Other ways around in the triangle game
Russia is outmaneuvering the US, using aggressive actions that fall short of war, a group of US generals and admirals have concluded.
To counter them, the US needs new ways to use its military without shooting, concludes a newly released US report of the Quantico conclave. The US military will need new legal authorities and new concepts of operation for all domains — land, sea, air, space, and cyberspace. From “Little Green Men in Crimea” to fortified artificial islands in the South China Sea, from online meddling with US elections to global information operations and to industrial-scale cyber espionage.
America’s adversaries have found new ways to achieve their objectives and undermine the West without triggering a US military response, operating in what’s come to be called “the grey zone.”
Gen. Joseph Dunford, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and Defense Secretary Jim Mattis testified before Congress. “Putin seeks to shatter NATO. He aims to diminish the appeal of the Western democratic model and attempts to undermine America’s moral authority,” ran Mattis’ prepared text. “His actions are designed not to challenge our arms but to undercut and compromise our belief in our ideals.”
Gen. Joseph Dunford has publicly warned that the adversary states like China and Russia are engaged in a persistent campaign to undermine US and allied interests over time, employing methods that fall well short of conventional military conflict but we’re still coming to grips with that.” For example, the US Navy already conducts Freedom of Navigation Operations (FONOPS) to defy unwarranted maritime claims around the world. During the Cold War, NATO special ops laid the groundwork for partisan activity in West Germany in case of a Soviet invasion. If we rebuilt these “unconventional warfare” capabilities, we could make aggressors think twice about invading territory primed for resistance.
The US’s “traditional adversaries”, Russia and China, will seek to use “the weakening of the post-WWII international order and…increasingly isolationist tendencies in the West” to gain influence, the US Office of the Director of National Intelligence warned in a new strategy document (National Intelligence Strategy 2019) released in January 2019. The document, issued every four years, lays out a broad framework for the US intelligence community’s approach to countering national security threats. Although this year’s edition provides few concrete details, it begins with a warning that Russian efforts to “increase its influence and authority are likely to continue and may conflict with US goals and priorities in multiple regions.”
New technology and development
Over three decades, the US armed forces have seen its direct adversaries literally vanish, lastly following the collapse of the Soviet Union. This led in the 1990s to shift in focus from one opposing peer competitor to dealing with smaller and less sophisticated opponents (Yugoslavia, Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, international terrorism).
Accordingly, less funds were devoted to research in cutting-edge technology for new weapons systems in light of these changed circumstances. This strategic decision obliged the US military-industrial complex to slow down advanced research and to concentrate more on large-scale sales of new versions of aircraft, tanks, submarines and ships.
This led to systems and hardware that were already outdated by the time they rolled off the production lines. All these problems had little visibility until 2014, when the concept of great-power competition returned to the international scene and the need for the US to compare its level of firepower with that of its peer competitors.
Forced by circumstances to pursue a different path, China and Russia begun a rationalization of their armed forces from the end of the 1990s, focusing on those areas that would best allow them the ability to defend against the United States’ overwhelming military power.
It is no coincidence that Russia has strongly accelerated its air defense program by producing such modern systems as Pantzir S and S-300/S-400 and finally S-500. In a similar vein, China has strongly accelerated its ICBM program, reaching within a decade the ability to produce a credible deterrent. Both countries have also developed their ASAT technology, both separately and jointly. After sealing the skies and achieving a robust nuclear-strategic parity with the United States, Moscow and Beijing begun to focus their attention on the US anti-ballistic-missile (ABM) systems placed along their borders, which consist of the AEGIS system operated by US naval ships.
The US, China and Russia have all increased their efforts to equip their armed forces with hypersonic missiles and vehicles as an invulnerable means of attack. The development of hypersonic weapons has been part of the military doctrine that China and Russia have been developing, jointly and separately, for quite some time, driven by various motivations. For one thing, it is a means of achieving strategic parity with the United States without having to match Washington’s unparallelled spending power. The amount of military hardware possessed by the United States cannot be matched by any other armed force in the “normal quantitative” way.
In last few years, Russia and China have succeeded in testing and entering into production various hypersonic missiles equipped with breakthrough technologies that will strongly benefit the entire scientific sector of these two countries and against which the US currently has no counter. Although it is a relatively new technology, hypersonic weapons are already causing more than a headache for many Western military planners, who are only coming to realize just how far they are lagging behind their competitors. It will take many years for the US to close the hypersonic technological and scientific gap with China and Russia. No wonder think-tanks in Washington and four-star generals started to sound the alarm on hypersonic weapons.
US Under Secretary of Defense for Research and Engineering, Dr. Michael Griffin told in April 2018: We, today, do not have systems that can hold them [hypersonic weapons] and we do not have defenses against those [hypersonic] systems. Should they choose to deploy them we would be, today, at a disadvantage.
Further confirmation that the US is lagging in this field came from General John Hyten, Commander of US Strategic Command:“We don’t have any defense that could deny the employment of such a weapon against us, so our response would be our deterrent force, which would be the triad and the nuclear capabilities that we have to respond to such a threat.”
In February 2019, Head of the US Strategic Command cited new Russian hypersonic missiles and other new weapons as reason US must invest billions in nuclear modernization and hinted at scrapping the last remaining arms control treaty with Moscow. Testifying before the Senate Armed Services Committee, US Air Force General John Hyten said that the new weapons systems unveiled by Russia last year were not covered by the New START arms control treaty, and that the US might have difficulties contending with such weapons in the future.
In early February 2020, US Navy Admiral Charles Richard has admitted that existing American air defenses were not designed to counter modern hypersonic glider weapons, like the one recently deployed by Russia and currently developed by China and hence these weapons “challenge” the US, during an open hearing at the US House Subcommittee on Strategic Forces. He added that the Pentagon even has trouble determining the capabilities of modern weapons, although it still can make a reliable guess on what threat these weapons pose.
In October 2018, an article of Military Times (an American military magazine) reveals that nearly half of US military troops believe America will be drawn into a major war in next few year and see Moscow and Beijing as main threats, according to a recent poll. They didn’t clarify though what kind of war with Russia or China they expect. The war cannot be spontaneous and preparation for warfare takes time. Even if the great powers gear up for a large-scale war as fast as they can, it would take at least six months to get everything ready. And, given the high level of modern intelligence systems, it would be impossible to keep the potential adversary unaware of the preparation process under way. Armed confrontation between great powers cannot start with only peacetime combat-ready units going into battle.