Conventional Russian combat units employed “irregular forces in front of them,” Mattis said, when they entered the northern Georgian provinces of South Ossetia and Abkhazia last August. Georgia, now a democratic nation, was a Soviet satellite state during the Cold War.
And study of the second Lebanon War, in which Hezbollah guerillas and Israeli troops clashed in southern Lebanon between July and August of 2006, also highlights how irregular warfare is increasingly being employed against conventional military forces, Mattis said.
Based in Norfolk, Va., Joint Forces Command is one of the 10 unified combatant commands and is the primary U.S. military force-provider. Mattis wears a second hat as NATO’s supreme allied commander for transformation.
Turning to current U.S. military operations, Mattis told the committee that U.S. forces are being reduced in Iraq, while troop levels are being bolstered in Afghanistan. Meanwhile, said he added, senior U.S. civilian and military leaders have been brainstorming to discern potential future threats to the United States.
“We recognize that we can never predict the future precisely, and we must expect to be surprised in matters of national security,” Mattis said.
Therefore, senior strategists plan for a variety of scenarios that may confront the U.S. military, he said, to ensure that their effects would be minimized and not be lethal to national security.
“We purposely set out to create a ‘shock absorber’ in our force to withstand the shocks that we know will come,” Mattis said.
The committee was provided copies of the most-recent Joint Operating Environment report, as well as the Capstone Concept for Joint Operations. The current JOE report, Mattis said, predicts a future of persistent conflict and hybrid enemy threats, global instability, increasing access to weapons of mass destruction, the rise of regional state and nonstate actors, and the unpredictability of security threats.
The Capstone concept, Mattis said, represents Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Navy Adm. Mike Mullen’s vision for how the joint force will operate in the future, and it provides proposed solutions to envisioned security threats presented in the JOE.
The Capstone also is used to guide U.S. military force experimentation and development efforts, he added.
But, “one thing is clear,” Mattis said, amid all of the predictions and scenarios.
“We must make irregular warfare a core competency; and this is Joint Forces Command’s top priority right now,” Mattis said. “By using the lessons learned from Iraq, Afghanistan, the second Lebanon War, and applying them to our efforts, we are going to do this.”
Yet, at the same time, the military must have balance in its capabilities to deter both irregular and conventional threats in the future, Mattis said, as recommended by Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates.
And as the military institutionalizes its irregular warfare capability, Mattis said, it must also strive to “maintain our nuclear and conventional superiority, which brings great benefit to the international community.”
At this point, the United States “cannot abrogate any aspect of the conflict spectrum,” Mattis said. “By that, I mean the enemy will gravitate to the area that they perceive to be our weakness.”
Therefore, he said, the U.S. military “cannot give up conventional capability, we cannot give up nuclear superiority, but we must develop irregular [capability], if we want to checkmate the enemy.”