It’s been 72 years since Nazi Germany fell and Imperial Japan surrendered to Allied Forces aboard the USS Missouri.Image Credit: Keystone/Getty Images
But peace came at an unbelievable price with an estimated 60 million casualties.
Fast forward to 2017, when Huffington Post reports that Google searches on World War 3 are at an all-time high.
Why might that be?
According to the Russian Foreign Ministry, tensions between the U.S. and Russia are at the “worst period” since the Cold War.Image Credit: Alexander Nemenov/AFP/Getty Images
Iran continues to expand its military capabilities and is positioning itself as the #1 state sponsor of terrorism.
Due to its funding of jihadist and militia groups, the Iranian Regime is spreading its influence throughout the Middle East.Image Credit: Abdel Rahman Abdallah/AFP/Getty Images
North Korea continues to break international laws through its missiles tests and threatens both the United States and South Korea.
Admiral Harry B. Harris Jr., the commander of United States Pacific Command, said, “The crisis on the Korean peninsula is real—the worst I’ve seen.”Image Credit: STR/AFP/Getty Images
China wishes to avoid direct conflicts with the United States, but just launched its first domestically made aircraft carrier, signaling they seek to become the number one power in the region.Image Credit: STR/AFP/Getty Images
But what if all the “tough talk” turned into something more? What if World War 3 was no longer just a popular Google search? What would it look like? Who would the players be? What would the United States’s role be in it all? Would we survive it?
Independent Journal Review wanted answers to these questions. So we talked to the experts of the experts — the high-ranking military officers, the special operations forces, the analysts, the battalion commanders, the arms specialists, and more.
First off, while World War II was fought in the Pacific and Europe, World War III would very likely have three different theaters: The European theater, the Western Asian theater, and the Eastern Asian theater.
But how capable would countries like Russia, Iran, North Korea, and China be in a war against the U.S. and its allies? There are multiple factors to consider when answering such a question. But let’s start with U.S. special operations forces versus the other countries.
Special Operations Forces:
Larry Vickers — a U.S. Army veteran, Green Beret, and Delta Force Operator — told IJR that special operations would play a “significant role” in a third world war.Image Credit: Larry Vickers
“Nobody has seen more combat than our special operations forces in the last quarter-century. You could take all the world’s special operations forces combined, and they don’t equal 25 percent of the combat experience we’ve had,” said Vickers.
Vickers, who hosts a YouTube show called Vickers Tactical, is a world renowned combat marksmanship instructor.
“Everyone in the world follows our lead. When I was in Russia and did some filming over there, they very closely watch what American special operations are wearing. From camouflage to equipment to how are they modifying their weapons — they watch us closely.”
Vickers drove home his point about U.S. combat experience. “Since Vietnam, no country has seen more combat than us. China hasn’t been in a fight since the Korean War. Russians have had internal issues, but haven’t done anything externally since Afghanistan,” he said.
He then made the point about how the U.S. military is always improving, which gives us an advantage:
“You see what Delta is doing today? That’s what the Army is going to be doing in a decade. From their kneepads to their optics, to the gear that they use, the Army will be doing what they’re doing in ten years.”
U.S. Navy veteran and Navy SEAL Rob Du Bois echoed Vickers’s statement about combat experience.Image Credit: Rob DuBois
“With North Korea and China and Russia, and to a lesser degree Iran, we have a significant advantage of recent operational experience enterprise-wide. Our one-and-a-half decades immersed in combat operations is not shared by any other country’s entire special operations forces organization, no matter how busy they may be in regional conflicts.” DuBois said.
U.S. Army veteran and Delta Force Operator Tyler Grey addressed the technological edge American special operations forces has.Image Credit: Tyler Grey
“Technology is only as good as the person utilizing it. Our edge is our special operations personnel, who are the smartest, most adept, and most experienced special operations forces in the world with integrating new technology to develop new tactics in combat. With U.S. industry providing cutting edge technology and our forces utilizing it and then continuously improving it, we have an edge that few, if any, can come close to matching,” Grey said.
An analyst with the Department of Defense (DoD) elaborated on some of the capabilities of North Korea’s special forces.
“There are a lot of them. They are not well equipped, but they are motivated and pretty well trained,” the analyst said. “They use AKs. But they have sniper rifles, as well. Generally, their arms are domestically produced and not that reliable.”Image Credit: Ed Jones/AFP/Getty Images
The analyst offered up a history lesson to show just how ideologically committed North Korean special forces are. “On October 30, 1968, a contingent of DPRK troops landed on the South Korea’s east coast. A guy I know was part of the team to counter them. They ended up having to kill all of the North Koreans. None surrendered. We still are unsure why they did that.”
Brian Hoffman, a U.S. Marine and former analyst with the Department of Defense on Iran, broke down the capabilities of the Quds Force (Iran’s Special Forces Unit).Image Credit: Brian Hoffman
“Direct conflict would be interesting, in that Iran’s military, in particular, their asymmetric capabilities, were built and grown by us when Iran was a friend. We handed them their special operations forces model, structure, many techniques, tactics, and procedures, and mission approach,” Hoffman said.
Hoffman commented on the types of attacks we would likely see from the Quds Force.
Image Credit: Mahmoud Zayyat/AFP/Getty Images
“Like the U.S., the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps and Quds Force fund and train rogue groups in as many places as they can.
The brunt of attacks on the U.S. would be against U.S. forces that are abroad. Their greatest weapon is (Lebanese) Hizballah.”
Hizballah is believed to have around 40,000 members, with 20,000 actively serving at any given time. If war broke out, Hoffman said we could expect to see unconventional terrorist attacks on major public sites and high-profile assassinations carried out by the Quds Force.
But what about China? U.S. Army Lt. Colonel Dennis Blasko (Ret), the author of “The Chinese Army Today: Tradition and Transformation for the 21st Century,” served as attaché to Hong Kong and Beijing in the 90s, 23 years as a military intelligence officer, and worked for the Defense Intelligence Agency.Image Credit: Dennis Blasko
“China’s special operations forces, their SOF units, are not like ours in the United States. They don’t have a Delta Force or a SEAL Team Six. With the exception of their Snow Leopard Commando Unit, the majority of the special forces guys are light infantry like our Army Rangers here,” Blasko said.
Blasko pointed out how far China is behind the special operations curve:
“They also don’t have special operations guys who are trained to go behind enemy lines like ours are. While they’ve performed well in various competitions for special operations that are held abroad, they haven’t ever actually been in battle.
They’ve never kicked down a door, or rescued a hostage, and they aren’t equipped to the level of our military, either.”
“Even within special operations in the People’s Liberation Army, many of the guys who go in are only in for two years. Some stay longer than that. But the majority of them are inexperienced and new. The further they had to operate from the mainland, the harder it would be for them to accomplish their mission or project power,” Blasko said.Image Credit: VGC/Getty Images
And that inexperience doesn’t just impact China’s special operations forces. It impacts its military leaders in general. “One of the most frequent comments from brigade and platoon leaders in the PLA is that they don’t know how to use their special operations guys,” Blasko stated.
Within China’s Marines, Navy, Air Force, Rocket Force, and Army, Blasko estimates their special operations community is roughly 30,000.
A Brigadier General’s perspective:
U.S. Army Brigadier General Anthony Tata (Ret) and bestselling author of “Besieged” told IJR what he considers one of the primary reasons the U.S. military has the edge.Image Credit: Anthony Tata
“The training that our military goes through, the simulations, and the combat we have been in for the last 16-17 years has created a warrior class in the U.S. In the art of warfare and practice of warfare, we have some good leaders and a deep bench because we have been at war for so long. And when you’re not at war, you’re training,” Tata said.
Tata shared some personal experience to emphasize his comments further. “When I was a general, even after a combat mission, we would group everyone together and review what we did right and wrong, play-by-play.”Image Credit: Anthony Tata
However, he also explained that any world war would most likely involve three contingencies (theaters of conflict) or more. And that due to the scaling back of U.S. military forces in the last eight years, the U.S. military “would have trouble supplying enough resources and manpower to fight in all three theaters.”
But what could happen if North Korea, China, Russia, or Iran strikes the U.S. or its allies?
With all the talk about North Korea’s threats against the United States, they are still not an immediate threat to the U.S. homeland, according to the same analyst IJR spoke with about North Korea’s special ops units. He painted the picture of just how badly it might go for North Korea, if they launched a bombing raid on South Korea.Image Credit: Ed Jones/AFP/Getty Images
“What they have most in their inventory is primitive propeller driven AN-2s. Yes, they can carry up to seven special ops personnel. Yes, they can carry ordnance, but the amount of said ordnance is limited by the capacity of the aircraft itself.
Also, that ordnance will not be of the advanced type. They will have to do it the old fashioned way. What they own in fighters is no more current than late 1980s, Soviet-era stuff. If the balloon goes up, then the U.S. Air Force will destroy, not decimate, their air force in the course of an afternoon.”
A popular opinion about Russia and the U.S. going to war is that it would be a nuclear one. We asked a former DoD employee with familiarity in Critical Nuclear Weapons Design Information about the issue.Image Credit: Galerie Bilderwet/Getty Images
“Our nukes are used as deterrents. We don’t ever want to use them. But if [we] ever got to the point to where we had to use them, our delivery systems are well above anyone in the world. We can have a sub 100 miles off someone’s coast in a day,” the former DoD employee said. “And we can end all life there as we know it. They won’t see us coming, and they won’t find us. They won’t know until it happens.”
U.S. Air Force Lt. Colonel Buzz Patterson, who carried the “nuclear football” during the Clinton administration, added another perspective to the issue.Image Credit: Buzz Patterson
“Ours are the best, but Russia is accomplished, and we gave China the technology during the Clinton years. Our capabilities [being], by far, superior doesn’t preclude Russia or China from hitting us. It doesn’t take advanced skill, just the ability,” Patterson said. “And it’s not China or Russia I’m worried about when it comes to using nukes. [I]t’s countries like North Korea and Pakistan that have always concerned me.”
What might Iran do? We spoke to Eliran Feildboy, a former member of Sayeret Tzanhanim, an Israeli special operations forces RECON unit about the kinds of attacks Iran would likely execute.Image Credit: Eliran Feildboy
“In a case of a physical conflict, we will see their navy and air force go up against U.S. Naval forces and other locations of U.S. forces across the Middle East. They will attack sites in Israel more likely than attacking the United States. But they won’t do it themselves. They will send proxies through Hizballah and Hamas to launch attacks: rocket attacks, cyber attacks, and targeting of Israeli facilities abroad,” Feildboy said.
The Quds Force is spread out through the Middle East. They’re in Lebanon, Syria, and Iraq and even African theaters. It is easier for the U.S. to fight a conventional war, but this war will not be conventional. It will target the U.S. and its allies’ vulnerabilities and be fought in an unconventional manner.”
At an estimated 2.3 million troops, China has the largest standing army in the world. But even with that manpower, their military is still inexperienced.Image Credit: Sasha Mordovets/Getty Images
IJR talked to Timothy Heath at the RAND Corporation, who served as the Senior Analyst at United States Pacific Command on China, about China’s capabilities.
We asked Heath if its military would be capable of handling a regional conflict. “It would depend on the conflict, the adversaries involved, and the conditions surrounding the conflict. In general, I would say China’s military capabilities are improving, but it remains untested and ill-prepared for a serious conflict,” Heath said.
With China launching its first domestically built aircraft carrier, we wanted to know about their naval capabilities. “The PLA (People’s Liberation Army) Navy has seen impressive gains in the past few decades, but it remains untested, its training quality uneven, and its ability to prevail against a peer military such as Japan remains doubtful,” Heath explained.
Heath told IJR that he doesn’t see China initiating an “unprovoked attack on any country,” but he still laid out a few scenarios:
“If we are talking about a conflict between the Koreas, China’s military could carry out missions to secure its border. But a conflict on the peninsula could escalate into a serious war that would be difficult for U.S., China, and other involved countries to manage.
If the conflict was a military clash in the South China Sea against a weaker neighbor such as Vietnam, China could prevail in a naval battle using forces available in the South China Sea.
If the conflict was a clash with Japan in the East China Sea, China’s military forces are less likely to prevail due to the strength of Japan’s military forces. China’s chances would dim further if the United States got involved.
If China attacked Taiwan, it could inflict serious damage, but it lacks the ability to successfully invade the island at this point, especially if the United States intervened.”
But how prepared is the U.S. for a future conflict?
Lt. Colonel Kevin Govern (Ret), who worked in special operations forces, at SOCOM, and advised the DoD, gave us a general idea.Image Credit: Kevin Govern
“We don’t necessarily or carefully read other nations’ doctrine. In the late 1990s, for Command and General Staff College, I was still using materials that were studying the Korean War, Vietnam, and the Cold War. It’s great for history, but they were not the threats that we were facing, nor were they the likely emerging threats,” he said.
Then Govern explained how Russia would leverage technology in a potential war. “For Russia, there’s a concept called the Gerasimov doctrine. Only relatively recently have Americans translated it and figure out that the Russians are going to have a multi-spectrum conflict. But the centerpiece of that conflict is going to be the use of cyber warfare. Similarly, we have read Chinese doctrine, and we know China will have cyber warfare at the center of its warfare.”
And while the U.S. military has a superior arsenal, the Lt. Colonel revealed how that doesn’t always put us at an advantage.
“In 1999, we were doing bombing runs during the Kosovo campaign. We were using the F-117, a stealth aircraft. It could evade radar systems, and is designed to drop two guided bombs. Part of the notion of using stealth is not to fly the same route because there is a minimal signature.
But what happened was an extremely low tech anti-aircraft guns took out an F-117 because the jet, while stealth, kept flying the same route.”
But wars are not just fought in the air, on land, or at sea any longer. They are also fought in cyberspace.
IJR talked to Peter W. Singer, who the Wall Street Journal called “the premier futurist in the national-security environment.” Singer advised President Obama’s 2008 campaign on national security and has advised the U.S. military, Defense Intelligence Agency, and the FBI.
Singer laid out how our advanced technology can be turned against us. “Your weapon systems are more capable because they’re networked, but in turn, they’re potentially more vulnerable. You have the F-35 fighter jet, and it notifies you when a particular part needs to be replaced. It’s like a new car, it does the same thing. But in turn, you just opened up a pathway for it to be potentially hacked,” he said.
“We could make it invulnerable to hacking, but we would have to bring it back to 1960s tech. And some people say, ‘let’s stop using this technology,’ okay, but then you’ve just taken away the key advantage of the U.S. military.”
Singer addressed how every big-time weapon system in the U.S. arsenal still has flaws. “Last year a study of Pentagon weapon systems found that every single major weapon system still has vulnerabilities to it.”Image Credit: General Dynamics Bath Iron Works/Getty Images
We asked Singer if China and Russia have the cyber capability to cause physical damage in the U.S.:
“They have the capability to launch cyber attacks that cause physical damage because they’ve invested greatly and built up organizations.
China has in recent years gone through a professional reorganization of the military, but particular on the cyber side. They’ve built a cyber command equivalent and the like.
Russia’s approach is they have a military capability, but they also turn to the private market, the criminal market, to get criminals to do these things.”
Singer then commented on the U.S. being ahead technologically with weapon systems, but how other countries and adversaries are making it a priority to achieve their breakthroughs:
“We have been ahead for the last several generations. It’s been challenging dealing with a Viet Cong or a Taliban, but they never had an equivalent technology to us.
The middle of World War II is the last time the U.S. has to face off against a peer power. And China and Russia are catching up.”
While the vulnerabilities are out there for the U.S., especially due to all the changing spectrums of war, U.S. Air Force Colonel David Jeffery offered some insight into how the military is preparing for multiple scenarios.Image Credit: David Jeffery
Disclaimer: Colonel Dave Jeffery is a career U.S. Air Force Officer with deep experience in Homeland Defense and Nuclear Deterrence. He now leads the Air War College Future Conflict and Air Warfare Course. His comments in this article are academic in nature, reflecting his unclassified, personal views. They do not reflect the policy or official positions of the Air University, the United States Air Force, Department of Defense, or the United States Government.
“The United States seeks to deter aggression and maintain peace, but if a great power conflict is necessary within the next 5-10 years, I have high confidence adequately resourced U.S. airpower within a joint or coalition force could defeat any potential adversary. But a force meant to deter conflict can only succeed in deterrence if it can show that it will dominate a conflict,” Jeffery said.
The colonel continued:
“Yes, cyber attacks and other emerging global strike capabilities are a serious concern. However, the DHS, DoD and our coalition partners also remain vigilant regarding these potential threats every day and assure the defense of our respective nations thru deterrence.
If deterrence fails, however, the American people can rest assured the United States military stands ready and able to aggressively defend the nation. At Air War College we are educating military officers and leaders from the DoD, other U.S. Government agencies, and 45 coalition partners to analyze and respond to potential conflicts out to the year 2035 and beyond.”
With all the talk of war going around and the opinions being shared everywhere, the insights these experts have offered shouldn’t go ignored.
Update: 4/28/2017 at 4:28 PM