Elaine M. Grossman,
Inside The Pentagon,
October 4, 2001, Pg. 1

Reprinted by Permission of Inside Washington Publishers: This article may not be reproduced or redistributed, in part or in whole, without express permission of the publisher. Copyright 2001, Inside Washington Publishers.

The Pentagon's report on the Quadrennial Defense Review, forwarded to Congress late last week and released publicly Oct. 1, talks much of the "transformation" the U.S. military must undergo to address what it terms "asymmetric" threats, but offers little direction on how the services might prevent or respond to so-called "fourth-generation warfare" attacks of the kind seen Sept. 11.

One expert recently described this new generation as "all forms of conflict where the other side refuses to stand up and fight fair." Practitioners of this approach typically function outside any nation's control and often operate across national boundaries, much as does indicted terrorist Osama bin Laden and his loosely confederated al Qaeda network implicated in the attacks on New York City and Washington, DC, last month.

"The more successful terrorists appear to operate on broad mission orders that carry down to the level of the individual terrorist," according to a prescient article in the October 1989 issue of the Marine Corps Gazette, authored by military historian William Lind and four Army and Marine officers. "The 'battlefield' is highly dispersed and includes the whole of the enemy's society. The terrorist lives almost completely off the land and the enemy. Terrorism is very much a matter of maneuver: The terrorist's firepower is small, and where and when he applies it is critical." The QDR was largely complete by the time terrorists hijacked four commercial jetliners and used three of them as mass suicide bombs against the World Trade Center and the Pentagon; the fourth was believed en route to yet another target before it crashed in Pennsylvania. Together the attacks have claimed more than 6,000 lives.

Pentagon officials say there was some thought given after the attacks to putting off the QDR report, which was due to Congress Sept. 30, in order to review in depth how the events of Sept. 11 should affect military planning. But defense leaders decided instead to go forward on the notion that the QDR already included attention to homeland defense, asymmetric threats and potential surprises, and that references to the terrorist attacks could be sprinkled throughout the existing draft text, according to Pentagon officials.

"I'd love to put the 10 September version next to the 12 September version and see what changed," said one military officer this week, speaking on background.

Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld's report declares in a foreword (which the text, perhaps in haste to release the document, misspells) that although there was little time to include in the QDR report lessons drawn from last month's terrorism, "these attacks confirm the strategic direction and planning principles that resulted from this review, particularly its emphasis on homeland defense, on surprise, on preparing for asymmetric threats, on the need to develop new concepts of deterrence, on the need for a capabilities-based strategy, and on the need to balance deliberately the different dimensions of risk."

The first chapter, entitled "America's Security in the 21st Century," mentions terrorist groups often "have the support of state sponsors or enjoy sanctuary and protection of states, but some have the resources and capabilities to operate without state sponsorship."

Yet the report lays out little guidance on crafting a response to this brand of resourceful, shadowy and unconventional adversaries. The QDR document does lay out four broad "defense policy goals":

"Assuring allies and friends; "Dissuading future military competition; "Deterring threats and coercion against U.S. interests; [and] "If deterrence fails, decisively defeating any adversary."

These goals appear better aimed at preventing, or if necessary, fighting, wars between traditional nation-states or coalitions. The yardstick of preparing for two overlapping major wars, while somewhat modified, remains central in the QDR.

But it is fair to ask whether suicide bombers -- on whatever scale -- can be "dissuaded" or "deterred," and it remains to be seen if they can be defeated. In any case, the QDR report does not attempt to explore any of the four goals in detail as they might apply to practitioners of fourth-generation warfare.

Stephen Cambone, a defense policy official who played a key role in organizing the QDR, was asked at an Oct. 2 Washington, DC, forum how the United States could deter "an enemy who regards casualties as a mark of victory."

"I think the secretary has answered that question more than once," Cambone replied. "It's called 'persistence and resolve.'" He offered no further explanation.

Rumsfeld has won kudos for a Sept. 27 New York Times opinion piece in which he emphasizes that the war against terrorism will have no traditional battlefield, no clear start date and no exit strategy. Nor is the military the only -- or even necessarily the most important -- tool at the nation's disposal to fight this particular war, the defense secretary wrote. "The public may see some dramatic military engagements that produce no apparent victory, or may be unaware of other actions that lead to major victories," according to the piece.

But insights such as these are found only in bits and pieces in the QDR report, leading many observers to conclude that the review focused little, if at all, on the issues raised by this new kind of conflict.

Yet in-depth consideration of these challenges has been ongoing for more than a decade by at least a small group of defense thinkers.

The 1989 Gazette article, entitled "The Changing Face of War: Into the Fourth Generation," says terrorism is not synonymous with fourth-generation warfare, but that terrorists may employ elements of this new approach. In fact, the emphasis on mission orders, dispersion, maneuver, and collapsing the enemy internally are carryovers from what the article describes as third-generation warfare, which was fully utilized in World War II with the emergence of blitzkrieg.

Modern terrorism takes blitzkrieg's focus on cutting off the enemy from the rear "a major step further" in its efforts to "bypass the enemy's military entirely and strike directly at his homeland at civilian targets," these forward-looking authors wrote. "Ideally, the enemy's military is simply irrelevant to the terrorist." The article and others on fourth-generation warfare will be reprinted in the November 2001 edition of the Gazette.

Fourth-generation warfare, stated the 1989 article, "will be nonlinear, possibly to the point of having no definable battlefields or fronts. The distinction between 'civilian' and 'military' may disappear. Actions will occur concurrently throughout all participants' depth, including their society as a cultural, not just a physical, entity."

According to a forthcoming article by one of the earlier Gazette authors, Marine Corps Col. G.I. Wilson, along with two other experts, "fourth-generation conflict is much more than terrorism [or] ethnic conflict … Competition for scare resources, proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, crime, ethnic cleansing, ethnic riots and genocide further complicate the horizon. These conflicts will continue to include war between states and sub-national disputes. Indeed, intrastate conflict can be expected to continue as the more frequent form, frequently threatening to spill over borders and stimulate regional violence."

"A determined opponent will not challenge strength but will seek [our] weakness through alternative courses of action that have not been properly addressed," says retired National Guard Brig. Gen. Dave McGinnis. "More than one great military power has been defeated in this way. The greater the military capability, it seems the more susceptible these victims have been to such alternative measures. Now we are among them."

McGinnis told Inside the Pentagon that while he was serving in the reserve affairs directorate in the Office of the Secretary of Defense in the mid-1990s, he co-authored an analysis that began with the question: "How can a nation that has no air force strategically challenge the American homeland and restrict our strategic maneuver?"

"It didn't take a lot of imagination," he said this week, "to discover a wide range of options to do both, which [we] began to term 'cheap kills' as a counter to our highly expensive [method] of creating military power." The analysis argued for the retention of Air National Guard squadrons that later provided the core air defense over more than 30 U.S. cities immediately after last month's attacks. But the study's focus on potential U.S. vulnerabilities to creative threats was largely disregarded at the time within the Pentagon, McGinnis says.

"We were literally laughed out of every office in the Pentagon, including [the directorates for] strategy and program analysis and evaluation," he told ITP.

The QDR report notes that the terrorist attacks "will require us to move forward more rapidly" toward transformation in forces and operational concepts to address new threats, but stops short of making any changes to the size, composition or training of any military forces. Nor does the QDR set any time lines for doing so, deferring any such decisions to future studies and saying simply that "today's force structure … is the baseline from which the department will develop a transformed force for the future."

Rumsfeld has promised that the Pentagon's budget submission to Congress for fiscal year 2003 early next year will reflect the results of additional, in-depth studies beyond the QDR, but no date has been set for the publication of any plan outlining the Bush administration's approach to preventing or responding to terrorism.

"The military departments and defense agencies will develop transformation road maps that specify time lines to develop service-unique capabilities" necessary to meet six newly defined operational goals, the QDR report states, but the document does not set a due date for those road maps.

With the QDR, the Pentagon "restores the defense of the United States as the department's primary mission," and the first among four criteria for sizing military forces is the requirement to "defend the United States." A senior defense official, in an Oct. 1 background briefing for reporters on the QDR, said "that will be a task that will be in large part taken up by the Guard and Reserve, but not entirely." Details are left to a "comprehensive review" of active and reserve force issues following the QDR.

On Oct. 2, the Pentagon named the Army secretary, Thomas White, to lead the military's efforts in homeland security. Additionally, the QDR document says the Defense Department "will review the establishment of a new unified combatant commander to help address complex interagency issues and provide a single military commander to focus military support."

But apart from saying the military will work with other federal agencies, as appropriate, to prevent attacks on the U.S. homeland or manage their consequences, the report offers little reassurance that the QDR process involved a thinking through of these objectives.

Defending against attacks is broadly described: "As the tragic September terror attacks demonstrate, potential adversaries … are placing greater emphasis on the development of capabilities to threaten the United States directly in order to counter U.S. operational advantages with their own strategic effects," the QDR report states. "Therefore, the defense strategy restores the emphasis once placed on defending the United States and its land, sea, air and space approaches."

Yet when it comes to laying out the "pillars" required for transforming the U.S. military to address future threats, the broad-brush descriptions remain hazy on how military efforts will be focused on countering a fourth-generation adversary:

"Strengthening joint operations through standing joint task force headquarters, improved joint command and control, joint training, and an expanded joint forces presence policy;

"Experimenting with new approaches to warfare, operational concepts and capabilities, and organizational constructs such as standing joint forces through wargaming, simulations and field exercises focused on emerging challenges and opportunities;

"Exploiting U.S. intelligence advantages through multiple intelligence collection assets, global surveillance and reconnaissance, and enhanced exploitation and dissemination; and

"Developing transformational capabilities through increased and wide-ranging science and technology, selective increases in procurement, and innovations in DOD processes."

Although human intelligence is not explicitly cited as a pillar for transformation, many government officials and outside experts have cited the U.S. intelligence community's dearth of regional spies and specialists as a key reason for the nation's failure to predict or prepare for the possibility of the Sept. 11 attacks. Indeed, traveling in the Middle East this week, Rumsfeld said intelligence could play a more prominent role than the military in undermining terrorist activities.

A need for better "HUMINT" in the military realm is affirmed by the QDR in a section called "Exploiting Intelligence Advantages," but again includes no corresponding decision or time line for action.

"The United States needs to enhance human intelligence capabilities and tools not only to gather better HUMINT but also to enable better positioning of technical collection systems," the report states. In fact, in its three sentences on human intelligence, the QDR document casts it as little more than one input among many to be gathered in a commander's electronic array. "Human intelligence reporting must be integrated into the situational awareness display that provides joint forces with battlespace visualization through the Global Command and Control System Common Operational Picture," according to the report.

Technology takes a prominent role in the QDR report's treatment of "operational goals," including discussion of the threats posed by advanced air defense systems, space capabilities, low-observable unmanned platforms, anti-ship cruise missiles, advanced diesel submarines, mobile ballistic missile systems, ground-based lasers and more.

While these advanced capabilities may indeed pose future threats, fourth-generation warfare experts are quick to point out that the immediate threat facing the Defense Department is low technology. Both the terrorist attack on the Navy destroyer Cole almost one year ago and the more recent catastrophes in New York and Washington saw perpetrators turning what appeared to be harmless vessels into highly lethal weapons.

Fourth-generation terrorism—operating somewhere at the intersection between war and crime—"seeks to use the enemy's strength against him," stated the 12-year-old Gazette article. In this "judo" concept of warfare, terrorists "use a free society's freedom and openness, its greatest strengths, against it."

Indeed, the authors saw the potential that practitioners of fourth-generation warfare, armed with high technology, might become all the more lethal. The use of directed energy, robotics or advanced communications systems could "offer a potential for radically altered tactics," according to the article.

"At present, our research, development and procurement process has great difficulty making [the] transition" toward effectiveness against fourth-generation threats, the authors stated. "It often produces weapons that incorporate high technology irrelevant in combat or too complex to work in the chaos of combat. Too many so-called 'smart' weapons … are easy to counter, fail of their own complexity, or make impossible demands on their operators."

The QDR's section on research and development discusses needs related to homeland defense— among other operational goals—but focuses almost exclusively on defense against ballistic and cruise missiles, and managing the aftermath of terrorist attacks on U.S. soil, especially those involving weapons of mass destruction.

While some might debate whether these are the key military elements in preparing for fourth-generation wars, few would disagree that they are at best just a start.

The QDR "has got some very bright points in it, but there's no way to connect the dots," said one military official this week. "Not even the events of 11 September could change the course of the QDR."

Another observer goes further in his critique. "It was clear by midsummer that they had fallen way behind [in undertaking the QDR], and that the reviews they did last spring had not panned out," says Franklin Spinney, an outspoken Pentagon tactical air power analyst whose insights on defense spending and military operations have attracted widespread notice for decades. "Once the attacks occurred, the ballgame changed. They could have gone to Congress and said, 'Look, we've got to sort this thing out [and] you've got to give us more time. We're in the middle of a war.'

"Instead," Spinney continued, "they bolted some platitudes about the attack onto a bland document in order to meet a deadline."

How might the QDR have addressed this challenge differently? According to Wilson—who, like Spinney, was a protégé of late military theoretician Air Force Col. John Boyd and a prolific writer on fourth-generation warfare—the essence of the military's response to this new kind of threat lies primarily in people and operations. An overreliance on technology will undermine U.S. efforts, which is the "a seductive trap the Pentagon could fall into," he told ITP this week. He said a Pentagon strategy to undertake a war on terrorism must:

The United States must seek to set the conditions of "where and when to engage [foes] from a plural perspective, and where and when instead to resist the temptation to 'do something,'" Wilson said. Forces should be ready to fight deep, when necessary, using small, independent action teams or special forces commandos. And the military should attempt to shape the environment in several dimensions, including manipulating time and space to friendly advantage, and using psychological operations or deception, military surprises and political shocks.

"As a starting point, we will need to fully explore and define the emerging operational environment," states Wilson in his forthcoming article, written with Sgt. John Sullivan of the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department and Marine Corps Lt. Col. Hal Kempfer. "What are its characteristics and boundaries, which are its actors, what means are at their disposal and what are their corresponding capabilities and intentions? This will help quantify risk (vulnerability relative to threat) and provide insights into deterrence, containment and early engagement of threats."

Emphasizing the importance of using human intelligence to discern pertinent information from "noise," the authors add: "We must learn from our past experiences to adapt and develop new intelligence applications and approaches to these emerging and evolving threats at the intersection of crime and war. And we must do so quickly because this form [of] conflict is already here."

- Elaine M. Grossman


News analysis

Key Review Offers Scant Guidance
On Handling '4th Generation' Threats