RAND Corp wargames: U.S. loses to combined Russia/China forces

The RAND Corporation’s annual ‘Red on Blue’ wargame simulation found that the United States would be a loser in a conventional confrontation with Russia and China.

The RAND Corporation think tank in Santa Monica, California has hosted annual “Red on Blue” wargame simulations since 1952. The exercise purpose is to understand how the United States represented by ‘Blue’ can counter ‘Red’ adversaries. By modeling how adversaries could use of asymmetric strategies or weapons, Pentagon planners are forced to deal with unfamiliar threats. The goal is educating the military on how to formulate strategies for training and response for emerging threats and capabilities.

But RAND analyst David Ochmanek told the Breaking Defense that with Blue representing the current U.S. military capabilities and Red representing the combined capabilities of Russia and China in a conventional war, “Blue gets its ass handed to it.”

RAND’s ‘America’s Security Deficit’ released on March 7 found that despite spending $700 billion a year on an array of superweapons including stealth aircraft and 1,100-foot carriers, the U.S. forces “suffer heavy losses in one scenario after another and still can’t stop Russia or China" from overrunning U.S. allies in the Baltics or Taiwan.

To counter President Reagan’s increase in U.S. defense spending to 5 percent of GDP in the 1980s to fund the launch of his Strategic Defense Initiative, the Soviet Union spiked defense spending  to 20% of GDP.  With the USSR suffering a financial collapse in 1991, the U.S. military was rated as omnipotent.

President Clinton declared a “peace dividend” to cut spending back to 4 percent of GDP, but the 9/11 terrorist bombing of the World Trade Center and subsequent Middle East wars through the 2000s pushed defense spending back up. President Obama approved plans to build 10 of the 1,106-foot long Ford-class aircraft carriers, with carrier designated CVN-81 to begin construction in 2024 as the USS Barack Obama.

RAND highlights that the post-Cold War expansion of NATO to include former Warsaw Pact members in Eastern Europe and Baltic States created undefined U.S. security obligations. Coupled with China’s economic success funding a rapid offensive military modernization, America now faces “vulnerabilities in U.S. power-projection capabilities.”

Many of the U.S. high-tech weapons systems acquired over the last two decades have value. But weapons deployed to big land bases and giant aircraft carriers are now vulnerable to Russian and Chinese advances in long-range precision-guided missiles.

Former Deputy Secretary of Defense Robert Work, who has decades of RAND wargaming experience, recently warned: “In every case I know of, the F-35 rules the sky when it’s in the sky, but it gets killed on the ground in large numbers.”

Work cautioned: “Whenever we have an exercise and the Red Force really destroys our command and control, we stop the exercise” because it is exceedingly difficult to lead from a command post with blank screens and radio static.

RAND’s Ochmanek identifies the growing “Red” arsenals of “smart” weapons as an existential threat to “things that rely on sophisticated base infrastructure like runways and fuel tanks are going to have a hard time.” Regarding the wisdom of building $13 billion carriers, “Things that sail on the surface of the sea are going to have a hard time.”

The RAND study also found that huge Army supply bases and the 58 NATO Brigade Combat Teams across Europe are virtually undefended from cruise missiles, drones, and helicopters, “because the Army largely got rid of its mobile anti-aircraft troops.”

The RAND study specifically focus on the need to invest about $24 billion in missiles. to shoot down ‘Red’ offensive missiles, aircraft, and drones. A short-term fix would include buying lots of the Army’s new Maneuver Short-Range Air Defense (MSHORAD) batteries -- Stinger missiles mounted on Stryker armored vehicles. The long-term response requires investment in lasers, railguns, and high-powered microwaves to shoot down incoming missiles.

RAND complimented the Trump administration’s 2020 defense budget proposal that plans a decades-early retirement of the USS Harry Truman carrier and cuts two amphibious landing ships. Money is being reinvested in ground-based air and missile defenses, plus the rollout of Marine Corps F-35 jump-jets that can take off from tiny ad hoc airstrips.