Outnumbered, in danger of being outgunned…

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.

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3 Responses to Outnumbered, in danger of being outgunned…

  1. B says:

    I used to read American merc. Wonder where he went? Kinda miss that blog. He sure was good at poking the tiger that is Solomon. Funny, he did it so well that seems he’s forever stuck in sol head too. As for mil upgrades, unless something changes dramatically, the next president won’t give two craps about that. Unless of course you are talking about using the army to build a wall, a huge wall, a nice wall on Mexico border or confiscating wealth and breaking up the banks 😛


  2. Veritas says:

    I have the feeling the author was Col. Custer in a past life. He seems to love the prospect of being outnumbered. Never met a real soldier who expressed this rather odd view, though I hear it in faculty lounges all the time.


    • rthtgnbs says:

      I think you are reading tone into the article where none was intended. Being outnumbered in peacetime isn’t a problem IF you mitigate that by having an effective alliance (NATO vs. Warsaw Pact) AND you have a qualitative advantage system per system (Leopard 2, Challenger 2, Abrams M1A2 SEPV3 versus T-72, T-80, T-90 for example) AND you don’t plan on attacking eastward, but will use the power of the defense to attrit the attacking forces as they plow westward. Having a large standing Army is really only necessary if you are planning to conduct offensive or expeditionary warfare against someone else. Otherwise focusing on defense will allow you to still be a “hard target” for external agression up until the point the aggressor can mass 3:1 against you at some point. Which gets away from the “size” equation and more to the “where” considerations of military operations.

      The point is that being smaller isn’t a huge problem to achieving national security goals IF you put that military force in the correct context. The Chinese government decided in the 1980s to drastically cut the SIZE of their military to focus on an intense modernization program for training and equipping those forces. By doing that very deliberate cut (drastic cut by the way) they were able to form a much stronger core and build back up from there to become the highly credible military force they are today. In essence they sacrificed the QUANTITY of their military forces to focus on the QUALITY of the core, and build out from there. It works, especially when the cost of maintaining a LARGE LEGACY force is preventing you from building the next generation force.

      I hope that explains some of the calculus. In a fight, I want every advantage that I can get which is why I think the ban on submunitions is patently absurd given the reality of east Ukraine.


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