The US Military Is Woefully Unprepared To Fight The Next War

We are at a pivotal moment in history as the consequences of a global pandemic have created turbulent waters in a wide variety of areas from international trade to socio-economic concerns. China’s increasingly assertive nature has been regarded as a consequence of the COVID-19 pandemic in the past eighteen months. However, the fact of the matter is that China’s emergence was preordained by two decades of inconsistent and short-sighted US policies and actions. As I mentioned over the past weekend, China has reached a point now where it confidently views itself to be an ascendant superpower, while regarding the United States as a declining power. This new ethos, whether an accurate assessment of the global picture or not, raises the prospect of the People’s Republic of China resorting to military force in to achieve its expansionist-minded ambitions.

The writing has been on the wall for quite some time. For the United States military, the prospect of having to square off against China is hardly new, whether Washington is keen to admit it or not. Unfortunately, the current condition of the US military leaves much to be desired. On the surface, its branches make up the most powerful military force that the world has ever known. With a potential war with China on the horizon, the Pentagon’s priorities are out of order. Rather than concentrating on repairing readiness issues and preparing for the next war, the current Joint Chiefs of Staff, and their civilian leaders in the Defense Department are fixated with implementing ‘woke’ and socially popular policies upon the troops. Even more damning is the fact that every effort to construct and implement a sound doctrine for conducting a future war in the Western Pacific region against the People’s Republic of China has been stillborn or developed into a half-baked abortion of failed past tactics and amateurish concepts on the future of warfare that its growth was stunted.

The failed efforts of the Pentagon, and the dangers of the US entering into a conflict against a near-peer opponent without a plan to win will be discussed at length through 2-3 entries next week. I have not forgotten about North Korea and will return to it by Christmas. But for now, exploring the troubles facing US military efforts to develop both a doctrine and the forces necessary to defeat Chinese forces in a future war seems a more pertinent research topic for November.

The US-Russia Military Balance in Europe: Part I

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The performance of the Russian military in the 2008 Russo-Georgian War revealed a number of woeful deficiencies in the training, doctrine, and equipment of Russian forces. The conflict concluded in a decisive victory, but the performance of Russia’s armed forces indicated the reforms and modernizations begun in the aftermath of the Second Chechen War had yet to fully take root. The military was moving in the right direction, however, more work would be required before it could be seen as a legitimate first-rate professional military on par with its Western peers.

Since 2008 Russia has undertaken a series of ambitious, and determined reforms, and modernizations. The final verdict on just how successful these attempts have been cannot be determined short of a major war. The involvement of Russia’s military in Syria and Ukraine fail to qualify as proper test beds. Neither conflict offers a realistic opportunity for Russia to conduct large scale combined arms operations. What they have offered, however, is the opportunity for many Russian soldiers and officers to gain invaluable combat experience.

The Western Military District (WMD) is the command responsible for confronting NATO. The organization and deployment of Russian land, air, and naval units in the WMD region presents insight to the General Staff’s thoughts on potential future conflicts in Europe. Although the WMD is the smallest Russian military district in terms of geographic size, it has the largest number of combat units assigned to it. These forces are generally the best trained, and equipped units in the Russian armed forces.

Readiness and preparation have been major points for the WMD. Since the annexation of Crimea, and the resumption of tense relations with the West, Russia has held major exercises in the WMD multiples times a year. The largest of these, such as the Zapad series, are conducted for the purpose of preparing the forces in the WMD, and neighboring districts, for high-intensity conventional operations. In spite of the heavy publicity that hybrid warfare has received since the Crimean annexation, Russia’s ground forces in the western district are made up primarily of combined-arms units. Combined-arms operations have been the center of Russia’s land war doctrine since World War II, emphasizing maneuver and firepower. Hybrid warfare still has a place in future conflicts in Europe involving Russia, especially in the Baltic States. However, when it comes to planning for operations farther west, such as in Poland, combined-arms forces would be the mainstay.

 

Since the end of the Cold War, US ground forces have become lighter. Iraq, Afghanistan, and other fronts in the Global War on Terror emphasized infantry, special operations, and airborne troops more than they did armor and mechanized infantry. Heavy forces did find a niche in these warzones and proved remarkably effective. However, this was not enough to prevent US Army doctrine from shifting heavily to the employment of light forces on the battlefield. Ukraine, and the annexation of Crimea began to change the US mindset, as did events in other regions of the world. A high-intensity fight against a near-peer opponent equipped with large numbers of tanks, and armored vehicles became more likely. US ground forces have been adapting to meet the emerging threats since then, as have US air and naval forces. With that in mind, it needs to be stressed that Europe has not become the primary focus of US military planning, as it has for Russia. Atlantic Resolve, and the rotating presence of a heavy maneuver brigade in Eastern Europe is helping to change this, but much work remains to be done.

Responsibility for defending Europe against Russian aggression does not fall entirely on US shoulders. That obligation belongs to NATO though the US provides the bulk of the military forces and combat power NATO would bring to bear in a future war against Russia. The alliance has become more united in recent years owing to the growing Russian military threat. And thanks to President Trump’s tough talk, NATO members are beginning to contribute more money towards defense spending. Unfortunately, it will be some time before the results of this effort become visible. Even when that happens, NATO’s European member-states will be unable to defeat a Russian move into the Baltics, or elsewhere in Eastern Europe on their own. US military power is the key to defending Europe.

 

Upcoming Today’s DIRT Project for January 2019: The US-Russia Military Balance in Europe

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Over the last three weeks the US force level in Europe has become a widely discussed topic in defense, and geopolitical circles. There is concern in Washington, and Brussels that the current level of US military forces stationed in Europe is not sufficient to deter Russia from undertaking military action. The focus is on Eastern Europe, specifically the Baltic states and Poland. Russia enjoys a tremendous advantage in the numbers of troops, armored vehicles, and combat aircraft it has stationed in close proximity to the eastern-most NATO states. The Pentagon is worried that in the event of a bolt-out-of-the-blue attack against the Baltics, or Poland, Russian forces will make significant gains before reinforcements from the continental United States can arrive and turn the tide of battle.

The fact that this subject is receiving more scrutiny is indicative of the Pentagon’s growing concern about Russian military strength in Europe. I personally feel the time has come to examine the current military balance in Europe, and look at options for how the US can increase its military strength in Europe enough for it to be a viable deterrent against potential Russian designs on Poland and the Baltics in the coming months and years.

Towards the middle of the month, around the Martin Luther King holiday here in the US, Today’s DIRT will examine the issue at length and present the findings in a series of articles to be posted here. Last year I did not manage to complete some of the projects I had planned on this topic, and others connected to Russia, and NATO in Eastern Europe. Now in 2019, that is going to change. This will be the first of at least six projects centered on defense matters, and geopolitical flashpoints that Today’s DIRT will present in 2019.

Between now and the middle of January, other areas of interest will be discussed, and presented. However, the military balance in Europe will take precedence in most articles from the middle of the month until early February.

Air-Sea Battle Spearheads Pentagon Planning For Future Conflicts

With the Iraq commitment now in the past and the end of the Afghan war now in sight, the US military is casting an eye to the future. DOD is becoming serious about preparing new strategic concepts and operational doctrine for the future. The military entered the Afghanistan and Iraq wars as a machine primarily geared for fighting and winning a conventional interstate war. Through nearly twelve years of fluid low intensity conflict, the military continually adapted itself and its doctrines to stay one step ahead of the enemy. In spite of the opinions of some untrained observers, the service branches were all quite successful in doing this.

Now, as OEF winds down, the Pentagon is beginning to focus on the future. Concerted efforts are underway to identify potential battlefields and opponents and determine what tools and doctrines will be needed to fight and win tomorrow’s war.  This is no small undertaking, especially now, with the possibility of large scale defense budget cuts about to become a reality. Pentagon planners are being asked to prepare the force to fight the next war on a shoestring budget. Not intelligent, not very fair, but it’s the reality of the moment.

The first question is: Who will be the most likely opponents on the battlefield tomorrow? From the 1947-48 through to the end of the Cold War in 1991, the primary adversary of the US military was the Soviet Union. Doctrine, weapons design and procurement, training, exercises and planning at almost every level was geared towards a potential fight against the Soviet adversary. If it had come at any point (except for the mid to late 70s, a.k.a the Post Vietnam Malaise Years) the US would have been prepared. That fight never materialized, thankfully enough.

Preparation is more complex in contemporary times. There are a host of potential future adversaries. Political correctness forbids the Pentagon from publicly declaring what specific nations the military is preparing to fight. However, inside the E Ring, it’s generally recognized and accepted that the United States needs to be prepared for an armed conflict with the People’s Republic of China, Iran and North Korea above all. Proof that the Pentagon regards the Iran and the PRC military threats as valid is evident in the still emerging Air-Sea Battle (ASB) concept.

ASB is an operational concept that was conceived by the Air Force and Navy in 2009. It is not a doctrine…..at least not yet, and the ASB information available to the public is, understandably, vague and incomplete. In short, ASB revolves around a concerted Joint effort to defeat an enemy’s Anti Access/ Area Denial (A2/AD) weapons systems and tactics. A2/AD centers on an enemy’s ability to deny US military forces the opportunity to project power in a respective combat theater.  China and Iran’s A2/AD capabilities are both robust and becoming more integrated as time goes on. Both nations would benefit exponentially from a successful A2/AD campaign against the US in a future conflict. Keeping American military power at arms-length in the Western Pacific would give China a free hand to use against Taiwan. In the Persian Gulf, Iranian A2/AD efforts would focus on denying US forces the use of  air and sea space around the Straits of Hormuz.

Naval and air forces will form the core of an anti- A2/AD effort. However, the US Army and Marine Corps are being brought into the concept too. The Army’s main contribution is with theater and area air defense assets. The Marines effort appears to be less defined, but in all probability will include its formidable air power.

ASB is far from a finished product, yet it does prove that the Pentagon is moving away from the low intensity conflict mindset and beginning to focus on the more conventional threats that US forces are facing now and will face in the near future.