Building 21st Century Military Power

June 3, 2013

As Secretary Hagel examines the Pentagon’s Strategic Choices and Management Review, commanders begin planning how to reduce 10 percent of their budgets for FY2013 on Undersecretary Ash Carter’s orders, and the markup for the National Defense Authorization Act continues, the expert consensus on how to reshape Pentagon spending is deepening. Today, groups from across the political spectrum – from AEI to NSN – will share ideas on how to address the “growing imbalances within the defense budget that threaten the health and long-term viability of America’s volunteer military.” Last week, four think tanks presented budget proposals for the Pentagon, highlighting common ground on the military capabilities most important to protect and invest in during the defense drawdown. These ideas promote efficiency and effectiveness for 21st century military power, despite budget declines and the pressure of sequestration.

A consensus among national security experts forms around solutions to inefficient management practices. Today seven defense organizations from across the political spectrum – including NSN – focus on reversing the Pentagon’s unsustainable internal cost growth:

Fixing acquisition: Todd Harrison of the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments notes that over the past decade, $46 billion dollars were invested in weapons programs that were cancelled – not to mention the cost-overruns and inefficiencies of weapons systems that were purchased years behind schedule.  Engineer and acquisitions officer Lt. Col. Dan Ward highlights a solution: “Canceling [programs] earlier would have been an even better idea. Terminating a program is difficult, but establishing clear contractual termination mechanisms, linked to specific cost growth figures, would make the whole acquisition experience less messy, painful, and protracted. [Todd Harrison, 7/16/11. Dan Ward, 5/31/13]

Streamlining HQ staff and contractors after years of unsustainable growth:  Defense News editorializes: “staffs at the Pentagon and regional combatant commands increased by 15 percent between 2010 and 2012, a Defense News analysis shows. The staffs added about 4,500 personnel as the military cut tens of thousands of combat troops and reduced training that undermined readiness.” Initial steps to help fix the problem include: “First, just as it authorizes the end strength for each of the military services and their reserve components, Congress must also cap military, civilian and contractor staff sizes across DoD. (Underscoring the problem, DoD admits it does not know how many contractors it’s paying for, estimated at more than 700,000.)…Second, it is time for a new version of the Goldwater-Nichols legislation, which improved US joint war-fighting capabilities, to streamline DoD’s 31 layers of management and correct flaws in the original 1986 law that have fueled ever larger staffs, and higher education and overhead costs…Third, military leaders have to cut their overhead structures.” [Defense News, 6/2/13]

Rightsizing unsustainable personnel costs: By 2039, personal costs will consume the entire DoD budget. Therefore, it is clear that creative solutions that respect the sacrifices made by American service members are required to make costs sustainable. Right now, CSBA reports that servicemembers would prefer less expensive forms of renumeration than some of those instituted in recent years.  In one major area of personnel cost growth – military healthcare – Lawrence Korb of the Center for American Progress and former Assistant Secretary of Defense under President Reagan, explains that the following modest steps can save $13 billion by 2017: raise “deductibles for working-age retirees to reflect the large increases in health care costs since the mid-1990s,” “Peg enrollment fees to medical inflation,” “Implement an enrollment fee for Tricare for Life, a Pentagon-run plan which augments retirees’ Medicare coverage,” and “Incentivize generic and mail-order purchases for prescription drugs.” [Todd Harrison, 7/12. Lawrence Korb, 7/12]

Strategic choices for reshaping capabilities to meet future threats: Last week, the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Analyses (CSBA) invited three other think tanks to participate in a budgeting exercise to cut up to $500 billion from the Pentagon over the decade. While the teams agreed sequestration was a damaging mechanism for cuts, their choices highlight an emerging consensus on the nature of future threats and the capabilities needed to address them:

Reshaping naval power projection: Breaking Defense reports, “All plussed up the Navy overall, but did major reshuffling between shipbuilding programs: All four cut at least two aircraft carriers and slowed construction on the new Ford-class carriers – whose cost overruns have inspired the ire of Congress – but protected or even increased investment in Virginia-class attack submarines. All four also retired aging cruisers ahead of the end of their full service life– which Congress has resolutely prohibited.” Such investments in subsurface warfare and divestments of large, capitol surface ships reflect the emerging threat environment of anti-shipping missiles, the need to leverage American advantages in undersea warfare and reinvasion the force structure of the US surface fleet.  [Breaking Defense, 5/29/13]

Investing in space and cyberspace capabilities: “All four found money, despite the budget crunch, to invest more in space and cyber-warfare.” These investments reflect the growing importance of the space and cyberspace domains, upon which modern war fighting depends – and areas in which the United States is vulnerable. [Breaking Defense, 5/29/13]

Reinvigorating long-range capabilities: “Three of the four cut the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, while three (not the same three) upped investments in stealthy drones and long-range bombers.” These choices reflect the increasingly long-range striking capabilities of potential adversaries, like Iran, and the fact that the US has been over-invested in short-range systems for decades.” [Breaking Defense, 5/29/13]

What We’re Reading

Turkey’s Prime Minister has dismissed the significance of the four days of unrest across the country, insisting this is not a “Turkish Spring.”

Ten schoolchildren and two soldiers with NATO’s International Security Assistance Force were killed in a bombing in Afghanistan.

Thousands of Ethiopians demonstrated in Addis Ababa, the first political protest against the country’s ruling party since 2005.

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas has appointed a new prime minister following the resignation of Salam Fayyad.

Syrian rebels battled fighters from the Lebanese militant group Hezbollah in a border region between the two countries, leaving as many as 12 fighters dead in the latest sign that Lebanon is being pulled into Syria’s lengthy civil war.

Egypt’s highest court has invalidated the Islamist-dominated upper house of parliament and a panel that drafted the country’s constitution.

The UN nuclear watchdog chief said talks with Iran have been “going around in circles” – unusually blunt criticism pointing to rising tension over suspected nuclear arms research by Tehran that has increased fears of a new Middle East war.

The U.S. Army soldier accused of leaking large numbers of classified documents to Wikileaks is due to face court martial in Fort Meade, Maryland.

Police and trade union officials say at least two people have been shot, one fatally, in ongoing union rivalry at South Africa’s troubled Lonmin platinum mine.

The South African government is facing demands to arrest a man dubbed “Gaddafi’s banker” amid claims the deposed Libyan leader and his family stashed more than $1bn in the country. 

Commentary of the Day

Li Qi and William Wan discuss constitutionalism in China.

James Traub notes that security gains in Somalia could begin the process of shedding its failed state tag.

Mona Yacoubian writes on the implications of Hezbollah’s decision to back Assad.

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