Wisely Spending Our Defense Dollars
Retired Army LTC Andrew Krepinevich has a devastating critique of the recent Quadrennial Defense Review in the current issue of Military Officer, the trade journal of the Military Officers’ Association.
Especially interesting is his assessment of how the Pentagon plans to allocate its not-all-that-scarce budget. He notes that there are several big ticket items that are crippling the ability to fund much-needed programs that are holdovers from a much different strategic era:
- The Army’s Future Combat System, projected to cost nearly $150 billion, was conceived to exploit information technologies to defeat enemy tank forces at a distance – but none of our existing or prospective enemies are building a new version of Saddam Hussein’s Republican Guard armored force.
- The Navy’s DDG-1000 destroyer, at roughly $4 billion a copy, is a firepower platform. Yet the naval challenge from China, if it comes, will be centered on its submarine force, a threat against which the DDG-1000 is irrelevant.
- The Pentagon’s F-35 fighter program is by far the most expensive program in the defense budget, at more than $250 billion. These fighters are designed to sweep enemy aircraft from the skies and strike targets on the ground. But al-Qaida has no air force, and the most worrisome strike systems being fielded by China, North Korea, and Iran are ballistic missiles, not fighter aircraft.
- The Marine Corps’ V-22 aircraft, designed to hover like a helicopter and fly like a plane, has become so expensive that it cannot be built in large numbers. Meanwhile, the aging helicopter fleet the V-22 is designed to replace is wearing out at an alarming rate, owing to the high pace of operations in Iraq.
The Pentagon’s unwillingness to scale back these programs, or in some cases terminate them, will allow them to generate “program momentum.” As they consume ever more funding, their constituencies in the military, Congress, and the defense industry will grow. Consequently, other QDR initiatives that might enable our military to meet new threats risk being starved of funding in their infancy. Among the most promising are:
These make it much more difficult to find more important and less costly programs:
- a one-third increase in the number of SOF battalions, America’s most heavily deployed units in the war against radical Islamists;
- a new long-range strike aircraft designed to loiter for protracted periods over the battlefield, whether searching for terrorist targets in remote areas or missile launchers deep inside Iran or China;
- programs and forces to cope with detecting, tracking, and disabling WMD, particularly nuclear weapons that enemies might attempt to smuggle into the U.S.;
- medical countermeasures against bioterrorism threats (here the Pentagon is adding $1.5 billion over five years – less than half the cost of a single DDG-1000 destroyer);
- modernizing our air tanker refueling fleet to replace aging aircraft that date back to the 1950s. These aircraft have been in great demand since the Cold War’s end. Their ability to refuel reconnaissance and strike aircraft in flight helps in the effort to maintain something approximating an “unblinking” eye over the battlefield to search and engage high-value targets such as terrorist leaders, “loose nukes,” or mobile missile launchers armed with WMD; and
- increasing our submarine production to send a clear signal to China as well as our allies that Beijing cannot expect to threaten U.S. freedom of action in an area of vital interest or coerce America’s friends and allies in East Asia.
Which set of capabilities best reflects the QDR’s assessment of the principal challenges before us? Which would be most useful in tracking terrorists in remote areas of Africa and Central Asia? Dealing with a destabilized Pakistan or Saudi Arabia – al-Qaida’s two principal targets? Thwarting radical Islamist attempts to smuggle a nuclear weapon into the U.S.? Conducting persistent extended searches for North Korean nuclear-tipped missiles emerging from their caves to launch an attack? Deflecting the efforts of China’s submarines, 10 years hence, to threaten the U.S. Navy’s ability to defend Taiwan from coercion or aggression?
Clearly it is the infant initiatives spawned by the QDR, which cost but a fraction of the legacy programs whose principal focus is on traditional forms of warfare that the QDR rightly notes are of progressively less relevance.
It’s easy to see why this misalignment occurs. The military services generally and the Air Force and Navy especially are built around technologically impressive weapons platforms that require years of R&D. If we guess wrong, it is incredibly difficult to acquire them in time for an unexpected war. We’ve learned that lesson time and again at the cost of considerable American blood.
Of course, we continually need to re-learn the lesson that a force designed around beating the most modern, powerful military foe imaginable is not automatically capable of shifting gears and fighting asymmetric battles against guerrillas.
Military operations over the past 15 years have demonstrated that when America’s enemies challenge us in traditional warfare, as in the two Gulf wars and in the Balkans, air power can play an important, if not dominant, role. While all four services should maintain a significant residual capability for traditional warfare, the Army and Marine Corps should be able to migrate more capabilities into other challenge areas than either the Air Force or the Navy.
In addition to rebalancing service forces and capabilities to address irregular, catastrophic, and disruptive challenges to U.S. security, the military needs to undertake key institutional changes. Among them are:
- refocusing the professional military education system to emphasize the study of Asia in general and radical Islam and China in particular. Irregular warfare is also in need of increased emphasis;
- changing the focus of intelligence operations to place much greater emphasis on human intelligence than in the recent past;
- ensuring that today’s officers become “biosciences-literate” owing to the prospect of biological weapons becoming available to hostile non-state entities that may prove difficult, if not impossible, to deter;
- continuing to transform the training infrastructure to better account for irregular, catastrophic, and disruptive challenges to U.S. security; and
- restructuring the force to enable sufficient forces to be sustained in protracted irregular conflict.
The Navy and Marine Corps long ago established a rotation base for their forces. More recently, significant progress is being made in this area, with the Air Expeditionary Forces and the Army’s modularity initiative. However, these forces are oriented primarily toward traditional challenges.
Addressing these challenges remains an uphill struggle. As noted previously, the Services have an interest in the current model. So, too, does Congress, which loves to spend large sums on acquistion programs that pump money into the civilian economy, especially in the states and districts of powerful committee chairmen. Defense intellectuals and the Special Operations establishment, the strongest advocates for the contrary position, are in a very weak position to combat these institutional forces.
Via OTB roving correspondent Richard Gardner.