Working the Distributed Piece: Why Kill Webs are Critical

By Robbin Laird

With the Biden Administration’s Blitzkrieg withdrawal strategy, the curtain was drawn on the core commitment of the U.S. military to stability operations and counter-insurgency efforts in Afghanistan.  With this comes a significant historical shock – the U.S. military has been focused by its political masters on fighting a non-peer competitor and has built a force structure optimized for such operations.

But the Chinese and the Russians as peer competitors have not been focusing on Afghanistan or fighting what the U.S. military has been optimized for. This is a significant strategic disconnect which the U.S. military is working to correct.

This is a short- and long-term challenge. The world is not going to wait while the U.S. military goes into a long-term retooling.  As Secretary Wynne noted when discussing a military force twenty years out: “you already have 80% of that force today.”

But what if you have stockpiled equipment for stability operations and counter-insurgency and your Commander and Chief simply decides to end this effort, but now faces direct threats from China and Russia?

What do you do then? What are core war winning capabilities?

You have a military which has not really thought about nuclear weapons. They have not really focused on a major theater war.  They have not really integrated their forces for a high-end fight but have continued to Army dominated joint operations but are now moving to do so.

Note this comment from the commander of the USS Carl Vinson strike group made this August.

“This is the first large-scale exercise held in decades and I am excited about the high-end integration of the carrier, and all that it brings, at sea,” said Capt. P. Scott Miller, Vinson’s commanding officer. “Carl Vinson and our embarked air wing are trained and ready to participate in the first Naval and amphibious large-scale exercise conducted since the Ocean Venture NATO exercises of the Cold War.”

To say that there is a disconnect between the force you have inherited and what you need to do today is certainly where one has to start. The United States has significant combat capability for the high-end fight, but unfortunately it resides in services that largely do Piaget’s notion of young children doing parallel play, rather than working together to achieve a combined result.

Force integration can be a key advantage for the United States if it can achieve it. The problem is that there is too much long-range “planning” for force integration for the future force. We will not get to that future unless we deliver enhanced capability in the short term.

A key way to do so is to ramp up efforts to integrate distributed forces packages which are more survivable but also integratability across the services with  the C2/ISR capabilities built into those force packages to deliver an aggregated effect.

By working integrated distributed force packages and operating as kill webs to train and fight in terms of joint or coalition aggregated effect, the adversaries face a force which is more survivable and more lethal across the spectrum of warfare. And you weed out of the equation those forces that simply not cannot operate this way.

Doing a self-blitzkrieg defeat is not a path to victory; getting on in the short term with more integrated USAF-US Navy-USMC and where appropriate U.S. Army force packages is. And as the forces learn to do so, a path is opened to a broader strategy of force integratability.

The future is now; we don’t have time for force structure redesign 2030, 2040 or 2050.