Is the U.S. Army In Decline?

Dan Goure

Key point: A new era of warfare calls for new capabilities.

The U.S. Army once was superior to every potential adversary in terms of combat power, what it called overmatch. This is no longer entirely true. In the future battlefields, the Army will face enemies that will be extremely lethal, more numerous, fighting on home turf and able to exploit the advantage of getting in the first blow. Unless the Army takes a number of steps in the near-term, it is likely to find itself not merely outmatched, but at risk of defeat.

In its most recent conflicts the Army benefitted from a number of advantages that are unlikely to be available in the future, certainly in other regions of the world.  It had a secure logistical base largely free from interdiction. It could count on total air dominance. It didn’t have to face any long-range fires. While adversaries in Iraq and Afghanistan made excellent use of improvised explosive devices (IEDs), the only anti-armor threats came from rocket-propelled grenades. Finally, the Army possessed the luxury of unimpeded communications.

Few, if any, of these advantages are likely to hold true in future conflicts, certainly none involving regional powers or so-called near peer adversaries. In Europe, Asia and even portions of the Middle East, the U.S. military will have to fight for air superiority. Even where adversaries have not deployed integrated air defenses, Army maneuver forces, bases and lines of communications are likely to be subject to massed rocket and missile attacks. Brigade combat teams will face an array of lethal threats ranging from sophisticated IEDs to advanced, tandem-warhead anti-tank guided missiles, precision guided artillery projectiles, long-range guns, armed drones and air-delivered weapons.

The Russian Army, for example, has demonstrated an impressive array of new capabilities in its operations in the Ukraine and Syria including the coordinated use of drones with massed artillery and rocket batteries, advanced area munitions and thermobaric warheads, extremely lethal and sophisticated anti-tank guided missiles and the use of electronic warfare to black out military communications. It has shown an impressive capability to rapidly mobilize and deploy significant combined arms forces. In Eastern Europe, the Russian Army also will be operating close to its supply centers and under the protection of an integrated air defense network.

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