The 2023 JAPCC Conference’s theme, ‘Enhancing Deterrence and Defence through Joint Air and Space Power – credible, capable and available’, is a promising subject that allows a reflection on all aspects of Air Power (AP) that contribute to one of NATO’s three core tasks, namely Deterrence and Defence. This article aims to stimulate thoughts and discussion on how resilience in Air and Space Power contributes to the overall accomplishment of Deterrence and Defence. The intent is to raise questions on what provides resilience for deterrence, whether a resilient Air Power is sufficient to deter adversaries, and how to assess one’s level of resilience.
Setting the Scene: The Offset Strategy, a Path for Deterrence
Deterrence is a strategy that aims to prevent an adversary from taking an action by convincing them that the costs or risks of that action outweigh the potential benefits. The core principles of deterrence include credibility, capability, communication, proportionality, and continuity.1 Since the end of World War II and the start of the Cold War, concepts like Military Resilience and Military Deterrence were easily understood, widely shared, and commonly referred to.
During the Cold War, extensive military plans were designed to prepare the Alliance’s Defence, deter aggression, and create the conditions to resist an attack and continue to operate. In 35 years of this static confrontation, NATO played its role in containing the Soviet Union. The success of this deterrence is primarily attributed to the West’s ability to develop new technological and capability gaps relative to the Soviet Union. These gaps would eventually be corrected and thus reopening the race for a further advantage. This occurred over successive strategies developed by the US and NATO.
The US never tried to compete solely on ‘mass’ with the Soviet Union. Robert Work, who served as the US Deputy Secretary of Defense from 2014 to 2017, popularized the term ‘Offset strategies’ to help explain the different attempts made by the US government over the years to use technology to ‘offset’ the opponent’s potential superiority in conventional strength and numbers. The US developed the First Offset Strategy (1OS) during the Cold War under President Dwight D. Eisenhower’s administration in the 1950s. At the time, it was not referred to as the 1OS but as the strategy of nuclear deterrence or the ‘New Look’ policy. This 1OS aimed to maintain the US military advantage over the Soviet Union by leveraging superior nuclear capabilities to offset the numerical advantage in conventional forces held by the USSR. This 1OS proved to be effective in deterring a new World War.
By the mid-1970s, the Soviet Union achieved strategic and tactical nuclear parity, so the 1OS was no longer a credible deterrent, and the need for conventional mismatch resumed as a military problem. These circumstances spurred what we now call the Second Offset Strategy (2OS), which started under the Defence Advanced Research Projects Agency (ARPA) program of 1973. Once again founded on superior technology, the 2OS exploited and developed precision-guided munitions together with a new operational concept known as Assault Breaker, which was designed to find, fix, and target Soviet moving rear echelon armour and ground forces massed behind enemy lines, with precision stand-off weapons. These new conventional ‘reconnaissance-strike complexes’ represented what military theorists called a ‘Revolution in military affairs’.
Ultimately, the 2OS persuaded the Soviets that NATO had reached conventional superiority, effectively holding the Soviet Union at bay until its collapse. In these years, Air Power took a more prominent role in deterring the USSR. According to President Carter’s Secretary of Defense, Harold Brown, ‘some of the Second Offset’s deepest roots lay with the Air Force’. Over the past 30 years, Air Power has demonstrated numerous successes in operations beyond NATO territories, enabled by continuous technological advancements, bolstering its role in deterrence.
The end of the Cold War would bring about unexpected challenges to deterrence.
The End of the Cold War –New World, New possibilities, New Challenges
After the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, new geopolitical factors started to change the operating environment. While NATO and its member Nations diverted their attention and resources to other priorities and areas of development, our competitors worked hard to close the technological gap.
Since the first decade of the new millennium, Russia started to challenge the international order with an increasingly aggressive posture towards its neighbouring countries (Estonia, Georgia, and Belarus), culminating in the annexation of Crimea in 2014 and the current war of aggression on Ukraine. Not only had Russia reduced the existing technological gap by advancing new capabilities, they actually seized the initiative in some areas, partially offsetting Western military powers. Russia fielded powerful Anti-Access, Area Denial (A2/AD) networks to deter, disrupt, and possibly defeat NATO’s power projection capability while building a robust umbrella for its power projection threatening the countries and NATO Allies nearest to Russia’s claimed sphere of influence (Baltic states, Ukraine, Belarus, etc.). Furthermore, Russia accompanied its material development with a new concept of operation: Hybrid Warfare. Hybrid Warfare is a fusion of military, non-military, and covert/overt actions using conventional and unconventional Instruments of Power (IoP), irregular tactics, criminal activities, and extensive cyberattacks, propaganda, and disinformation campaigns. Russia often uses hybrid warfare to attain military and political objectives while remaining under the threshold of armed conflict, thus avoiding a full and protracted war.
Slow to adapt and respond to these new challenges, the US and NATO were forced to think of a new offset strategy. Originating in November 2014 from the United States Department of Defense under the leadership of Mr Work and still ongoing, the Third Offset Strategy (3OS), also known as the ‘Defence Innovation Initiative’, aims to maintain a strategic advantage by once again leveraging emerging technologies and innovative operational concepts. The exploitation of Emerging and Disruptive Technologies (EDTs), such as Artificial Intelligence (AI), Machine Learning (ML), Quantum Computing, Big Data, and Hypersonic weapons, together with the new Multi-Domain Operations (MDO) concept, is intended to outthink, outpace, and outlast our adversaries.
But today, new EDTs are largely available to all competitors. One other important aspect is that many NATO nations have outsourced most of their enabling assets (i.e. private military contractors, dual-use commercial space assets, commercial private clouds for military applications, etc.) and logistic capabilities, therefore creating a dependence on the civil sector and eroding their own military resilience, capability, and capacity. As of today, the NATO enterprise and NATO Nations have developed a much broader collaboration with commercial providers in many sectors, including space capabilities and space support to operations as well as in Cyberspace. Highly beneficial, these partnerships allow modern militaries the flexibility to muster and utilize new capabilities and technologies quickly. However, this also increases the dependence and reliance on these private enterprises when it comes time to defend against threats directed at these capabilities.
For all these reasons, a new offset strategy alone will not be enough. In the event of a peer-to-peer confrontation, the Alliance can anticipate kinetic strikes and hybrid actions throughout the continuum of operations that occur below the threshold of conflict. The Alliance must recognize this new norm and be able to survive, resist, and react under all conditions. The Alliance must be resilient!
This leads to several questions. Does resilience contribute to deterrence and defence? If so, how can we enhance resilience to improve deterrence? Is there still a role for Air Power to generate deterrence? Is NATO’s Air and Space Power resilient, and how do we measure it?
Enhancing Resilience in Air and Space Power and Through Multi-Domain Operations
NATO defines resilience as ‘a society’s ability to resist and recover from such shocks as natural disaster, failure of critical infrastructure, or a hybrid or armed attack’. Resilience in the face of armed attack is a fundamental commitment in NATO’s 1949 Treaty, with Article 3 stating that ‘parties to the treaty will separately and jointly, by means of continuous and effective self-help and mutual aid…maintain and develop their individual and collective capacity to resist armed attack.’
Resilience is also a critical aspect of Air and Space (A&S) power. An Air Force or Space Force is considered to be resilient when it is able to withstand, adapt to, and recover from various challenges, threats, and disruptions. This naturally translates into mission assurance; therefore, we can conclude that resilience directly contributes to deterrence (in both denial and punishment).
Several critical elements should be considered when addressing resilience for Air and Space Power. These core principles include redundancy and diversity, training and readiness, infrastructure and facilities, interoperability and interconnectedness, robustness, cybersecurity, flexibility, agility, and collaborations and partnerships.
To improve the resilience of NATO’s A&S Power aimed at granting mission assurance, we must re-educate new generations of personnel to recognize the importance of resilience. The Alliance must continue to improve its active & passive Air Defence (AD), Battle Management, Command, Control, Communications and Intelligence (BMC3I), and Surveillance as part of NATO’s Integrated Air and Missile Defence by developing a credible multi-layered defence posture, where more interoperable AD systems and sub-systems will generate stronger resilience. As NATO no longer faces a single common threat, we have to accept that both home bases, and deployed operating bases, are equally at risk. For this reason, the Alliance should implement concepts like Resilient Basing looking for deep and broad vulnerability assessments, and acknowledge that a sudden interruption of enabling activities will rapidly affect overall NATO operations.
Basic military tactics designed to enhance resilience, such as dispersal and redundancy, are much more challenging, if not impossible, to achieve nowadays, as we have to look for greater resilience and consider our extensive reliance on and interdependence with civilian support organizations. We have to change our general, reactive response to this challenge – tackling problems as they occur and managing the consequences – and implement a proactive approach to prevent undesirable disruptive events in the first place. Moreover, when, notwithstanding our efforts, NATO’s main operating bases are targeted, the Alliance must be able to continue to operate from forward operating bases, forward operating sites, contingency locations, or even bare bases. Implementing a proactive and reactive operational scheme of manoeuvre, a concept currently referred to as Agile Combat Employment (ACE), enables resilience and survivability while generating combat power throughout the integrated deterrence continuum.
Special attention and resources should be given to developing resilience in our Air C2 systems, networks, and organizational processes. Redundancy, Interoperability, Cybersecurity, and agile forms of C2 like mission command, distributed, or organic control will all represent a necessary condition for the overall resilience of Air Power.
Alliance member nations should maintain the latitude in the future to produce different capabilities from different national or multinational productions. Still, they should develop them as interoperable by design while today doing everything possible to achieve interoperability with legacy systems. To generate greater resilience, future A&S power capabilities should be developed as a system of systems. Concepts like Manned-Unmanned Teaming (MUM-T) or collaborative employment would maximize mass when needed and employment flexibility in all circumstances.
Air Power, similar to Land, and Maritime Power, heavily depends on capabilities within the Space and Cyberspace domains to establish comprehensive cross-domain support. In particular, threats to NATO nations’ space capabilities and satellites will only continue to evolve and become more sophisticated. By recognizing the Space Domain as the essential enabler of both modern military operations and civil life, the Alliance must implement every possible and innovative concept capable of generating resilience in Space, such as:
- Resilient/responsive/disaggregated launch capability;
- Hosted payloads (two or more missions supported by a single spacecraft);
- Dynamic SATCOM frequency re-allocation;
- Distributed satellite constellations;
- Quantum satellite uplink encryption.
As the increasing reliance on data-centric technologies and methodologies has made Cyberspace the primary sub-threshold battlespace and cyber threats and disruptions more frequent and sophisticated, resilience becomes a critical aspect of cyberspace as well. The ability to resist and recover from cyber-attacks is essential to ensure the integrity, availability, and confidentiality of information and systems. The principles of redundancy, diversity, and flexibility are particularly relevant to building resilience in cyberspace, as they help to mitigate the impact of attacks and minimize their effects on operations. By embracing resilience as a core principle, NATO nations can enhance their ability to operate in a dynamic and complex cyber environment, and ultimately strengthening their deterrence posture against any adversary.
Lastly, the Alliance must shift its training focus to scenarios involving degraded or denied C2 and communications. This includes situations without SATCOM and GPS, returning to dispersed operations training, and progressing towards distributed control scenarios.
Training also represents a critical tool the Alliance can use to determine how resilience is measured. The latter is a challenging task, requiring a comprehensive and multifaceted approach that includes risk assessment, performance metrics, modelling and simulation, and comparative analysis.
Before further diving into our analysis of Air and Space power resilience, it is essential to recall the 3OS and its accompanying Multi-Domain Operations (MDO) concept to see if they have a role in enhancing deterrence through resilience. Implementing MDO in the future will require integrating all the domains of warfare: land, sea, air, space, and cyberspace. It involves the orchestrated and coordinated use of a wide range of military capabilities synchronized with the other Instruments of Power (IoP) to deliver converging effects in, through, and across multiple domains at the speed of relevance, so creating multiple dilemmas for the adversary while achieving tactical and strategic objectives. When properly executed, MDO provides NATO warfighters with persistent situational understanding, information superiority, faster decision-making cycles and cross-domain command capability.
The above envisioned and desired outcomes and the five tenets of MDO (understanding, agility, interconnectivity, unity, and creativity), are all prone to resilience enhancement as they contribute flexibility to act and react in a dynamic and complex operational environment. The nations that focus on improving the five tenets will improve operational effectiveness and set the conditions to mitigate risks and possible vulnerabilities in a single domain by using the strengths in other domains and environments. In other words, when achieved, MDO is inherently resilient by its very nature. Embracing this concept of operation in combination with 3OS technologies, as previously mentioned, will enhance resilience and mission assurance that, in turn, will represent a stronger deterrent for any opponent.
Learning from Ukraine – A Holistic and Comprehensive Approach to Resilience for Deterrence and Defence
It was only in 2014, with the Russian invasion of Crimea and eastern Ukraine, that NATO recognized the need for much broader political, economic, technological, and societal resilience in facing hostile acts below the threshold of war. The 2016 Warsaw Summit established seven baseline requirements for national resilience. In NATO’s 2020 Warfighting Capstone Concept, ‘layered resilience’ was addressed as one of the five ‘development imperatives’ to ensure success in an era of persistent competition below the level of war. More precisely, during the 2021 Brussels Summit, an official announcement stated that enhancing resilience was ‘essential for credible deterrence…and the effective fulfilment of the alliance’s core tasks’. Finally with the new 2022 Strategic Concept, ‘ensuring our national and collective resilience’ is assessed as ‘critical to all our core tasks and underpins our efforts to safeguard our nations, societies and shared values’, a concept subsequently recalled and highlighted throughout the entire document.
From 24 February 2022 to the present day, the Russian war of aggression in Ukraine shows us and teaches us what being resilient in a comprehensive way really means. Armed forces will never be resilient enough if not supported by political cohesion and the willingness and determination of the whole population. The war in Ukraine provides several key lessons that NATO can learn about resilience, such as being prepared to respond to hybrid warfare, the importance of strategic communications, prioritizing interoperability and agility to share intelligence, and protecting critical infrastructure. By incorporating these lessons into its planning and operations, NATO nations can enhance their resilience and ensure that they are better prepared to address future challenges and threats.
Resilience has always been a critical factor in the history of military operations. It is an operational requirement composed of a set of measures that incorporates enormous value. When addressing the role of resilience for deterrence and defence, the Alliance sends a message to the adversary to refrain from pursuing its intended course of action, as it will prove futile. The Alliance will persist and relentlessly counteract any challenges, ultimately achieving victory. When adequately perceived by the enemy as the ability to resist first and to grant mission assurance after, resilience will undoubtedly play its role in contributing to deterrence and defence as the enemy will be reluctant to take action because costs or risks will be higher than potential benefits. Therefore, it is fundamental to create a resilient A&S Power together with the needed level of resilience in the other military domains.
However, because of the characteristics of the current complex and multi-faceted environment, NATO and its Member Nations can expect to be targeted across various domains and environments, particularly in areas where they are more vulnerable and less resilient, as adversaries will likely avoid areas where the Alliance demonstrates greater strength and resilience. For this reason, aiming at deterrence through improved resilience in solely military domains and capabilities will not be enough and will not reach the final desired effect.
On one side, operationalizing MDO will enable NATO’s Military IoP to prepare, plan, orchestrate, and execute synchronized activities across all domains and environments at scale and speed in collaboration with other IoP stakeholders and actors. This delivers tailored options at the right time and place that build advantage in shaping, contesting, and fighting, and presents dilemmas that decisively influence the attitudes and behaviours of adversaries and relevant audiences. Consequently, the Alliance’s embrace of MDO will produce a higher level of deterrence and defence as this new operational concept is designed to be resilient by nature.
Taking a final step further, the Alliance will reach optimal deterrence through resilience only when Nations and Partners are resilient at 360 degrees. Implementing a holistic and layered resilience approach towards every aspect, from the Unity of Alliance, through political will and civil preparedness and down to military domains, capabilities, and operating concepts, will send a unique and strong message for deterrence and defence to any adversary.