Properly handled, deterrence is a subtle instrument. On the one hand, prospective adversaries should not feel so threatened that they will reflexively act out. On the other hand, potential aggressors need to be convinced that they will lose any conflict they start. This is going to be a particularly challenging task as the U.S. withdraws from Afghanistan, defense budgets decline and force structure gets cut. Talk around Washington of deep cuts to the U.S. Army may leave those contemplating aggression against their neighbors or U.S. allies and interests with the idea that they can win if they focus on land operations and avoid challenging the U.S. in the air or at sea.
I have a partial solution to the problem of deterring future aggressors. Let’s give them a tour of the exhibit halls at the Association of the U.S. Army’s (AUSA) convention currently underway in Washington, D.C. Walking the floor not only provides insight into the strength and sophistication of today’s Army but the capabilities that will be entering service over the next few years. Remember that this was an Army that just a decade ago had never heard of improvised explosive devices (IED), couldn’t tell the difference between Unmanned Aerial Systems (UASs) and UFOs and thought they had great connectivity when the battalion command post could talk to higher headquarters having spent half a day setting up their antenna field.
Today, the Army and Marine Corps have deployed some 35,000 IED jammers of all sizes, shapes and flavors. Vehicle mounted systems such as the multi-generational Counter Radio-Controlled IED Electronic Warfare (CREW) and the man-pack Thor, to mention just two, have gone a long way to neutralizing electronically-detonated IEDs. Similarly, airborne surveillance capabilities have proliferated. In addition to manned platforms such as the MC-12 Liberty aircraft and the family of ground-based Persistent Surveillance Systems, there are enough UASs of all shapes and sizes to darken the skies. With advanced sensor packages such as Gorgon Stare now being deployed, the capacity to collect information and prosecute targets continues to grow. The Army is experiencing a revolution in tactical communications with the deployment of the Warrior Information Network-Tactical (WIN-T) and the Rifleman and Manpack radios with advanced waveforms. When fully implemented, the Army’s new communications architecture will provide seamless connectivity while on the move from brigade level down to the individual soldier.
If this display of currently deployed capabilities were not enough to deter would-be aggressors, there is an array of technologies and systems that could be fielded within a few years. A host of vehicles were present including several competitors for the Joint Light Tactical program as well as advanced versions of current systems such as the Super Buffalo and variants of the Stryker and Bradley vehicles offered as M113 replacements. Advanced air and missile defenses such as the mobile Medium Extended Air Defense System (MEADS), improved Patriot and even Israel’s Iron Dome were on display. So too were innovative airborne systems like the S-97 RAIDER, a candidate for the Army’s Armed Aerial Scout, and the unmanned K-Max and A160 Hummingbird helicopters. In the realm of surveillance on display were the JLENS tethered aerostat system as well as a number of models of airships.
Finally, there were all the exhibits of clothing, equipment and related items that are vital to the success of the individual soldier and squad. Whether it is better cold weather and fire resistant clothing, lighter body armor, improved night vision goggles or more nutritious food rations, this can be the difference between success and failure on the battlefields of the future. Even as we spend time planning future large procurements of vehicles, aircraft and weapons systems, it is important to remember that what may deter a future adversary is the ability of the individual soldier to outmaneuver them on foot and outlast them in the mountains.
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