US Troops Are Losing Their Fighting Capabilities

The American military is already unable to bank on easy victories.

The U.S. Army is already unable to maintain decisive superiority over its enemies. Several American military experts reached such a conclusion from a series of speeches by Pentagon leaders that occurred at a regular conference in mid-October for members of the Association of the United States Army.

The association is a private organization that provides necessary support to active military personnel, members of the U.S. National Guard and Army Reserve, invalids, veterans and members of their family, and civilian employees. These analysts identified a number of factors that will not allow the U.S. Army to achieve victory in coming wars.

Absence of Political and Military Culture

At present, American experts believe that one of the main factors preventing U.S. armed forces from effectively executing their mission is a lack of an effective political and military culture — that is, the ability of soldiers of various ranks and members of Congress to take decisive action toward the development of military capabilities.

When Richard Nixon, future U.S. president and implementer of the all-volunteer armed forces, promised in one of his speeches on Oct. 18, 1968 to completely abandon conscription after the end of the war in Vietnam, no one in the Pentagon or Congress understood that the soldiers of such an armed force may completely lose the moral motive of voluntary service to the homeland. At the time, not a single politician or military figure uttered a single word about how a contract army would in practice be comprised of mercenaries — people whose primary motivation are only financial prospects and benefits, instead of loyalty to the defense of the homeland.

In June 1974, all branches of the U.S. armed forces announced that they were at 100 percent full strength with volunteer soldiers. However, no one in politics or the military imagined then that the next time such an achievement would be reported would occur only in 2009.

In fact, the development of the U.S. armed forces’ military capabilities by politicians and military leadership has run into enormous challenges, and not once have they reconsidered the question of returning to conscription. In the early ‘80s, Nixon said: “I committed a huge mistake when I ended conscription.”*

In the beginning of 1982, the influential American magazine U.S. News and World Report noted that “when Reagan came to power 16 months ago, many analysts had written of an all-volunteer Army as an impractical venture.”* Today, the likelihood of such a situation has been fully confirmed. The recruiting efforts of the armed forces face great difficulty putting together a fighting force.

It is obvious that in the face of declining defense budgets, the Department of Defense (DoD) will lack the financial resources not only to increase salaries yearly for personnel at the rate that was established after 2001, but perhaps even to maintain them at current levels. In 2011, military personnel appropriations were increased by 1.4 percent, the lowest since 1973. In 2010, it was 3.9 percent.

Less than 1 percent of the American population currently serves in the different forms and branches of the U.S. armed forces, and only one in five American congressmen ever did military service. Thus, when the Army’s leadership warns them that a decline in military spending tends to lead to a decline in the combat readiness of troops, the majority of congressmen and senators do not attach any importance to the fact that the benefits their voters in the military receive should be maintained. They are not fully aware of the external threats to America; feeling themselves secure, they do not understand the negative impact on the military that insufficient training and a lack of material and technical support can have on military operations. Most senators and congressmen are not as concerned with victory in the next war as they are with their desire to win the votes of military voters in the next election.

New Technology in Disgrace

The foundation on which the military might of the Pentagon rests is the training of personnel, and weapons that were created using the latest technologies. The armies of many nations have large numbers of personnel but not one of them can compare with the U.S. armed forces’ level of training for its personnel, or with its quality of weapons and military equipment.

However, the technological dominance of the U.S. military is getting closer and closer to its end. This, according to several American experts, is happening because every successive president since Reagan has relied on increasing the number of benefits for military specialists, not on modernizing the armed forces in general.

Today, the armed forces’ budget allocated for the purchase of new weapons and military equipment is one-tenth the federal budget. In recent years, programs to create and purchase next-generation weapons and military equipment have been shut down one after the other because there were insufficient funds for their realization. Leaders of the armed forces believe that adequate funding for the development of new technologies will not be available before the middle of the next decade. In this regard, many have expressed concern for military policy in Washington, as it is entirely possible that countries such as China may create military technology comparable to America’s.

Underestimating Reserve Component Personnel

Most of the American soldiers and officers working at the Department of Defense do not serve in the regular forces. They are part of the Army Reserve and National Guard, and cost the Pentagon far less than regular troop personnel because they require lower expenditures for health care and housing. Besides this, they receive fewer benefits at retirement. Soldiers in this category are used by the DoD to replenish military forces in decisive combat missions, or in those situations where it is necessary to assist various federal authorities in disaster management in the event of social unrest and other emergency situations.

Approximately 300,000 members of the Army Reserve and the Air National Guard have been called to active duty during the war in Iraq. At present, however, the U.S. military, in connection with a reduction in appropriations, is having trouble manning its Reserve components.

Retired Lt. Gen. David Barno, a representative of the Center for A New American Security, who led the Combined Forces Command in Afghanistan from 2003-2005, recently stated that National Guard specialists have more advanced professional training in areas like cybersecurity, for instance, than their counterparts in the regular troops. He also said that in the near future, professional qualifications may become significantly higher, and they will possess greater combat skills than regular military forces. However, the full combat potential of Reserve forces cannot be utilized as long as the leadership of the Army and the other armed forces continues to regard these soldiers as rivals rather than partners, said the general.

A Defective Military Strategy

Experts insist that one of the weakest parts of the Pentagon’s strategy over the past few years is that its leadership has ignored the need of its soldiers and officers to know the language and culture of the population for areas they have been called to defend. If the troops have no sense of the customs and mores of the people they are defending, and do not also speak their language, it is inescapable that they will then make tragic mistakes in the course of warfare. This will always occur in those situations when political leaders, having exhausted all other means of settling disputes with other nations for the desired result, regard “soldiers’ boots” as the final argument in resolving conflicts. At the same time, their actions do not give soldiers the opportunity to familiarize themselves with the countries in which they must fight.

The U.S. armed forces prepare specialists to enter service outside America. They teach them local studies, culture and languages for the area in which they will be stationed for a fixed time. However, such service members, after receiving the proper diploma, work in embassies as a rule, are excluded from combat units and are not directly involved in military operations.

For a significant period after al-Qaida’s tragic attack on America on Sept. 11, 2001, there were very few specialists in the Pentagon’s combat units for the Middle East, North Africa and South Asia.

At the beginning of last year the Pentagon’s leadership created the Office of Strategic Landpower [comprised of] specialists from the Army, Marine Corps and the Special Operations Command. The group’s experts found that success in conducting operations in such areas and [achieving] victories there may largely depend on how far in advance of the onset of military operations respective troop contingents were redeployed into regions of future conflicts. If the practice of sending relevant units into places of future conflicts long before the start of conflict is implemented, then they will be able to establish contacts with the local population and gather all the necessary intelligence for subsequent success in carrying out necessary operations. However, experts think that such a strategy demands that Army leadership constantly support the ability to send soldiers to regions that currently have no immediate need. In the current conditions of sequestration of the military’s budget, this is simply impossible. By all appearances, the U.S. Army will remain in this state for quite some time.

Weaknesses in Education and Training of Personnel

At present, the U.S. Army and its Reserve components are staffed by soldiers that are sufficiently educated and motivated to continue service, and who have their own views on staying in the Army. However, the general approaches of the relevant education and training bodies of the armed forces often educate its subordinates to act within established practices, which do not entirely correspond to the entire specter of potential threats to U.S. national security. Today, many soldiers have stopped drafting and sending to command their requirements for appropriate weapons, which were sometimes too expensive or even unfulfillable. Other soldiers have stopped studying future threats to America that do not fully correspond to the Army’s established education and training priorities. In connection to this, future mentors to soldiers in the Army should use brand new tools for training and educating soldiers, not orthodox ones.

At present, the main problem for the leadership of the U.S. Army in preparing for future wars is the lack of adequate finances. Although a number of their goals for the development of military capabilities can be effectively solved with a minimal amount of additional resources, experts say it is critical that no matter what remains, whether it is “budget controls” or something [else] in the foreseeable future, the Army will not have sufficient resources for the acquisition, training and arming of its units. The forward to the U.S. Army Operating Concept published in early October states that the Army will possess the “resources sufficient to preserve the balance of readiness, force structure and modernization necessary to meet the demands of the national defense strategy.”

However, experts say that such statements are emotional and not realistic. This was confirmed by Army Chief of Staff Raymond T. Odierno when he said that the Army would be forced to move from collective to individual military training due to a lack of funds. He said that the military preparedness of the Army increases at a very low rate. The general also said that the Army should receive all the necessary provisions every year to ensure combat readiness, but reluctantly added, “This is clearly not happening.”*

According to experts, the Army’s leaders must become more resourceful in carrying out training activities to prepare for future wars. They should also explain to politicians unfamiliar with military policy what it would ultimately signify for American citizens if the U.S. Army is unable to conduct military operations in upcoming wars.

*Editor’s Note: These quotations, accurately translated, could not be verified.

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