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

 

Europe’s Voluntary Disarmament

 

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I miss the Cold War. Really, I do. It is far enough in the past now that one can look back wistfully at period from 1947 to 1991 and appreciate the simplicity of that conflict. The United States and her allies versus the Soviet Union and its (mostly captive) allies. Capitalism or Communism. Co-existence or conflict. Honestly, compared to the complexities of today’s geopolitical world, the Cold War seems like a pretty damn good time. Know who else probably misses the Cold War? Western European generals and defense ministers.

Gone are the heady days of plump (by European standards) defense budgets, capable forces and clarified missions. In its place is an era of austerity, ill-defined missions and threats, as well as indifference. The defense cuts have not been entirely unexpected given the current economic situation on the continent. That being said, the position that many European politicians and voters are taking towards their military forces is borderline reckless. Europe is voluntarily disarming itself.

The most striking example of European disarmament has been the drawdown of Britain’s Royal Navy. In spite of Great Britain’s historic position a major maritime power, over the years the Royal Navy has regularly fallen victim to budget slashing. The “Senior Service” has seen a broadening of its missions in recent years even as the surface fleet has been cut to one-third of its Cold War strength. The Royal Army and RAF are in similar shape.  Britain’s strategic reach has been shortened and it’s questionable whether or not the UK will be able to support the US militarily, as it has for decades, in the future.

Other major European powers like France and Germany are in similar positions. Budget cuts are currently having, or will have, a profound effect on readiness and force structure in the future. Smaller countries on the continent are not immune to the budget crunch either. Belgium and the Netherlands have stricken off their inventories of main battle tanks and replaced them with wheeled AFVs in the case of Belgium and Infantry Fighting Vehicles for the Netherlands.

The United States has shouldered the bulk of NATO military spending since the creation of the alliance. That should come as no great surprise to anybody. What is a surprise, and something of a concern, though, is the fact that in 2001 the US financed 63 percent of NATO military expenditures. Today, the number is closer to 75 percent. The financial crisis has stymied Europe’s defense expenditures and reduced its military capabilities. The situation is reaching a critical point. There will be a point in the not too distant future when America’s European allies can no longer be counted on to be practical military partners.

NATO’s intervention in Libya, although successful, did reveal weaknesses in Europe’s military capabilities. The US provided a great amount of support and without it, Gaddafi might still be around. Tomahawk missiles fired by US Navy ships decimated Libyan air defense sites, command and control facilities and airfields. Ammunition, airborne tankers, drones, fighter aircraft and intelligence was also contributed to the initial phase of the Libyan expedition. Without that help, it is doubtful if the European forces involved could have gone it alone. The same is true in Mali where USAF assistance has been crucial to the French mission in Mali

As the United States pivots towards Asia, European nations to ponder potential threats and missions and structure its militaries to meet the needs of the future. The US is encouraging Europe to tend more to its defense needs, and rightfully so. The European sphere of influence does not end at the Bosphorus, or the Straits of Gibraltar. It is essential that Europe stand ready to defend her interests abroad. The US might not be very willing or able to help when the next crisis begins. And it will eventually.