After more than a decade of counterinsurgency warfare, the Army is now emphasizing major force-on-force mechanized warfare against Russia or Chinese weapons around the world.
The global proliferation of Russian and Chinese weapons massively increases the likelihood that US Army forces will confront tanks, drones, electronic warfare systems, precision munitions, armored vehicles and artillery made by near-peer competitors.
Although the prospect of major-power mechanized ground war between the US and Russia or China may not seem likely, the US Army is tasked with the need to be ready for any ground-combat scenario. What this means, Army leaders expained, is that the current and future combat environment the globe is both increasingly urban and armed with Russian and Chinese-made tanks and weapons.
Russian-built T-72 and T-90 tanks, Chinese drones, fighters and missiles are now part of Armies around the world who might wind up in conflict with the US. In particular, Pakistan is armed with Type 85-IIAP Chinese-built tanks and Iran is equipped with Russian-made T-72s. Even smaller countries, such as Bangladesh, have Chinese tanks. In addition, a far greater number of smaller countries such as Cuba, India and Libya have Russian tanks. North Korea, not suprisingly, has both Russian and Chinese tanks.
Also, senior Army officials explaine that if US Army ground forces wind up on the ground in Syria, they will definitely wind up confronting Russian-built weapons. Although such a scenario may or may not happen, the prospect presents a very real threat to Army analysts and trainers.
"If the Army goes into ground combat in the Middle East, we will face equipment from Russia, Iran and in some cases China," a senior Army official told Scout Warrior.
Re-focused Army Training
The Army’s “live-fire” combat exercises involve large-scale battalion-on-battalion war scenarios wherein mechanized forces often clash with make-shift, “near-peer” enemies or enemy weapons using new technologies, drones, tanks, artillery, missiles and armored vehicles.
The Army is expanding its training and “live-fire” weapons focus to include a renewed ability to fight a massive, enemy force in an effort to transition from its decade-and-a-half of tested combat experience with dismounted infantry and counterinsurgency.
Recent ground wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have created an experienced and combat-tested force able to track, attack and kill small groups of enemies -- often blended into civilian populations, speeding in pick-up trucks or hiding within different types of terrain to stage ambushes.
“The Army has a tremendous amount of experience right now. It has depth but needs more breadth. We’re good at counterinsurgency and operations employing wide area security. Now, we may have to focus on 'Mounted Maneuver' operations over larger distances,” Rickey Smith, Deputy Chief of Staff, Training and Doctrine Command, told Scout Warrior in an interview.
While senior Army leaders are quick to emphasize that counterinsurgency is of course still important and the service plans to be ready for the widest possible range of conflict scenarios, there is nonetheless a marked and visible shift toward being ready to fight and win against a large-scale modernized enemy such as Russia or China.
The Army, naturally, does not single out these countries as enemies, train specifically to fight them or necessarily expect to go to war with them. However, recognizing the current and fast-changing threat environment, which includes existing tensions and rivalries with the aforementioned great powers, Army training is increasingly focused on ensuring they are ready for a mechanized force-on-force type engagement.
At the same time, while large-scale mechanized warfare is quite different than counterinsurgency, there are some areas of potential overlap between recent warfare and potential future great power conflict in a few key respects. The ground wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, over a period of more than a decade, involved the combat debut of various precision-guided land attack weapons such as GPS guided artillery and rocket weapons.
Weapons such as Excalibur, a GPS-guided 155m artillery round able to precisely destroy enemy targets at ranges greater than 30-kilometers, gave ground commanders an ability to pinpoint insurgent targets such as small gatherings of fighters, buildings and bomb-making locations. Guided Multiple-Launch Rocket System, or GLMRS, is another example; this precision guided long-range rocket, which can hit ranges up to 70-kilometers, was successful in killing Taliban targets in Afghanistan from great distances, among other things.
These kinds of precision munitions, first used in Iraq and Afghanistan, are the kind of weapon which would greatly assist land attack efforts in a massive force-on-force land war as well. They could target key locations behind enemy lines such as supplies, forces and mechanized vehicles.
Drones are another area of potential overlap. The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan featured a veritable explosion in drone technology and drone use. For example, the Army had merely a handful of drones at the beginning of Operation Iraqi Freedom. Now, the service operates thousands and has repeatedly relied upon them to find enemy locations, spot upcoming ambushes and save lives in combat. These are the kinds of platforms which would also be of great utility in a major land war. However, they would likely be used differently incorporating new tactics, techniques and procedures in a great power engagement.