Hagel’s Call to Reshape Pentagon Shows Way Forward

April 3, 2013

Today, Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel delivered his first policy address and called for reshaping Pentagon strategy and budgets to meet future challenges and opportunities. His call to take advantage of the “opportunities that exist to fundamentally reshape the defense enterprise to

better reflect 21st century realities” is an effort widely supported by military leaders, outside experts and leaders from both parties. These voices confirm that the United States can reduce its Pentagon spending while maintaining its military power and generate the capabilities needed to address future threats. As Secretary Hagel calls for changing thinking about defense in the 21st century, there is no shortage of constructive ideas – including those summarized in a recent NSN policy paper. The question is whether Washington can generate the political will for pragmatic choices about the future of American military strength.

Hagel’s call to organize the Pentagon to “better reflect 21st century strategic and fiscal realities” has broad support among military and security leaders: A letter signed by top military and civilian national security leaders – including former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Mullen, Madeleine Albright, James Baker, Samuel Berger, Zbigniew Brzezinski and Henry Kissinger – explains, “In our judgment, advances in technological capabilities and the changing nature of threats make it possible, if properly done, to spend less on a more intelligent, efficient and contemporary defense strategy that maintains our military superiority and national security.’ [Coalition for Fiscal and National Security, 12/4/12] 

Hagel’s objective to guide the Pentagon “to prepare for the future” and focus on 21st threats – not the last war – allows major savings.  Secretary Hagel made clear his commitment to lead “Change that involves not just tweaking or chipping away at existing structures and practices but where necessary fashioning entirely new ones that are better suited to 21st century realities and challenges.”

Along similar lines, Lt. General Barno (USA, ret.), senior advisor at the Center for a New American Security, explains that the United States is over-invested in fighting what he calls “Wars of Iron” – large conflicts against conventional military opponents like those that dominated 20th century U.S. military thinking in the case of the Soviet Union or Iraq during the 1990s. Instead, he says, future wars will likely be “Wars of Silicon” – wars against high-tech opponents equipped with advanced cyber weapons – and “Wars in the Shadows” against non-state actors. While the U.S. has been building capacity to fight “Wars in the Shadows,” he warns that “The coming defense drawdown and budgetary belt-tightening offers a once-in-a-generation opportunity to reshape the U.S. military and defense industry… Current procurement plans are feeding vast resources into programs designed to achieve even more dominance in Wars of Iron, while doing far too little to prepare for the coming Wars of Silicon. It’s time to seize the moment and re-balance the U.S. investment portfolio with a bias toward future capabilities, rather than doubling down on costly replacements for today’s still highly-capable weapons systems. Failure to make this shift now will leave the nation at risk when the truly high-end wars of the future arrive.” [Dave Barno, 3/19/13]

An illustrative example of how the Pentagon is over-invested in “War of Iron” is the Ground Combat Vehicle (GCV) – the Army’s 60-ton next-generation armored transport designed for mechanized warfare  intended to replace the Bradley armored fighting vehicle.  Defense News reports, “The [Congressional Budget Office] estimates the Army will have to spend $29 billion between 2014 and 2030 on 1,748 GCVs. Using a set of metrics that aligns with the Army’s requirements for protection, weight, firepower and ability to carry a fully loaded, nine-man squad, the CBO estimates that ‘fielding [German made armored transports] Pumas or upgraded Bradleys would cost $14 billion and $9 billion less, respectively, than the Army’s program for the GCV and would pose less risk of cost overruns and schedule delays.’… upgrading the Bradley, ‘would be more lethal than the GCV against enemy forces and would probably allow soldiers and vehicles to survive combat at about the same rates as would the GCV.’” [Defense News, 1/2/13]

Outside experts and political leaders from both parties agree when Hagel Says “We need to challenge all past assumptions, and we need to put everything on the table:” Pentagon spending can be safely reduced:

Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC): Senator Graham, member of the Senate Armed Service Committee, explains: “I believe we can reduce defense spending in a responsible manner through reform and efficiencies. America is on an unsustainable spending path that represents a real threat to our way of life, including our national security. So in these fiscally challenging times, we don’t have any other option than to put the defense budget on the table.” [Huffington Post, 12/21/12]

Representatives Keith Ellison (D-MN) and Mick Mulvaney (R-SC): “We can disagree about the proper amount of defense spending, but it is clear that recent growth has not been tied to strategic needs. It has been, simply, growth for the sake of growth…we know that achieving defense savings and keeping our nation safe is possible. Smaller defense budgets in the past more than adequately provided for a strong national defense, even during the height of the Cold War.” [Politico, 10/23/11]

Senator Tom Coburn (R-OK): “Billions of defense dollars are being spent on programs and missions that have little or nothing to do with national security, or are already being performed by other government agencies.” [The Hill, 11/15/12]

Senator Rand Paul (R-KY): “Republicans who think military spending, myself [included], who think national defense is important, should compromise and say, you know what, not every dollar spent on the military’s sacred, we can reduce the military spending, that’s a compromise.” [ABC News, 11/19/12]

Outside Experts: Gordon Adams, professor at American University,  explains: “Over the past few weeks, think tanks right, left, and center have issued reports that lay out the road to a disciplined defense drawdown, in which they rethink strategy, military force, weapons buying, and management. The reports come from the Stimson Center/Peterson Foundation, the Center for American Progress, the Project on Defense Alternatives, the Center for Strategic and International Studies, and, interestingly, the RAND Corporation. They agree on a surprising number of things, and all of them suggest deep cuts are inevitable.” [Gordon Adams, 11/27/12]

The problem with sequestration is the suddenness and inflexible nature of the reductions, not necessarily the size. Plenty of room for Hagel to work toward the goal of “undertaking a process to develop choices, options and priorities to deal with further reductions.” As Brookings Senior Fellow Peter Singer explains, “At the height of the Iraq war, US spending was above half of all the world’s military spending, but is now down to slightly above 40% of all military spending. Sequestration would take it down by about 2% more of the pie, roughly 38% of all global military spending, excluding any likely contingency or war spending.” [Peter Singer, 9/23/12]

What We’re Reading

North Korea blocked the entry of South Korean workers into a joint industrial zone, in a move seen as further escalating tensions.

A third man died in China after catching a strain of bird flu not previously known in humans, following the deaths of two others last month.

The United States and Jordan are stepping up training of Syrian opposition forces that may be used to establish a buffer zone along Syria’s southern border.

A suicide bomb and gun attack on a courthouse in the western Afghan city of Farah left at least six people dead and 70 injured.

Palestinian militants in Gaza fired a missile across the border into Israel for the second time in two days, hours after an Israeli air strike on Gaza.

International Monetary Fund officials are holding talks in Cairo with the Egyptian government about authorizing a $4.8 billion loan for the country.

Unusually heavy rains caused flash floods in Buenos Aires, in Argentina, leaving eight people dead in the city and its suburbs.

The main road linking Somalia’s capital to the strategic city of Baidoa has been totally recaptured from Islamist militants.

Ousted Central African Republic leader Francois Bozize accused Chad of aiding and fighting with rebels that toppled him.

Cyprus agreed to a set of “challenging” measures, the IMF says, that will release a 10 billion euro ($12.8 billion) international bailout.

EU-mediated talks between Serbia and Kosovo broke up without a deal, in a setback to Serbia’s EU membership hopes.

What We’re Reading

David Ignatius analyzes the Syrian opposition forces.

Conor Friedersdorf explains the important civil liberties protections of a state legislature bill about domestic drone use.

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