To understand this post, read this article about a possible future for the Army by the Army’s chief futurist in uniform.
So Solomon read the above link and went off on a tangent about American Mercenary (who must be living rent free in Sol’s head for months now) and focuses only on the “outnumbered” part. The Army always shrinks after a war, it is the history of the military. The shrinking allows the military to cut fat, retire out broken and worn out equipment, and focus on being the professional core of the next expansion that will take place when Congress wants a short, tidy war someplace.
But Solomon focused on the numbers. That’s a dumb thing to focus on, because all throughout the Cold War the US Army was ALWAYS outnumbered. Being outnumbered isn’t new on the grand geo-political scale for the US Army. The part that should have gotten people’s attention was the “outgunned” part.
Decades ago the Soviets had many, many more artillery tubes than the US Army. But the Soviets used standard artillery shells and the US Army had artillery shells capable of using submunitions so even though the Soviets had a quantitative advantage the US had a “qualitative” advantage in effects. Since the SecDef decided that the DOD would comply with the international ban on submunitions, now the Russians have artillery that fires submunitions and the US Army doesn’t. Not only do the Russians now have more artillery pieces, but they also have qualitatively better rounds to fire through them because of a political decision made in Washington, far away from the slaughterhouse that was east Ukraine.
The Soviets have always had more main battle tanks than the US Army, but the US Army always had better tanks than the bulk of the Soviet Forces. With the modernization of the T-72B3 ongoing, and the new Russian armor push, the advantage of the Abrams is being erased, and possibly edged out as the Russians get better targeting systems and push their 125mm cannon to the limits. Of course even though they had more tanks, we had the depleted uranium Armor Piercing Fin Stabilized Discarding Sabot (APFSDS) round which could defeat all known Soviet Armor. Since then the contest between protection and firepower has continued, and the US Army is now on its fifth generation of the APFSDS round.
In the Gulf War the Bradley Fighting Vehicle proved to be fully capable of taking on the T-72 “Monkey Models” that the Soviet Union had sold to Iraq. None of those tanks had active protection systems the way that modern Russian armor systems have. An anti-armor missile is fully dependent on its ability to reach the target, and not be blown out of the sky, jammed, or fooled into missing. The TOW 2 missile family is still fully capable of killing tanks, as is the javelin, but it remains publically untested against Russian modern explosive reactive armor and active defense systems.
So the numbers don’t concern me. The 980,000 Soldiers in the Active, Reserve, and National Guard are not the problem. It is easy to expand the size of the service if needed for a long war (which the Army and USMC did for the war on terror quite well). What is concerning is that expanding the Army rapidly will mean Soldiers fresh out of training falling in on systems that are at best “on par” with the latest Russian gear. And in a traditional peer on peer war, quantity has a quality all its own.
The problem becomes that there is no interest in Congress to spend the money developing a successor to the Abrams (Congress has in fact dictated that the US Army purchase more Abrams every year just to keep the line going) and industry hasn’t been able to make a replacement for the Bradley Fighting Vehicle that make sense (the BFV was a huge upgrade in combat power from the M113 and we want the BFV replacement to have about the same level of performance jump in lethality on the battlefield).
The Stryker Brigades are not uniform across the force, some with the latest Double V Hull variants, and some with first generation flat bottomed variants. The “strategic mobility” requirement of being transported 1,000 miles in a C-130 stopped making sense once you looked at the “Anti-Access/Area Denial” systems that are proliferating across the world. The 30mm Stryker variant may be obsolete before it is ever fielded, but the gun can be upgraded to 35, 40, or 50mm quite easily as ATK has shown.
So what LTG McMaster is saying is that these systems, if neither highly upgraded nor replaced, will become second string. Right now the Germans and French are working on a new main battle tank. The Poles are working on new Armored Fighting Vehicles. These things do not need to happen in a vacuum, especially since the Brits need a future replacement for the Challenger 2 tanks.
But, there still exist upgrade paths for the Abrams, Bradleys, and Strykers to keep them relevant right now. So pursuing the low cost protection and capabilities upgrades now makes financial sense because should bad things happen, you go to war with the Army you have, not the Army you want. Artillery systems need to be upgraded, and while I’m a fan of the PaladinA7s, the Pzh2000 system is better for providing effects on the battlefield. Selling off some Paladins to our allies that are trying to get to NATO standard and buying a replacement would be very good.
Whenever we are talking China and Russia, the US Army will always be outnumbered. Always. And right now the US Army is outgunned in Artillery, Air Defense, Cyber and Electronic Warfare. The Army isn’t currently outgunned in tanks and fighting vehicles. But, if the US Army doesn’t get the funds to modernize, then Tanks and Fighting Vehicles will join the ranks of Artillery, Air Defense, Cyber and Electronic Warfare as things that we need to do well to succeed, but don’t have the top of the line tools in the inventory.