Military exercises between the United States and its allies’ forces have always had two purposes: first, to train with our allies so we can fight better together, and second, to show our adversaries some of the capabilities of our deterrent forces.
Since February, and in recent weeks, our adversaries’ provocations have caused us, some of our NATO allies and both South Korea and Japan to conduct exercises of up to two weeks’ length. But what, precisely, did they accomplish? Apparently not much.
The biggest provocation of the year so far was Russian President Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine. The annual NATO exercise “Steadfast Noon” has been conducted for about a dozen years. It involves far fewer of NATO’s military assets than those committed to many exercises during the Cold War, but it has enough for its particular purpose.
This year’s exercise is intended to counter Mr. Putin’s frequent nuclear saber rattling during his Ukraine war. Steadfast Noon’s purpose is to train NATO nuclear-capable air forces in the use of tactical nuclear weapons.
According to NATO, 14 nations and about 60 aircraft of various types are participating in Steadfast Noon. The exercise simulates an event in which the U.S. would share its nuclear arsenal with certain allies enabling their aircraft to drop tactical nuclear weapons. NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said the long-planned exercise would not be canceled because of the war in Ukraine.
Russia’s reaction is more nuclear saber rattling. Before the NATO exercise began, Mr. Putin threatened to provide Belarus with Su-25 aircraft and said he would raise the nuclear stakes again by transferring “to Belarus the Iskander-M tactical missile systems, which are known to use both ballistic and cruise missiles, both conventional and nuclear.”
Russia is also holding annual nuclear exercises at about the same time Steadfast Noon happens. Called “Grom,” the Russian exercise typically includes missile launches and large-scale maneuvers of strategic nuclear forces including submarines.
Steadfast Noon appears to have had no deterrent effect. Neither have our other recent exercises.
After North Korea fired a ballistic missile over Japan on Oct. 8, U.S. forces conducted ad-hoc exercises with Japanese and South Korean forces. In one, the U.S. flew four F-15s and four F-35s with Japanese air forces. On the other, South Korean jets flew a bombing practice mission. Both were too small to have any effect on North Korea. In response, North Korea fired at least a hundred artillery shells into the ocean.
The problem with all of these exercises is that both we and our principal adversaries know that our forces are not prepared to fight a major war. A recent study by the Air Force Association’s Mitchell Institute for Aerospace Studies said: “Today’s Air Force is smaller, older and less ready [to fight] than it has ever been. It lacks the ability to fight a peer conflict, deter elsewhere and defend the homeland as required by the National Defense Strategy.”
The Navy’s picture is just as ugly. Our fleet now consists of 295 ships, and, according to Adm. Michael Gilday, chief of naval operations, it needs 530 ships to meet its mission requirements. The Army and the Marines can’t be in better shape.
That’s plenty bad enough, but our operational doctrine under President Biden apparently does not include basic force protection.
As reported by the Washington Examiner and the War Zone blog, the Navy’s Pacific Fleet recorded over 150 incidents when Navy ships were overflown at close range by drones between 2017 and 2021. Some of the incidents occurred on U.S. bases, some in foreign ports such as Hong Kong and some may have occurred at sea. In one instance, a drone landed on the deck of a ship and was captured by its crew.
Such drones, in addition to taking pictures, could relay ships’ transmissions, detect their radars and, in perhaps the worst case, try to implant spyware or malware in a ship’s computers.
Why on God’s green earth were any drones allowed to approach — let alone land on — navy ships? Most were likely innocuous, flown by civilians taking pictures. But some — such as those in Hong Kong — have to be suspected tools of Chinese intelligence agencies.
We cannot demonstrate our commitment to deterrence unless we protect our forces but that, too, seems to be neglected under Mr. Biden’s direction.
Republicans are confident that they will take control of the House after next month’s election and may even take control of the Senate. If they do either, they should undertake a top-to-bottom review of our forces and the intentions and capabilities of our main adversaries. From those findings, they should come up with their own budgets for military and intelligence spending.
It’s not just a question of how many ships, aircraft, spy satellites and people we need, but of what kinds of assets we need to deter or, if necessary, defeat our adversaries. Part of that exercise must identify those of Mr. Biden’s actions — such as injecting “wokeness” into the force — that harm our readiness and capabilities.
Between Nov. 8, 2022, and Election Day in 2024, there will be few Republicans — and zero Democrats — who want to address these critical concerns. But they must. We are rapidly running out of time to rebuild our military.
• Jed Babbin is a national security and foreign affairs columnist for The Washington Times and contributing editor for The American Spectator.
Copyright © 2023 The Washington Times, LLC.