The US Military: Extended Reach and Challenges in the Face of Budgetary Pressures

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The fundamental forces shaping the US military for a long time have been the extended reach and challenges of extended operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. Today, it faces new budgetary pressures under a political focus on deficit reduction and domestic priorities. Here’s an analysis of the international relations by our Associate Editor, Navodita. We begin a new weekly column, every Saturday, this week. A Different Truths exclusive.

The recent US Navy plane crash off Okinawa coast that left eleven people dead has sent waves of uncertainty and distress across the US Navy. Eight people have been rescued and are in good condition aboard the carrier, said the US Navy in a statement. However, the US and Japanese ships and planes are searching the area for the three people who have gone missing since.

It’s been a difficult year for the Navy in the western North Pacific following a spate of incidents – most involving ships assigned to the East Asia-based US 7th Fleet – that included the death of 17 sailors. Earlier, it was USS Fitzgerald and USS John S. McCain and now it’s USS Ronald Reagan. The Navy has launched multiple investigations and reviews in the wake of this year’s accidents.

Meanwhile, the US military has also banned the consumption of alcohol among its troops in the wake of this accident. The military said its forces on Okinawa must stay on base or at home. The crash is likely to renew resentment over the US military’s presence on Okinawa. Last year, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe protested to then President Barack Obama after a Japanese woman was allegedly raped and murdered by a US military contractor on Okinawa. His trial began last week as he admitted raping her but not murdering her.

The US military, despite downsizing after the Cold War, maintains global reach, missions, tasks, and considerations. The United States Armed Forces consists of the Army, Marine Corps, Navy, Air Force and Coast Guard. President Trump remains the Commander-in-Chief of the US Armed Forces and forms military policy with the U.S. Department of Defense and U.S. Department of Homeland Security, both deferral executive departments, acting as the principal organs by which military policy has carried out.

The fundamental forces shaping the US military for a long time have been the extended reach and challenges of extended operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. Today, it faces new budgetary pressures under a political focus on deficit reduction and domestic priorities. There were three notable changes in the US military between 1996 and 2015 – precision munitions, especially air-delivered ones, had become the norm rather than the exception. Precision-guided munitions constituted only 7 percent of the air-to-surface weapons employed in the 1991 Gulf War but 70 percent of those used during the ‘major combat’ phase of Operation Iraqi Freedom in 2003.

Second, the Air Force and Navy have benefitted from improvements in key platforms. F-22 “Raptor” procurement is now complete, and it should be able to operate in heavily defended airspace that would be prohibitively dangerous to older jets. A third change has been the introduction of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) into the arsenal. In 1996, neither the Navy nor the Air Force had any operational UAVs, while the Army and Marine Corps each fielded a handful. Armed UAVs, especially the MQ-1 Predator and MQ-9 Reaper, have been heavily used in Afghanistan and Iraq. The most important influence on the size and development of the US military during this period were the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. The war against the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) and other smaller conflicts have, thus far, seen operations on a significantly smaller scale with correspondingly lower costs.

Through 2017, the US military will continue to evolve, but the likely changes will be evolutionary rather than revolutionary. F-35 schedules continue to slide, and although the US Government Accountability Office predicts that more than 350 aircraft will be delivered to the U.S. Air Force, Navy, and Marine Corps by 2017, it does not expect that the aircraft will be ready for initial operational testing by 2017. At the same time, further shrinkage in the Air Force fighter inventory can be expected.

With the recent and most ambitious five-nation trip by President Trump to Asia, US is seeking not just new trade deals with Asian partners but also seeking a diplomatic pressure against North Korea by these nations. Despite the self-proclaimed triumph, the success of Trump’s trip actually depends on what he – and China, North Korea, South Korea and Japan, among others – do in the months or years ahead.

As far as Asia is concerned, Washington has begun to focus more heavily on US difference capabilities in Asia – particularly the challenge posed by Chinese power – in shaping policies, plan, and procurements. The clearest and most comprehensive public statement to this effect can be found in a January 2012 DoD document, ‘Sustaining U.S. Global Leadership: Priorities for 21st Century Defense’. The document highlights the mix of ‘evolving challenges and opportunities in Asia and states, “while the U.S. military will continue to contribute to global security, we will of necessity rebalance toward the Asia-Pacific region.”

While Modi’s visit to the US and Barack Obama’s visit to India in 2015 seem to start off a bilateral dialogue between the two nations, similar efforts by Indian Ambassador to the US Navtej Sarna were taken when he hosted a reception for the National Governor’s Association, which was attended by the Governors of 25 states and senior representatives of three states. This was the first time such an event had occurred and seemed to put the final ‘business seal’ to the military relations that have developed over the years.  

©Navodita Pande

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Navodita Pande has been practicing yoga since she was 9 years old in Iyengar Yoga. In April 1995, she performed at the International Yoga Seminar. In January 2003, Navodita taught at Hare Rama Hare Krishna Mandir in New York. Navodita had a Yoga show on NDTV 24×7 and was also the official yoga trainer for Miss Delhi contestants in 2007. She currently teaches Yoga and Reiki to
people in Kanpur.