U.S. Military Dominance a Thing of the Past?
The past two decades should have taught U.S. policymakers that an increased defense budget will not allow the country to maintain world military dominance and create international stability. Yet, Donald Trump has laid out clear goals to increase the size of our military in pursuit of “peace through strength.” This plan calls for increasing the size of the Army and Marine Corps, and increasing the number of Navy ships and planes in the Air Force because “our military dominance must be unquestioned.” However, due to capabilities that Russia and China have recently developed, overwhelming U.S. military dominance is becoming a thing of the past.
Capabilities such as Anti-Access/Area Denial (A2/AD), include weapons systems like China’s DF-21D anti-ship ballistic missile and Russia’s S-400 anti-air systems, posing a serious threat to U.S. ships and planes. With ranges of 1,100 and 285 miles respectively and relatively cheap to produce, China and Russia could easily build a great number of these weapons, severely limiting the U.S.’s ability to deploy and maneuver forces in a theater of operations and U.S. force projection.
To specifically address A2/AD weapons systems, one current Department of Defense program, known as the Third Offset, attempts by developing future technologies, such as rail guns, advanced sensors, and unmanned vehicles. This plan, however, largely disregards recent modernization efforts in Russia and China, all done at far less cost.
Instead of acknowledging this lesson, Trump seems intent on doubling down on military strength and the U.S.’s ability to dominate as a military superpower. Mackenzie Eaglen and Rick Berger from the American Enterprise Institute recently estimated that Trump’s plan to grow the military will cost an additional $100 to $300 billion over the next four years. Unfortunately, it already seems that many of the weapons systems we are currently developing, including the Ford-class aircraft carrier and the F-35 fighter jet, may soon be obsolete.
The technological factors that will soon make these weapons obsolete may also prove to be equally effective towards the potential technological advances of the so-called Third Offset. Just as the current anti-ship and anti-air missiles developed by China and Russia are relatively inexpensive relative to a state-of-the-art aircraft carrier or a next-generation fighter. The price differences will only become more pronounced with the development of exceedingly inexpensive technologies, like 3D-printed autonomous drones.
While China and Russia’s A2/AD capabilities remain untested against the lastest U.S. weapons technologies, a RAND research report and an article in International Security by Stephen Biddle and Ivan Oelrich both highlight how the U.S. will no longer be able to operate without significant threats, challenging U.S. Air Supremacy and Freedom of Navigation. The RAND report recommends that the U.S. focus on its A2/AD capabilities as a method to contain potential adversaries. Biddle and Oelrich paint a picture of competing spheres of influence in the Pacific with the U.S. unable to maintain “command of the commons.” Both reports conclude that in the future, A2/AD will counter any offensive action leading to a costly and unsustainable stalemate.
Since the U.S. obviously wants to avoid becoming bogged down in a war against China or Russia, it must understand the new realities of modern military capabilities. As he solidifies his plan for the future of the U.S. military, President-elect Trump needs to recognize that A2/AD means that U.S. is no longer certain.