Maneuvering for Influence Among the US Military Services
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Maneuvering for Influence Among the US Military Services


WASHINGTON – March 7, 2019

Immediately after the adoption of the National Defense Strategy, the United States provided itself not only with security at the military level but also with information support, which fully covers the field of strategic defense.

Thus, RAND recently issued a report completely describing the structure of the main branches of the military from the Army to the Marine Corps and the command of United States Special Operations (USSOCOM). The document describes the history and structure of the units and talks about the main military rivals in the face of China and North Korea. Russia is mentioned very indirectly in this document.

Although, as for Russia, hopes for improving relations between the two countries did not come true after Trump’s election as President, and the recently-announced arms race once again hints that it's time for the US to think about cooperation with Russia.

"The relationship will not become friendlier for the immediate future," writes retired American Brigadier General Kevin Ryan, a former military attaché on Russian topics, on the website.

"Interstate strategic competition, not terrorism, is now the primary concern in US national security," states the new Defense Strategy. "Long-term strategic competitions with China and Russia are the principal priorities."

The author notes that "President Trump has indicated often that he sees areas for cooperation and is confident he can reach deals with President Putin. But President Trump is not the only center of power in American foreign relations."

So it's not just about Trump — serious foreign policy decisions are made by many people. Congress also has the right to allocate funds for specific foreign policy initiatives. Institutions such as the State Department, the Defense Department, and the intelligence community influence both the President and Congress.

Even under President Obama in 2016, the Republican-controlled Congress classified new National Defense Strategies — now they're published only in short versions, although previously it was in full.

"To fully understand American defense strategy thinking in 2018, one must read not only the National Defense Strategy Summary, but also at a minimum the unclassified version of the National Security Strategy (published in December 2017), the National Military Strategy Summary (when it is published), and the Nuclear Posture Review (published on February 2, 2018)," Kevin Ryan continues. "These four publications, although not the only strategic documents, are the most important to deciphering overall defense strategy. Even though these public documents do not have all the details that their classified versions include, they can still provide a good compass direction for American defense strategy."

Until now, no one has understood how things are in reality in the US military structures, and why the country and officials try to hide the real situation behind imaginary giant reports.

If to describe all the problems of all the troops' types in the United States, this article would turn into a multi-volume encyclopedia. The range of problems is wide and covers all areas from strategic nuclear weapons to infantry combat equipment.

We’re not only talking about outdated weapons, which in many areas are inferior to the technology in service of the main Americans opponents. This is primarily about questions of combat readiness and the size of the army, which is designed to protect the interests of the only truly global power. Armed forces representatives have been sounding the alarm for many years, but Washington officials are drawing attention to the problem only now; to patch the holes and regain a confident technological superiority, it will take at least a decade.

Three "Outs"

Outgunned, outranged, outdated — these three words thundered in February last year in the Capitol at a meeting of the Committee on Armed Forces of the House of Representatives. General Daniel Allyn, Deputy Chief of Staff of the US Army, said it. He described the deplorable situation with the training, equipment and staffing of units, which has developed in the most numerous form of the American armed forces. The military once again explained to politicians that world hegemony remained only in dreams. Our military is inferior compared to the opponents’ firepower (outgunned), range weapons (outranged), and uses outdated technology (outdated).

Gen. Ellin, of course, expressed the hope that there would be a chance for change with the new administration. Donald Trump made bold statements: He announced plans to increase the size of the army and buy new planes and ships and the best weapons that can produce the world's best defense industry. The problem is that there are a lot of people who want to share this pie, and the Pentagon has to extinguish fires in several places at the same time, so it doesn't have time to develop a new large-scale plan. Meanwhile, the equipment is in such a state that it threatens the military more than any enemy.

Fleet Sinking Itself

In 2017, the USS Antietam missile cruiser ran aground in Tokyo Bay. The incident was not particularly dangerous; the ship damaged the propellers, no one was hurt. However, such situations should not occur during routine operations.

Another case involved six victims when five US Marines were declared deceased after being involved in a December 6 F/A-18 and KC-130 mishap 200 miles off the coast of Kochi, Japan at around 2:00 a.m. The aircraft had launched from Marine Corps Air Station Iwakuni and were conducting regularly scheduled training when the accident occurred, III Marine Expeditionary Force said.

Among the victims was Lt. Col. Kevin R. Herrmann, 38, of New Bern, North Carolina; Maj. James M. Brophy, 36, of Staatsburg, New York; Staff Sgt. Maximo A. Flores, 27, of Surprise, Arizona; Cpl. Daniel E. Baker, 21, of Tremont, Illinois; and Cpl. William C. Ross, 21, of Hendersonville, Tennessee.

In another case, there were no casualties when a U.S. Navy F/A-18 Hornet from the aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan crashed into the sea southwest of Japan's southern island of Okinawa.

Before that, in 2017, another American cruiser, the USS Lake Champlain, collided with a South Korean fishing vessel. The situation was already tense: The cruiser was accompanied by the aircraft carrier Carl Vinson, whose task was to keep North Korea from the next missile tests. If the Seventh US Navy fleet, based in the Western Pacific, was to be a key factor in taming Kim Jong-Un, it is clear why this plan failed.

The following two incidents (with the destroyers USS Fitzgerald and USS John McCain) claimed the lives of 17 people and paralyzed the Navy for some time. The most powerful fleet in the world for a few weeks seemed to cease to exist and this at a time when the tension in the world was reaching its peak.

Shocked senators are interested every time there is such loss of life. The answers are disappointing: It's all about outdated equipment, insufficient crew staffing, and the violation of training standards. The admirals explained that to ensure the combat readiness of ships, sailors should be in the service a hundred hours a week. The investigation of one of the cases showed a most tragic incident, with the captain and senior officer guilty; both of them were suspended from service.

Navy Times reviews made another shocking impression about the crew members of another ship — USS Shiloh. "I hate this boat, it's a floating prison," they wrote anonymously. They said the captain punished sailors for the slightest sins with arrest, keeping them on water and bread. But it wasn't just that there was a psychopath on the bridge. "I pray we don't shoot down any North Korean missiles, because then all the problems will be revealed," one of the sailors wrote. "It's like a competition: who dies first, the ship or crew," said another.

Of course, these cases may be isolated, because the other 289 ships are alright. However, the 450-page report of the influential Heritage Foundation Research Institute for 2016 puts the US Navy’s rating at satisfactory (3 out of 5). Overall, it's not that bad.

The Army is Experiencing an Unprecedented Сrisis

"The Army competes for missions by positioning itself as a master of leadership and command, and for resources by arguing for its positions in terms of unacceptable risk to the nation," said the RAND research.

In fact, the situation with the land forces is even worse than with the Navy. The latter at least retained the status of advanced forces, which became the main (and sometimes the only) tool for moving firepower over long distances and the last argument in international disputes. Note, this is despite the fact that the army positions itself as a central element in US military structures. The plans are "preserve and grow end strength and force structure, and participate in all contingencies."

Don't forget the US Navy also includes marine aviation, the Marine Corps and the well-known Navy Seals. In principle, this is a separate army, which has broad capabilities and retains a relatively good shape. The real Army is the US ground forces: They were strong during the Cold War, played a decisive role during the invasion of Iraq and proved useful in Afghanistan. The last 20 years of "asymmetric operations," also known as counterinsurgency (COIN), where the most dangerous enemy weapons were hand-held anti-tank grenade launchers or full TNT cars, had a great impact on the warfare technique, doctrine and morale. The problems were compounded by budget cuts, which had to extend missions, reduce staff, and eliminate units.

At first glance, everything still looks impressive. The regular army consists of 476,000 soldiers, 340,000 in the National Guard, and 200,000 in the reserves. However, according to the Chief of Staff of the US Army (CSA) Gen. Mark A. Milley, active service should consist of at least 540,000 people. Over the past eight years, the army has lost almost 90,000 troops, and as the budget has been declining faster than the strength; modernization has had to be abandoned in order to maintain combat readiness. The task was also not feasible: Only a third of combat brigadier units possess sufficient training, equipment, and numbers.

As part of budget sequestration cuts, the number of brigades was reduced from 45 to 31. According to the February speech of Gen. Daniel B. Ellin, politicians learned with horror that in the case of an unexpected crisis, the United States will be able to send only... three brigades into battle. No one else matches the slogan "ready to fight tonight" (which the American commanders repeat, including in Poland). Milley openly talks about the fact that the military lacks the solution for strategic tasks. In other words, he says the army is not ready to go to war. The same Heritage Foundation gives the army a 2.

Equipment is in need of Urgent Upgrades

The last large-scale modernization in the US military took place 30 years ago. In the 1980s, the Big Five appeared in the army: the Abrams tank, the Bradley BMP, the Black Hawk multipurpose helicopter, and the Apache assault helicopter, as well as the Patriot anti-aircraft missile system. At that time, this technique was more advanced than that of the Soviets, so America managed to balance the numerical troop advantage of the Warsaw Pact countries (although NATO, in any case, planned to defeat them with nuclear strikes). However, these weapons, which play a key role in ground operations, have not undergone any changes since then. The armored brigade, arriving in Poland, brought with them Abrams tanks and BMP Bradley, which are very similar to those that fought a quarter century ago in the Persian Gulf. The Americans believed in the power of weighing 70 tons of armor, but have already begun to understand that without active protection systems that can shoot down Russian anti-tank missiles, they cannot do anything. They've just started installing cannons and anti-tank rocket launchers on Stryker armored personnel carriers. They will only have the Patriot radar system, which will be able to detect missiles flying from every side, in a few years.

Helicopters will also begin to be updated no earlier than the 2030s, however, already now there are forecasts that the heavy Chinook transport will stay in service for 80 or even 100 years. While it's planned to start production of new modifications of this actively used in the 1960s of the machines, so it will be able to fly another 30 years.

Flying Museum

Helicopter aviation of ground forces, in any case, is in a better position than the Air Force. The Air Force was the first to raise the alarm about outdated equipment. Remember the three "Outs." The aircraft construction process currently lasts much longer than half a century ago (which in a technological progress context may seem surprising) so that pilots have to fly on machines that are two or even three times older than they are. Thanks to CNN and Hollywood, we believe in the almost unlimited possibilities of American combat aircraft. The first alarm was the incidents of the late 20th century when American planes in the Balkans suffered from post-Soviet air defense systems. There it was more likely about tactics than technology, and now the main commanders' problems are the age, technical condition, and number of aircraft.

Superficially, the numbers look strong: almost 550 manned and unmanned aerial vehicles, of which 915 are part of combat squadrons. However, America has only 19 strategic stealth B-2 bombers, which can break through the air defense system of Russia or China. Other bombers include 62 B-1B Lancer aircraft from the Cold War era and 76 B-52 aircraft that were made in the 1950s.

The latter, apparently, will last until the centenary. The average aircraft age in service with the US Air Force is 27 years. For B-52 bomber it’s 55, F-15C — 33, and F-16C — 26 years. Many air tankers and reconnaissance aircraft are based on the archaic Boeing 707. In general, intelligence aviation is able to perform only ... 5% of the tasks set by the command.

In the period from 1994 to 2007, the US Air Force did not buy any new tactical fighters, and the break in the supply of front-line new generation fighters lasted a decade and a half. The F-22 was purchased for a total of 195 (the service consists of 159), although initially, it was about 750 cars. As a result, the cost of one aircraft exceeded $400 million. The legendary F-35 development program was complicated by the need to combine the requirements of aviation, Navy, and the Marine Corps, and then to "pack" them in the design of the stealth aircraft, which imposes its own restrictions.

As a result, the new main fighter-bomber of the US Air Force was not as fast as its predecessor, in addition, it is able to carry fewer weapons, is twice as expensive, and requires high maintenance costs.

The Crisis In The "Best Shooters" Ranks

The staff shortage has become an even more serious problem than obsolete equipment. According to official information, the Air Force even at the current size lacks 1,500 pilots and 3,400 mechanics. Since 2017, a special mechanism of monetary stimulation, designed to attract qualified personnel, began to work. However, the proposals of the civil labor market look more attractive than an increase of several hundred dollars per month. After all, not everyone dreams of becoming the second Pete Mitchell (who, incidentally, served in the Navy). If the number of aircraft, as President Trump wants, is increased to 1,200, who will fly them? The crisis of military pilots’ ranks is already being called a threat to US national security.

However, it is the Air Force that responds most quickly to global crises. Bombers work out actions in the case of global missions: They can deliver their deadly cargo in a few hours on almost any continent. Even more rapid action can be expected from the strategic forces, which are also subject to aviation. 450 Minuteman III intercontinental missiles, which are theoretically always ready to launch from underground mines, are in constant combat readiness--theoretically, because questions arise about their health.

Nuclear Museum

Each media report from nuclear bunkers in Wyoming, North Dakota and Montana is reminiscent of a time machine journey. Ebony handsets, old desks, no digital displays. The missiles themselves are also 40 years old, the launchers have already begun to corrode die to rust. Local legends include stories about screwdrivers, being used to fix something due to a lack of suitable equipment, being lost inside. There have been cases in which personnel drunk and on drugs serviced missiles capable of destroying the world.

This is partly a personnel problem: There are fewer incentives for the younger generation to remain ready to give a nuclear response 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. Millennials do not think about the Third World War, the prospect of which seemed real to their parents. Although it is difficult to say how effective the American nuclear potential may be at the beginning of the 21st century.

In this regard, modernization expects the entire "nuclear triad," which includes land, sea and air components. This is a large-scale project, the cost of which could be a trillion dollars. This year began the first phase of its implementation: The Boeing and Northrop Grumman companies received an order for the creation of prototypes of new strategic missiles, and Lockheed Martin and Raytheon will be engaged in the construction of new cruise missiles.

Does it look like the return of the Cold War? Of course, after all, America has already realized that the arms race is a completely normal phenomenon, especially since they now have to compete not only with the Russians. Modern military technologies spread uncontrollably and most often get to places where Americans don't want to see them. North Korea or China has now become a much bigger problem for the US Armed Forces than Russia, although the Pentagon continues to wonder what will happen if Europe actually breaks out in war.

The United States’ Big Self-Deception

There are more than 30,000 troops of the US army in Europe and the US, according to General Ben Hodges, to fight for 300,000 people, but empty of spells don't work on the battlefield. The force commander, in the event of a conflict with the Chinese or Russians, should be on the front, gathering decommissioned tanks under its wing that need to speed up their modernization. He understands that Abramses need an active protection system, and Stryker armored personnel carriers will be useless without guns. He also knows that Apache helicopters with anti-tank missiles must be in Poland so that they can protect the Suwalki Isthmus. The General will need missile divisions in Europe, but he realizes that Russian missile systems have a large range and firepower.

It was in the European theater of military operations that the three above-mentioned disadvantages of the American forces can be clearly seen (outgunned, outranged, outdated). Americans in the last 20 years fought with people using AK-47s, and the Russians invested in missiles, tanks, helicopters and planes. By their number, they have not yet caught up with NATO and, in particular, the United States, so that they cannot win an all-out war. But in a local clash near the border with Poland or the Baltic States, the advantage will now be on the Russian side.

This is the main danger because no one needs a total war, and everyone will try to avoid it by any means (perhaps at the cost of Donbass). Will the Russian President decide to take advantage of the moment when the US army (while allegedly remaining the strongest in the world) is experiencing a crisis in the field of equipment and combat readiness? It depends more on politicians than on the military.

In the context of the real state of affairs in the US Armed Forces, the reaction of which may be belated and insufficiently convincing, the slogans about NATO's unity and solidarity have acquired a new meaning. Against this background, Poland should look for allies in Europe and, while engaged in modernization, focus not only on its own needs.

In this context, returning to the RAND study, it should be primarily noted that the current nature of competition between the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marine Corps, and US Special Operations Command (USSOCOM) is nothing compared to the more global problem described above in the article.

"The authors evaluate whether the cultures of the services have changed substantively over time and whether the services wield as much influence as they did before the Goldwater-Nichols Department of Defense Reorganization Act of 1986," the research says.

No, they have not changed. Moreover, the Army’s current position is even more deplorable than it was in 1986.

None of the current reasoning or the study will hide the reality of the situation. Especially as we see similar studies appeared with the new National Defense Strategy. Such an update is not really an update. The US army needs a full-scale modernization. And while Congress and the White House are preoccupied with other issues, such as the upcoming 2020 elections or the wall construction on the US-Mexico border, or the Venezuela meddling, the military situation is steadily rolling down.

Author: USA Really