Britain Receives Its First P-8A Poseidon

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Earlier this week the first of the Royal Air Force’s new P-8A Poseidon MPA (maritime patrol aircraft) touched down at Kinloss, Scotland. It is the first of nine Poseidon aircraft purchased by the Ministry of Defense and marks Great Britain’s return to the fixed wing ASW (anti-submarine warfare) game. The RAF and Royal Navy have been without shore based MPAs for over a decade following the retirement of the Nimrod in 2009. During the eleven year period between then and now, Britain was forced to rely on its allies to provide ASW coverage around the British Isles, and in the North Atlantic. The gap in coverage came at a critical time, as tensions with Russia rose following the annexation of Crimea, and the Ukrainian intervention in 2014. Russian naval operations in the North Atlantic and Norwegian Sea increased shortly afterwards, reemphasizing the importance of the waters to NATO.

This is a step in the right direction for the Brits though. Over the past three years or so, Britain has become serious about redressing their military deficiencies. The British armed services had become a hollow shell as weapons systems were cut, and units disbanded in order to foot the bill for Britain’s commitments overseas such as in Afghanistan. Like many other European powers, British military power diminished. The Royal Navy was especially hard hit by the budget and force cuts and is presently rectifying the situation. The final three Astute class attack submarines are under construction, as well as the first of the new Dreadnought class SSBNs. On the surface side, the second Queen Elizabeth class aircraft carrier HMS Prince of Wales was recently commissioned. The first two City class frigates are also under construction and will help enhance the escort forces for the carriers.

This is certainly progress considering how much combat power had been gouged out of the British military between 2005 and 2014 or so. A lot of work still needs to be done but the Brits are moving in the right direction.

The March 2017 DIRT Project: Rebuilding the US Military

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After more than a decade of fighting two low-intensity conflicts simultaneously, and eight years of concurrent neglect by the Obama administration, the US military is in a precarious state. Equipment is becoming obsolete at an alarming rate. The current size of the armed forces is not sufficient enough to handle the tempo of operations that US forces are currently engaged in around the world. The defense sequestration has done significant damage to readiness. Potential adversaries of the United States have grown bolder and stronger. At present time, China and Russia are modernizing their own forces and bolstering capabilities to the point that both are now near-peer opponents of the US military.

Fortunately, help is on the way for America’s beleaguered armed forces. During the 2016 presidential campaign, one of Donald Trump’s main promises was to rebuild the military. He placed a great deal of emphasis on its creaky state and vowed to repair it should he win the election. Well, he won and now, a little over a month after his inauguration, President Trump is moving to make good on his promise. He is proposing a federal budget that includes a ten percent raise in defense spending. It’s unclear at the moment whether or not Trump’s first attempt at a federal budget will pass. However, it is safe to say that he will be pushing forward on a plan to rebuild the military one way or another.

Rebuilding will not only be a matter of handing the Pentagon a blank check and saying, “fix the problem.” Simply throwing money at a problem is not guaranteed to solve it, as anyone who is well versed in American politics can affirm. Excessive spending, cost overruns, and stifling bureaucratic red tape are facts of life at the five-sided building in Arlington and represent looming roadblocks for any Trump administration effort to fix the military. The effects of each one needs to be minimized or done away with in large part before a large-scale modernization program can take root.

For March, we will be examining two main questions: What will a rebuilt US military look like when all is said and done? What steps need to be taken in order to ensure that the armed forces are properly equipped, trained and ready to fight the next war?

Each service branch has its own laundry list of wants and needs: new weapons systems, an increase in the number of battalions or squadrons, and larger maintenance budgets to name but a few.  Therefore, we will analyze the branches individually, beginning with the US Air Force on Tuesday, 7 March, 2017. Strategic (nuclear) forces will be handled in separate entry. The US Coast Guard, while tacitly a service branch, will not be covered. Sorry, Coasties. J

 

A Gradual NATO Awakening

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The headlines coming out of Europe for the last month paint the a picture of NATO awakening: A month long multinational training exercise in Estonia involving aircraft and airmen from the United States, Estonia, Finland and Sweden. Florida Air National Guard F-15C Eagles  commence a six month deployment to Eastern Europe. A number of NATO nations increase their defense spending in light of recent Russian actions. Germany decides to recommission 100 Leopard 2 Main Battle Tanks to bolster the combat capability of its long neglected ground forces.

NATO exactly is not making like its 1985 all over again, but the latest moves by alliance members are steps in the right direction. The unwillingness to adequately meet the dangers posed by Vladimir Putin’s Russia is slowly melting away. The notion of conceivably having to confront a militarily resurgent Russia is becoming less theoretical and more concrete as time goes on. Military preparedness is becoming a hot topic in capitals across the continent. Some alliance members are coming around to the realization that their armed forces are not adequately prepared for modern conventional warfare. Almost twenty five years of relative peace, shrinking defense budgets and political indifference have taken a toll. Now, in order to ensure that their forces are ready to meet treaty commitments, the majority of alliance members are being forced to play catchup.

Even the United States has had to adjust to the new realities. US combat power in Europe was drawn down dramatically from what it even a decade ago. EUCOM had become something of a clearinghouse more than a combat command. Fighter wings and Army brigades based in Europe were being deployed to Afghanistan and Iraq regularly for combat tours. In April of 2013, the last American tanks had been withdrawn from Europe. The strategic shift to Asia and the Pacific was underway.

Now, two years later, it’s a different situation altogether. The European Reassurance Initiative will allow US commanders in Europe to draw funds from $1 billion dollars set aside by Congress for contingency operations. American armor is back in demand in Europe. Abrams and Bradleys are rolling through the Baltics. USAREUR is exploring options for prepositioning equipment in Eastern Europe. F-16s are thundering across the Estonian sky while Flordia ANG F-15s take part in Frisian Flag and prepare to deploy east to Bulgaria. Power projection and combat preparedness are the priorities. Once again, US European Command has become a combatant command in its own right.

Germany’s reaction to Russian aggression is somewhat more ambiguous. On April 10, the German government announced that it will be placing 100 mothballed Leopard 2 MBTs back into service and modernizing them. The move is intended to give the German Army more combat power at a time when NATO revamping its Reaction Force to meet the threat emerging from the east. This is not a short term solution, though. The tanks will not begin modernization until 2017 and only after that is completed will they be placed back in service with line units. Two or three years is a long time. If relations between NATO and Russia begin to normalize by then, the modernization can be cancelled and the tanks placed back in reserve. In essence, the Germans are hedging their bets with this move. It will not change the balance of power in the short term, so Moscow will have a difficult time viewing it as a provocation.

NATO’s Eastern European members are addressing the threat posed by Russia with robust increases in defense spending. After all, these nation-states share a border with Russia, and at one time most were either part of the USSR or the Warsaw Pact. Lithuania’s defense spending will increase by 50% in the foreseeable future. The other Baltic States will join the trend with more modest defense budget increases. Poland began a military modernization program in 2013 before Russian annexed Crimea or the Ukrainian conflict began. This year, Poland’s defense spending will rise by 20%.

In contrast, defense spending in much of Western Europe continued to decline. Austerity remains the name of the game and defense cuts continue to occur. In Paris, Brussels and London, Russia is not yet viewed as an imminent threat. In Warsaw, Vilnius, and Riga, Russia is. Little by little, NATO is awakening. Progress is being made, but will enough of it be made in time?