So said General Martin Dempsey, chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, yesterday evening in the Colin Cramphorn memorial lecture at the Policy Exchange think tank in London. As The Guardian reported, the general did provide an alternative. "With cost as an independent variable," he said, "we must now seek the synergies and possibilities of capabilities that are integrated and combined in innovative ways."
I have a few reservations about his statements. Cost hasn't just been an independent variable since the early 1990s, when the Pentagon dreamt up the acronym CAIV; willingness-to-pay, at least, has been independent all along. And as uncooperative as this-or-that country may be, I'm not sure that the world will always and everywhere need the same level and nature of American and allied military involvement. It is just possible that less could be more, as they say.
But I do admire the general's can-do attitude. Any decent military strives to show its civilian employers that it can rise to challenges. So just what might be some of these innovative-and-integrated, synergistic combinations? Recent experience points to at least one:
SpecOps + CSAR = fewer airplanes.
I have watched at least two NATO air wars now in which the US Marine Corps seems to have had the hammer for combat search-and-rescue (CSAR). It's important to note that the Marines don't actually have specialized CSAR units or aircraft. Heck, they don't always have real special operators available. What they do have is long-range rotorcraft and guys who train hard. So, they just grab what's available on the nearest carrier. In Bosnia in 1995, that was a CH-53 and some escorts from the Kearsarge, pulling out a US Air Force F-16 pilot. In Libya in 2011, it was an MV-22 from (coincidentally) the Kearsarge, pulling out a US Air Force F-15 crew.
Since the USAF seems to have already mostly outsourced its CSAR to the USMC anyway, it may be mystifying why the bluer service insists that it needs a whole fleet of dedicated CSAR aircraft and crews. A whole fleet, as former Defense Under Secretary John Young once put it, for "single digit rescues." The economics of this enterprise don't even begin to compute. Worse, the USAF seems intent on replacing its CSAR MH-60s with more CSAR MH-60s. The model may be newer, and the Pave Hawk a fine machine to start, but the range just isn't what's available in a bigger airplane.
I apologize for drum-beating if I have made these points before (and I have). But this modest idea—letting the Army and Marine Corps handle CSAR with their long-range rotorcraft—seems to me integrated and synergistic. If they want to hand it to their specials, good for them; if not, I trust their judgement. I suppose that one could even leave it some of it with the USAF, but strongly suggest that it consolidate the mission in Air Force Special Operations Command. Yet whoever staffs the missions, necking down responsibility for CSAR would continue to foster some healthy interservice competition while cost-effectively combining assets. It would seem to hit almost all the general's points; and if it's not particularly innovative, well, I'll take that criticism. Better that it just make sense.