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The US Is Determined To Win The New Cold War

February 28, 2019

US Soldiers

According to Secretary Mark Esper, described by Reuters as “the top civilian at the US Army,” the Russian military’s expansion will lose steam by the late 2020s and this sets the stage for a decisive standoff with China in the decade after. Esper’s candid assessment was shared with Reuters journalists as the US Army unveiled its modernization plans now that the global order fractures under the strain of geopolitical rivalry. He did acknowledge some of the army’s equipment had fallen behind and nearly 200 projects had to be cut for expediency.

But Esper’s timeline isn’t too surprising and matches the forecasts of a public document prepared by the US Army’s TRADOC two years ago.

In 2017 a report titled The Operational Environment And The Changing Character Of Future Warfare (TOEATCCOFW) was released online as a free download. At just 21 pages long, it sought to explain how the coming decades and their attendant technological progress will make the US military’s job harder as a variety of new threats emerge. In it, the authors of TOEATCCOFW separated the next 30 years into two distinct eras. The period between 2017 until 2035 formed the “era of accelerated human progress” while the years 2035 up to 2050 was an “era of contested equality” where no single state can monopolize power in the global arena.

In light of Esper’s remarks to journalists, it’s worth taking note of his observation that from “2028 and beyond” he believes “the Russians will be peaking.” This is in sync with a summary from TOEATCCOFW where Russia counts among the listed “4+1 threats” and is described as the US’ “most capable potential foe for at least the first half of the era of accelerated human progress.” This means the first half of the “era,” whose timeline is an 18-year stretch from 2017 to 2035, falls on 2026. This is close enough to Esper’s belief that 2028 could be the year Russia’s hard power starts to wane. But TOEATCCOFW did add Russia’s adversary status never goes away and continues through the “contested equality” era.

Esper also told Reuters the Chinese are the next great adversaries peaking “in the 2030 time frame” so he plans on directing funds to six unspecified programs for the US Army to “fight and win against the Russians and Chinese in 2030, 2040, and 2050.” This admission is in line with TOEATCCOFW’s own portrayal of China in its “4+1 threats,” where the Communist state is described as a long-term rival. “Its rapid development means that it will likely surpass Russia as our pacing threat sometime prior to 2035,” it read.

For the report’s authors, China may assume some form of near-peer status versus the US “prior to 2035,” a prediction that jives with Esper’s “2030 time frame.” Rather than coincidence, Esper’s statements and its similarities to unclassified forecasts published by the US Army reveal a world view has taken shape that sees “gray zone” warfare spreading in the 2020s. This causes an eventual decline of Russia, an economic laggard with a shrinking population, but leaves China ascendant with its massive industrial sector and high tech capabilities.

The outlook shared by Esper isn’t in the fringe of American military thought. In fact, Esper helped launch the mysterious “Futures Command” that was established in Austin last year whose mandate was to assess Chinese and Russian strength and find ways for defeating both. The six unspecified programs Esper wants to fund, by the way, aren’t discussed anywhere in the public domain. But at least five of them are known to be undergoing early trials. These are long-range precision strike that allows the US Army to direct and launch payloads farther than before and a robust communications utility for ensuring a connected battlefield. The others are individual programs for a multirole tracked vehicle, a new helicopter, and what could be an anti-ballistic missile shield.

Taking the US Army’s strategic forecast into account, when combined with the US Air Force’s obsession with networked fifth-generation fighters and the US Navy’s Ford-class supercarriers deploying piloted and unmanned aircraft, the United States is diverting its economic strength to fortifying its primacy in the world.

Below is an excerpt from the news story published by Reuters’ on February 27 about the US Army’s modernization plans:

Esper said to pay for wars in Iraq and Afghanistan the service “mortgaged its readiness” to fight against countries like China and Russia. As a result, the Army now needs to update equipment that has been in service for 40 years, Esper said.

In fiscal 2019, the U.S. Army requested $182 billion to fund programs and salaries as well as ongoing wars. Of that, $22 billion was slated for buying weapons systems.

As the Pentagon’s budget emerges in the coming weeks, it will be made clear which programs will be cut. “We had upgrades that just simply weren’t necessary, or weren’t justified by the costs,” Esper said.

Companies that make Army ground equipment like BAE Systems, which makes the Bradley fighting vehicle, and General Dynamics, which makes the Abrams tank, will be watching the budget closely.

Esper has said he wants to focus funds on six priorities for modernizing the Army which include a better way to precisely fire weapons over a long distance, a new combat vehicle, a new helicopter and better missile defenses for the Army.

Esper said he hopes that reallocating the funds will pay dividends for decades to come. “If we’re going to fight and win against the Russians and Chinese in the year 2030, 2040 and 2050, I’ve got to start building the next generation now,” he said.

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