Army Secretary Mark Esper said he wants to shift some money away from vehicles and aircraft more suited for conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq and into “what I need to penetrate Russian or Chinese air defenses.”
Among the new weapons and technologies he said are critical:
long-range artillery, attack, and reconnaissance aircraft, air and missile defenses, and command-and-control networks. Esper said the artillery — known as Long-Range Precision Fires — could be used “to hold at bay Chinese ships.”
Army officials recently briefed Adm. Philip Davidson, commander of U.S. Indo-Pacific Command, who oversees all U.S. military personnel in the Asia-Pacific region. This comes as the Army plans to
rotate thousands of soldiers on expeditionary deployments throughout the Pacific — an expansive region often associated with Navy and Air Force military operations.
“We want to talk to [U.S. European Command] as well,” Esper said. “What we’re trying to do is go out and
tell them what we’re doing.”
Last year, the Army held a
series of reviews that recommended cutting or reducing nearly 200 weapons projects, freeing up $25 billion for investment in higher-priority programs. Among the projects cut are upgrades to Boeing-made CH-47 Chinook helicopters and buys of Oshkosh-made Joint Light Tactical Vehicles, the Army’s replacement for Humvees. Esper said he needs to shift money into “Future Vertical Lift,” an effort to build faster helicopters and tilt-rotor aircraft — similar to the V-22 Osprey — instead of upgrades to older, larger, and slower helicopters.
“What I don’t have right now is an attack/reconnaissance aircraft,” Esper said, Tuesday during a briefing at the Pentagon. “That’s what I need to penetrate Russian or Chinese air defenses. I’m not going to do that with a CH-47.”
The Army is evaluating prototypes built by
Bell and a Lockheed Martin-Boeing team, as it determines the makeup of a new generation of military helicopters.
Army leaders plan to
cut the number of Joint Light Tactical Vehicles they will buy from Oshkosh but the size of the reduction has not been finalized, Esper said. Army Undersecretary Ryan McCarthy has previously said the service plans to cut 1,900 vehicles.
“We are certainly cutting the total number. I know that much,” Esper said. “But whether it … finals out; right here today, I can’t tell you. In five years, I could maybe have a different number for you.”
The secretary said that the decision to buy Chinooks and JLTVs was made before the Trump administration’s January 2018 National Defense Strategy put the Pentagon on a path to preparing for great power competition with Russia and China. That strategy reduced the Defense Department’s priority on counterterrorism and counterinsurgency fights in Afghanistan, Iraq, and other spots like Syria, which had dominated much of the past two decades. In its wake, the Army is building a new doctrine that will be evaluated over the next 12 to 18 months. The results of those wargames will determine how many soldiers and weapons are needed in the future.
“They were in many ways designed for a different conflict,” he said, of Chinooks and JLTVs. “It doesn’t mean we won’t use them in future conflicts, but now my emphasis has to be on rebuilding my armor, rebuilding my fighting vehicles, having aircraft that can penetrate Russia and Chinese air defenses, that can shoot down Russian and Chinese drones and missiles and helicopters and fixed-wing aircraft. We’re in this transition period and so some folks are caught in that transition.”
Meanwhile, where is the strategic thinking when it comes to hybrid warfare?
The Pentagon wants to develop a way to detect those signs by analyzing the myriad actions in what it calls the
“gray zone”–behaviors in a variety of areas that, considered separately, may or may not mean anything but when examined together could indicate malicious intent–and is putting artificial intelligence (AI) to work on the problem.
The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) has launched a new program intended to better understand and interpret an adversary’s gray zone engagement as potential signals of pending aggression. The Collection and Monitoring via Planning for Active Situational Scenarios (COMPASS) program will incorporate AI, game theory, modeling, and estimation technologies to decipher the often subtle signs that precede a full-scale attack.
“The ultimate goal of the program is to provide theater-level operations and planning staffs with robust analytics and decision-support tools that reduce ambiguity of adversarial actors and their objectives,” said Fotis Barlos, DARPA program manager. “As we see increasingly more sophistication in gray zone activity around the world, we need to leverage advanced AI and other technologies to help commanders make more effective decisions to thwart an enemy’s complex, multi-layered disruptive activity.”
The attention to gray zone activity reflects the multi-pronged tactics used in hybrid warfare, of the type employed by Russia in Georgia in 2008 and in Ukraine since 2014. Cyber attacks to shut down the power grid, conduct digital espionage, and sow economic disruption, along with social media campaigns aimed at manipulating public opinion, coincided with the covert movement of troops and equipment into Ukraine. Not only have these tactics proved to be effective, their subtle, sometimes untraceable methods can lend a level of plausible deniability to the attacks. And NATO has said that clandestine hybrid attacks can achieve their aims before being noticed, too late for an effective response.