Week of December 06, 2021

Looking at America’s Global Posturing Review


Earlier this week, the Pentagon released its 2021 Global Posture Review, a basic review of how the US Defense Department sees the military situation in the world and how it intends to respond to it. The review is intentionally vague to avoid giving American competitors on the global scene solid information to work on.  However, by reading between the lines, one can get a good idea of what the American military plans to do in the next few years.

Although the review doesn’t focus on it, the biggest change is in the Middle East. It briefly mentions “the end of DoD operations in Afghanistan” and “the Defeat ISIS campaign,” but little else except directing the DoD to conduct additional analysis. It does mention “building the capacity of partner forces.”

The change is much more than that. Since the end of the Cold War, the collapse of the Soviet Union and the first Gulf War, US attention has been focused on the Middle East. Aircraft carriers that were once stationed in the Atlantic and Mediterranean were pulled to the Gulf region to first counter Iraq and Iran. Then there was the Afghan campaign for the last 20 years.

With US forces withdrawn from Afghanistan and scheduled to withdraw from Iraq by the end of the year, cooperation between Israel and some Arab nations, and more militarily capable nations like Saudi Arabia and the UAE in the region, the Middle East doesn’t need the American military assets that have been in the region for the last 30 years.

Although American aircraft will remain stationed in the region, the aircraft carriers, which were once a major presence in the area, will likely be repositioned, although some exercises by the super carriers will still take place on a regular basis. There will also be a strong presence of surface warships remaining to guarantee free movement through the Strait of Hormuz.

It is likely that there will be a larger American naval and aircraft carrier presence in the Eastern Mediterranean. This represents a return to the Cold War strategy.

An American carrier stationed in the Eastern Mediterranean can be used in strikes against ISIS. With refueling or stops at friendly air bases in the region, American aircraft from a carrier can strike Iran if necessary. But, most important, an American carrier in the Eastern Mediterranean can hit Russian targets that are threatening the Ukraine. This option is more attractive since the rapprochement between Turkey and Russia has faded as Turkey has begun aiding Ukraine.

There are other NATO assets in the area if necessary. France, Spain, Italy, and the United Kingdom have aircraft carriers that could be used to bolster American air assets.  In fact, US aircraft have conducted exercises onboard both Italian and British aircraft carriers recently.

American nuclear attack submarines with cruise missiles are also stationed in the Mediterranean.

Nor are American forces the only ones to focus on NATO challenges. British aircraft carrier HMS Prince of Wales will become the command platform for the NATO Response Force/Maritime in 2022. It will help free up US aircraft carriers for other operations.

The ability to shift American military assets from the Middle East to the European/NATO Theater stresses the growing tension between NATO and Russia over Ukraine. Those tensions were highlighted during the Organization for Security and cooperation in Europe meeting (OSCE) where US Secretary of State Blinken and Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov met.

While Lavrov warned that Europe was returning to the “nightmare of military confrontation,” Blinken warned of “Serious consequences” if Russia sought conflict with the Ukraine.

Ukraine said that Russia has massed troops along its border. Meanwhile, Russia has arrested three suspected Ukrainian security service agents.

Before the Global Posturing Review, the US has increased its presence in Eastern Europe. At a G20 meeting a few weeks ago, a US briefing indicated that Moscow was preparing for a possible invasion of the Ukraine. Ukrainian military intelligence says Russia has deployed as many as 114,000 forces around the border.

NATO member Estonia has ordered snap military drills and the erection of more barbed wire fencing along its border with Russia. The Estonian government also called up 1,700 reservists to fortify the 40 km border with Russia. Poland, Latvia, and Lithuania have instituted states of emergency along their borders with Belarus, an ally of Russia.

NATO rotates four battalion sized combat units in Latvia, Lithonia, Estonia, and Poland. The US has also moved nuclear capable fighter bombers into Poland.

The Pentagon has reactivated a nuclear unit based in Mainz-Kastel. It will field hypersonic weapons aimed against command-and-control targets in Russia.

The 56th Artillery Command will be armed with “Dark Eagle” long range hypersonic missiles that can reach Moscow in 21 minutes and 30 seconds. The last time the unit had been operational was 1991, as the Soviet Union was collapsing.

In terms of bolstering US forces in Europe, the paper noted that the cap on the number of American forces in Europe has been raised. The US will also retain seven bases in Germany and Belgium that were originally scheduled to be returned to the host nation.

Retaining the seven bases may be more political than strategic. Pentagon review teams have questioned the readiness of some America’s forces in Europe, especially those in the rear. Germany, which was once on the front line of NATO’s confrontation with the USSR is now part of the rear echelon.

The China theater (called the Indo-Pacific in the paper) was another issue. Much was kept out because of security issues. However, current action with allies in the region and what was implied in the paper revealed much.

Much was made of additional cooperation with allies and partners, in this case the United Kingdom and Australia.  It appears that the UK will continue to maintain a major naval presence, including one of its new aircraft carriers. Australia also has an aircraft capable amphibious warship. It also has amphibious capability that has been used in peacekeeping in the Southern Pacific.

Japan’s naval force will also be part of the force that will be used to hem in China. As for Korea, the US will permanently station an attack helicopter squadron and an artillery division headquarters.

One of the unmentioned threats was hypersonic weapons. And, although they haven’t been mentioned, the paper notes how the US will initially counter this threat. The Global Posturing Review recommended expanding the infrastructure in the South Pacific, including the major military base in Guam.

Since Guam like Pearl Harbor in WWII is a critical US facility and vulnerable to hypersonic attack, the US intends to expand its infrastructure facilities throughout the South Pacific. Palau will likely be one of the new bases since they requested one in 2020.

The major partner in increasing American infrastructure will be Australia. Australia has announced that they will spend $750 million to upgrade four of its bases for US-Australian naval operations.

The US will also increase aircraft deployments in Australia. There is also a plan to develop several air base alternates to make it difficult for a Chinese surprise attack.

The Global Posturing Review also mentioned Africa and the threat of violent extremism. The Central and South American section looked at humanitarian assistance and counter narcotics missions.

Of course, the Global Posturing Review isn’t the end. This paper will determine how ships, aircraft, and troops will be deployed and will contribute to the National Defense Strategy.

The paper will also be critical for determining future weapons procurement. For instance, the Pentagon’s Cost Assessment and Program Evaluation (CAPE) will look at the naval fleet and how it will counter future threats and meet the needs of the National Defense Strategy. That will then be a factor in the 2023 defense budget. During the evaluation, questions will need to be asked like; will more aircraft carriers be needed to meet the administration’s needs, what type of escort ships will be needed and how will those ships counter the latest Russian and Chinese perceived threats?