As the annual conference of the United States Army Association (AUSA) gathers pace in the nation’s capital, the years-long Pacific “hub” looms in the background, catching the eyes of army leaders and the focal point of army technology. Dan Goure of the Lexington Institute, however, argues in the comment below that the first US ground forces cannot look away from the bullet – or the bear – in Europe. (Follow Breaking Defense AUSA 2021 coverage here.)
It has become almost an article of the Defense Department’s faith that China is quickly becoming the most serious threat to the United States. The combination of China’s economic strength, investments in advanced technology, large-scale military build-up and the ability to operate in the so-called “gray zone” of conflict Raise concerns to the Pentagon regarding the ability of US and allied forces in the region to deter Chinese aggression both in the short and long term.
Some defense officials have even voiced the opinion that the balance of military forces in the Western Pacific has already shifted to such an extent that the United States could lose to China in a future dispute over Taiwan.
But such myopia for the Pacific too often neglects, at America’s peril, Russia and its growing land forces. Arguably, the threat posed by the former Cold War enemy is both more immediate and more stressful than that of China and should be a higher priority for the United States’ ground combat forces in the United States. army.
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A number of studies and wargames support the argument that Russia could lead a swift invasion of the Baltic states while using its area anti-access / denial (A2 / AD) capabilities to disrupt NATO responses. Russia has demonstrated its ability to rapidly concentrate significant ground combat forces on its western borders. Moscow recently announcement that he was creating new ground combat forces in his western military district which borders NATO’s eastern border.
As the modernization of the Army focuses on forces and weapon systems with the Pacific theater in mind, it cannot forget to ensure that the forces in Europe are in sufficient quantity and quality to deter any Russian design on the mainland.
Chinese alarm should not stifle investments in ground forces
China and Russia have invested heavily in a range of A2 / AD capabilities designed to counter existing US and Allied capabilities and dominate future battlefields. In response to the growing security challenge posed by potential adversaries, particularly China, the 2018 National Defense Strategy proposed to create a more lethal force with an emphasis on investments in space, cyber, C4ISR, precision strikes, unmanned systems and agile platforms.
Each of the services proposed new concepts of operations which emphasize the concentration of effects, the distribution of forces, mobility, sensor-shooter connectivity in all areas of conflict.
No less a figure that the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Mark Milley, has proposed skewing future defense budgets in favor of heavy spending on maritime, air and space platforms.
“So listen, I’m an army guy. And I love the military … but the fundamental defense of the United States and the ability to project power forward [are] is going to be naval, air and space power, ”he said.
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This statement is of particular concern when taken against the background of stable or shrinking defense budgets. He suggests that the military as a whole, and ground combat capabilities in particular, will be the primary payers for investments in ships, planes, satellites and missiles.
This view puts the Army in a difficult position and has prompted Army leaders to step into the “me too” game, developing capabilities outside of its traditional role.
Recent statements touted the Army’s ability to function as the Marine Corps as a “replacement” force within the adversary’s A2 / AD ring, employing small mobile forces equipped with long-range precision fire. range, advanced intelligence systems, information operations capabilities, cyber, electronic warfare and space assets.
Army Concept Papers highlighted the potential role of the Army’s new long-range gunnery systems as a key means to defeat Chinese A2 / AD capabilities and endanger the Liberation Army and Navy. people. The military said it was looking for ways to equip its new missiles and long-range artillery with anti-ship capability.
Army chiefs also weighed the pros and cons of prioritizing investments in forces and technology in favor of the Indo-Pacific theater over Europe. In a document prepared for the new Army Chief of Staff, General James McConville, he was offers this “[i]Instead of focusing on commissioning a fully modernized force to [U.S. European Command], an alternative may be to deter Russia with a minimum of current conventional forces and allow the military to shift the strategic focus of modernization efforts towards [U.S. Indo-Pacific Command]. “
Although General McConville did not explicitly endorse this view, his recent article by Chief of Staff No. 1, Army Multi-Domain Transformation, places a strong emphasis on the role of the military in theater. indo-pacific. [PDF].
Some systems will work in both arenas, but not enough to counter Russia
It is easy to see how the military might be made to think that it should focus on forces and weapon systems particularly suited to the Indo-Pacific theater and, as a result, underestimate the modernized capabilities that would strengthen the American ground combat posture in Europe. It would be a mistake. As General McConville noted [PDF] in a recent discussion at the Brookings Institution, “the heart of the military is combat on the ground.” This is particularly the case in Europe.
It is true that some of the systems developed as part of the current Army modernization effort will be applicable both in the Indo-Pacific and in Europe. These include long range marksmanship systems such as extended range cannon artillery, precision strike missile, future attack reconnaissance aircraft, future long range assault aircraft, mobile air and anti-missile defense; and hypersonic missiles.
However, these capabilities will not be sufficient to counter Russian investments in conventional land power or deprive Moscow of the ability to quickly seize and hold territory in Eastern Europe.
To counteract Moscow’s movements, the military must ensure that its future budgets maintain adequate investments in enhanced capabilities for sustained ground combat. These would include the optional combat vehicle, a replacement for the Bradley Infantry Fighting Vehicle, and one of the Army’s 31 + 4 modernization priorities. Another is the latest upgrade to the Abrams Main Battle Tank, the SEPV3 variant. A third is the multipurpose armored vehicle, which would replace the obsolete M-113.
A new capability that would certainly be useful to the military in a European scenario is a 155mm mobile howitzer. Army is considering multiple non-scalable platforms to replace towed 155mm M777 howitzers in the Stryker brigades. Truck-mounted 155mm howitzers are said to be more nimble, stronger and more responsive than the existing towed system. They have a “shoot and shoot” ability that can improve survivability against Russia’s demonstrated ability to detect and strike opposing artillery units.
Strengthening NATO’s defense also requires the deployment of more US ground combat units forward, to the Baltic States and Poland. The concept of reinforcing armed forces, based as close as possible to the threat, is even more relevant in Europe than in the Indo-Pacific.
Like Robert C. O’Brien, President Trump’s former national security adviser, wrote in a recent editorial, “The Biden administration could make its own show of solidarity with Poland and the Baltic states by announcing an increased US presence in the region. The stationing of an armored combat brigade in Poland would ideally complement existing alliance forces in the country.
The last administration did a lot to improve the disposition of US forces in Europe, shifting significant combat capabilities east. More should be done.
Dr. Daniel Goure is Senior Vice President of the Lexington Institute, a public policy research organization in Northern Virginia. Dr Goure served in the Office of the Secretary of Defense from 1991 to 1993 as Director of the Office of Strategic Competitiveness.