Saturday, May 30, 2015

Keeping Up With the Jones

This is just a quick observation about the trends in combat capability of the U.S. versus the rest of the world.  We’ve repeatedly alluded to the fact that the rest of the world seems to be engaged in an armored combat arms race.  Hardly a week goes by without reading about some country developing a new, heavy tank or infantry fighting vehicle.  China, Russia, and others are bulking up for high end combat.  What is the U.S. doing?

Breaking Defense website (1) reports that, according to Army Chief of Staff Ray Odierno, the Army’s planned acquisitions over the next few years include four new combat vehicles:  a parachute-droppable light truck for Airborne soldiers, a scout car, a light tank, and a new infantry fighting vehicle. 

Notice anything interesting about the acquisitions compared to, say, Russia’s new heavy tank and fighting vehicle family?  That’s right, everything we’re buying is geared at the low end of combat operations.  In fact, they’re barely low end – they’re almost peacetime, patrol, crisis management type operations and vehicles.

Hey, isn’t this a navy website?  Why are we talking about the Army?

Well, this news bit illustrates that the entire military is headed down a lighter, lower end force path and the Navy is certainly doing its part to move in that direction.  While the rest of the world is buying “frigates” that encompass cruiser or destroyer-like capabilities, we’re buying LCSs that barely qualify as corvettes.  China is churning out new and impressive surface combatants at an amazing rate while we’re continuing to recycle the Burke design and shoehorn in capabilities that it is not optimized to handle.

The Navy really needs to start thinking about a high end surface combatant that has heavy hitting power, an Intermediate Range Ballistic Missile, very long range supersonic cruise missiles, combat MCM capability, a seriously capable air superiority fighter for the Pacific (China) theatre, etc.  You all know the list as well as I do since we’ve discussed it repeatedly.

We must look at the combat capability trends by other countries and ask ourselves how we’ll fare against them when the inevitable combat occurs.  This is a short and simple post but it is necessary that we constantly remind ourselves about what our enemies are doing and what we’re doing.


  1. To be fair to big Army, as a tanker, I would say that the Abrams is very capable weapons system, and they are pursuing a variety of modernization programs (upgraded ammunition, optics, RWS, etc) to keep it relevant against peer competitors. My concern is more about the overall reduction in the size of the heavy force, with the Army making cuts both in Active Duty (CONUS and, especially, Europe) as well as the National Guard, removing/converting at least 6 Armored Brigade Combat Teams in the last 3 years alone. One lesson from Iraq and Afghanistan that is probably even more applicable to conventional warfare is that while heavy forces can leave behind their vehicles and fight "light" if necessary, the reverse is definitely NOT true.

    Part of the explanation for the whole colossal MRAP CF was that there were not enough heavy forces (and in OEF the Army made a choice not to deploy them, even where they would have been suitable) and, when light infantry units filling that mission ended up fighting "mounted" in soft-skinned and poorly uparmored HMMWVs, the resulting casualties made it politically necessary to "do something," with the usual results (some short-term relief, lots of long-term problems).

    All of the those vehicles the Army is buying can be useful, and it would be absurd to, say, issue MRAPs to the 82nd, but I agree that if they're deployed in any kind of serious fight against Russia, their lifetime after enemy contact is made could be measured in minutes.

    1. Excellent comment and observations. Thanks for chiming in. I'm not a laind combat expert and it's always good to hear from those who are more familiar with the subject.

  2. I honestly think its going to take a bloody nose, hopefully without literal blood, to get the Navy to change its course. Something embarrasing like an LCS being wholly unable to cope with the new 'islands' the Chinese are building and defending.

  3. The key matter is that other nations have made relative gains. They are developing capability and in some areas even exceeding the US, while the US seems to be more ... well stagnant.

    Unlike the above, I do not see the M1 as a good platform.

    My big worry with the M1 as a platform is the massive fuel consumption - gas turbines by nature suck up fuel and even in Iraq, keeping units supplied is difficult. How will this work in a conventional war? It is also very maintenance intensive for a tank.

    I do agree that airborne forces would be very vulnerable if dropped though with limited support.

    1. You've identified the problem. Other countries are gearing up for high end, heavy combat and we're gearing down for low end, light infantry, crisis response, hostage rescue, HA/DR, etc.

  4. I think it’s a function of some very hard strategic thinking that has been forced on various nations due to funding issues.

    Older platforms cost more in maintenance and in running costs. Being forced to accept less hulls has provoked the need for higher capability and a more 'joined up thinking' about how various classes in a fleet operate as a whole, and individually.

    The global recession has in some respect sharpened focus and forced tough decisions.

    I continue to hope the “LCS Frigate” happens early and is refined to produce something near an acceptable ASW light ( or fast ) frigate.

    Considerable challenges exist to that though. And acceptance of the financial \ tactical realities could be a good start.



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