. Should Washington ever be com­pelled to make it secure, he adds, the drain on US resources “would have very, very significant impact on our worldwide commitments.”

What does General Woerner think Washington should be doing to cope with the turmoil in the region? The answer, says General Woerner, does not lie in expanding the number of US fighting forces in the region. “I don’t think that it’s [a need for] military forces,” he observes. “I think that we’re in the posture that we should be, with a symbolic force regionally and a relevant force, specifically, to the security of the Panama Canal.”

The first step, the General says, should be a substantial expansion of the number of US military advisors working to increase the profession­alism of friendly Latin American mili­taries. He would like to see the US return to the days when it maintained about 800 advisors within the region. “I thought that was a very comfortable structure,” he says. “So use that fig-u re.’

Presently, the number of US ad­visors is minimal—a total of fifty-five, all of them deployed in El Salvador. General Woerner controls another ninety-two security assistance offi­cers scattered across the nineteen countries in his sphere of interest.

To put those figures into context, General Woerner notes the following: In Cuba alone, the Soviet Union main­tains a total of 2,800 advisors. It de­ploys another 150 in Peru, ostensibly a nonaligned nation. “The Soviet Union,” says he, “has … nineteen times more on one island—Cuba­—than I have in nineteen countries.”

Secondly, in the General’s view, Washington should devote a far larger amount of security assistance aid to Latin militaries. “I believe very strong­ly that the security assistance pro­gram is an incredibly viable tool for the US military to maintain a positive relationship. . . . One could look at it as the foot in the door.”

The US today provides only about $128 million in grant aid to Latin America’s regional military establish­ments—about four percent of the worldwide US total. What’s more, eighty-six percent of that funding goes to only two nations—El Salvador and Honduras. The rest has to be spread around to the remaining na­tions.

The prognosis now for General Woerner’s proposal is bleak. He con­cedes that there is little realistic chance for any increase in his com­plement of military advisors, which is a most sensitive political issue in Congress. The level of security assis­tance, far from going up, is now being slashed in the face of budget pres­sures. The result, he says, is likely to be new estrangement from Latin mili­tary officers.

“I sense that the nations know what is happening to them,” says General Woerner. “The reaction has been quite negative. Quite negative.”