Skip to comments.American Power Moves Beyond the Mere Super
Posted on 04/26/2003 5:22:02 PM PDT by Brandon
April 27, 2003
American Power Moves Beyond the Mere SuperBy GREGG EASTERBROOK
tealth drones, G.P.S.-guided smart munitions that hit precisely where aimed; antitank bombs that guide themselves; space-relayed data links that allow individual squad leaders to know exactly where American and opposition forces are during battle ó the United States military rolled out all this advanced technology, and more, in its lightning conquest of Iraq. No other military is even close to the United States. The American military is now the strongest the world has ever known, both in absolute terms and relative to other nations; stronger than the Wehrmacht in 1940, stronger than the legions at the height of Roman power. For years to come, no other nation is likely even to try to rival American might.
Which means: the global arms race is over, with the United States the undisputed heavyweight champion. Other nations are not even trying to match American armed force, because they are so far behind they have no chance of catching up. The great-powers arms race, in progress for centuries, has ended with the rest of the world conceding triumph to the United States.
Now only a nuclear state, like, perhaps, North Korea, has any military leverage against the winner.
Paradoxically, the runaway American victory in the conventional arms race might inspire a new round of proliferation of atomic weapons. With no hope of matching the United States plane for plane, more countries may seek atomic weapons to gain deterrence.
North Korea might have been moved last week to declare that it has an atomic bomb by the knowledge that it has no hope of resisting American conventional power. If it becomes generally believed that possession of even a few nuclear munitions is enough to render North Korea immune from American military force, other nations ó Iran is an obvious next candidate ó may place renewed emphasis on building them.
For the extent of American military superiority has become almost impossible to overstate. The United States sent five of its nine supercarrier battle groups to the region for the Iraq assault. A tenth Nimitz-class supercarrier is under construction. No other nation possesses so much as one supercarrier, let alone nine battle groups ringed by cruisers and guarded by nuclear submarines.
Russia has one modern aircraft carrier, the Admiral Kuznetsov, but it has about half the tonnage of an American supercarrier, and has such a poor record that it rarely leaves port. The former Soviet navy did preliminary work on a supercarrier, but abandoned the project in 1992. Britain and France have a few small aircraft carriers. China decided against building one last year.
Any attempt to build a fleet that threatens the Pentagon's would be pointless, after all, because if another nation fielded a threatening vessel, American attack submarines would simply sink it in the first five minutes of any conflict. (The new Seawolf-class nuclear-powered submarine is essentially the futuristic supersub of "The Hunt for Red October" made real.) Knowing this, all other nations have conceded the seas to the United States, a reason American forces can sail anywhere without interference. The naval arms race ó a principal aspect of great-power politics for centuries ó is over.
United States air power is undisputed as well, with more advanced fighters and bombers than those of all other nations combined. The United States possesses three stealth aircraft (the B-1 and B-2 bombers and the F-117 fighter) with two more (the F-22 and F-35 fighters) developed and awaiting production funds. No other nation even has a stealth aircraft on the drawing board. A few nations have small numbers of heavy bombers; the United States has entire wings of heavy bombers.
No other nation maintains an aerial tanker fleet similar to that of the United States; owing to tankers, American bombers can operate anywhere in the world. No other nation has anything like the American AWACS plane, which provides exceptionally detailed radar images of the sky above battles, or the newer JSTARS plane, which provides exceptionally detailed radar images of the ground.
No other nation has air-to-air missiles or air-to-ground smart munitions of the accuracy, or numbers, of the United States. This month, for example, in the second attempt to kill Saddam Hussein, just 12 minutes passed between when a B-1 received the target coordinates and when the bomber released four smart bombs aimed to land just 50 feet and a few seconds apart. All four hit where they were supposed to.
American aerial might is so great that adversaries don't even try to fly. Serbia kept its planes on the ground during the Kosovo conflict of 1999; in recent fighting in Iraq, not a single Iraqi fighter rose to oppose United States aircraft. The governments of the world now know that if they try to launch a fighter against American air power, their planes will be blown to smithereens before they finish retracting their landing gear. The aerial arms race, a central facet of the last 50 years, is over.
The American lead in ground forces is not uncontested ó China has a large standing army ó but is large enough that the ground arms race might end, too. The United States now possesses about 9,000 M1 Abrams tanks, by far the world's strongest armored force. The Abrams cannon and fire-control system is so extraordinarily accurate that in combat gunners rarely require more than one shot to destroy an enemy tank. No other nation is currently building or planning a comparable tank force. Other governments know this would be pointless, since even if they had advanced tanks, the United States would destroy them from the air.
The American lead in electronics is also huge. Much of the "designating" of targets in the recent Iraq assault was done by advanced electronics on drones like the Global Hawk, which flies at 60,000 feet, far beyond the range of antiaircraft weapons. So sophisticated are the sensors and data links that make Global Hawk work that it might take a decade for another nation to field a similar drone ó and by then, the United States is likely to have leapfrogged ahead to something better.
As The New York Times Magazine reported last Sunday, the United States is working on unmanned, remote-piloted drone fighter planes that will be both relatively low-cost and extremely hard to shoot down, and small drone attack helicopters that will precede troops into battle. No other nation is even close to the electronics and data-management technology of these prospective weapons. The Pentagon will have a monopoly on advanced combat drones for years.
An electronics arms race may continue in some fashion because electronics are cheaper than ships or planes. But the United States holds such an imposing lead that it is unlikely to be lapped for a long time.
Further, the United States holds an overwhelming lead in military use of space. Not only does the Pentagon command more and better reconnaissance satellites than all the rest of the world combined, American forces have begun using space-relayed data in a significant way. Space "assets" will eventually be understood to have been critical to the lightning conquest of Iraq, and the American lead in this will only grow, since the Air Force now has the second-largest space budget in the world, after NASA's.
This huge military lead is partly because of money. Last year American military spending exceeded that of all other NATO states, Russia, China, Japan, Iraq and North Korea combined, according to the Center for Defense Information, a nonpartisan research group that studies global security. This is another area where all other nations must concede to the United States, for no other government can afford to try to catch up.
The runaway advantage has been called by some excessive, yet it yields a positive benefit. Annual global military spending, stated in current dollars, peaked in 1985, at $1.3 trillion, and has been declining since, to $840 billion in 2002. That's a drop of almost half a trillion dollars in the amount the world spent each year on arms. Other nations accept that the arms race is over.
The United States military reinforces its pre-eminence by going into combat. Rightly or wrongly, the United States fights often; each fight becomes a learning opportunity for troops and a test of technology. No other military currently has the real-world experience of the United States.
There is also the high quality ó in education and motivation ó of its personnel. This lead has grown as the United States has integrated women into most combat roles, doubling the talent base on which recruiters can draw.
The American edge does not render its forces invincible: the expensive Apache attack helicopter, for example, fared poorly against routine small-arms fire in Iraq. More important, overwhelming power hardly insures that the United States will get its way in world affairs. Force is just one aspect of international relations, while experience has shown that military power can solve only military problems, not political ones.
North Korea now stares into the barrel of the strongest military ever assembled, and yet may be able to defy the United States, owing to nuclear deterrence. As the global arms race ends with the United States so far ahead no other nation even tries to be America's rival, the result may be a world in which Washington has historically unparalleled power, but often cannot use it.
Which is EXACTLY why the US cannot and will not allow them to do so. One way or another, NK is toast unless they drop their nuclear program.
Wow, can you imagine what it would be like if Clinton had not spent 8 years trying to gut it.
Tommy Daschle is deeply saddened.
I am the greatest! I am the greatest!
So do we get one of those great big belts?
Asymmetry can be a serious constraint . . . but the weakness of asymmetry is its all-or-nothing nature. Israel calls it "the Sampson option" . . .
If you want the problem fixed, join the Border Patrol and ask that their forces be multiplied to 2 to 5 times their current strength.
I signed up to kill Communists, Ba'athist & Co., not to chase pimps and coyotes around the countryside of the American Southwest. Force me to do that job and you probably won't like the way I do it. Wait till a squad of soldiers tracks an illegal into an American border town, sees the guy run into a cul-de-sac, and then goes house-to-house smashing peoples' windows in and breaking down doors, then running into people's bedrooms and checking their walk-in closets trying to find the illegal. Now that would be great for civil-military relations!
There have been far too many incidents (e.g., The Mexican-American War, continuous violence on the crooked borders of the various South Asian states, etc.) caused by the fact that troops trained to fight as maneuver warfare brigades make lousy stationary border guards.
I think they ought to follow my proposal: CREATE a 6th military branch for border patrol purposes, but have reduced physical standards and age limits to allow former military or people not quite tough enough for mobile warfare to take part in it. But they would still get to train on military bases and would be bound to the UCMJ, so you could trust them to follow orders.
By starting this 6th branch, you could take advantage of the patriotism (or perhaps just the outrage) of older folks who don't want to go adventuring abroad but want to solve the immigration crisis at home. I'm thinking basically of a more mature version of the nation's Military Police forces, trained only in patrolling and static defense, as opposed to all the quasi-infantry and convoy escort stuff the combat MP outfits go through.
Also, thank God, posse comitatus makes it a pain in the butt for soldiers to do police work within our own borders. You practically have to walk around with a JAG whispering in you rear to avoid violating someone's rights. The new service, like the Coast Guard, could draw it's peacetime authority from some provision outside Title 10, meaning it's members would be subject to the same disciplinary restrictions as military personnel but would carry authority as federal law enforcement personnel, able to arrest, cite people for violations, etc.
Now, if you were to recommend we simply invade Mexico, push them back from the frontier and guard the border from their side, I think we could make a deal...ha.
That pretty much covers the spectrum: air, sea, land, space. Complete and unquestioned dominance, now and for the foreseeable future.
And the truly amazing thing about this in the historical sense is that an entity that has this power, is using it to bring individual liberty to the world and not conquest, slavery, or subjugation. Amazing.
This article pretty much defines the only remaining issue: a demonstration of how to deal with a rogue NBC equipped state.
Bring it on.
Your take on this is the same as mine. The NYT would like us to get overconfident, cut spending as "our lead is so great", continue integrating women into the combat forces "to double the pool we draw from" and in general, not pay attention to business. They would have us believe our weapons are so superior they can't be touched, ignoring the age of our platforms, the eventual vulnerability of ships to anti-ship missiles, etc.
We've got a fine military, but it hasn't been tested (and I hope it doesn't have to be) against anything but third or fourth rate countries. Do our chemical defenses work? We don't really know how well they do. We seemed awful worried about GPS jamming. Then there's the Kornet anti-tank missiles.... The list goes on. Anyone in first place doesn't stay there long if he doesn't look over his shoulder.
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