What the President was missing were options that would have allowed him to mount a low-level kinetic response able to carry his political message to the enemy… presuming he had a message to deliver. As to why he did not have these kind of options available to him, it was because the Pentagon had never developed tactical responses for these kinds of incidents. Not on a cohesive basis, anyway. Instead, up until now the Pentagon brass has taken the mindset that it is not their duty to figure out how to respond to a low level armed or kinetic incident, unless the President asks them to do so. Even then, when they are queried by a President as to how one might respond to a particular incident, the Pentagon’s response is generally to give the President their usual bag of tricks, of the kind more suited to conventional warfare than kinetic incident responses of the type we here call Concurrent Incident Response Warfare.
For any President facing these kinds of situations, all this does is leave them with the usual gambit of responses that fall more clearly in the “let’s go to war” category than “let’s respond in kind” type. Or in other words: send in the 101st and if that doesn’t work, declare full out war.
This is how things have played out many times in the past, such as for the 2016 U.S.–Iran naval incident mentioned earlier. In that case too the only option the President was given was to respond with overwhelming military force some time after the incident occurred. While many hawks think this was exactly what needed to be done, the fact is that if Iran was trying to send a political message to the President, an overwhelming military response on our part would hardly have formed a viable retort to that message.
We have a dilemma then: how should America respond to low level, kinetic, armed provocations that are literally dripping with political invective? To understand what kind of kinetic response is suitable—especially when a corresponding political message must be carried with it and be effectively delivered—we need to look for a moment at the impact timing plays on this whole matter.
As in the case of Benghazi and the U.S.–Iran naval incident, if the President can’t respond while the event is occurring, he might as well stay home and watch the incident unfold on CNN, along with everyone else. This is because timing plays as important a roll in responding to an incident of this type as the kinetic part does, if not more so.
In terms of how timing affects the choice of military options the President has available to him, one must first understand that kinetic activities that lead countries to do battle with each other occur in a sequential state.
This usually begins with two nations not being able to get along. Let’s call this period the Antagonistic Interaction Phase.
When one or the other of the two countries involved gets fed up with the other, they mount some form of egregious military provocation against the other… by definition a kinetic activity in and of itself. Let’s call this period the Provocative Incident Phase. As far as the incident is concerned, there may be one or a number of them, and they may take different forms. Regardless of the number, or their form, eventually the country on the receiving end is going to feel compelled to respond… militarily.
This response usually comes in the form of an equal or greater kinetic reply… something we will define here as an Armed Response Phase. During this Armed Response Phase some form of micro, mini or fully armed riposte will occur. It might be in the form of missile firings, or what the intellectually uninspired like to refer to as boots on the ground… regardless, with this response both parties know full well that unless something happens fast to alter the course of events, they are headed towards war.
Interestingly, while the two nations are headed in that direction, there is still one more phase that must take place before one can say that full out war has been joined between the two parties. That phase is the Armed Counter-response Phase. In the Armed Counter-response Phase the original provocateur makes known his intent to sue for victory by responding to the armed action the aggrieved party took in the Armed Response Phase. If the aggressor mounts an armed counter-response, then the two parties can be said to be at war. The War Phase then is the final phase of this five stage process.
Note again that these things occur sequentially, as shown in this graphic.
If we are to help President Trump find a way to respond to the provocations that he will inevitably receive from the world’s bad actors, and do so in a way that helps him avoid the military escalation that his particular form of operational ham handedness will likely produce, we must help him find a way to break the sequential linkage of these stages; that is, the inevitable nature that causes the time line linking one stage of conflict to the next to drive the process until all-out war results. To avoid war, this linkage must be broken.
One way to do this is to add a parallel path to the phase that kicks off the need for a response: the Provocative Incident Phase. If, somehow, an alternative path can be created, one that leads not from the Provocational Incident Phase to the Armed Response Phase, but to another more benign but equally effective stage, then we may be able to succeed in delivering a kinetically driven response that carries a political message to the antagonist, without following the path to war.
Before looking at what such a parallel path would look like, let us make the point that without doubt the Pentagon has done a marvelous job since its inception of developing all manner of strategic models for every kind and form of military confrontation that might lead America to war… along with every form of tactical response that might be necessary or useful, in minutia when needed, in order to win such a war. But what it has not done is do the same for provocational incidents that require the delivery by military means of a political statement of response, in such a way that the President can expect to not only get his message through, but avoid further armed, combative interaction with the bad actor that started the incident in the first place.
In our view, with a calamity prone president like Donald Trump, it’s necessary for this to be done. Further to this, the truth be told, every American President should have his quiver full of strategically well thought out tactical military plans to address any number of armed provocational incidents, of the type that require an armed and/or kinetic response somewhere short of the 101st Airborne Division.
In the case of President Trump, if he is to react with alacrity and respond to kinetic provocations in a useful and effective way... without driving America to war… both he and his military leaders must have both the strategy and tactics that they will use—when provocations occur—well known to them, and in place well before any such incident occurs. This means that, just as in the case of the kind of responses that America needs to be able to take in situations that tend towards war, the whole panoply of elements that impact one’s military strategy for these kinds of micro-combat situations must be identified, and tactical responses developed in advance of the incident, to address them. Simplifying all of this, what we are saying here is that what is needed are “provocative incident” contingency plans that can be put into action while the provocation is occurring. That is, during the Provocative Incident Phase.
One can see from all of this that timing plays the biggest role in making it possible to develop an effective provocational incident responses. Or put another way—as we said earlier—the strategy that is needed to give the President the power he needs to craft an effective arms based political retort is one where the tactical response chosen can be mounted while the incident is still occurring, and where the tactical options employed are designed to counter the form and function of the political element of the provocation itself. These points can be summarized as follows:
The U.S. military must develop for the President a means to counteract provocational incidents, based on:
1. A Strategy centered around a real time, simultaneous response to the provocation, involving
2. Tactics developed to counter the form, function and political elements of the armed or kinetic aspect of the incident.
Why the U.S. military, you ask? Why should the U.S. military define and own this strategy and then develop tactics to implement it? Because it is the only agency within our government that can reach out to international environs and craft armed solutions. The Department of Homeland Security can’t do this, nor can the State Department or any others. Only the U.S. military has the ability to develop a comprehensive strategy that offers the President real time options to address low level kinetic provocations.
As to how the addition to the previous graphic of a Concurrent Incident Response Phase would look, the new sequence of events is as shown here:
Note that with a little bit of luck, and a well designed strategy and tactical response, an end can be put to the incident before it segues to all-out war.
In our view, developing the strategies required to allow the U.S. to mount armed and/or kinetic responses—in real time—to provocative incidents—in a manner that allows the President to send a strong political message to the “enemy”—should be part of the military’s remit, notwithstanding the political element of the task. Already the DoD has rapid reaction forces ready to respond to armed aggression, anywhere in the world. All we are saying here is that those rapid reaction capabilities must be extended downward, below the level of classic combat response mechanisms, to lower level kinetic actions of the kind that can counter any kind of provocation our President might receive, while at the same time, again, delivering the President’s political message to the actor(s) involved.
These two points we can summarize as follows:
The action plans developed—presumably based on an armed or kinetic response—must be able to be:
1. Mounted in real time in a way that accomplishes the mission at hand,
2. While at the same time delivering the political message the President considers appropriate for the incident involved.
With respect to the above, two items must be made clear.
The first is that, again, timing is important in reinforcing the message that is being delivered. By responding while the incident is happening, the "political" message will get through to the provocateur—as well as the rest of the world—that aggressive armed or kinetic actions against the United States will not be tolerated. As important, because the response will take place in the form of a real time tit-for-tat comeback, the actions involved won’t be seen by the rest of the world as America adopting a war footing against another country; nor will they lead to the kind of death spiral towards war that occurs when one country engages in an actual battle event against another… whatever the reason or cause.
The second point that should be noted is that if the U.S. military is to develop for the President a comprehensive strategy to address all possible forms of low level armed provocation, and the tactical actions that can be initiated when one of these events occurs, and do so in a manner that delivers the political message the President wants to send, then the U.S. military must be the ring leader when it comes to defining what the political message is that is being sent. In other words, it should not be the President that crafts the message that will accompany the kinetic response, it should be the same people in the military that crafted the overarching strategy and the various tactical responses a particular provocation might deserve.
Note here that it is of course recognized that in the end it is the President that will determine what the political message is that he will be delivering, but even so, the U.S. military should develop in advance of the incident the kinds of messages that are appropriate for the strategic goals involved and the types of tactical responses associated with those goals. This of course means that the U.S. military must develop versions of political messages for every possible type of incident that might occur, for each of America’s “enemies.” From these then, when an incident occurs, the President can pick and choose that which he feels best matches the situation involved or alter it accordingly. While some may say this is impractical, it is unfortunately necessary to have this triangular three part equation well thought out and balanced before an incident occurs, because for any particular kinetic action to be effective in delivering its message the two must be tied together. In other words, unless one knows what the message is, one cannot define a tactical action that will deliver it.
Carrying this thought forward, to do all of this and complete the circle the U.S. military must define with great acuity and insight all of the possible goals a strategy for Concurrent Incident Response Warfare must have, while at the same time listing as many forms and types of provocation as possible, from which it then must define one or more possible tactical kinetic responses for each of the identified provocations, after which it must then lay out the public relations format to be used to manage the public aspects of the incident, both while it is occurring and after.
Using the example of Iran trying to tweak the President by swarming a U.S. Navy vessel with high speed watercraft, if the message to be delivered is “don’t mess with our military, and don’t think that you can provoke us without a stinging response,” then the appropriate tactical response might be to fire at the closest vessel within the swarm, with the intent of sinking it.
The U.S. Navy could certainly accomplish this… sinking an Iranian high speed watercraft displaying aggressive and dangerous behavior, but what of the political message that needs to be delivered along with the tactical response? How will that be delivered, who will deliver it, and how will the world at large see it?
In this example, for the message to be as effective as the kinetic response, it should be delivered before the incident occurs.
This then is what we mean when we say that the U.S. military must take the lead in developing the public relations elements that will be employed along side of and simultaneous with each tactical response. In the case of this example, in order to make sure that the political message that comes from sinking one of Iran’s fast attack vessels is well heard by the Iranians, the President should have—before the incident occurred and early in his administration—had his Secretary of Defense make a statement to the public, for general release, saying something to the effect of:
“It shall be the policy of the United States that if its military is challenged in a manner that the U.S., in its sole regard, considers dangerous, our military shall launch an armed response first, and ask questions later. Such would be the case if U.S. military men or assets are put in danger via provocational threats such as jet aircraft fly-bys of our ships at sea, aggressive behavior from fast attack water craft, missile launches that violate known U.N. resolutions, and so forth.”
One can see then that it is the public relations element of the response that links the message to the tactical act, and gives it its weight. Coupling the tactical activity with a pre and post P.R. effort is what drives the message home and is an absolutely necessary element of the overall Concurrent Incident Response crafted by the U.S. military.
Who should perform this public relations. effort? Our vote of course would be for the Signal Corps to take the lead in Concurrent Incident Response Warfare public relations efforts—as they pertain to the military factors associated with the U.S.’s response. Or put another way, while the White House would of course drive the entirety of the public relations efforts, the Signal Corps would handle the media elements relating to the military aspects of the incident.
In looking at all of this, it becomes clear that the work that the Pentagon must do to develop, for the President, an array of well thought through responses that he can employ when a provocational incident occurs includes:
• Developing the overarching strategy that surrounds Concurrent Incident Response Warfare; in the process defining the goals of this new form of micro-combat,
• Listing every type of provocation that might be imagined, so that tactical responses can be defined and made ready for each,
• Clarifying the political and policy issues that cause the U.S. to feel it necessary to respond to each such provocation,
• From this, developing the various types and forms of political statements that will be carried via the tactical response that have been designed,
• Crafting the political statements for each, in the form of public relations efforts, that will be enjoined both in anticipation of each of the listed forms of provocation, as well as after a provocation occurs and has been responded to,
• Defining for each of the listed types of provocation the various forms of tactical response that the President can call on, once a provocation occurs,
• Staffing, equipping, pre-positioning and when appropriate ordering the military to act instantly, without further orders or delay—while an incident is still occurring—when one of these issues comes to the fore.
If this is all done well, as President Trump’s time in office moves forward, and America’s enemies test his resolve, he will have at his disposal a host of methods for countering any probing trials that may occur. It matters not then whether Russia buzzes one of America’s frigates 30 feet above the mast, China blocks a U.S. Navy ship from entering the waters around the reefs it claims ownership of, North Korea fires a missile into Japan’s territorial waters, or any other world threatening event occurs… the U.S. will be prepared to respond—in real time—in a manner that delivers the message the President wants to deliver.
The question is, will our military have the resources and capabilities to do its part? What kind of arms will it need if it is to develop the capability to engage in this new form of Concurrent Incident Response Warfare? What kind of kinetic tools will it need to carry out its duties, and does our military have them? Or put another way, will our tactics be in order when the time comes to send a message to the “enemy”?
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This page originally posted 1 March 2017