We can't get there from here, anymore.
"What the West has, and has had for some time now, is a single-shot military."
The West is trying mightily to compensate with a lot of bluster and heroics stories, what we call nowadays propaganda. They have definitely forgotten the lessons from Agincourt, where the democratized long bow (and helped by the muddy ground) inflicted carnage on the noble knights...
Nevertheless, Canada is buying 88 F-35 jet fighters instead of 350 water bombers, despite the fact that this year more forest burned than ever. I guess I can call that protection racket, albeit the proper term is vaselage.
thanks aurelien.. i like your ultimate conclusion here... its encouraging.. multipolar world, here we come!
Excellent commentary yet again. I am not a military expert by any account but I was able to follow this essay easily and fully and with it. There doesn't seem to be any vision about how to provide for defense let alone attack in the future. I recall watching with awe the 1st gulf war and the missiles "flying down chimneys". As we can now see things have advanced somewhat and the Russians seem to be wiping the floor clean of various Ukrainian NATOP supplied machinery. I suspect the Russians will soon leap ahead of our capabilities and noted a recent report about how they are finalizing development of swarm type Lancet missiles. The comment about China and how it would fight and war with US Carriers was fairly obvious to me even as a non-military type. I said to a friend a year or two ago that if I were the Chinese it would be worth swamping a Carrier fleet using a few dozen hyper sonic missiles. Even if they lost all the aircraft that launched them, just one missile, certainly two, might be enough to sink that Carrier. The US public would then revolt at the loss of life and heads would roll.
I have this feeling that the future belongs to missiles and drones. Manned fighter aircraft may be a thing of the past within 10 years given the pace of technology we are witnessing. What a waste of money for 5th and 6th generation aircraft.
Thank you. A very clear and accurate analysis.
Two minor thoughts:
1. Am not sure that “sophisticated” is the full description for western weapons. If it is intended as a synonym for “complicated” then I totally see it. But Russian equipment seems equally advanced as western kit: even item for item. It is not just a question of asymmetric capability. The T90 tank and the flanker aircraft seem as advanced as their western equivalents, for example. But I totally agree with the key point: the west seems to have “invested” in complexity almost as an end in itself, with the side effect of generating lots of career opportunities in the military, the defence bureaucracies and at contractors. Once that merry go round started there was no obvious driver to stop it
2. As you imply, Ukraine seems to be the ultimate end game of the way western warfare has evolved. Leaders have clearly realised before this current war though that public opinion in western countries will not accept casualties amongst their own citizens. But casualties amongst “allies” are typically ignored. So they have already sought to wage proxy war and build up Ukraine as a kamikaze state from 2014 rather than take any form of risk with their own militaries. What this war seems to underline is that changing military technology means that the west has lost its omnipotence even against so called developing countries. Anyone who can get hold of a few drones could give us enough of a bloody eye that we would have to desist.
American / western hegemony seems to be finished - it is just a question of how long we take to realise that and then act accordingly in a rational way. My fear is that sectional interests who control the key levers profit from projecting apparent hegemony and will continue to act in a way that is rational for them but irrational for the average citizen.
Thanks for this. Recently saw a picture of one of our newer aircraft carriers (that I think have surpassed a billion dollars in cost, each) and, boy, what an easy target for an enemy missle, especially now that Russia seems to be quite proficient in targeting tanks and grain silos with minimal collateral damage. How many people are floating on one of those giants? Imagine that headline. 3000 sailors dead as SS Futility sinks. And along with it billions in aircraft and arms.
You've made a very coherent and compelling argument for the end of expeditionary warfare. This has major geopolitical implications.
The US could, if it wanted to, still beat up a small, defenceless country. However it's no longer operating in a benign threat environment (two peer level adversaries which didn't present a problem previously). Any major military expedition against the aforementioned poor, punching bag, country would leave them vulnerable and exposed everywhere else. For this reason alone I would agree with you that the US will have to cease projecting power abroad.
Which, no doubt, is a change that the rest of the world will soon pick up on. US Military Power would be, effectively, no longer the threat that it has been. Or perhaps, not much of a threat at all. What does that do to a world which is already champing at the bit after years of ruthless US force projection? What does it do to the US and their world financial hegemony if they no longer have the ability to pull abherent nations into line?
This is a very significant shift. Will the US down tools and quietly watch it's hegemony implode?
For me, there's an essential distinction between armies/empires that attack/expand across land and those that (historically) launched long-distance raids by sea. The latter was how a handful of polities from the Atlantic coast of Europe built globe-girdling "empires". The ability to hit very hard and very cruelly and then as needed retreat was crucial. Those empires were the Vikings on steroids and lasted 100s of years. The ability of the USA to launch similar styles of distance attacks including by air was just an additional wrinkle. Anyway, you can read a lot of what I concluded from study the phenomenon of long-distance maritime empires here: https://medium.com/project-500-years
Then again, those armored Mercedes would seem vulnerable to anti-tank weapons and estates and security companies will find armed drones interesting to deal with. I suspect the repercussions of this war will be more than just military.
Especially as a lot of irate Ukrainians find themselves refugees across Europe.
Modern weaponry, to include ISR, prohibits any country from conducting warfare, even punitive expeditions, on a continent other than its own. Full stop.
The guidons of the modern nation state are self-sufficiency and self-reliance.
The No-Nos are confrontation and hidden agendas.
The method of statecraft in the conditions of modern weaponry is, cooperate. If you can’t do that, coordinate. If you can’t do that, correlate. And if you won’t do any of those, try not to be conspicuous.
Axtually, we often hear neocons rant about how we need to attack North Korea. It seems to be the military that is advising caution.
Strategically reasonably accurate, but a major oversight in not talking about anti-missile/anti-drone/electronic counter measures+electronic warfare systems.
If actual future warfare is more about drones and missiles - then layered anti-missile/anti-drone along with electronic warfare systems are critical.
The West has clearly done almost nothing in these areas - Western drones are mostly about ISR for attack. Even the AWACS - a good question how survivable these are in the era of S400/S500 systems with comparable range to AWACS radar limits much less very long range air to air missiles.
Americans love our mythic heroes!
I see a parallel between war fighting and space exploration as practiced in the United States. Like the relatively cheap missiles obsoleting tanks and planes, robots perform space exploration without needing food nor rest. The platforms necessary to perform human space exploration are brittle and expensive. For some reason, the disasters which occur are not viewed as an unnecessary cost of life but a valorous sacrifice. I hope our author's view of the losses of ship crews or pilots being intolerable will finally restrain our war happy leaders. However, in my view the real constraint is the manufacturers of these gold plated boondoggles do not want to see their products burn daily on social media feeds. That would ruin a good 'free market' in defense spending.
I fervently hope that we can all agree that our favorite planet is our only planet. Turning our planet into a hostile battlefield is surely senseless and too, forays into the brutally hostile environment of space are just as futile.
The trump card the US held since the 90s has always been cruise missile saturation. (Which failed somewhat, if memory serves, against legacy S300 resources crewed by Syrians/Russians) the sea change began when the Tomahawk spam failed to threaten as it once did
The only thing I'd disagree with here is the assumption that western military technology is superior to that of Russian military technology.
If superiority is measured by complexity (and expense) then western military technology is superior.
If superiority is measured by EFFECTIVENESS (and expense) then Russian military technology is superior.
Bottom line - western military technology is made for sales and light war. Russian military technology is made for war and destruction.
Drones and missiles rule the battlefield now, and almost everything about the way warfare has been waged up to now has changed. The Lancet 3 production rate is 200,000 units/year. There is no air defence on Earth that will stop that. The new Geran 3 drone has 2,500 km range and could be produced in equal numbers soon enough. We have seen Ukraines problems at interception, even with NATO AWACS and satellite recon.
So imagine in 5 years a set of AI command drones controlling tug drones towing disposable balloons carrying thousands of smaller short range drones. Launching waves of tens or hundreds that change altitude and vectors and take evasive action, hitting a target area all at once from several directions. Preceded by waves of decoy recon drones to identify enemy AA locations for target adjustment.
Some have speculated that the Russian Poseidon torpedo is actually of a hunter-killer purpose, to track hostile submarines, rather than the announced nuclear depth-charge strike unit. As it can supposedly move to a location and sit on the bottom and wait for things like an enemy sub or ship to pass by, for example. Either way, it is a class of weapon system NATO does not even have, nor a response to it, that I know of. Maybe in labs, but not in production, for sure. So everything we see in the skies with drones and missiles will be going on underwater as well.
So all in all, I see little use for tanks and surface ships., APC's or manned fighter jets, or many other things - they may all be soon found only in museums and being used by poor nations. The sci-fi armored infantryman, or AI robot infantry, are probably the future, maybe robot AI tanks, but anything seems vulnerable to massed small drones.
For aircraft carrier fans, the Chinese military recently announced, as per a headline I saw, that repeated running of simulations had shown they could sink an entire Carrier Battle Group with 16 hypersonic missiles. Rumor has it China is buying the Kinzhal design from Russia for domestic production, so Chinese hypersonics appear to be getting an upgrade next year. And Russia will no doubt get some drones from North Korea to test, and new ones from Iran.
All in all, things look grim for NATO on the military technology front, both today, and in years ahead. Even if "military production" is vastly increased, they are producing the wrong things, in small amounts, and taking way too long, at far too great of a cost.
Soon, there won't be any humans in the loop, except in a general sense, the AI's will conduct the operation. But the military production capability, and the means to defend it against enemy attack, have to be in place before you can launch the AI attackers on the enemy.
So it hasn't changed that much really, has it? Will AI and robot armies and navies make wars more or less likely,, when there will be no body bags coming home, but every location in a country could possibly be attacked at any time?
Oh well, perhaps western feelings of political/martial impunity and invulnerability are only brittle in the sense that Russian Army defensive lines-- at least according to "General" Petraeus' interpretations-- are. (wink wink, haha.)
As for moving the US Navy into the Black Sea en force? Didn't they kinda check that possibility out using the super successful mission of the Donald Cook?