A swarm of drones attacking Kuwait International Airport. Or terrorists setting off an explosion at a chemical plant in Oklahoma, which then releases deadly gases and causes massive poisoning.
These were just 2 of many grim scenarios that Dr Thomas X. Hammes painted, at his talk at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies (RSIS).
Always refreshing to hear from a former "practitioner", especially one who is candid, pulling no punches.
He highlighted several Commercial Off-The-Shelf (COTS) developments which would make it easier for belligerents to launch attacks, namely drones and 3D printing.
Using the 11 Sep attacks as an example, he also reminded that terrorists now just need to "bring the detonator".
Question & Answer segment
Q: role of private contractor?
A: still problematic
Q: using drones as active defence?
A: maybe, but defence using drones complicated compared to attack with drones. Also, enemy will concentrate on soft targets (e.g. supply trucks, rear echelon, etc.) and not main platforms
Q: how can conventional armed forces adjust?
A: defence becomes dominant; run simulations to wargame; assume no safe areas, e.g. logistics, bases
Q: how to define cyber attack as act of war?
A: difficult. Maybe if there is loss of life? Attribution another problem. Potential for mischief is high, e.g. masking attack as originating from another source
Q: legacy platforms less relevant?
A: yes, similar transitions in WW1 & WW2
Q: war in Asia?
A: fairly low, but some may be lured by false promise of short war
Q: how to improve military education?
A: include above scenarios in war games. E.g. shut off the GPS, and see if pilots can return to base. Run EMCON exercises to test backup processes. Walk the ground with commanders in real locations, for added realism. Run competitions to test new tactics. Get outsiders involved for fresh insight
Q: what changes to recruitment & manpower?
A: revamp current promotion process, to help retain talent. Current personnel system is "like the Death Star"
Q: are people becoming too "soft" to be soldiers?
A: 70% in USA not eligible to serve (due to criminal records, etc.). Role of women. Retirement model should change, e.g. non-combat staff can still contribute after current retirement age, so should differentiate, to extract maximum potential
Q: defence diplomacy?
A: many combatant commanders are involved, but should coordinate between DoD & State dept
Q: possible for lower ranks to take up a bigger role? (a.k.a. strategic corporal)
A: yes, but problem is during peacetime. Most platforms are getting too expensive for men to train physically regularly (e.g. live firing). It is possible with creativity and workarounds, e.g. using bb guns instead of Simunition rounds
It is comforting to note that the basic tenets remain. To defeat the enemy, you need to overcome their OODA loop. Staying nimble is key.