Defense Secretary Jim Mattis declared in June that he was «shocked» upon his return to the Pentagon by the poor state of the US military's readiness for combat. It was widely believed that the statement was just another attempt to convince lawmakers that the military needed more money. Perhaps, it was one of the reasons, but a series of accidents followed to confirm the fact that «something is wrong in the state of Denmark». These are not the best days for the US military beset by problems. Some experts believe the United States is facing erosion of its military might.
Vice Adm. Joseph Aucoin has been relieved of his duty as the commander of the US 7th Fleet, following an incident on August 21 in which the guided-missile destroyer USS John S. McCain collided with a merchant ship east of the Malacca Strait. It was the fourth time a US warship has been involved in an accident in Asian waters in 2017. US Pacific Command chief Harry Harris said it wouldn’t have an averse effect on operations. It’s hard to believe it after a spate of accidents this year.
President Trump has pledged to boost the fleet from 272 to 350 ships. A 30-year shipbuilding plan in force now would bring the number up to 308 ships. Getting to 350 would entail a great hike of expenditure taking into account maintenance, staffing, weapons acquisition and long-term costs. The president also wants to increase the active-duty Army by 60,000 soldiers and the Marines by 20,000 service members. Increasing numbers of personnel and weapon systems is a good thing but professionalism also matters. What’s the use of building more hulls and then have the number of combat ready warships reduced as a result of accidents?
Jerry Hendrix, a retired Navy captain and senior fellow and director of the Defense Strategies and Assessments Program at the Center for a New American Security, believes that the accidents point to two major shortfalls: leadership and training.
CNN reported that in addition to the Navy's stand-down, the Marine Corps grounded all of its aircraft for 24 hours earlier this month on the heels of two deadly crashes «to focus on the fundamentals of safe flight operations, standardization, and combat readiness.» It cited House Armed Services Committee Chairman Mac Thornberry, R-Texas, saying it was unprecedented that «two military services have now had to take a knee to review safety and training procedures».
Three US Marines were declared dead earlier this month after their MV-22 Osprey tiltrotor aircraft crashed off the coast of Australia. It hit the back of the USS Green Bay, a Navy amphibious ship, and fell into the sea on Aug.5. An Army Black Hawk helicopter crashed in the ocean off the coast of Hawaii on Aug. 15. As one can see, all services face the same problem with one accident followed by another.
Planning has many flaws. Take the USS Zumwalt, the Navy’s most costly stealth destroyer. Costing upward of $4.4 billion and delivered about two years late, it has already had engineering and propulsion problems and is no longer suitable for the missions it was designed to handle. The newest ship has turned into a procurement boondoggle. So, the construction of Arleigh Burke destroyers conceived in the 1980s will continue.
The Army still has an aging attack helicopter and main battle tank. It is high time to have something more modern than the HMMWV Humvee wheeled vehicles. The Army self-propelled artillery system is obsolete in comparison with other nations. The Air Force aerial refuelling aircraft are over 50 years old. Huge sums of money are spent on new aircraft carriers and «super aircraft» such as F-35 while many conventional weapon systems are getting hopelessly aging.
The operations in Iraq and Afghanistan show the Army can advance and seize territory but it cannot effectively control it. There have been no short victorious wars this century the US military could be proud of. The United States spends more on national defense than China, Saudi Arabia, Russia, United Kingdom, India, France, and Japan combined. Defense spending accounts for almost 16 percent of all federal spending and roughly half of discretionary spending. But in many instances the United States has lost or is losing its competitive edge. With much smaller budget, other nations, such as Russia, get much more bang for their buck.
The Russian Federation is obviously leading in some crucial areas. There is no need for «bean counting». Numbers are not the decisive factor. Some of Russian aircraft, warships and Army weapon systems are beyond competition. For instance, Russia is the world leader in hypersonic weapons. The facts are obvious. While spending ten times less that the United States on defense, including research and development, Russia has produced weapons that make entire US missile defense effort ineffective, while providing it with technological edge in first strike capability.
Huge sums of money spent do not necessarily result in greater efficiency. With obvious shortcomings in personnel training and aging weapon systems, the F-35 and USS Zumwalt nightmares, the performance in Iraq and Afghanistan, the US military superiority is being questioned today.