Thursday, July 12, 2007

So why Azerbaijian and does it matter?

I imagine that by now, most of my readers have had a chance to read Noah Shachtman's piece on FCS and Azerbaijan. For those who have not, I will summarize: As part of the Operational Requirements Document used to justify the efficacy of Future Combat Systems, the Army prepared a summary mission profile for a hypothetical set of missions. These hypothetical missions just happen to take place in the oil-rich former Soviet state and now Republic of Azerbaijan.

At this point, some of my readers are probably asking themselves: "Azerbaijan, is that like where Borat goes for summer vacation or something? Why did the Army pick that place?" To be certain, Azerbaijan wasn't selected for political reasons. Azerbaijan isn't exactly the most democratic ex-Soviet state, but the government of President Ilham Aliyev is pretty friendly with the United States. Plus, the U.S oil firm Unocal (now part of Chevron) also owns about a 9% stake in the $3.6 billion Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan oil pipeline.

Azerbaijan may be a friend, but is one of the roughest and most volatile neighborhoods in the world. The Azeris and the Armenians fight over Nagorno-Karabakh, the Georgians and the Russians fight over Abkhazia and South Ossetia, and the Armenians and the Turks fight over whether the Ottoman Empire committed genocide against ethnic Armenians in 1915-1917 (I am definitely not going to wade into that one). To top that off, all of this strife crammed into a small mountainous region sandwiched between Iran and Chechnya. Sometimes I'm surprised that countries stopped bickering long enough to allow the 1776 kilometer Baku-Tiblisi-Ceyhan pipeline get off the drawing board.

Small, U.S.-friendly, oil-producing state locked in a far-off, volatile region of the world. Doesn't that sound like another country in the Near East, one that we've successfully liberated before? Kuwait perhaps?

In my view, Azerbaijan was picked because its size, terrain, and political environment fit the assumptions that shape FCS. They picked a relatively small country to accentuate the ability of a single FCS Brigade Combat Team to rapidly achieve "decisive maneuver" against a larger opposing force in 48-60 hours. Azerbaijan is also a relatively remote, mountainous area bordered by few U.S. allies. This reflects the Army's emphasis on performing combat operations on short notice and without pre-positioned equipment. Finally, there is the potential (however remote) that the Army may be called upon to one day liberate the Azeris from an encroaching neighbor. Remind anyone of an incredibly successful "left-hook" the Army pulled off a little more than 15 years ago?

My main concern with the Azerbaijan scenarios is that they highlight a fundamental flaw of FCS. This billion-dollar force recapitalization project is focused on refining existing capabilities at a time when the Army needs to develop entirely new capabilities. To me, being able to successfully conduct stability operations campaign the day after a 72 hour blitzkrieg is worth far more than shaving that blitzkrieg down to 48 hours. Does the Army honestly expect a brigade of 4000 troops trained and equipped for maneuver warfare against a modern opposing army to manage 8 million people spread over a country the size of Maine? We have multiple brigades in Baghdad (a city of 7 million) and they can't even keep the peace without support from the Iraqi military.

At the very least, one would hope that as soon as images of the National Carpet Museum in Baku being looted by anonymous brigands are splashed across CNN the hypothetical Secretary of Defense overseeing one of these imagined combat operations would have something more conciliatory to say than 'Stuff happens.'

I'm not saying the Army doesn't need to recapitalize the force and I'm not exactly opposed to the idea of network-centric warfare either. I'm just arguing that the Army's vision of the future force is shackled by a set of overly narrow assumptions about what kind of wars it will fight. As Colin Gray asked in a great monograph published by the Army War College back in 2005, if the Army is putting all of its development dollars into FCS, is FCS robust enough to counter the broadest set of future war scenarios? In terms of fighting a major urban counterinsurgency campaign (Iraq) or managing a fractured, poor state (Afghanistan), I think the evidence is pointing towards 'no.'


Anonymous said...

Hey RE, I put something too long up on the earlier thread back at Danger Room.

In my view, Azerbaijan was simply chosen because it's part of a well hashed-out dataset that is commonly used throughout the Army wargaming community. Quote:
"This scenario provides a backdrop for planning full-spectrum operations at
the strategic, operational, and
tactical levels of war. The scenario incorporates conventional and unconventional threats; complex cultural, regional, and multinational
coalition programs; and civil-military issues. Instruction using this scenario includes theory and practical applications involving nonkinetic aspects of combat power (leadership, protection, maneuver, and information), as well as kinetic combat power

Of course the beauty of using this dataset is that the likelihood of the current US Army inserting itself into the maelstrom of Transcaucasian ethnic strife is virtually nil. That and we still have really good maps from the Cold War. Those maps tell us that backing an old regime up against a wall, rather than have it squish out like jelly under a hammer, is a good thing. Baku on the Aspheron peninsula is exactly that cherry-picked scenario.

I simply see this particular scenario as reflecting a tactical overthrow of a future unfriendly Azeri regime, without any other intervening forces being an element.

Robot Economist said...

I completely agree with your view, Azerbaijan just happens to fit the right conditions of the Army's wargaming dataset.

My problem is that picking Azerbaijan demonstrates how that this same dataset that the Army uses for planning and experimenting isn't realistic. This could lead to one of two problems:

1. The Army will overpromise on the capabilities of its FCS BCTs


2. FCS will have capability gaps that go unnoticed until FCS BCTs are actually used in combat

I have nothing against FCS per se, I just think it has the potential of leaving the Army woefully unprepared for many future military scenarios.