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Smart Bombs: Military, Defense and National Security

What the US Army Must Do to Prepare for a War with Russia

US Army
Soldiers assigned to Crazy Horse Company, 1st Battalion, 8th Infantry Regiment, 3rd Armored Brigade Combat Team, 4th Infantry Division test the XM-1147 Advanced Multi-Purpose (AMP) round. (Capt. Tobias Cukale, 4th Infantry Division; color-modified by Maj. Michael Brabner, USAOTC)

Russia’s Aggression in Ukraine – Demands That The U.S. Army Fix Critical Capability Gaps Now – Russia’s invasion of Ukraine is just the latest in a series of aggressions the Kremlin has perpetrated over the past decade on its path toward re-creating the Russian Empire and expanding its influence internationally. This latest attack demonstrates that the Russian military’s multi-decade modernization program is working. It also shines a spotlight on areas where the Russian military holds an advantage over its NATO counterparts, such as its arsenal of ballistic missiles and long-range artillery.

The sophisticated, multi-domain assault on Ukraine may soon put the Russian Army along virtually the entire length of NATO’s eastern borders. The threat to Poland and the Baltic states will go up exponentially. To successfully deter further Russian aggression, it is important that the U.S. Army, the primary Service that will have to respond to a Russian attack on NATO in Europe, fix its critical capability gaps immediately.

The Russian military that was launched against Ukraine is the beneficiary of a nearly two-decades-long modernization program that has seen it improve on long-standing advantages in artillery, air defense, and electronic warfare, and add new capabilities including conventional precision strike, unmanned aerial systems, and cyber warfare. In Moscow’s 2014 aggression against Ukraine and in its recent operations in the Middle East and North Africa, the Russian military demonstrated the ability to employ its new capabilities to conduct near-real-time reconnaissance and strike. Today in Ukraine we are witnessing Moscow’s version of “shock and awe,” the use of advanced weapons, multi-domain capabilities, and innovative tactics to engage and destroy an adversary’s command and control, military infrastructure, and field forces thoroughly and rapidly.

While Russia was modernizing its armed forces and acquiring a range of new capabilities with which to conduct high-end combined arms warfare, NATO focused on its counterinsurgency campaigns in Southwest Asia, pouring billions into platforms and systems relevant to those conflicts. In addition, for most of the past two decades, NATO allies disinvested in conventional warfare capabilities and the U.S. withdrew most of its forces from Europe.

In response, in particular, to the new capabilities and skills demonstrated by the Russian military in its 2014 attack on Ukraine, the U.S. Army instituted its much-publicized modernization program consisting of some 31+4 distinct capabilities. Some of these systems, the Precision Strike Missile for example, will enter service in the next few years. Unfortunately, many will not be ready for prime time until the end of the decade at the earliest. But the U.S. Army has an immediate problem. It must be ready to fight today, not years in the future.

In the aftermath of the 2014 Russian attack on Ukraine, the U.S. Army somewhat grudgingly recognized that it has serious deficiencies in its conventional capabilities, particularly in areas such as anti-armor warfare, air and missile defense, counter UAS, and long-range fires. Several programs were initiated to address some of these deficiencies. In response to an operational needs statement from the 2nd Cavalry Regiment in Europe, officially termed a Stryker Brigade Combat Team (BCT), the Army funded the development of an up-gunned variant of its Stryker Infantry Vehicle, the Dragoon, equipped either with a 30mm cannon or Javelin anti-tank missiles. To date, only a single Stryker brigade, out of seven in the Army, is equipped with the Dragoon.

Similarly, the Army developed an urgent needs statement for enhanced air and missile defense. In response, the Army initiated the Initial Maneuver Short-Range Air Defense (IM-SHORAD) program to provide a defense against low-flying rotary and fixed wing aircraft and unmanned aerial vehicles. The IM-SHORAD system is based on Stryker vehicles with a turret carrying a 30mm cannon, Hellfire and Stinger missiles, and a radar.

Unfortunately, the future the Army feared is here now. U.S. forces are being deployed to NATO’s eastern border to defend the Alliance. Even before the attack on Ukraine, the U.S. moved a squadron, the 2nd Cavalry Regiment, to Romania.

The slow pace at which the Army is addressing current capability gaps while it waits for a transformative future is no longer acceptable. In anticipation of further deployments of forces to Europe, perhaps permanently, the Army must move rapidly to equip more of its remaining Stryker brigades with the Dragoon vehicle variant. It must also plan and budget for an expanded deployment beyond the current plan of four IM-SHORAD battalions.

Another critical capability gap that the Army should move to address immediately is the vulnerability of towed 155mm artillery. The current Russian offensive is likely to demonstrate anew what prior conflicts have already shown: Russian artillery fire can devastate unprepared formations and pose an unacceptable threat to towed artillery systems such as those currently available to the Stryker BCTs. A recent study by the RAND Corporation on future Army fires capabilities observed that the survivability and mobility of towed artillery, particularly in the Stryker BCTs, are inadequate to the demands of future high-end warfare.

Last year, the Army ran a competitive shoot-out of existing truck-mounted 155mm howitzers with candidate systems from the U.S., UK, France, Israel, and Serbia. By all reports, these systems were able, in the vernacular, to “shoot-and-scoot,” providing precision firepower while enhancing survivability.

Rather than moving to acquire one of these systems, at least for leading units likely to be the first to go in harm’s way, the Army has chosen a lackadaisical approach, putting out a broad request to industry for information that might lead to a program of record years hence. In view of the current situation, it would make sense for the Army, at a minimum, to make an “interim” purchase of enough wheeled 155mm howitzers to equip at least the 2nd Cavalry Regiment already in Europe, if not for several Stryker BCTs.

Finally, the Army should go all-in to equip its Armored Brigade Combat Teams with the latest variant of the M1A2 Abrams tank, the SEP V3. The Army has been budgeting for less than a brigade a year of the new variant, relying on Congress to provide additional funding. Army leadership needs to ensure that it acquires a full brigade’s worth of advanced Abrams tanks each fiscal year.

Dr. Daniel Goure, a 1945 Contributing Editor, is Senior Vice President with the Lexington Institute, a nonprofit public-policy research organization headquartered in Arlington, Virginia. He is involved in a wide range of issues as part of the institute’s national security program. Dr. Goure has held senior positions in both the private sector and the U.S. Government. Most recently, he was a member of the 2001 Department of Defense Transition Team. Dr. Goure spent two years in the U.S. Government as the director of the Office of Strategic Competitiveness in the Office of the Secretary of Defense. He also served as a senior analyst on national security and defense issues with the Center for Naval Analyses, Science Applications International Corporation, SRS Technologies, R&D Associates, and System Planning Corporation.

Written By

Dr. Goure is Senior Vice President with the Lexington Institute, a nonprofit public-policy research organization headquartered in Arlington, Virginia. He is involved in a wide range of issues as part of the institute’s national security program.