The Daily Beast reports that a series of classified war gaming exercises ran by the Defense Department have clearly shown that the U.S. is ill-prepared for a sustained military engagement with Russia. Such a situation is not that hard to believe as our forces have been mired in counter-terror and counter-insurgency fighting for well over a decade and procurement and modernization of our military has been handled in a almost comically bad way over the same period of time.
The exercises in question touched on a number of well-known issues. These include a lack of precision guided munitions and the Army’s inability to sustain large troop presences overseas for long periods of time. It is not a secret that operations in Iraq and Afghanistan have greatly eroded our ground combat capabilities and seeing as NATO was running thin on precision guided munitions during the comparatively limited Libyan campaign, the lack of deep stocks to take on an opponent like Russia is not surprising at all.
Even America’s airpower footprint is a shadow of the size it was just ten years ago, with many aircraft being retired and many of the ones that were not are in need of updates and structural modifications to keep them combat relevant. These comparatively inexpensive upgrades have been sidelined as funds have been pushed into the struggling F-35 program.
Meanwhile, others within the defense apparatus, some of which talked to the Daily Beast for the article, don’t see things as that bleak as others do as Russia also has its own military capability gaps and struggles, including aging hardware and questionable logistical capabilities. But Russia would largely be fighting along its own border areas and could open up fronts in multiple places, which would make it almost impossible for the U.S. and NATO to sustain a fight against them. Also, Russia’s use of Hybrid Warfare could greatly complicate certain hot points in comparison to fighting a traditional war against a foe with a regular military doctrine.
Gen. Ray Odierno, the famed retiring Four Star Army General, said:
“One of the things we learned is the logistical challenges we have in Eastern Europe. For example, Eastern Europe has a different gauge railroad than Western Europe does so moving supplies is a more difficult. So we are learning great lessons like that.”
That is a pretty stupid lesson to learn considering the U.S. has been operating in Europe for 75 years. Odierno has also stated that only 33 percent of our Army’s fighting brigades are ready to engage Russia, with 60 percent being seen as the minimal number needed to successfully do so. What’s worse is that the Army will only hopefully reach that readiness number right before the end of the decade.
Then there’s the troop number metrics alone. During the Cold War 250,000 U.S. troops were garrisoned in Europe; today there are 31,000. This is a similar number to what America has in South Korea today. Obviously Russia is a much larger peer state threat than crumbling and isolated North Korea. The heavy commitment to South Korea alone, which is a wealthy country with its own powerful military, will have rationalized if our military continues to shrink.
Some will say that the leaked results of these “table-top war games” (where no actual weapons are fired but decision are made based force sizes, capabilities and each players moves) are just another ploy to get more dollars for the military, and that very well may be true, but that does not mean these war games results are inaccurate. The truth of the matter is that it is pretty sad that America can spend $600 billion a year on defense and it still cannot be certain of vanquishing Russia during a conventional conflict.
Although this report largely looks at the external threats that we cannot face with certainty, the bigger threat resides internally, in how our leadership in Washington and at the Pentagon chooses to spend the largest defense budget in the world.
There is no doubt that poor foreign policy decisions — namely two long wars — horrendously poor procurement strategies, short-sighted leadership, and an unaffordable force structure with questionable priorities has degraded our ability to win against a serious threat. Until those factors are addressed, expect things to get worse when it comes to our abilities to fight a serious foe with any sort of certainty of success.
Photos via AP
Contact the author at Tyler@jalopnik.com.