Codevilla reveals that the illusion of America’s supreme military might is just that: an illusion.
News that the wargames which the RAND corporation runs for the U.S. government show U.S. forces getting “its ass handed to it” by Russia and China have elicited disbelief: “how could this possibly be?” The short answer is that the U.S. armed forces are utterly corrupt: the very definition of parade ground forces, superbly equipped, fabulously paid (to look good)—but utterly incapable of winning the wars that our even more corrupt national security establishment defines for them. Corrupt, and un-serious.
Specifically: U.S. forces fail in the wargames, and would fare worse in real life, because they would be sent to fight the Chinese for control of the Western Pacific, and Russia for control of areas west of the Niemen river, as well as north of Crimea. The Chinese and Russians, respectively, would enjoy advantages in these areas. U.S. forces, configured as they are because of inter- and intra-Service corporate priorities, because of military-industrial collusion, and above all because of the national security establishment’s self-regarding prejudices and proclivities, are not based, sized, or equipped seriously to contest those advantages. Above all, they lack realistic plans for doing so. In sum, U.S. forces would lose these wars because of classic mismatches between ends and means. All entirely foreseeable. I repeat: Corruption.
The wargames dealt only with operational/tactical factors on the conventional level in the theaters of operation. But China and Russia are nuclear powers whose missiles can deliver nuclear warheads to the U.S. Neither has been shy about pointing out that they might force the U.S. to choose between its objective in their back yard and the loss of one or more American cities. Moreover, longstanding U.S. policy, most recently reaffirmed in 2019, is not to have any equipment that can defend against Russian or Chinese missiles. If, perchance, Chinese or Russian forces should have difficulty disposing of U.S. challenges, raising the nuclear specter would surely force the U.S. side to reconsider why we engaged in war in others’ back yards without the capacity to protect ourselves at home. Since nuclear weapons are fully integrated into Russia’s ground forces, this rude awakening would likely come in the course of ordinary operations. On the Chinese side, we might well see the annihilation of Guam. But, one might respond, “U.S. nuclear missile forces are so superior to China’s!” Sure. Superior for what? What good would killing a couple of million Chinese do?
What forces against what, where, to do what, is the nub of the military matter. The Chinese and Russians, respectively, have good strategic, operational, and tactical answers. The U.S. side does not.
Skeptical, are ya? Insist on some proof, do ya? Okay, here ya go:
The Ford class has become a major crisis. In February 2018 the navy confirmed that it had major problems with the design and construction of its new EMALS (Electromagnetic Aircraft Launch System) catapult installed in its latest aircraft carrier; the USS Ford (CVN 78) and the three other Ford-class carriers under construction. During sea trials, the Ford used EMALS heavily, as would be the case in combat and training operations and found EMALS less reliable than the older steam catapult. EMALS was also more labor intensive to operate and put more stress on launched aircraft than expected. Worse, due to a basic design flaw, if one EMALS catapult becomes inoperable, the other three catapults could not be used in the meantime as was the case with steam catapults. This meant that the older practice of taking one or more steam catapults offline for maintenance or repairs while at sea was not practical. The navy admitted that in combat if one or more catapults were rendered unusable they remained that way until it was possible to shut down all four catapults for repairs. During the initial at-sea tests the EMALS failed once every 75 aircraft launches. The standard for steam catapults is one failure every 4,166 launches. The landing and recovery system also had reliability problems, failing once every 76 landings, which is far below the standard of one failure per 16,500 landings. In effect, these problems with launching and recovering aircraft make the Fords much less effective than the older Truman (and other Nimitz class CVNs). The navy has long had a growing problem with developing new ships and technology and the Ford is the worst example to date. With no assurance as to when and to what extent the launch and recovery systems would be fixed (and be at least as effective as the older steam catapults) the navy was overruled and told to keep the Truman.
The navy also asked for another delay in performing mandated shock tests for the Ford, in which controlled explosions were set off near the hull that generated at least 66 percent of the amount of force the ship was designed to handle. This would reveal what equipment was not sufficiently built or installed to handle shock and make changes as well as confirming that the hull can handle the stress overall. The navy wants to wait until the second Ford-class carrier enters service in 2024 because, it admits, it is unsure how badly shock tests would damage new systems and design features. Meanwhile, there are some other major shortcomings with the Fords, including electronics (the radars), some of the elevators and a few other mechanical systems. But none of these are as serious as the malfunctioning catapults. Progress is being made in improving the reliability of the new launch and recovery system but such progress has been very slow and there is no convincing plan to achieve parity with steam catapult systems any time soon.
Some of the problems with EMALS were of the sort that could be fixed while the new ship was in service. That included tweaking EMALS operation to generate less stress on aircraft and modifying the design of EMALS and reorganizing how sailors use the system to attain the smaller number of personnel required for catapult operations. But the fatal flaws involved reliability. An EMALS catapult was supposed to have a breakdown every 4,100 launches but even after some initial fixes, in heavy use, EMALS actually failed every 400 launches. By the end of 2017, the Navy concluded that an EMALS equipped carrier had only a seven percent chance of successfully completing a typical four-day “surge” (multiple catapult launches for a major combat operation) and only a 70 percent chance of completing a one-day surge operation. That was mainly because when one EMALS catapult went down all four were inoperable. In effect, the Ford-class carriers are much less capable of performing in combat than their predecessors. The navy hopes they can come up with some kind of, as yet unknown, modifications to EMALS to fix all these problems. In the meantime, the new Ford carrier is much less useful than older ones that use steam catapults.
There are no easy solutions.
Of course not, nor cheap ones either. There never are.
But the Ford Class CVNs are hardly the only depressing example of decay into second- or even third-rate-power status. There are also the USN sailors who can’t enter an international harbor without crashing into other ships, navigators who can’t navigate, and so on. The Air Farce has pilots who have done almost all of their “flight” training in simulators only, limited to a flight-hours standard officially deemed “not ready for combat” in the 80s and 90s. We rely on a fleet of combat aircraft already in an advanced state of decrepitude, kept aloft with spare parts robbed from Jet-On-A-Stick museum pieces that were retired long ago.
Let’s just sidle on around the smoking ruins of that ground-bound pig, the F35, shall we? With several countries backing away from earlier commitments to buy the faltering, ruinously expensive albatross, the less said about it, the better.
Of course, when the populace lacks the will to prosecute its wars to a victorious conclusion whatever the cost, neglect and decay of its armed forces is inevitable. In turn, the American polity has ample reason for such skittishness; having been led into many costly, pointless conflicts across the globe in which victory was neither defined nor sought, reluctance to blindly support still more endless nation-building boondoggles begins to look like no more than simple good sense. The US military isn’t to blame for that situation; to the contrary, it’s another victim of it.
I’ve said it before, I’ll say it again: this country shouldn’t even DREAM of engaging in any war without clearly-defined objectives and a solid, realistic battle plan at least reasonably capable of achieving them. Should those conditions be met and politically agreed upon, overwhelming force should be deployed in pursuit of those objectives, without the hindrance of absurd, politically-correct ROEs that put US interests hindmost. Enemy complaints about “atrocities” and “war crimes” should be measured against a standard that assumes they’re propaganda until proved credible. Should the America-hating liberal media establishment decide to be complicit in such manipulation by the enemy, the consequences for them ought to be immediate and severe.
FOBBITS, staff, S1, S2, S3, and all the rest of the REMFs should be made fully mindful that their role is exclusively and entirely to support, not to interfere, hinder, or second-guess. JAG lawyers particularly should be informed in no uncertain terms that targeting, patrolling, and all other tactical decisions will NOT be passed across their desks for approval first, or at all. Their involvement in heat-of-the-moment combat decision-making must be ended, with the men at the pointy end in unquestioned charge; the days of these prissy, pious rear-area scolds looking over the shoulders of front-line grunts is by God over. If such as they really want a combat role, let them man up and carry a rifle.
When it comes to fixing our military, those are the problems that have to be corrected first. If they aren’t, no amount of fiddling and fussing with the tech, the weaponry, and the other gear will avail us a blessed thing in the end.