Taunting the Bear: A Misapplication of American Military Power

|By Maj. Joe Labarbera, Lima Charlie News

The military forces of the United States absolutely must be the pre-eminent force in the world. This is demonstrated by a myriad of operational factors that clearly express U.S. superiority, such as technology, size, quality, leadership, logistical reach, and sound strategy. This is not, however, demonstrated by conducting provocative coalition exercises that, in fact, show just how anemic U.S. formations actually are in comparison to those forces it seeks to intimidate.

NATO launches Operation Anakonda-16

On Tuesday, June 7th, NATO launched Operation Anakonda-16, the largest military exercise since the end of the Cold War. Anakonda-16 consists of a coalition of 24 NATO and partner countries, and is the “largest training event in the modern history of Poland.” It is currently winding its way through Poland with the stated goal of “seek[ing] to train and integrate Polish national command and force structures into an allied, joint multinational environment”. This exercise, to last from 07-17 June, features 14,000 U.S. troops, 31,000 soldiers, 3000 vehicles, 12 ships and 105 aircraft. It launched with great fanfare, and an even greater cost.

The last 8 years have seen U.S. combat forces shrink and experienced, mid-level leadership cashiered. Adding to this has been the deliberate undermining of unit discipline and cohesion via Congressionally-initiated, politically motivated threats to the Chain of Command’s control over the Uniform Code of Military Justice. Under duress from socio-political shenanigans, the Department of Defense has, to continue the unsurpassed combat power projection America has enjoyed, shrunk the scope of what America can actually deploy into a combat theater. In short, American military power can, at best, deploy a Divisions’ worth of ad hoc fighting troops with air and missile defense cover. Much like the U.S. led campaigns in Afghanistan, these troops serve in a force protection role, at the mercy of foreign tolerance of our logistical lines of communication.

The Military and Naval forces of the United States are in need of major reform, and effete demonstrations in the face of a growing superpower will not bring us any closer to achieving this. That is the unavoidable truth.

With only 35 combat brigades in the Army operating at a quarter strength in terms of deployment readiness, an Air Force that is dependent on civilian contractors, and a Navy burdened with a crippling leadership crisis, America is now pursuing a course dependent upon large coalitions of small nations to support our combat power projection. In reality, the American Army weights its resources and trust on a few hand-picked “pet” units to maintain a state of wartime readiness.

Half of the 82nd Airborne and a third of the 1st Cavalry Division are not the only answer to the Army’s combat power.

The American National Security complex deems Russia our greatest threat. For the Obama Administration, global warming is the enemy, while the media continues to obsess over ISIS. In Eastern Europe, the Ukraine and the Baltic Sea, America patrols and collaborates with every entity imaginable in an attempt to intimidate Russia through containment. Russia, meanwhile, projects combat power only to defeat internal threats and exert hegemony over its historic neighbors and enemies.

Russian troops marchingThe potential of a nuclear war with Russia is unthinkable, a reality only in the event of an all-out armed conflict. So planning for a conventional war with Russia seems bizarre, even stupid. Nevertheless, wrought with the military’s deficiencies, the Defense Industrial Complex is more bloated and robust than ever. The Military and Naval forces of the United States are in need of major reform, and effete demonstrations in the face of a growing superpower will not bring us any closer to achieving this. That is the unavoidable truth.

It is possible that America, and the rest of the West, relished the thought of a debilitated and poverty-stricken Russia after the collapse of the Soviet Union. Large scale capitalists like George Soros aggressively made inroads into dominating the post-Soviet Economy. The IMF and World Bank sought dominance over Russia under the guise of financial assistance. Yet a populist and nationalist reaction, led by Vladimir Putin occurred, expelling American-led economic power to the chagrin of the Western world. Does Russia have the audacity to function—even prosper—without its currency being controlled and its banks indebted to the IMF or World Bank? This presents a problem for the established order in the West, led by Neo Conservatives and faux leftists. If Russia has the gall to prosper using its own natural resources and industry, and hence is able to sustain its own military and navy without interdependence, the West’s thinkers interpret this as destabilizing to the rest of the world.

American National Security Strategies consistently blame the wars of the 20th Century on a lack of interdependence. This, in turn, perpetuates the belief that a large superpower, beholden to no one for its prosperity, is a threat. We then arrive at the current approach America and its Western comrades take toward Russia.

Anakonda16Even if the current hypothesis of Russia is valid – an independent superpower posing a threat to world stability – the approach of conducting paltry military demonstrations under the assumption a coalition of Eastern European nations will intimidate Russia is nonsensical. First of all, the idea of a conventional war in Eastern Europe where tactical nuclear weapons would, undoubtedly, be used, negates the reality of conventional forces being decisive on a contaminated battlefield. Therefore, a limited war, where Russia and an America-led coalition parlay attacks within non-nuclear-contaminated areas inside Eastern Europe would be the result. This would wreck Europe’s economy and environment for a lifetime, and possibly lead to a decade-long war that would further plunge America into unsustainable currency-based debt. This, in turn, would lead to even more interventions around the world, further redefining America’s very existence along lines of constant war.

The winner in this scenario would obviously be Russia, which would use this conflict as justification to seize all the resources it wants, and then trade with other nations hostile to the West to expand its own economy. This would be accomplished, all while teething its 2008 reformed Army on American and Eastern European forces. The loser would be America and the West, who would be paying the butcher’s bill in blood and treasure to thwart a hypothesis of instability that they themselves reaped.

America could, perhaps, swing a victory if it were able to provide unparalleled tactical supremacy and eliminate Russia’s ability to maneuver anywhere in Eastern Europe. This would be a valid assumption in the pre-Obama Department of Defense, where America maintained a much more disciplined and well-trained ground force. However, as it stands today, the U.S. Military is strife with issues that would make such a campaign, requiring a level of disciplined endurance and combat losses, largely unsuccessful. The casualty rates in a war with Russia over Eastern Europe would dwarf those experienced by the American Army in Iraq, where some Brigades lost as many as 90 Soldiers killed and over 200 wounded. This was enough to require two years of retraining and reconstitution, based on the American Army’s attitude toward casualties.

There is no doubt that Russia fully understands this. It observes American military and naval demonstrations as learning opportunities which only make their military stronger.

The approach of conducting paltry military demonstrations under the assumption a coalition of Eastern European nations will intimidate Russia is nonsensical

The 2008 Serdyukov reforms of the Russian Army ended the 20th Century mentality of a massively mobilized horde of conscripts. These changes reshaped the Russian Army into an idealized version of what the American Army aims to be. First of all, the Russian Army has become much more streamlined in terms of mission command than its Soviet predecessor. It may even exercise mission command more effectively than the American Army. In the Russian Army, their 40 maneuver brigades, combined with dozens of Artillery, Air Defense, and Logistical brigades, answer directly to an Army Headquarters which answers to the Military District Headquarters it belongs too. While this has more moving elements under a single command than an American force would have, it inspires decentralization, and ensures a quicker decision-making time from the strategic level to the tactical one.

From my combat experience, I can speak to the fact that an American military force is far more complex. It’s ad hoc, a “Joint Task Force,” of many different elements of Air Force, Navy and Army which have likely never worked together and form under a full-time headquarters that assumes control only on operations. Each element of a Joint Task Force has to answer, administratively, to its parent headquarters and, operationally, to its assigned headquarters, creating two separate masters.

What the U.S. military actually wields is cutting-edge technology based on space and air capability, and about a third of each of its 10 divisions (one Brigade) are kept deployment-ready, based on a rotational cycle of training, refit, and deployment. There are massive formations of National Guard and Reserve, but these are ad hoc in nature. Of these forces, the percentage that is actually combat-ready and deployable is miniscule.

To be fair, the Russian Army may have its own internal issues as well. Yet in this future fantasy war they would be fighting in their own backyard, dependent upon no other country for support. American forces would be far from home, dependent upon a complex myriad of host nations’ support to keep their ground and air lines of communication functional.

Assessing all of the above leaves us with an unsettling conclusion: a future limited war over Eastern Europe would be fought with American forces in their current state of readiness—which are largely off balance. Costly exercises on Russia’s doorstep only serve to make this all the more apparent.

Joseph Labarbera, Lima Charlie News

Joseph Labarbera (USMC, U.S. Army) served as Command Inspector General at Ft. Irwin, California. Joe served 54 months combined OEF/OIF, with 46 months of combat in the Army’s 10th Mountain Division throughout Afghanistan and Iraq.

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