The Trump administration and Secretary of Defense James Mattis in particular will be judged by what I refer to as the “Great Shift” in defense spending. Much of our military equipment is still more from the Cold War than the post-Cold War era, and much of it is going to have to be replaced in the next 10 to 20 years. Because of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as budget cuts, our government has postponed the modernization of our military.
For example, since 1975 the most important ships in our Navy were the 10 Nimitz-class aircraft carriers. The majority of these ships were built in the Cold War.
The plan is to replace them with 10 Gerald R. Ford-class aircraft carriers. The first one has been built and is scheduled to be formally commissioned later this year.
Our submarine fleet is mostly from the Cold War. The backbone of our fleet is still the Los Angeles-class submarines. If you watched the 1990 movie Red October with Sean Connery and Alec Baldwin, the USS Dallas was a Los Angeles-class submarine.
From 1972 to 1996, we built 62 of these ships. We still have 36 left in service. We originally tried to replace them with the Seawolf-class. We built three of them, and they were launched during the Clinton and Bush 43 administrations. They were seen as too expensive and were replaced with the Virginia-class.
Since 2004, we have commissioned 13 Virginia-class submarines. The plan is to replace the Los Angeles-class with 48 Virginia-class submarines.
In fiscal year 2015, our Navy had 271 ships total and only 55 attack submarines. It was in 2013 that the Russians finally commissioned their first Yasen-class attack submarine to replace their Soviet-built Akula-class submarines. In terms of quality, the Virginia-class and Yasen-class are comparable in weaponry, but the Virginia-class does have an edge in speed, sonar, and is a quieter sub, which means it would be harder to detect.
While Russians can compete with us in quality, the Chinese threaten to overwhelm us with quantity. In 2029, we are likely only going to have only 41 attack submarines, while the Chinese could have as many as 70 of them.
In terms of quality, the Chinese submarines are mixed bag. Their diesel-powered attack subs include 15 Yuan-class submarines, 13 Song-class, and 12 Russian-made Kilo-class. They also have about 20 very old Ming-class boats, which are based from Soviet designs in the 1950s.
What is truly remarkable is that China now has two nuclear-powered Type 093B Shang-class submarines, which are believed to be comparable to the Los Angeles-class submarines. Even if these Chinese submarines are not as good as the Virginia-class, the quantity could overwhelm our quality, if we don’t start increasing the pace of building more Virginia-class submarines. If that requires reopening old shipyards, so be it.
While attack submarines are useful for reconnaissance, mine and anti-mine operations, and search and destroy missions, the two most important missions of our attack submarines are controlling the world’s commercial sea lanes and protecting our Ohio-class submarines from Russian and Chinese attack submarines.
From 1976 to 1997, the Navy built 18 Ohio-class submarines. Fourteen of these 18 ships contain half of our strategic nuclear arsenal. To preserve our deterrence posture, we must have an adequate number of attack submarines to protect our Ohio-class submarines.
Each of these 14 ships has been equipped with 24 Trident II D5 missiles with multiple independently targeted warheads. These missiles have an operational range of more than 12,000 kilometers.
One of the most important tasks for the Trump administration is to replace our Ohio-class submarines with the Columbia-class. All of the Ohio-class submarines will be retired by 2040. The first Columbia-class submarine is scheduled to be built in fiscal year FY 2021.
All three legs of our nuclear triad will have to be replaced in the 2020s. The Columbia-class submarines will become our sea-based deterrent and the Air Force will introduce the B-21 as our new strategic bomber. Since the 1960s, our land-based ICBMs have included the Minute Man III missiles. These 450 land-based single-warhead missiles, along with their command and control systems, will have to be replaced within the next few years.
The sequestration from the 2011 Budget Control Act weakened our Army by shrinking it. In FY 2010, the Army had 562,400 troops in the active component, 205,000 in the Army Reserve, and 358,200 in the National Guard.
Under the 2017 National Defense Authorization Act, which President Obama signed into law in December 2016, in FY 2017, the Army will be reduced to 460,000 troops along with 195,000 in the Army Reserve and 335,000 in the National Guard.
This is significantly below the force levels of the Cold War. From 1954 to 1991, the Army’s active force alone was never below 700,000 troops.
The cuts have hurt morale and readiness in the Army. In March 2015, then Army Chief of Staff, General Ray Odierno, warned, “The compromises we’ve made to modernization and readiness, combined with reductions to our force size and capabilities translates into strategic risk.”
Congress established the National Commission on the Future of the Army. The Commission concluded that the Army has serious capability shortfalls in short-range defense, tactical mobility, missile defense, fuel distribution, and field artillery.
Our main battle tank, the M1 Abrams tank, has a number of peer competitors (Britain’s Challenger 2, Germany’s Leopard 2, Israel’s Merkava 4, and France’s Leclerc). Russia has developed a few T-14 tanks, which are comparable to the M1A2 Abrams tank.
Fortunately, the vast majority of Russia tanks cannot defeat the Abrams. The Chinese Type 99 is similar to Russia’s T-72 tank. The 1991 Persian Gulf War proved the T-72 tank is no threat to the Abrams tank.
The 2006 war between Israel and Hezbollah and the Iraq War proved that Russian-made Kornet anti-tank guided missiles and the RPG-29 are a threat to the Abrams. These weapons have pierced the armor of both the Abrams and Merkava tanks.
The Israelis have developed the Trophy Active Protection System, which is an effective countermeasure against both weapons for their Merkava tanks. Our military should do the same.
As far as the Abrams are concerned, the United States Army still has far more Cold War-era M1A1 Abrams tanks (4,393) than the post-Cold War M1A2 (1,174) Abrams tanks. The Marines also operate 402 M1A1 Abrams tanks. We don’t have to replace the M1A1 Abrams, but we can and should upgrade them with the capabilities of the M1A2.
According to the Congressional Research Service (CRS), the National Guard Association of the United States reported:
The M-1A2 SEP v2 Abrams main battle tank is the Army’s premier ground combat system and has demonstrated its value on the battlefields of Iraq. With its advanced thermal sights and Commander’s Independent Thermal Viewer (CITV), this tank is 110% better than an M-1A1 in the defense, and 50% better in the offense.
Our Air Force is also still a predominantly a Cold War-era force. Since the 1970s, our air superiority fighters have been the F-15 Eagles. We have 249 of these F-15C/D planes in service. We also have another 219 F-15E Strike Eagles, which has a dual role in both air-to-air combat as well as air-to-ground missions.
These planes are scheduled to be replaced by the F-22 Raptors. Lockheed Martin originally built 195 F-22 Raptors. Eight of these planes function as test planes, while the remaining 187 are operational planes.
In 2009, one of the F-22s crashed. In the FY 2010 budget, the Obama administration halted any further production of the F-22. These decisions by the Obama administration continue to threaten our air superiority, because our aging fleet of F-15s and F-16s are retiring faster rate than our F-22s and F-35s are replacing them. We need to speed up production.
We currently have 1,017 F-16C/Ds in our Air Force. The F-16s will eventually be replaced by 1,763 F-35As. The Marines will buy 353 F-35Bs and 67 F-35Cs. The Navy plans to put 260 F-35Cs on our aircraft carriers.
For now, the F-15 can compete against most planes, but some Russian models are comparable to it. The most serious fourth generation plane is the Russian-made Su-35.
The United States will need to build more fifth-generation fighters for two reasons. First, the United States Air Force should never settle for a fair fight in combat.
The second reason we need stealth planes is because of S-300 and S-400 anti-aircraft systems deployed and S-500 system that is being developed. The Russians are improving their low-frequency radars against low observable aircraft like the F-22 and F-35. We need to keep modernizing our planes to stay ahead of them.
This will be very costly, since the average cost per flight hour for an F-22A Raptor ($68,362) is more than the F-15C Eagle ($41,921) and the F-15E Strike Eagle ($32,094) it is replacing. The F-35A Lightning II ($32,554) is more expensive than F-16C Fighting Falcon ($25,541).
We have a similar problem with our strategic bombers. The B-2 stealth bombers ($135,000) have nearly twice the average cost per hour as the B-52 bomber. Our government needs to work with Silicon Valley, and the rest of the scientific community, to find ways to make our planes more cost efficient.
We currently have 58 B-52H bombers active and another 18 in reserve. We also have 62 B-1B bombers. Since ISIS and the Taliban do not have an air force, or sophisticated air defenses, the Cold War era B-52 and B1 bombers have proved very useful against them.
Against Iran and North Korea, we may need to expand our complement beyond the 20 B-2 stealth bombers that we have. This way we will be ready to bomb their nuclear and missile programs.
The North Korean missile program is quite advanced. They have at least two intercontinental ballistic missiles that can reach parts of the United States: the Taepodong 2 and the KN-8 missiles.
In the Cold War, it was considered a blessing that communists were atheists. The argument was that atheists were easier to deter. Promising Soviet leaders 72 virgins in the afterlife would have been comical to them.
The North Koreans are communists, but they are the most isolated country in the world. They could underestimate our resolve and provoke a crisis.
The Iranian leaders are religious fanatics. They are not as capable as the North Koreans, but they could be in the future. More importantly, they believe in an afterlife, which makes them more difficult to deter.
They already have the S-300 anti-aircraft system. We will need more modern strategic bombers to have a credible military option, if we are to prevent them from ever developing nuclear weapons.
The world is becoming a more dangerous place for our military. Russia, China, and Iran have employed anti-access/anti-denial strategies that will make it more difficult for our military to operate.
Senator John McCain’s recent op-ed in the Wall Street Journal, should be required reading for anyone interested in keeping our nation safe. Despite McCain’s policy differences with President Trump, they seem to be in full agreement that we must rebuild our military. For the country’s sake, I hope that the administration and the Congress will be able to succeed.
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