5 reasons the U.S. Army must modernize faster to avoid catastrophe

1. Army equipment budgets were starved during the Obama years. The Obama Administration badly misjudged geopolitical trends, and therefore failed to sustain a military posture that could cope with developments like a Russian invasion of Eastern Europe. The Army’s active-duty ranks were reduced by about 100,000 soldiers, readiness was allowed to erode, and modernization funding was cut to a mere two days’ worth of federal spending per year. The last tank plant in America is producing a grand total of one tank per month.

2. Likely enemies are catching up with U.S. warfighting technology. Russia and China have begun matching or surpassing the combat capabilities available to America’s soldiers. For instance, U.S. tanks lack the active protection technology appearing on Russian tanks; Russian and Chinese tactical missiles often have greater reach than their American equivalents; and several countries have fielded targeting sensors with superior range. The Army’s vice chief told Congress last year that Army equipment is “outranged, outgunned and outdated.”

3. New technology allows foes to leapfrog Army capabilities. Several potential adversaries are using unmanned aircraft — drones — to spy on U.S. ground forces or attack them, and the Army does not have a ready response. Other enemies are using cheap jamming systems to disrupt U.S. navigation, sensing and communications signals. Cyber attacks against U.S. tactical networks are increasingly common. These non-traditional threats complicate the challenge of staying ahead, without eliminating the need to develop better armored vehicles, helicopters and artillery.

4. Enemies have figured out that soldiers are vulnerable. As national security adviser H.R. McMaster, himself an Army general officer, has pointed out, wars are mainly about the control of territory, population and resources. That control typically cannot be exercised from offshore or overhead — it requires “boots on the ground.” But with the advent of improvised explosive devices, shaped charges and more high-tech options, additional modernization funding is needed for force protection so U.S. soldiers do not become easy targets.

5. The Army has a limited window of time to get moving on modernization. Recent experience indicates that weapons spending rises when Republicans control the government, and falls when Democrats do. So the Army may have little time to lock in key modernization initiatives before the attention of the political system shifts to other priorities. Army leaders need to convince Congress to speed up development of new rotorcraft, combat vehicles, networks and the like to assure durable political support as electoral fortunes shift.

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