Saturday, October 14, 2017

Thursday, September 21, 2017

The real danger to U.S. national security

Why President Trump must not apply ‘prophylactic offense’ to North Korea
By Douglas Macgregor
President Lyndon Baines Johnson (LBJ) was usually more interested in delivering tirades than seeking advice, but in February 1968 LBJ needed answers. According to Gen. William Westmoreland, the commander of U.S. Forces in Vietnam, the unanticipated Tet Offensive had transformed the Vietnam War. If LBJ wanted to win the war in Vietnam, Westmoreland and the Joint Chiefs insisted they needed 200,000 more troops.
Former Secretary of State Dean Acheson was a key adviser to the president, a thoughtful man who saw himself as a public servant, not as a public figure. After listening for years to general officers who promised success in Vietnam was just around the corner, Acheson was disgusted, but not surprised. “With all due respect, Mr. President,” Acheson advised LBJ, “The Joint Chiefs of Staff don’t know what they are talking about.”
President Trump would do well to heed Dean Acheson’s advice today. The assertions made by Mr. Trump’s generals that “time is running out” for North Korea sound a lot like a national military strategy of “prophylactic offense.” In other words, attack the opponent before the opponent has the chance to strike.
In theory prophylactic offense sounds macho and appealing, but in Northeast Asia it’s dangerous. North Korea is really a large concentration camp populated by millions of starving desperate people including its own soldiers, but its Stalinist leadership would welcome an attack by Washington.
The reason is simple: An attack out of the blue by Washington would drive Beijing into a pointless and self-defeating war (that Beijing wants to avoid) with Washington, thus rescuing North Korea from certain extinction. Russia, North Korea’s only remaining supporter would be the only power to benefit from such a conflict.
The point, Mr. President, is that North Korea is not the greatest danger to the United States. The greatest danger is that advisers in uniform who promise military success will instead blunder into a major war with an American military establishment that is poorly organized, exhausted and unready for action against the modern armed forces of regional powers in Northeast Asia, Eastern Europe or the Near East.
Worse, American military action would occur at a time when America’s economic recovery hangs by a thread and, thanks to two decades of uncontrolled immigration from the developing world, America’s national cohesion is weaker than at any time in its history since 1861. Recent events in Charlottesville are also symptomatic of the divisions that plague America.
It would behoove President Trump to follow the instincts of Candidate Trump. Recognize that for Americans the mystique of “righteous military action” in Afghanistan and Iraq, conceived in the aftermath of 911 has completely worn off. Keep in mind that despite every possible military advantage in more than a decade of desultory battles with weak Arab and Afghan insurgents — opponents without armies, air forces or air defenses — Mr. Bush’s and Mr. Obama’s generals, like LBJ’s generals, offered rosy predictions, but consistently failed to deliver success in the “global war on terror.”
Today American public support for a powerful national defense establishment is strong, but Americans will not support an open-ended war in Northeast Asia when its government has not identified attainable strategic aims worthy of sacrifice. To date, such a strategic formulation does not exist and there is little reason to expect generals whose only experience of war is against weak insurgent enemies to do so now.
Americans accept the burden of preserving the peace by maintaining the world’s most powerful military establishment. However, Americans want a military strategy that maintains the military power to win a war that Americans are compelled to fight, but otherwise constrains the use of American military power within constitutional parameters.
History teaches that political and military leaders who argue for military action are always convinced that the resulting war will be short and decisive.
Yet, the military and political leaders fail to conduct an accurate self-assessment of the nation’s strengths and weaknesses. In the end, the national capability to employ military power, rather than the valid strategic requirement to use force, tends to dominate national security decision-making.
Without leadership from you, Mr. President, the aforementioned strategy you advocated as candidate and the will to execute it will not emerge. The first step on the road to positive change is to heed Dean Acheson’s advice. LBJ waited too long to heed it. Don’t repeat his mistake.
• Douglas Macgregor, a retired U.S. Army colonel and decorated combat veteran, is the author of “Margin of Victory” (Naval Institute Press, 2016).

Saturday, September 16, 2017

If Russia started World War III, here’s how it would go down

Douglas Macgregor states:

The current two U.S. Army armored brigade combat teams in Europe would race to the fight but be outgunned and likely destroyed quickly.

“A good example is the upgunned Stryker,” said retired Army Col. Doug Macgregor, referring to the new Strykers that are outfitted with a 30mm cannon. “That would be fine on the Mexican border. That formation will be gone in 10 minutes against the Russians.”

If Russia started World War III, here’s how it would go down

By: Todd South

A joint special exercise of logistic supply units of Belarus and Russia in August 2017. (Russian Ministry of Defense) 

If drawn into a war against Russia, U.S. and NATO forces would first begin combating Russian cyberattacks, misinformation and third-party surrogate forces, said retired Gen. Herbert “Hawk” Carlisle, former head of Air Combat Command.

Carlisle said fighting likely will follow a period of steadily rising tensions and warnings. That would give the U.S. enough notice to start moving more airplanes, preparing logistics, and increasing combat capability in Europe, he said.

Nevertheless, the Russians could seize the initiative and move quickly, putting the U.S. at a big disadvantage.

Neutralizing Russia’s air defenses would be one of the most crucial — and dangerous — missions for the Air Force.

In the early hours of hostilities, as Russian tanks, fighters and bombers roll into the Baltics, Air Force jets from England, Italy and Germany would arrive to tease out Russia’s advanced surface-to-air defenses and then try to destroy them.

The Air Force’s fighter squadrons in the region would see the most ferocious air-to-air dogfighting in decades.

Simultaneously, the 173rd Airborne Brigade Combat Team in Italy and the 2nd Cavalry Regiment in Germany would join NATO forces to head to the fight.

They, alongside NATO forces, would face as many as 22 maneuver warfare battalions that Russia has in its Western Military District along NATO’s border.

Reports cite a window of 36 to 60 hours for Russian forces to reach and begin siege operations on Tallinn and Riga, the capitals of Estonia and Latvia.

“Quality light forces, like the U.S. airborne infantry that the NATO players typically deploy into Riga and Tallinn, can put up stout resistance when dug into urban terrain. But the cost of mounting such a defense to the city and its residents is typically very high,” said a 2016 RAND study on deterring Russia.

The Army’s 173rd recognized its own weaknesses if thrust into combat with Russia, according to internal review documents, as reported by Politico.

The report states GPS communications would be disabled easily and quickly, forcing troops to rely on rusty high frequency radio communication skills. The brigade also has limited air defense or electronic warfare units.

NATO forces, especially armor brigades in Poland, would have to cross the Kaliningrad corridor, wedged between where Poland’s border meets Lithuania and hedged on each side by Russian territory and Belarus.

Meanwhile, the Russians could carry out previous promises to attack Polish missile defense systems.

Incremental invasions of small areas of Baltic territory may or may not provoke a NATO response. But, experts agree, an attack on Poland would.

The current two U.S. Army armored brigade combat teams in Europe would race to the fight but be outgunned and likely destroyed quickly.

“A good example is the upgunned Stryker,” said retired Army Col. Doug Macgregor, referring to the new Strykers that are outfitted with a 30mm cannon. “That would be fine on the Mexican border. That formation will be gone in 10 minutes against the Russians.”

A Russian strike through Belarus into the Baltics would be so “quick and overwhelming” that, “like with Crimea,” NATO would have to accept that those states are now in the Russian orbit, said retired Army Maj. Gen. Robert Scales.

“I think it’s very easy to consider a scenario where small units of NATO forces, to include American forces, could in fact be overwhelmed in the event of an attack,” said retired Army Maj. Gen. Richard Nash, a former commander in Bosnia.

During recent war games, NATO tried to use indigenous forces to assist — “the outcome was, bluntly, a disaster for NATO,” according the RAND study.

NATO infantry was unable to retreat and was destroyed in place.

U.S. land forces, accustomed to air and sea dominance, would face Russian interference with their support and could be on their own for hours, days, and even weeks at a time.

“What cannot get there in time are the kinds of armored forces required to engage their Russian counterparts on equal terms, delay their advance, expose them to more frequent and more effective attacks from air and land-based fires, and subject them to spoiling counterattacks,” according to the RAND study.

U.S. Army paratroopers from the 82nd Airborne Division parachute from a C-17 Globemaster during a Joint Operational Access Exercise mission, Camp Mackall, N.C., June 26, 2013. (Airman 1st Class Cory D. Payne/Air Force)


While Atlantic-based Navy assets would be ready to engage, naval experts say Russian maritime maneuvering, along with their allies, will be able to delay and tie up the Navy elsewhere.

“We can hardly pull the entire Navy out of the Pacific to do battle in Europe, lest we sacrifice our Asian alliances along with stakes of immense value,” said James Holmes, a professor at the U.S. Naval War College.

China and Iran’s navies could keep major parts of the U.S. Navy bogged down away from Western Europe.

Russian submarines would slow down seaborne reinforcements to the Baltics, Holmes said. The port of Sevastopol, Crimea, gives Russia a staging area for “anti-access” weapons in the Black Sea, Holmes said.

“In short, it could make the Black Sea into a Russian lake — safeguarding that maritime flank,” he said.

A man watches Russian military jets performing on Aug. 12, 2017, in Alabino, outside Moscow, Russia. The Russian military says major war games, the Zapad (West) 2017 maneuvers, set for next month will not threaten anyone. (Pavel Golovkin/AP)


The Norwegian government has approved six-month rotations of roughly 300 Marines in Norway through 2018.

In the event of a war with Russia, pre-positioned stockpiles would supply a force of 15,000 for 30 days of fighting and would likely provide the footprint for a larger force of Marines, said Keir Giles, a Russia expert with the Chatham House policy institute in London.

“We shouldn’t see this small contingent ... in Norway as a deterrent: It is simply providing a capability for rapid expansion, should it be necessary,” Giles said.

While soldiers, Marines and some pre-positioned equipment could be flown in within days or weeks to reinforce fighting in the Baltics, armor and other heavy items must come aboard ship.

The conflict could stall there, depending on the reaction of NATO forces and its strategic willingness.

Or, fighting could expand. A delay gives Russia time to consolidate its gains, making NATO go on the offensive in one of the more difficult kinds of fighting — regaining lost territory.

“God knows whether you could manage the conflict to bring about a ceasefire and a withdrawal or whether it would go larger,” Nash said.

Thursday, August 3, 2017

What Donald Trump Can Learn from Dunkirk

For anything to change for the better inside the army, Trump must do what the British did not do: decide what’s most important.
President Trump understands that American society is above all the idea it forms of itself. Trump’s grasp of this truth explains his determination to nurture America’s competitive national spirit, and expunge the self-loathing of the last decade. However, restoring American military power will take more than expressions of confidence in America’s military. President Trump must make important strategic choices and make them soon.
Christopher Nolan’s stunning new movie, Dunkirk, is a cautionary tale. The movie’s theme is one of hope and courage, but the more important meaning of Britain’s strategic defeat in 1940 is lost: The British waited too long to make the hard strategic choices.
In the months leading up to Britain’s disastrous defeat in May 1940, the British public was deluged with reports from their leaders and the press of the invincible power of the British Armed Forces. In the words of B. H. Liddell Hart, “Never did so many boast about so little.”
Two weeks and two days after the German offensive began more than 350,000 British and French troops (not all fighting men) had abandoned their equipment and waited for evacuation to England. In London, the myth that the British Expeditionary Force’s (BEF) defeat on the continent was due to Germany’s superiority of numbers spread quickly. It was a lie.
Germany’s victory was achieved by the rapid and deep penetration of at most 8 percent of the German Army: ten armored divisions, or roughly 150,000 troops. In addition, in all but a few isolated actions, the German soldier routinely out-fought his British, French, Belgian and Dutch opponents.
How and why did this debacle occur?
From 1920 until 1938, the British government and its senior military leaders could not agree on the British Army’s strategic purpose. A future British victory against an existential military threat from Germany or the Soviet Union was always hostage to the defense of Britain’s Empire in Asia, Africa and the Middle East. Until 1938 no one in London was prepared to make that choice. Worse, none of the army’s civilian ministers (secretaries of the army) had the stomach for a confrontation with the army’s conservative leadership, the generals that in Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain’s words clung tenaciously to “obsolete methods.”
When informed in January 1940 that the Germans had ten armored divisions poised for attack in the west, General Gort, the British Expeditionary Force’s commander-in-chief, said, “In that case, we haven’t an earthly chance.” Gort was right.
The Fifth Division BEF was an infantry-centric force with one armored division that, in 1939, “was still more of an aspiration than a reality.” When the Germans attacked, the most that the BEF’s infantry divisions could do was to fall back or be crushed by an aggressive, daring and mobile armored German enemy.
A coherent national military strategy that included preparations for British Army ground forces to fight against existential threats to Britain in Europe could have make all the difference, but it did not emerge until the German and Soviet Armies conquered and occupied Poland. When London finally acknowledged what was strategically vital—victory on the European continent—from what was marginally important—defending the Empire against weak, insurgent enemies without armies, air forces or naval power—it was too late.
Like the British Army during most of the interwar period, U.S. Army modernization is now constrained by the deployment of two hundred thousand soldiers to forty countries across Asia, Africa, the Middle East and Europe. The force is overstretched and worn out.
The army leadership’s answer is a modernization program that simply re-equips the Cold War Army’s World War II formations with upgraded versions of old tanks, artillery and infantry fighting vehicles inside the old brigade organizations. It’s tantamount to expecting that a refurbished Ford from 1975 with a GPS attached to the rear view mirror will perform like a Tesla.
Twenty years ago, when the railgun was only ten years away from fielding, the army’s leadership insisted that army tactics, doctrine and organization could not change until railguns arrived. The generals’ ploy worked. Nothing changed. Today, the army’s senior leadership is employing the same tactic.
It’s wrong. What works now (mature technology) should triumph over “unobtainium.”
For anything to change for the better inside the army, President Trump must do what the British did not do. He must decide what’s most important: the piece-meal commitment of tens of thousands of soldiers around the world or the reform and modernization of the U.S. Army.
No amount of British air or naval power could have rescued the British Army in France from defeat. The same holds true for today’s U.S. Army, a force that has not fought a capable nation-state opponent for more than two decades.
The U.S. Army cannot do everything, but it must modernize and prepare for a different future. President Trump, it’s time for strategic choices.
Col. (ret) Douglas Macgregor is a decorated combat veteran, a PhD and the author of five books. His most recent book is Margin of Victory.
Image: U.S. Soldiers assigned to the 1st Battalion, 506th Infantry Regiment, 1st Brigade Combat Team, 101st Airborne Division engage their targets during a Live Fire Exercise for United Accord 2017 at Bundase Training Camp, Bundase, Ghana, May 26, 2017. ​Flickr / U.S. Department of Defense

America 1st: Tucker Carlson & Col. Macgregor