Manipulating Public Perceptions
Pentagon Fears It’s Not Ready for a War With
The U.S. military has run the numbers on a sustained fight with
Moscow, and they do not look good for the American side.
By Nancy A. Youssef
August 15, 2015 "Information
Clearing House" - "Daily
A series of classified exercises over the summer has raised concerns
inside the Defense Department that its forces are not prepared for a
sustained military campaign against Russia, two defense officials
told The Daily Beast.
Many within the
military believe that 15 years of counter-terrorism warfare has left
the ground troops ill prepared to maintain logistics or troop levels
should Russia make an advance on NATO allies, the officials said.
Among the challenges the exercises revealed were
that the number of precision-guided munitions available across the
force were short of the war plans and it would be difficult to
sustain a large troop presence.
“Could we probably beat the Russians today [in a
sustained battle]? Sure, but it would take everything we had,” one
defense official said. “What we are saying is that we are not as
ready as we want to be.”
One classified “tabletop exercise” or “TTX”—a kind
of in-office war game—“told us that the wars [in Iraq and
Afghanistan] have depleted our sustainment capability,” a second
defense official explained, using military jargon for the ability to
maintain a fight. The exercise was led by the Department of Defense
and involved several other federal agencies.
In recent months, the top officers of the military
have begun to call Putin’s Russia an “existential
threat” to the United States. The results of those exercises—and
Russian-backed forces’ latest advance in Ukraine—didn’t exactly tamp
down those fears.
But these concerns about readiness and
sustainability are not universally held—not even inside the
Pentagon. Nor is there a consensus about the kind of risk Putin's
Russia really poses. Everyone in the U.S. security establishment
acknowledges that Moscow has roughly 4,000 nuclear weapons, the
world’s third-largest military budget, and an increasingly bellicose
leader. There’s little agreement on how likely that threat could be.
“A war between Russian and NATO is an unlikely
scenario given the severe repercussions Russia would face. In
addition to the overwhelming reaction it would provoke, Russia’s
aging military equipment and strained logistical capabilities make a
successful offensive attack a very difficult proposition for them,”
one U.S. intelligence official told The Daily Beast. “In short,
direct conflict with Russia is a low-probability, high-risk
situation. The challenge of Putin’s erratic leadership is that
low-probability events are slightly more probable.”
The U.S. military still has the upper hand in so
many ways, after all. But there are limits—severe limits—on those
advantages. For its airpower, for example, the U.S. military would
be leaning on worn out fighter pilots and limited maintenance
abilities for their planes. And the surveillance drones needed would
have to be drawn from other conflict zones.
“Against an adversary like Russia, we can’t take
the kind of air dominance we’ve had in conflicts since 9/11 for
granted,” a second defense official explained. “Any conflict of
significant magnitude against an adversary like Russia means we’d
need to commit airmen and resources that are now operating in other
parts of the world at a rate that minimizes their ability to train
for that kind of fight.”
The official added, “We may very well be able to
provide the airpower that would allow us and our allies to prevail
in a high-end fight, but the current state of our air forces
definitely doesn’t make that a sure bet.”
Around the time of that TTX, in June, the U.S.
military also conducted four major field exercises with its NATO
counterparts, called Allied Shield, consisting of 15,000 troops and
19 member countries. In March, Russia conducted its own exercises,
at one point deploying as many as 80,000 personnel.
“The focus of the exercises is on what each side
sees as its most exposed areas, with NATO concentrating on the
Baltic States and Poland whilst Russia is focusing primarily on the
Arctic and High North, Kaliningrad, occupied Crimea, and its border
areas with NATO members Estonia and Latvia,” is how one report
summarized the dueling manuevers (PDF).
And like the tabletop exercise, Allied Shield
suggested the U.S. could not maintain a sustained fight against the
Moreover, Russia’s blend of special forces, local
proxies, weaponized propaganda, cyber espionage, and sneak attacks
has many in the U.S. military struggling to figure out how to
respond. Of course, they want to check Russian aggression—especially
if Putin makes a move for America’s NATO allies in the Baltics.
They’re not sure how do to that without starting down the path
toward World War III. Especially now that Russia has declared itself
open to the notion of using
first-strike nuclear weapons in a conventional conflict.
The Daily Beast’s Anna Nemtsova, who is currently
with U.S. military trainers in Ukraine, asked one of them what they
would they do if their units were suddenly surrounded by
“Let me think for a moment, that is a difficult
the American soldier said.
At his last briefing with reporters, Army General
Raymond Odierno, the outgoing Chief of Staff of the Army, said NATO
exercises conducted in Europe exposed even small challenges that
could have outsized impact in a fight against Russia.
“One of the things we learned is the logistical
challenges we have in Eastern Europe. For example, Eastern Europe
has a different gauge railroad than Western Europe [where U.S. has
traditionally trained] does so moving supplies is a more difficult.
So we are learning great lessons like that,” Odierno said.
“We may very well be able to provide
the airpower that would allow us to prevail in a
fight, but the current state of our air forces
definitely doesn’t make that a sure bet.”
More serious was Odierno’s warning that “only 33
percent” of the U.S. Army’s brigades are sufficiently trained to
confront Russia. That’s far short of the 60 percent needed. Odierno
said that he does not believe the Army will reach those levels for
several more years.
During the height of the Cold War, there were
roughly 250,000 U.S. troops deployed to Europe. After the first Gulf
War, that number fell to roughly to 91,000. That number today stands
at 31,000—although some additional troops have been added since the
stealth "invasion" of Ukraine.
And yet, many throughout government are not nearly
as worried as the military. In fact, these insiders suspect that the
Pentagon’s warning is more a means to seek leverage amid threats of
budget cuts. The military is hoping to stave off major cuts to its
ground force and cash flow as the war in Afghanistan winds down.
Lawrence Korb—a senior fellow at the Washington,
D.C.-based Center for American Progress, which is closely aligned
with the Obama White House and the Hillary Clinton campaign, said he
believes the military is taking advantage of Russian aggressions
over the last two years to fight its budget battles.
Further, Korb is not convinced the exercises
reflect reality, noting the U.S. spends roughly $600 billion on its
defense compared to Russia’s $60 billion. Russian weapons are far
less modern, and Putin had to abandon his $400 billion plan to
upgrade them earlier this year as the Russian ruble fell.
“We’d clean their clocks. [Russian troops are] not
that good. They are not as modern,” Korb said. “I think [the
military] took advantage of recent Russian aggression because it has
become clear we would not use large ground armies” to confront
groups like the self-proclaimed Islamic State.
The U.S. military is now worried about Russia “in
the same way the Navy [once] talked about the Chinese” to stop cuts
to its budget, he added.
But Lieutenant General Mark Hertling, who retired
in 2012 as the commander of U.S. Army Europe, said the Russian
threat existed far before the latest budget squabbles. And when he
raised them in 2010, they fell on deaf ears.
“We were beating the drum of Russia in 2010 and we
were told [by Washington officials], ‘You are still in the Cold
War.’ All the things we predicted would happen, happened, but it
wasn’t at the forefront of the time,” Hertling said.
“This gets to a lack of trust between the
government and the military,” Hertling added. “We were monitoring
Russian movement and they were increasing not only their budget but
their pace of operation and their development of new equipment. They
were repeatedly aggressive and provocative even though we were
trying to work with them.”
Since then, the Army has shrunk rapidly—by 80,000
troops. Should Congress enact the across-the-board budget cuts known
as sequestration, the Army could fall from 450,000 soldiers to
420,000, making it the smallest U.S. ground force since the end of
World War II. Odierno has called such figures dangerous.
“The unrelenting budget impasse has compelled us
to degrade readiness to historically low levels,” Odierno said last
month at a conference.
Either way, the London-based European Leadership
Network released a report Wednesday, and concluded the dueling
large-scale military exercises are aggravating tensions, not
deterring the opposing side, as intended.
“Russia is preparing for a conflict with NATO, and
NATO is preparing for a possible confrontation with Russia. We do
not suggest that the leadership of either side has made a decision
to go to war or that a military conflict between the two is
inevitable, but that the changed profile of exercises is a fact and
it does play a role in sustaining the current climate of tensions in
Europe,” found the report, titled “Preparing for the Worst: Are
Russian and NATO Military Exercises Making War in Europe more
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