American army is in decline. Poles are worried about security

Author : Marek Świerczyński

Source : polityka

Since the end of the Second World War, the US Armed Forces have never been so weak as they are now. If a conflict erupts in Europe, the Americans will not be able to quickly and effectively protect their allies
19:50, 20 October 2017

Read original article at Polityka

Open source

If I had decided to describe all the problems of all types of US troops, this article would have turned into a multivolume encyclopedia. The spectrum of problems is wide and covers all areas from strategic nuclear weapons to combat equipment of infantrymen.

It's not just about obsolete weapons, which in many areas are inferior to technology that is in service of the main opponents of Americans. First of all, this is a question of the combat readiness and strength of the army, which is called to defend the interests of the only truly global power (and the army with which our hopes for security are linked). Representatives of the armed forces for many years in a row sounded the alarm, but Washington drew attention to the problem much later. And it will take at least a decade to patch holes and regain a confident technological superiority.

Three O’s

Outgunned, outranged, outdated - three of these words thundered in February last year in the Capitol at a meeting of the Committee on Armed Forces of the House of Representatives. It was said by General Daniel Allyn, Deputy Chief of Staff of the US Army. He described the deplorable situation with the training, equipment and manning of units, which appeared in the most numerous kind of the US armed forces. The military once again explained to politicians that the world hegemon remained only in their own dreams. It is inferior to opponents of firepower (outgunned), the range of weapons (outranged) and uses outdated technology (outdated).

Of course, General Allyn expressed the hope that with the new administration there will be chances for change. Donald Trump really made bold statements: he wants to increase the strength of the army, buy new planes, ships and the best weapons that the world's best defense industry can produce. The problem is that there are a lot of people willing to share this pie, and the Pentagon has to extinguish fires in several places at the same time, so it simply does not have time to develop a new large-scale plan. Meanwhile, the technology is in such a state that it threatens the military more than any enemy.

The fleet is sinking itself

In January, the USS Antietam missile cruiser ran aground in the Tokyo Bay. The incident did not pose any particular danger, no one was hurt. However, during routine operations such situations should not occur. No casualties also happened in May, when another American cruiser, USS Lake Champlain, collided with a South Korean fishing vessel. The situation was already more tense: the cruiser was accompanied by the aircraft carrier Carl Vinson, whose task was to deter North Korea from another missile test. If the Seventh US Navy fleet, based in the western Pacific, was to become a key factor in taming Kim Jong-un, it is understandable why this plan failed.

The next two incidents (with destroyers USS Fitzgerald and USS John McCain) killed 17 people and paralyzed the US Navy for some time. The strongest fleet of the world for several weeks as if ceased to exist, and this was the moment when the tension in the world has reached its peak!

Shocked senators in September asked the fleet commanders why so many people died in one year, and four ships were seriously damaged. The answer was disappointing: it's all about outdated technology, inadequate manning of crews and violation of standards for their training. The admirals explained that the sailors had to be in service for a hundred hours a week to ensure the combat capability of the ships. The investigation showed that in the case of the last, most tragic incident, the fault lies also on the captain and the senior officer, both of whom were removed from service.

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

Of course, these cases may turn out to be sporadic, since everything is in order with the rest of the 267 ships. However, the 450-page report of the influential research institute of the Heritage Foundation for 2016 assesses the US Navy conditions as "satisfactory". In general, this is not so bad.

Army is experiencing an unprecedented crisis

Situation with the land forces is even worse than with the fleet. The second, 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.

It should not be forgotten that the US Navy is also naval aviation, the Marine Corps and the famous Navy Seals. In principle, this is a separate army, which has broad capabilities and retains a relatively good shape. The real "army" is in the US ground forces: they were strong during the Cold War, played a decisive role during the invasion of Iraq and proved to be useful in Afghanistan. The last 20 years of "asymmetrical operations" (also known as COIN counter-guerrilla warfare), where the most dangerous weapon of the opponent were a hand-held anti-tank grenade launcher or a car loaded with TNT, had a great influence on the technique of warfare, doctrine and morale. The problems were added by budget cuts, because of which it was necessary to prolong missions, to cut staffs and to liquidate divisions.

At first glance, everything still looks impressive. In the regular ground forces there are 476,000 people, 340,000 more in the National Guard, 200,000 are in reserve. However, as the Chief of Staff of the US Army, General Mark Milley, believes, there should be at least 540,000 people in the active service. Over the past eight years, the ground forces lost almost 90,000 troops, and as the budget was decreasing faster than the numerical strength, for the sake of maintaining combat readiness, modernization had to be abandoned. This task also failed: only one-third of the combat brigade units have sufficient training, equipment and strength.

As part of the cuts related to the sequestration of the budget, the number of brigades was reduced from 45 to 31. From the February speech of General Allyn, politicians were horrified to learn that in the event of an unexpected crisis, the US could only send ... three brigades into battle. Now the words "ready to fight tonight" (which the US commanders repeat, including in Poland) are just a slogan. Mark Milley openly says that the military lacks the strategic tasks to solve. In other words, he declares that he is not ready to go to war.

Military equipment should be replaced urgently

The last major modernization in the US armed forces took place 30 years ago. In the 1980s, the "Big Five" appeared in the ground forces: the Abrams tank, the Bradley IFV, the multi-purpose Black Hawk helicopter and the Apache assault helicopter, as well as the Patriot anti-aircraft missile system. At that time, this technique was more advanced than the Soviet one, so that the Americans managed to balance the numerical advantage of the troops of the Warsaw Pact countries (although NATO in any case planned to win over them with nuclear strikes). However, these weapons, which play a key role in land operations, have not changed since then. Arrived in Poland, the armored brigade brought the tanks Abrams and IFV Bradley, which were very much like those that fought a quarter of a century ago in the Persian Gulf. Americans believed in the strength of 70 tons of armor, but they have already begun to understand that they cannot fight without active defense systems that can knock down Russian anti-tank missiles. They started the installation of guns and anti-tank missile launchers on Stryker armored vehicles only now. The Patriot system radar, which can detect missiles flying from each side, will appear there only in a few years.

Helicopters also would be updated not earlier than the third decade of the 21st century, however, forecasts have already appeared that the heavy transport Chinook will stay in service for 80 or even 100 years. While it is planned to start the production of a new modification of this actively used in the 1960s machine, it means that it will be able to fly for another 30 years.

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Flying Museum

Helicopter aviation of the ground forces is in any case in a better position than the Air Force. The air force was the first to raise alarm about the outdated technology. Nowadays (which in the context of technical progress may seem surprising), the process of developing and adopting a new aircraft lasts much longer than half a century ago, so pilots have to fly on equipment that are two or even three times older than themselves. Thanks to CNN and Hollywood, we believed in the almost unlimited possibilities of American combat aviation, still looking at it in the movie "Best shooter." The first alarm bell was the incidents of the late XX century, when American aircraft in the Balkans suffered from post-Soviet air defense systems. There the problem was, rather, in tactics than in technology, but now the main problems of the commanders are age, technical condition and the number of airplanes.

On paper, as usual, the figures look impressive: almost 5550 manned and unmanned aerial vehicles, of which 915 - are part of combat squadrons. However, talking about B-2 strategic bombers that can break through the air defense system of Russia or China, Americans have only 19. Other bombers are 62 B-1B Lancer cold war planes and 76 B-52 vehicles that were created in the 1950s years.

In the period from 1994 to 2007, the US Air Force did not buy a single new tactical fighter, and the interruption in deliveries of new-generation fighter aircraft lasted fifteen years. From F-22 fighters were bought only 195, although initially it was about 750 vehicles. As a result, the cost of one aircraft exceeded $ 400 million. The legendary program for the development of the F-35 was complicated by the need to combine the requirements of aviation, navy and marines, and then - "pack" them into design of the invisible aircraft.

As a result, the new US Air Force fighter-bomber was not as fast as its predecessor, in addition, it is capable of carrying less weapons, costs twice as much and requires high maintenance costs. However, there is no way back, so we hope that in a real battle the aircraft will be able to show the same excellent results as in the exercises where it surpassed the cars of previous generations.

Crisis in the ranks of "best shooters"

An even more serious problem than the outdated technique is the lack of staff. According to official information, the Air Force, even at the current size, lacks 1,500 pilots and 3,400 mechanics. In the summer, a special mechanism was launched, designed to attract qualified personnel, however, the proposals of the civilian labor market look more attractive than an increase of several hundred dollars a month. After all, not everyone dreams of becoming the second Pete Mitchell (who, by the way, served in the Navy). If the number of planes, as President Trump wants, will be close to 1,200, who will fly them? The crisis in the ranks of military pilots is already called ... a threat to US national security.

However, it is the air forces that react most quickly to world crises. Bombers work out actions in the event of global missions: they will be able to deliver their deadly cargo in a few hours to almost any continent. Even more operative actions can be expected from strategic forces, which are also subject to aviation. 450 Minuteman III intercontinental missiles are in constant combat readiness, which are theoretically always ready for launch from underground mines. Theoretically, since questions about their serviceability arise.

The Nuclear Museum

Each report from nuclear bunkers in Wyoming, North Dakota and Montana resembles a journey in a time machine. Ebonit phone handsets, old work tables, no digital displays. The missiles are also 40 years old. The local legends included stories about lost screwdrivers inside with which, due to the lack of suitable tools, someone tried to fix something. There are cases when personnel who are engaged in servicing missiles capable of destroying the world used alcohol and drugs.

In part, this is a personnel problem: there are much less incentives to keep the readiness to give a nuclear answer 365 days a year. Millenials do not think about a third world war, the prospect of which seemed real to their parents. Although whether the US nuclear potential will prove to be effective at the beginning of the 21st century, it is difficult to say.

In this regard, the entire "nuclear triad", which includes land, sea and air components, expects modernization. This is a large-scale project, the value of which may amount to a trillion dollars. This year, the first phase of its implementation began: Boeing and Northrop Grumman were ordered to create prototypes for new strategic missiles, while Lockheed Martin and Raytheon will design new cruise missiles.

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Does it look like the return of the Cold War? Of course, after all, the Americans have already realized that the arms race is absolutely normal, especially since it is now not only the Russians who are competing with them. Modern military technologies are spreading in an uncontrolled manner and most often fall into places where Americans do not want to see them. North Korea or China have now become much more problematic for the US military than Russia, although the Pentagon continues to wonder what will happen if Europe really breaks out into war.


30 thousand troops of the US ground forces in Europe can, according to General Hodges, fight for 300 thousand people, but on the battlefield, empty spells do not work. The commander of the forces, who, in the event of a conflict with the Russians, should be at the forefront, collects under his wing the tanks that were withdrawn from the armament and demands the acceleration of their modernization. He understands that the Abrams tanks need an active defense system, and Stryker armored vehicles without guns will be useless. He also knows that Apache helicopters with anti-tank missiles should be in Poland so that they can protect the Suwalk Isthmus. The general will need missile battalions in Europe, but he realizes that Russian missile systems have a long range and firepower.

It is in the European theater of operations where we can visually observe the three shortcomings of the American forces mentioned above (outgunned, outranged, outdated). Americans in the past 20 years have fought with people using AK-47 assault rifles, while Russians have invested in missiles, tanks, helicopters and airplanes. By their number, they have not yet competed with NATO and, in particular, the US, so that they will not be able to win a total war. But in the local collision at the border with Poland or the Baltic countries, the preponderance will now be on the Russian side.

This is the main danger, since no one needs a total war, everyone will try to avoid it by any means (perhaps at the cost of Crimea and Donbas). Will Putin decide to take advantage of the moment when the American army (remaining the strongest in the world) is going through 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, which reaction may be belated and not convincing enough, the slogans about unity and solidarity of NATO that have become nagging, acquire a new sound. Against this background, Poland should seek allies in Europe and, while doing modernization, should focus not only on its own needs.

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