Mark Collins – Can the US Cope With a Big War Against a Major Power? Part 2

Further to this post last year (note links at end), here’s more along similar lines. Although the critique comes from Republican congressional staffers under a Democratic president, the critique is refreshingly non-partisan–which would certainly not be the case in Canada:

A “Readiness Crisis”: Would America Lose a War to Russia or China?
Dave Majumdar

The United States military is at a crisis point in terms of readiness against high-end threats such as Russia or China—at least that’s the view of the House and Senate Armed Services Committee majority staffs. While part of the cause stems from the counter-insurgency wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, much of the blame can be attributed to a moribund acquisition system that chokes the life out of innovation.

“We’re in a dramatic crisis now. There is no question that we’re capable against the threats on the counter-terrorism side, but we’ve reached a point where we’re in fact—not heading towards—but we’re already hollow against a high-end threat,” said House Armed Services Committee majority staff director Bob Simmons speaking before an audience at the  American Enterprise Institute (AEI) on June 21. “We lack the capacity and capability that we need to effectively deter on the high-end.”

The problem manifests itself in many ways—and it spans across the Pentagon’s entire range of capabilities in the air, on land, at sea and in space. One immediate example is U.S. Marine Corps aviation—where the service does not have enough trained maintainers to fix their aircraft. Out of a total of 271 Marine Corps strike aircraft, only about 64 are flyable at any given time, Simmons noted. The Air Force—meanwhile—is not doing much better with only 43 percent of its aircraft being full mission capable.

Because of the aircraft shortage, the Marine Corps’ naval aviators who fly those warplanes are getting far fewer hours in the air than their Russian and Chinese counterparts. These days, Marine pilots are flying only four to six hours per month instead of the twenty to thirty per month they once used to—that creates permanent experience gaps. “To put it bluntly, we fly about as much as the North Korean pilots do and about three times less than Chinese pilots do today,” Simmons said.

Meanwhile, the aircraft themselves—except for the handful of Lockheed Martin F-22 Raptors, F-35 Joint Strike Fighters and Northrop Grumman B-2 Spirits—are not able to penetrate into the teeth of enemy air defenses. Be it the Fairchild Republic A-10, Boeing F-15, Lockheed Martin F-16 or the Boeing F/A-18 Hornet, none of those warplanes can survive against the current generation of Russian and Chinese high-end air defense systems

Fundamentally, the House and the Senate are trying to reform the Pentagon’s procurement system so that new technologies are developed and fielded faster…

As a solution, both Simmons and [Chris] Brose [Senate Armed Services Committee majority staff director] advocated for an incremental, decentralized approach to acquisitions. Instead of building an all-powerful Death Star—or perhaps F-35—that is massively expensive and might take decades to bring to fruition, development should be completed in smaller incremental chunks that could be fielded much faster, Simmons said. That would also allow the Defense Department to take more risks—which would spur innovation…

Dave Majumdar is the defense editor for the National Interest. You can follow him on Twitter: @davemajumdar.

One particular aspect:

Making the Case For the Eagle’s Carriers vs the Dragon: NOT

Mark Collins, a prolific Ottawa blogger, is a Fellow at the Canadian Global Affairs Institute; he tweets @Mark3Ds

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2 thoughts on “Mark Collins – Can the US Cope With a Big War Against a Major Power? Part 2”

  1. A friend knowledgeable about military matters and international affairs adds:

    “The question can also be put in the opposite sense– could the US Win a Small War Against a Major Power? (Assuming that the Axis is quiescent, the Major Power category has two members, Russia and China.)

    The risk is that in a skirmish in the South China Sea, China’s combination of anti-ship missiles, submarines and anti-carrier ballistic missiles might sink a carrier. In Asia, the American loss of prestige would be enormous and, in a political sense, an extended war might not turn that around. Sort of like the enduring historical Japanese victory of 1941-42 when they smashed western imperialism in Asia.

    In the Russian case, NATO complicates it a bit but a significant slap at a western-leaning neutral, such as Sweden or Finland, might have similar effects. Most NATO southern countries would probably veto any serious military action in support of a northerly non-member state. Russia might have succeeded in undermining the alliance, one of its principal strategic goals.

    The risk is not insignificant since both the Russian and Chinese leadership seem to perceive Obama as weak, the Congress as ineffectual and divided, and the US as usually being in governance and fiscal crisis of one sort or another. If Trump seems to be pulling ahead, he might be perceived as dangerously unpredictable (as Kissinger and Nixon used to hint about that president) so Obama might be the better patsy right now.

    I’m not a technological determinist but it may be that the challengers have some military capabilities which could embarrass the US very badly. China has the missiles referred to above, plus anti-satellite weapons and modern Russian SAMs. Russia has the SAMs and in a ground fight their ability to hold off the US/NATO aircraft and protect Russia’s artillery could be decisive. In Ukraine, Russia’s thermobaric artillery shells apparently proved utterly devastating.”

    Lovely world, what?

    Mark Collins

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