The U.S. Army's ground combat systems risk being surpassed by those being developed by foreign countries such as Russia and China, according to a new report from the nonpartisan Congressional Research Service.
The Army is currently using main battle tanks, tracked infantry fighting vehicles, tracked self-propelled artillery, and multiple launch rocket systems developed during the Soviet era. Billion-dollar plans to modernize the force's ground combat systems have been cancelled over the last decade.
Meanwhile, potential adversaries have prioritized funding new weapons systems and technologies for their forces, raising concerns among American experts about the shrinking capability gap between the United States and other nations.
"Countries such as Russia and China are not only upgrading existing ground combat systems with new and effective survivability and lethality features but are also developing entirely new ground combat systems for domestic use and possible export," the Congressional Research Service wrote in a report published this month.
"Given the U.S. has ‘no new ground combat vehicles under development' and new systems are a ‘multi-decade effort' due largely to resource constraints and DOD's Acquisition process, there is a possibility one or more upgraded or newly developed foreign ground combat systems could emerge and surpass its U.S. counterpart," the report states.
Military leaders from across the armed services have highlighted how defense spending reductions put in place by the Budget Control Act of 2011 have forced them to fund current readiness at the expense of other priorities, including modernization.
"Predictable and consistent funding is absolutely essential for the Army to build and sustain current readiness and progress toward a more modern, capable future force," Army Chief of Staff Gen. Mark Milley said in testimony before the Senate Committee on Armed Services in September. "We simply cannot sustain readiness or build the Army our nation needs in the future if we return to sequestration-level funding in fiscal year 2018."
"While the Army is reducing end-strength, we made a deliberate decision to prioritize readiness, reduce infrastructure maintenance, and decrease funding for modernization," Milley said. "These choices devote resources to today's fight, but decrease investments for future modernization and infrastructure readiness, and emergent demands."
The Congressional Research Service compared ground combat systems developed by the United States, Russia, China, the United Kingdom, Germany, and Israel, identifying shortfalls in U.S. systems and potential advantages of foreign systems.
For instance, the report states that main battle tanks under development by Russia and China are "employing larger caliber main guns than their Western counterparts, theoretically offering greater range and armor penetration."
Russia is currently developing the high-technology Armata T-14 tank, a prototype of which was unveiled at the 2015 Victory Day parade in Moscow. The Telegraph reported last year that a leaked internal British military intelligence document described the tank as "the most revolutionary step change in tank design in the last half century."
Russia has been able to test a variety of new weapons systems in Syria while supporting Bashar al-Assad's forces. Pro-Russian separatists in Ukraine also have used new weapons from Moscow to fight Ukrainian government forces in the eastern part of the country.
China last July unveiled the newest variant of its ZTZ-96 main battle tank, which participated in army games organized by the Russian defense ministry.
Constraints on the U.S. defense budget have been a source of concern among some Republican lawmakers, who say that sequestration should be ended and funding for the U.S. military boosted. President Donald Trump has said he will end sequestration and rebuild the armed forces, though it is unclear how much he wants to increase the defense budget.
The United States spends around $600 billion on defense each year.