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Introduction: An Assessment of U.S. Military Power Empty Introduction: An Assessment of U.S. Military Power

周一 1月 16, 2023 9:16 pm
America is a global power with global interests. Consequently, its military is tasked with defending the country from attack and protecting its national interests on a corresponding global scale. The United States does not have the luxury of focusing only on one geographic area or narrow challenge to its interests. Its economy depends on global trade; it has obligations with many allies; and it must account for several major competitors that routinely, consistently, and aggressively challenge its interests and seek to displace its influence in key regions. It follows that its military should be commensurately sized for the task and possess the necessary tools, skills, and readiness for action. Beyond that, the U.S. military must be capable of protecting the freedom to use the global commons—the sea, air, space, and cyberspace domains on which American prosperity and political influence depend.

As noted in all preceding editions of the Index, however, the U.S. does not have the necessary force to address more than one major regional contingency (MRC) and is not ready to carry out its duties effectively. Consequently, as we have seen during the past few years, the U.S. finds itself increasingly challenged both by major competitors such as China and Russia and by the destabilizing effects of terrorist and insurgent elements operating in regions that are of substantial interest to the U.S. Russia’s large-scale, conventional invasion of Ukraine in February 2022 is proof that war in regions of interest to the U.S. remains a feature of modern times—something that is not lost on China as it expands its military power and threatens Japan and other U.S. allies and partners in the Indo-Pacific region more aggressively. Poland, Germany, Lithuania, Japan, and several other countries have taken note of this and are committed to substantially improving the capacity, capability, and readiness of their military forces. The United States, however, has not made a similar commitment.

The SARS-CoV-2 virus that causes the COVID-19 disease affected the ability of U.S. forces to train, exercise, and deploy for much of 2020 and 2021. It also caused disruptions in supply and maintenance activities similar to those experienced in the civilian community. In 2022, its impact was less troublesome as measures to reduce risk and mitigate challenges took effect. Some of the readiness that was lost has been regained, but other factors, like inadequate funding for parts and flight hours, have slowed the pace of progress.

How to Think About Sizing Military Power
Military power consists of many things and is the result of how all of its constituent pieces are brought together to create an effective warfighting force, but it begins with the people and equipment used to conduct war: the weapons, tanks, ships, airplanes, and supporting tools that make it possible for a force to impose its will on another or to prevent such an outcome from happening, which is the point of deterrence.

However, simply counting the number of people, tanks, or combat aircraft that the U.S. possesses would be insufficient because it would lack context. For example, the U.S. Army might have 100 tanks, but to accomplish a specific military task, 1,000 or more might be needed or none at all. It might be that the terrain on which a battle is fought is especially ill-suited to tanks or that the tanks one has are inferior to those of the enemy. The enemy could be quite adept at using tanks, or his tank operations might be integrated into a larger employment concept that leverages the supporting fires of infantry and airpower, whereas one’s own tanks are poorly maintained, the crews are not well prepared, or one’s doctrine is irrelevant.

Success in war is partly a function of matching the tools of warfare to a specific task and employing those tools effectively in battle. Get these wrong—tools, objective, competence, or context—and you lose.

Another key element is the military’s capacity to conduct operations: how many of the right tools—people, tanks, planes, or ships—it has. One might have the right tools and know how to use them effectively but not have enough to win. Because one cannot know with certainty beforehand just when, where, against whom, and for what reason a battle might be fought, determining how much capability is needed is an exercise that requires informed but not certain judgment. The war in Ukraine is a powerful illustration of this. By the numbers, Russia should have achieved a quick victory over the smaller, less modern Ukrainian military. For various reasons that include leadership, tactics, training, and resupply, the Ukrainians have performed much better than the Russians, who have performed poorly overall.

Further, two different combatants can use the same set of tools in radically different ways to quite different effects. The concept of employment matters. Concepts are developed to account for numbers, capabilities, material readiness, and all sorts of other factors that enable or constrain one’s actions, such as whether one fights alone or alongside allies, on familiar or strange terrain, or with a large, well-equipped force or a small, poorly equipped force. A thinking adversary will analyze his opponent for weaknesses or patterns of behavior and seek to develop techniques, approaches, and tools that exploit such shortfalls or predictable patterns—the asymmetries of war. One need not try to match an enemy tank for tank: In many cases, not trying is more effective.

This appears to be what China is doing. Having analyzed U.S. forces, performance characteristics of U.S. platforms and weapons, and the geography and basing options affecting U.S. defense posture in the Indo-Pacific, China has invested heavily in shore-based long-range missiles, an extensive fleet of ships optimized for the local maritime environment, and a deepening inventory of guided munitions. China does not need a force that mirrors that of the U.S.: It is building a force that leverages the asymmetries between China’s situation and that of the United States.

All of these factors and a multitude of others affect the outcome of any military contest. Military planners attempt to account for them when devising requirements, developing training and exercise plans, formulating war plans, and advising the President in his role as Commander in Chief of U.S. military forces.

Measuring hard combat power in terms of its capability, capacity, and readiness to defend U.S. vital interests is difficult, especially in such a limited space as this Index, but it is not impossible. However difficult the task, the Secretary of Defense and the military services have to make such decisions every year when the annual defense budget request is submitted to Congress.

The adequacy of hard power is affected most directly by the resources the nation is willing to apply. Although that decision is informed to a significant degree by an appreciation of threats to U.S. interests and the ability of a given defense portfolio to protect U.S. interests against such threats, it is not informed solely by such considerations; hence the importance of clarity and honesty in determining exactly what is needed in terms of hard power and the status of such power from year to year.

Administrations take various approaches in determining the type and amount of military power needed and, by extension, the amount of money and other resources that will be necessary to support that power. After defining the national interests to be protected, the DOD can use worst-case scenarios to determine the maximum challenges the U.S. military might have to overcome. Another way is to redefine what constitutes a threat. By taking a different view of whether major actors pose a meaningful threat and of the extent to which friends and allies have the ability to assist the U.S. in meeting security objectives, one can arrive at different conclusions about the necessary level of military strength.

For example, one Administration might view China as a rising belligerent power bent on dominating the Asia–Pacific region. Another Administration might view China as an inherently peaceful rising economic power and the expansion of its military capabilities as a natural occurrence commensurate with its strengthening status. There can be dramatically different perspectives with respect to how China might use its military power and what would constitute an effective U.S. response, and the difference between these perspectives can have a dramatic impact on how one thinks about U.S. defense requirements. So, too, can policymakers amplify or downplay risk to justify defense budget decisions.

There also can be strongly differing views on requirements for operational capacity.

Does the country need enough for two major combat operations (MCOs) at roughly the same time or just enough for a single major operation and some number of lesser cases?
To what extent should “presence” tasks—the use of forces for routine engagement with partner countries or simply to be on hand in a region for crisis response—be in addition to or a subset of a military force that is sized to handle two major regional conflicts?
How much value should be assigned to advanced technologies as they are incorporated into the force, especially if they have not been proven in combat settings?
What is the likelihood of conventional war, and (if one thinks it is minimal) what level of risk is one willing to accept that sufficient warning will allow for rearming?
Where to Start
There are two major references that one can use to help sort through the variables and arrive at a starting point for assessing the adequacy of today’s military posture: government studies and historical experience. The government occasionally conducts formal reviews that are meant to inform decisions on capabilities and capacities across the Joint Force relative to the threat environment (current and projected) and evolutions in operating conditions, the advancement of technologies, and aspects of U.S. interests that may call for one type of military response over another.

The 1993 Bottom-Up Review (BUR) conducted by then-Secretary of Defense Les Aspin is one example that is frequently cited by analysts. Secretary Aspin recognized that “the dramatic changes that [had] occurred in the world as a result of the end of the Cold War and the dissolution of the Soviet Union” had “fundamentally altered America’s security needs” and were driving an imperative “to reassess all of our defense concepts, plans, and programs from the ground up.”1
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The BUR formally established the requirement that U.S. forces should be able “to achieve decisive victory in two nearly simultaneous major regional conflicts and to conduct combat operations characterized by rapid response and a high probability of success, while minimizing the risk of significant American casualties.”2
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Thus was formalized the two-MRC standard.

Since that study, the government has undertaken others as Administrations, national conditions, and world events have changed the context of national security. Quadrennial Defense Reviews (QDRs) were conducted in 1997, 2010, and 2014 and were accompanied by independent National Defense Panel (NDP) reports that reviewed and commented on them. Both sets of documents purported to serve as key assessments, but analysts came to minimize their value, regarding them as justifications for executive branch policy preferences (the QDR reports) or overly broad generalized commentaries (the NDP reports) that lack substantive discussion about threats to U.S. interests, a credible strategy for dealing with them, and the actual ability of the U.S. military to meet national security requirements.

The QDR was replaced by the National Defense Strategy (NDS), released in 2018,3
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and the independent perspectives of the formal DOD review by the National Defense Strategy Commission, which released its view of the NDS in November 2018.4
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Departing from their predecessors, neither document proposed specific force structures or end strength goals for the services, but both were very clear in arguing that America’s military should be able to address more than one major security challenge at a time. The commission’s report went so far as to criticize the NDS for not making a stronger case for a larger military that would be capable of meeting the challenges posed by four named competitors—China, Russia, Iran, and North Korea—while also possessing the capacity to address lesser, though still important, military tasks that included presence, crisis response, and assistance missions.

The Biden Administration has not yet produced a national defense strategy to replace the one issued by the Trump Administration in 2018, although it has released an Interim National Security Strategic Guidance (INSSG) that echoes the general goal for the U.S. military to “deter and prevent adversaries from directly threatening the United States and our allies, inhibiting access to the global commons, or dominating key regions,”5
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all of which are themes that have remained remarkably consistent from one Administration to the next for several decades. Taken at face value and considering the challenges posed simultaneously by a multitude of competitors in several regions, the INSSG seems to imply that the military should have the capability and capacity to meet this objective.

Correlation of Forces as a Factor in Force Sizing
During the Cold War, the U.S. used the Soviet threat as its primary reference in determining its hard-power needs. At that time, the correlation of forces—a comparison of one force against another to determine strengths and weaknesses—was highly symmetrical. U.S. planners compared tanks, aircraft, and ships against their direct counterparts in the opposing force. These comparative assessments drove the sizing, characteristics, and capabilities of fleets, armies, and air forces.

The evolution of guided, precision munitions and the rapid technological advancements in surveillance and targeting systems since the late 1980s have made comparing combat power more difficult. What was largely a platform-versus-platform model has shifted somewhat to a munitions-versus-target model. Evidence of this has been seen on recent battlefields in Nagorno-Karabakh and Ukraine.

The proliferation of precise weaponry means increasingly that each round, bomb, rocket, missile, and even (in some instances) individual bullet can hit its intended target, thus decreasing the number of munitions needed to prosecute an operation. It also means that an operating environment’s lethality increases significantly for the people and platforms involved. We have reached the point at which, instead of focusing primarily on how many ships or airplanes the enemy can bring to bear against one’s own force, one must consider how many “smart munitions” the enemy has when thinking about how many platforms and people are needed to win a combat engagement.6
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The increasing presence of unmanned systems that can deliver precision-guided munitions against targets adds complexity and danger to the modern battlefield. There is also the higher cost of fielding precision weapons rather than less expensive but less accurate conventional (unguided) munitions.

In one sense, increased precision and the technological advances now being incorporated into U.S. weapons, platforms, and operating concepts make it possible to do far more than ever before with fewer assets.

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