This report looks at the US military services struggling to adapt to an expeditionary era. This expeditionary era has emerged from two defining developments. First, due to the collapse of the Soviet empire in 1989 and of the Soviet Union, itself, in 1991, more and more US combat forces have been brought home from the overseas garrisons, bases, and ports they once occupied on the periphery of America’s Cold War adversary. Second, there is ample reason to anticipate that future adversaries, having seen Iraq routed twice by US-led coalition forces after they were allowed to deploy unmolested into Southwest Asia, will seek asymmetric ways of opposing the movement of US military forces into their region.
A2 and AD capabilities are, therefore, a natural and logical response to American military preeminence and demonstrated power-projection capabilities. Iraq’s Baathist regime may have learned little in this regard from the 1991 Persian Gulf War, but evidence is accumulating that other nations are more adept competitors. For instance, the ongoing People’s Republic of China (PRC) deployments of advanced CSS-6 and CSS-7 short-range ballistic missiles (SRBMs), SA- 10 SAMs, over-the-horizon targeting systems, and related capabilities opposite Taiwan may be a leading indicator of the kinds of A2/AD capabilities America’s expeditionary forces will eventually confront should another Taiwan Straits crisis arise. Moreover, US power-projection capabilities are themselves contributing the problem. It is likely, for example, that the GPS coordinates of most potential fixed targets on Taiwan are already precisely known to PRC SRBM units, and GPS has also made accurate, long-range cruise missiles an option countries with limited defense resources relative to the United States will find increasingly affordable in the future.
But the Pentagon’s concerns are not limited to China. A recent commander- in-chief of US forces in Korea declared that the problem of forward base access is not a problem for the US military of 2010, but one that exists in embryonic form in Korea today, and which will only worsen over time. Indeed, Secretary of Defense William Perry voiced concerns over this problem during the 1994 crisis on the peninsula. A cursory examination of the situation on the Korean peninsula reveals the reasons for concern.
In the near term, air operations from the two US air bases in South Korea are unlikely to be severely disrupted by North Korean missile attacks as long as North Korea refrains from using nuclear or chemical warheads, and does not improve the accuracy and lethality of its conventional missiles. North Korea’s current inventory of Scud-C (Hwasong 5/6) and Scud D/E (No-Dong 1 and 2) ballistic missiles, despite ranges of over 300 and 900 miles respectively, lack sufficient accuracy to target an air base effectively. North Korea has yet to develop warheads for delivering submunitions, either bomblets or runway penetration submunitions, a capability useful for disrupting operations spread over large areas.
However, this relatively favorable situation seems unlikely to endure. North Korea is increasing its inventory of No-dong 1 and 2 ballistic missiles. South Korea and a significant portion of Japan are within range of the No-dong 1. Most of Japan, including the US air bases of Misawa and Yokota, are within range of the No-dong 2. All of Japan, including the US Kadena air base in Okinawa, is within range of the Taepodong 1 medium-range ballistic missile currently in production. While these missiles are relatively inaccurate, over time improvements in their accuracy appear not only possible, but highly likely. As this comes to pass, forces relying on large, fixed bases will find themselves paying an ever greater (and perhaps prohibitive) price for continuing to operate out of these facilities.