In the closing months of 2015, wars and conflicts, many involving major powers, are on the rise. In Syria, US and British fighter pilots regularly come into contact with Russian pilots, as the latter conduct a vigorous campaign against the forces of ISIL. Meanwhile, other Russian pilots maneuver aggressively up and down the Baltic Sea, as if it were the early 1980's, instead of the second decade of the 21st Century.
On the other side of the globe, the navies of the United States and the People's Republic of China (PRC) continually adjust their sabers at each other, as China flexes its naval strength in the South China Sea. Nearby, the North Korea of dictator Kim Jong Un remains erratic, seemingly - by their own press - ready to attack South Korea, and possibly Japan, at any moment.
In the midst of all this, US ground forces are still bogged down in Afghanistan, with no viable end in sight for an American involvement now fourteen years old.
And yet, within the US, calls to slash military budgets gain ever more traction, as the Department of Defense continually closes 'front-loaded' deals with defense contractors of staggering cost - an average price of US$178 million for every, single F-35B being just one example - as grave issues at Veteran's Administration hospitals, including the spectre of an estimated c.50,000 military veterans living homeless on American streets flows through the news feeds of American voters as the next election cycle approaches, and serving troops are increasingly reluctant to reenlist as pay is stagnant and reenlistment bonuses are declining. With the ongoing budget woes leaving as many as nine out of ten active-duty Army division headquarters deployed, both training and simple equipment maintenance suffers.
Hidden within the raw numbers, however, is a deep and growing worry, a monster spoken of only in hushed tones -- the fear that the military has focused too much on fighting one opponent...an opponent that may not be the greatest threat.
The requirements for fighting guerrillas and fighting "main force" armies are very different. Justifiably, the US military spent the period form 2001 to 2009 concentrating on threats from small guerrilla and terrorist groups, using essentially light infantry tactics and doctrine -- there was little point in preparing to fight a thoroughly conventional war when no such force was threatening the United States.
However, as far back as 2008 - when Sarah Palin famously implied that Vladimir Putin's Russia would attack the Ukraine - there were indications that the spectre of conflict was shifting focus, yet again.
Major powers began to flex their military muscles again, for different reasons: Russia, with its own ongoing wars around its national perimeter; and the PRC, maneuvering to stake its claim to potentially vast oil and natural gas reserves in the South China Sea; as various European coalitions, realizing that the United States was in no position to carry their water in the short term, moved into combat in Libya on their own.
And yet - with the US national economy mired in the economic earthquakes that began in 2008 - the military truncated its budgets, desperately trying to replenish its expended stocks of equipment and ammunition, little money was left for retraining for conventional threats, especially with Iraq and Afghanistan still ongoing operations.
Now, the US Navy is able to deploy fewer than 300 ships around the world on any sort of notice, and the Army and Marine Corps are at their lowest manning levels in a generation...and, with little money for training, there is no incentive to completely revamp training to meet an altogether different threat from what is easily grasped from fourteen years of video.
The great fear, seldom spoken of at present, is that the United States will once again suddenly find itself in the middle of a shooting war, this time with a major world power, with a world-spanning reach -- and, like so many times in the past, the US and its military will be caught completely unprepared.
...But, this is not 1941. The real question is: "Does the United States have the ability to repeat history?"
Increasingly, the fear is that the answer to that question is a resounding "No".