The Future Fighter Force

To discuss the future US Air Force (USAF) fighter force requirements, the basic strategy for future air support of major combat operations (MCO) conflict needs to be understood.  The USAF has to be ready to prosecute air superiority missions in an environment where adversary’s modern air defense systems and fighter aircraft could deny the US the ability to operate its 4th generation fighters.  The future fighter force has to be capable of eliminating that threat.  However, once the air defenses are eliminated there is no need for the 5th generation aircraft to conduct missions.  Without air defenses, a 4th or a 3rd generation fighter aircraft can be effective, especially when combined with precision weapons.  Similar to what is currently happening in Iraq and Syria where the 4th generation US fighter aircraft dominate.  What the USAF needs is a mix of very capable and moderately capable aircraft.  The future composition of USAF fighter force should consist of the minority of very capable “day one” of the war platforms and the majority of still capable but less expensive “day one” plus platforms.  That is, a platform to kick the door down by destroying the adversary’s aircraft and air defense systems and then a platform to bring the majority of the firepower to battlefield after the air defenses have been destroyed or degraded.  Additionally, the less advanced and less expensive to operate fighter platforms could also be used in other conflicts such as counter-insurgency or any other operation short of full scale MCO not requiring a 5th generation fighter.

It is not news that the USAF needs a replacement for the aging fighter aircraft that compose the bulk of its frontline fighters.  The current fighter fleet is old, with many fighters dating back to the 1980s.  The F-35 program which was initially conceived for all three services to replace the aging fighter fleets does not appear to be the answer.  There is an example, 40 years in the past, of a program that produced a similar outcome, the F-111.  Just as the F-111 was initially conceived as a multi-service platform, the F-35 is one as well.  However, that same mix of differing requirements is what limits its performance.  At the base of it, the F-35 is not as good of an airplane design as other current fighters because of multi-service compromises.  The F-111 experienced similar problems, which was one of the reason the US Navy bought the F-14 instead.  However, as the F-111 transitioned to the electronic warfare (EW) platform the EF-111, the F-35 can transition to a similar platform, the EF-35.  The F-35 aircraft is well suited for that role and has inherent self-defense capabilities for Beyond Visual Range (BVR) engagements that the EF-111 lacked, such as the AIM-120 internally carried air to air missile.  Its EW mission will also keep it outside Within Visual Range (WVR) engagements of adversary aircraft, the engagement range where it appears to perform worse than the currently fielded F-16.  The F-35 can transition to become the EF-35, a fighter EW aircraft, possessing a capability the USAF does not currently have but could definitely use in the future.

So what is the exact mix of fighters that the USAF should possess?  The two aircraft needed are the upgraded F-22 and the upgraded F-16.  To remain as a viable form of US instrument of power, the USAF has to plus up the F-22 fleet with upgraded F-22s, and completely replace the current F-16 fleet with an upgraded one.  Both aircraft are a good fit because both are inherently well designed airplanes.  The F-22 is a 5th generation aircraft without equal and performs well both in BVR and WVR engagements.  While the F-16, if upgraded to the F-16 E/F+ level, can become a lethal 4.5+ generation fighter aircraft capable of surviving in a modern air defense environment and still perform well in BVR and WVR engagements.  The F-16 E/F+ would be the US version of the United Arab Emirates F-16 Block 60 aircraft.  That model is the best F-16 design to date and, if updated, would provide an equivalent upgrade of an F-16 from a 1990s cellphone to a today’s smartphone.  Both upgraded aircraft would complement each other, with the F-22s capable of destroying or disrupting the most capable air defenses, while the F-16s would provide support and the bulk of ordinance. With modern and integrated avionics the F-16E/F+ would be capable of supporting the F-22s even on “day one” of MCO, especially combined with EF-35 electronic warfare support.

To be even better, both F-16 and F-22 airplanes could be redesigned with ease of maintenance and upgrades in mind because at any given time a certain number of fighter airplanes are down for scheduled and unscheduled maintenance. The benefits in reducing the number of hours the airplanes are unavailable and the number of maintenance personnel required for their servicing could be immense.  The savings in maintenance personnel will also result in the corresponding savings in support personnel, leaving more funds available for training and platform upgrades.

So what about the numbers?  The number of F-22s should be increased from the current sub two hundred to at least five hundred.  Some of which could be stationed in the Pacific theater to deter China and some in European theater to deter Russia, with the rest located in the US and available for either theater support.  The new F-16s would completely replace every US active duty, reserve, and guard squadron F-16, which according the is about 1,000 aircraft.  Combined together the future fighter force would be ready to handle any contingency from MCO to counter-insurgency.  The total price for the F-22 and F-16 buy would also be less compared to the current projected F-35 program price.  Given the F-16 estimated price of approximately $50M per aircraft, the total would come out to $50B dollars.  The F-22s, using the $187M per unit price would come out to $53B dollars, for a combined total of $103B, which is much less than the estimated $300B plus budgeted for the current F-35 program.

The future of USAF fighter force, and by extension the US military’s ability to project power, is at stake.  Without adjustment the Combat Air Forces are on the way to equipping their fighter units with an airplane that is less capable of WVR combat than the existing platforms.  As more and more studies are coming out showcasing the F-35 limitations, USAF has a choice.  It can continue with an airplane that has demonstrated limitation in multiple areas, or change direction and create a fighter force which will secure air dominance for the US well into this century.  Without air superiority nothing else the USAF does or any of the other Services do will be possible.  The reason for the dominance of the US military as an instrument of power is the ability of the USAF to assure complete air dominance anywhere in the world.  Such will only be possible in the future if the US is willing to invest in the fighter force of the future which is capable of destroying adversary air defenses and engaging the adversaries both in BVR and WVR combat.  For that, a mix of upgraded F-22s and F-16s would ensure US air supremacy anywhere in the world.


Update of the previous post “F-35 – The Echoes of F-111”

Joint Force and Baltic Defense

Using Joint Force the Baltic States can be successfully defended.  Though during the recent testimony before Congress, U.S. Army Chief of Staff General Mark Milley said that: “Yes … the ones in Europe, really Russia. We don’t like it, we don’t want it, but yes, technically [we are] outranged, outgunned on the ground.”  This makes it appear that the US Army would not be able to repel possible Russian aggression against Lithuania, Estonia, and Latvia.  The statement also appears to be backed up by the Rand Corporation Wargame Studies which concludes that the Russian military would conquer the three Baltic NATO States in a matter of days.  The study estimates that 60 hours is the time required for the 450 Russian tanks and accompanying troops to enter three capitals and win the war.  However, the study does not address air operations as they would happen in the real world.

As JP 3-0 publication, Joint Operations, 11 August 2011 states: Although individual Services may accomplish tasks and missions in support of Department of Defense (DOD) objectives, the primary way DOD employs two or more Services (from two Military Departments) in a single operation, particularly in combat, is through joint operations. US Army would not operate alone in such scenario.  Both US Air Force and US Navy would be there to support operations and contribute to the fight.  Unlike the study’s assumption, the Air War between US and Russia would not be a drawn out equally neutral conflict, but rather a decisive US victory as it has been the case in every air campaign for the past 25 years. Following which, combined arms employment with emphasis on air power can stop any Russian military aggression in its tracks.

In order to assess the possible Russian moves against the Baltic States and the ability of US military and NATO to defend against them, several possible courses of action need to be examined.  There are two different ways the Russian aggression could unfold.  First course of action is an operation similar to the Russian annexation of Crimea in 2014; the second is a war similar to the invasion of Georgia in 2008.

An operation similar to the annexation of Crimea is unlikely to succeed against a state willing to defend its territory.  It should be assumed that the Baltic States will do so if threatened by Russia.  The reason for Russian success in 2014 was not that they figured out some kind of never before seen brilliant tactic and strategy that baffled the Ukrainians.  The reason for their success was that Ukraine gave up Crimea without a fight.  That same strategy, called “hybrid warfare” involves combining kinetic operations with subversive efforts, was also attempted in Eastern Ukraine, only at that time the Ukrainians finally decided to fight.  Their resistance led to initial setbacks for the Russian backed forces.  Only massive Russian material support and commitment of Russian combat units prevented separatist defeat and provided some measure of Russian success.  The lesson there is self-evident; in order for any state to survive in face of aggression, it has to have the will to fight.

While initially, the same “hybrid warfare” could be used by Russia in the Baltic States, the solution to the uniformed soldiers without insignia suddenly appearing in country is simple; fight them.  No government could allow its monopoly on force to be challenged by foreign or domestic enemies and still maintain legitimacy in the eyes of its people.  As such, should troops in Russian uniforms without insignia suddenly appear in the Baltics, the right way to deal with them is through force.  However, NATO needs to be ready; as the force used against disguised Russian troops could lead directly to a full scale Russian invasion, similar to what happened in Ukraine.

According to previously mentioned Rand study, the following are the parameters of such invasion.  The US would have a week of warning.  The air war would be indecisive and the US and allied forces would be defeated in 60 hours.  The study devotes just a few paragraphs to combined arms operations, and focuses mostly on how the US Army could win if it had more ground forces at its disposal.  Therein lays the problem.  Without US air superiority, how would these additional troops be able to fight effectively?  Without air superiority how would they be supplied?  The US Army has not faced an adversary air attack in more than 50 years.  While the Russian Air Force is not the world’s premier, it has recently demonstrated some capability in Syria against ground forces lacking air defenses.  It is fallacy to think that the US armored and mechanized formations could operate in face of adversary air superiority.  The way to victory on the ground is control of the air above.

Given one week’s worth of warning, the US and allies, according to Rand, would have 18 squadrons of combat aircraft in theater against an estimated 27 Russian combat squadrons.  The study also concludes that given the Russian Surface to Air Missiles (SAM) combined with the Russian squadrons, the US and allies would be incapable of establishing air superiority.  Nothing is further from the reality.  The absolute number of airplanes means very little.  It would matter a lot if unthinking robots flew those airplanes, but not when people are involved.  What matters then are unit training, skills, experience, and the will to fight and win.  Even the numerically outnumber 18 Allied squadrons mentioned in the study would be able to neutralize the 27 Russian squadrons in very short order and while at the same time suppressing the Russian SAMs.  US Air Force is designed exactly for this kind of fight.

The ability to create an effective integrated air defense by the Russian Air Force is also doubtful.  More likely the Russians would lose a lot of their airplanes to friendly fire if they attempted to employ aircraft and SAM systems to contest the same piece of airspace.  Even the US military lost more fighters to friendly ground fire during the invasion of Iraq and it had complete control of the air during the invasion.

With the Russian Air and Surface defenses eliminated, Russian armored columns would be defenseless.  US and allied bomber and fighter aircraft would then find and destroy every Russian military vehicle moving inside the Baltic States.  As the Rand study mentions the Baltic region has good roads, but the off-road capability is difficult.  As such, the Russian armored columns, restricted to roads, would be an ideal target for US and allied air power.  Once stripped of their air defenses, the Russian armored forces would be quickly rendered non-combat effective, similar to what happened to the Iraqi army on “the highway of death” during the First Gulf War.  That result was accomplished with a 1980s air force, not a modern air force outfitted with precision weapons.  Today, precision fighter and bomber strikes against enemy ground forces traveling along predictable routes have only one possible outcome, complete destruction.  A more recent example of that effect was during Operation Odyssey Dawn in 2011 which shows exactly what happens to an armored ground force attacked by aircraft.  With Russian armor destroyed, the 12 allied battalions, estimated to be present at the start of hostilities including indigenous Baltic infantry battalions, could round up the disorganized Russian troops and stop the invasion.

Despite the recent pronouncements, the Baltics can be defended.  If the US wants to make an even clearer point to the Russians that it is ready to repel any aggressive move against the three Baltic members of NATO, then more fighter squadrons permanently located in Europe is the answer.  However, the Baltic States can be defended with the current force structure.  The US Army could be theoretically outgunned if it operated in the world where US Air Force does not exist and has no ability to establish air superiority/supremacy.  Then again, it would be extremely difficult for the US Army to be combat effective if it had to fight in the face of established enemy air superiority.  To win against a near peer adversary such as Russia, air power is the decisive factor.  US Army will not be outgunned if called to defend the Baltic States because the US Air Force and US Navy will be there to contribute and shape the battlefield as part of a Joint Force as codified in the Joint Doctrine.

Time to Retire the A-10

It is long past time for the A-10 to retire.  There are many reasons to get rid of the aircraft and only one to keep it.  It is an outstanding Close Air Support (CAS) platform, but it lacks in every other mission a fighter aircraft is expected to perform.  This is especially important if the US is confronted by near peer adversaries employing 4th and 4.5th generation fighters and double digit Surface to Air Missiles (SAM). It is not the fighter of choice for strategic attack (SA), air interdiction (AI), defensive counter air (DCA), or suppression of enemy air defenses (SEAD).  All missions which are performed by the multi-role aircraft.

A-10 excels at unopposed CAS, which means that the air superiority or supremacy has been established by other air platforms.  The A-10 aircraft was originally designed to engage Soviet armor with the precision weapon of the day, the Maverick missile, supplemented by the 30mm Gatling gun. While an outstanding design for the time when most of the US Air Force fighters carried only non-guided bombs, the airplane has outlived its usefulness in the current day and age.  For today’s wars, the USAF has a whole family of GBU (Guided Bomb Units) precision weapons available to engage the enemy.  They can be used and are employed by a variety of platforms.

The idea that you need to fly slow and low for CAS is also false. It is actually about 30 years out of date.  Today, all of the fixed wing fighters carry some variant of a targeting pod which allows them to provide precision air support while remaining outside of visual range of the adversary troops on the ground.  In both Iraq and Afghanistan the vast majority of CAS missions are flown by other aircraft such as the F-16, F-15E, B-1B, and even the B-52.  These aircraft provide the same amount of firepower and precision, while also being much faster than the A-10, which actually makes them better platforms to perform the CAS mission in a time sensitive situation.  Given a hypothetical troops in contact situation where there is an immediate danger to the US or allied personnel on the ground, do the troops under enemy fire want to wait for an hour for the slow flying A-10 to get there or do they want an F-16 which can be overhead in 15 minutes, ready to employ weapons?  I know which I would choose, the F-16.

Other fighters are also capable of conducting other diverse missions such as SEAD or DCA, while the A-10 is incapable of doing so.  It is a slow aircraft and lacks radar to track and engage other aircraft.  The A-10’s armor also means nothing if it gets engaged by double digit SAM systems or enemy aircraft, the adversary systems which can only be suppressed or destroyed by the multi-role fighter such as the F-16CJ.   Armor is only a good investment if you are planning to fly close to the ground, in full view of ground troops, a course of action which is not necessary if the aircraft is equipped with a targeting pod.  It is no coincidence that over the past 15 years of war in Afghanistan and Iraq not a single fighter has been shot down by the insurgents, this despite the fact that none of the fighters except for the A-10 are armored.

Even while executing the CAS mission, the A-10 has limitations.  It would be hard pressed to conduct CAS if the adversary is capable of conducting air sorties to oppose it, since the aircraft is not designed to engage in air combat.  While on the other hand, a pair of F-16s can provide CAS in contested environment, detect enemy aircraft that are threatening them, eliminate them via air combat and go back to providing CAS to the troops on the ground.  A flexibility the A-10 is incapable of.  The A-10 is really good at a few missions only, such as unopposed CAS, while other aircraft such as F-16, F-15E, or F-35 are multi-role and provide the best mix of capabilities for the money spent.

Lastly, the best reason to get rid of the A-10 is to free up the fighter pilots for other aircraft.  This is especially important, given the current fighter pilot shortage in the US Air Force.  While the F-35 is not the best way forward for the Air Force, it is vastly better and provides a lot more capabilities than the A-10 ever did.  At the end of the day the specific aircraft platform is not that important, what is important are the capabilities that platform provides.  The troops supported by CAS aircraft don’t care what specific aircraft provides them that support.  If they had a choice I’m sure they would opt for something that is above them 24-7 every day of the week, stocked with unlimited weapons.  I’m exaggerating slightly, but at the end, the effects by the multi-role aircraft operating as CAS platforms are essentially the same as the A-10.  While at the same time the multi-role aircraft are capable of conducting the wide variety of mission A-10 is incapable of.  Missions such as SEAD and AI which are essential to establishing air superiority/supremacy, an outcome upon which the rest of the US military power rests on in every conflict.




The Iraq Sinkhole

The recent news that the US will be sending another 200 personnel to Iraq to support the fight against ISIL is another indication of a strategy that is not working.  The Daily Beast has an in-depth article with regards to the fight against ISIL, “On the Front Line Against ISIS: Who Fights, Who Doesn’t, and Why.”  The article does a good job of summarizing the problems with the current US strategy in Iraq.

The main narrative of the fight against ISIL can be summarized in four points.  First, Sunni Arabs initially welcomed ISIL advance and still provide support to the organization.   Second, non-Sunni Arab forces such as Kurds and Yazidis do not want to lead the fight against ISIL, especially in the Sunni heartland.  Third, the coalition of anti-ISIL forces expects the US not only to equip them, but also provide continuous air support.  Lastly, an estimated 50,000 troops will be required to remove the 10,000 ISIL troops from Mosul, the city ISIL occupied without much of a fight in 2014.  All of these points taken together form a logical conclusion which provides a window into why the current US anti-ISIL strategy does not appear to be working.

The first and most important point is that Sunni Arabs support ISIL.  They provide the personnel and fighters for the ISIL military and civil institutions.  There is definitely a foreign fighter component in ISIL, especially in the suicide units, but the vast majority of ISIL fighters are Sunni Arabs from Iraq and Syria.  There is also a major presence of former Baath officials in the top ranks of ISIL as documented by multiple news articles over the past few years. In both countries, Sunnis support ISIL because it gives them a vehicle to redress the perceived wrongs perpetuated against them by the Iraqi and the Syrian governments. In addition, the Wahhabi strain of Sunni Islam supported worldwide by Saudi Arabia supplies a steady stream of recruits to ISIL.  Until these issues are solved, ISIL or its successor organization will have the capability and resources to survive and rebuild.

To reduce the Sunni anger at their governments, the only realistic course US can take is to support the division of both Iraq and Syria into parts that would allow for Sunni self-determination. Given the ethnic and religious conflicts that have wrecked both countries, it is impossible to see how either the Shia government of Iraq or Allawite-led government of Syria will allow full and equal rights to Sunni Arabs.  Until both countries are broken up to accommodate the ethnic and religious divisions already present there, Sunni Arabs will continue to support ISIL.  They might even do so after such division, but there is no question whether or not they will if Iraq and Syria remain as they are today.  The issue of Wahhabi Islam and Saudi Arabian support will also have to be addressed to prevent future ISIL-like groups from emerging.  As long as Saudi Arabia continues to propagate this intolerant version of Islam across the world, the Wahhabi led groups such as ISIL will continue to survive.  Only when that support is removed will it be possible to eliminate such Sunni organizations at their core.

The second point of Yazidi and Kurds not willing to lead the fight against ISIL in Sunni Arab areas only reinforces the necessity of breaking up Iraq.  They do not consider the lands they are fighting for to be their lands, so what is the point of keeping the country together?  Shia Arab militias can lead the fight against ISIL, but they will just unite the Sunnis in opposition once they begin to operate in the Sunni dominated provinces and cities.  Shiite militias and Shiite dominated military will not be welcomed with open arms in the Sunni heartland. None of the ethnic and religious groups appear to be willing to live in the country of Iraq and Syria with their current state of organization.  Dividing both countries appears the most viable way forward to stop the fighting.

The third point of expected US material and air support is also an indicator of a failed strategy.  The lack of equipment and air support is the direct result of incompetent and corrupt Iraqi government.  It is rated as the eighth most corrupt state in the world.  Is it any wonder then, that there is no equipment for the fighting units and there is no will to fight?  Who would want to fight and die for a corrupt government?  Until that problem of corruption and governance is resolved, no amount of US training and material support will provide a long term fix.  After all, why should the politicians in Baghdad try to figure out how to support their armed forces if the US will come in and do so for them?  They can just continue to treat each ministry as a base for patronage, power, and corruption. Not an institution of state.  At the same time, ISIL does not appear to have any problems procuring military supplies.  Are they geniuses?   How did ISIL grow so quickly in 2014, without multi-year training missions? Why can’t the Iraqi government do the same?  Are the Iraqis in ISIL that much smarter than Iraqis in the government service?   The answer of course is no.  The Iraqi government is simply content to let the US lead the fight for Iraq.  The unconditional US support and the never ending training mission only reinforces this behavior.  Until the Iraqi elites take responsibility for their country, the US will be involved in Iraq for long time; fighting a different iteration of Al-Qaeda/ISIL for the next century.

Lastly, the requirement of at least 50,000 soldiers to retake Mosul against 10,000 ISIL fighters is the easiest problem to solve.  There are approximately 655,000 Iraqi males reaching military age annually.  If Iraq institutes a draft, the manpower problems are solved.  If ISIL is truly an existential threat to the Iraqi state then this should be an easy decision; yet the government of Iraq has not done so.  Why?  There is no good reason.  As US demonstrated during the Civil War, WW I, and WW II, every time our national survival was at stake, we instituted a draft to provide manpower for the armed forces to ensure victory.  The fact that Iraqis are not willing to do the same now only reinforces the narrative that the fight against ISIL is not a priority for the Baghdad government.  Until they do so, the US strategy will not succeed.

There are a number of different reasons the fight against ISIL is not progressing.  The most important is the fact that the root cause of the Sunni discontent based on power and religion is not being addressed.  Until that problem is solved, no strategy we have in place will lead to a long term success.  The Iraqi army material and personnel shortages could also be easily solved by a government dedicated to fighting the war, not one focused on enrichment of the Baghdad elite.  Therefore, the current US strategy and unconditional support for the Iraqi state only allows such behavior to continue without addressing the root cause of ISIL success.

Syria Update

The recent gains by the Government of Bashar Al-Assad, supported by Russian Air Force strikes against the Sunni rebels, provide two interesting points of analysis.  One is the future of Syrian conflict and the other is our current doctrine of counterinsurgency.  The ability of Syrian government to retake and hold ground stopped the narrative of possible Assad collapse.  It appears that all the parties to the conflict at this time recognize that the stalemate between the combatants with no side is strong enough to win the war.  The recent calls from several foreign policy voices including Secretary Kerry with regards to the possible partition of Syria, so called plan B, could signal recognition of this fact and could chart a new way forward for conflict resolution.

As mentioned in previous posts on this blog, the country of Syria, just like Iraq, no longer exists.  It is a country in the name only.  To our detriment, it has taken a long time for our foreign policy establishment to come to grips with this fact.  The Syrian borders drawn after World War I simply do not reflect the facts on the ground.  To imagine such a diverse country ruled by the minority Alawites (that the majority Sunnis consider non-Muslim) could somehow survive as a country will always be a fantasy.  Once the ability of Syrian government to control the whole country was shattered, the only way forward was partition.

The reverse would also be true.  Even if somehow the majority Sunnis would be in charge, there is no doubt that the Alawites would be conducting an insurgent campaign to remain free of Sunni influence.  Simply put it is a miracle that Syria stayed together as a country as long as it did. The only way forward is to partition Syria.  In reality, this would just recognize the facts on the ground.  There is no feasible path for the country to remain together given the nature of the insurgency/religious war there.  As such, the US should push and make the current plan B, plan A.  Partition is the only plan that actually offers a path to peace.  There could even be a side benefit of Alawites getting rid of Assad once they recognize how badly he performed.  As mentioned in previous posts, partition is nothing new.  We have supported such events in Sudan and Yugoslavia.  There simply comes a time when the country that is not a true nation state is no longer viable.  When that’s the case the way forward is separation.

The second point of analysis is with regards to counterinsurgency and our current counterinsurgency doctrine.  The recent Syrian government gains have been possible because of the massive Russian airpower backed up by Shiite militias and Syrian Army.  Accordingly, it brings up an interesting point of analysis.  The conduct of the Syrian government and Russian Air Force is completely opposite of what FM 3-24 talks about.  There is no clear, hold, and build phase or emphasis on economic development per US counterinsurgency doctrine.  Specifically, Counterinsurgency operations ultimately support reintegration through the integration of the stability functions in planning and execution. The stability functions are security, governance and participation, humanitarian assistance, rule of law, and economic stabilization and infrastructure (INSURGENCIES AND COUNTERING INSURGENCIES, FM 3-24, May 2014).  Rather, just like the government of Sri Lanka in 2009 when it defeated the Tamil Tigers, the government of Syria is relying on massive firepower to suppress the Sunni insurgency.  And it seems to be working at least on the limited scale.  Perhaps FM 3-24 reexamination is in order.

Of the two points of analysis, the partition of Syria is the more important one as it offers a way forward for conflict resolution.  It won’t be easy or popular, but it is the only way to produce peace.  There is no conceivable way that the country could stay together given the scars of the past five years, therefore we should push and facilitate the partition of Syria into Sunni Arab, Sunni Kurd, and Allawites (plus others) states.  It has been done before and can be done now.  The longer we wait and pretend that Syria can survive as a unified state, the longer it will take for the scars of this conflict to heal.