National Military Strategy Development—Time for a Revolutionary Approach
There have been many National Security Strategy (NSS) development efforts over the past decades. But it appears we have not had a traditional, thorough, objective national strategy review and update since 9/11. As taught in our military education system, force structure determination must begin with a review of the NSS. The last two NSS products were issued by the Obama Administration in 2010 and 2015. The 2010 strategy was cited as a significant departure from previous strategies, with one point being the elimination of reference to Islamic radicalism.
The NSS serves as the basis for the National Military Strategy (NMS), the base document for the strategic aims of the services. The NMS is required by law to be developed not later than 15 Feb of each even numbered year. It is developed by the Chairman, Joint Chiefs of Staff. The Quadrennial Defense Review (QDR) is one of the key documents enabling the development of an informed NMS. The QDR directs the Department of Defense to undertake a wide-ranging review of strategy, programs, and resources. Specifically, the QDR is expected to delineate a national defense strategy consistent with the most recent NSS by defining force structure, modernization plans, and a budget plan allowing the military to successfully execute the full range of missions within that strategy. The NMS describes the ends, ways, and means required to meet the strategy. Significant risks identified in the NMS lead to a force structure reassessment required to address the risks.
At a given point in time within the NMS, we cannot determine how many uniformed service members we will require, what types of weapon systems we will need, or the level of funding required to finance both until we have an updated and realistic military strategy. Considering the election of a new administration, the time is right for a complete review and update of our NSS, particularly given the next scheduled QDR in 2018.
How we approach the required forces and equipment to meet the risks requires a new approach. Past NMSs have most often resulted in a preservation of legacy systems, at the cost of leveraging full benefit from the revolutionary force multipliers associated with demonstrated yet unutilized technologies. Developing and employing these “cutting edge” capabilities should become the preeminent focus of future force structure pursuits. Using the traditional membership to constitute the QDR and to develop the NMS inevitably leads to a continuation of traditional approaches versus decisions to field new technologies and leap ahead solutions to potential future threat environments. When security strategy is developed, the usual existent “fiefdoms” and their protectors populate the study membership, ensuring we have a perpetuation of traditional threat scenarios and the traditional, or legacy, systems required to counter the threats. In a world defined by accelerated change, fluid alliances and emerging world powers other than the United States, slow, iterative change in legacy systems and capabilities may render our forces unable to adequately respond in key situations where national interests are at stake.
Is it possible for us to find a group of future thinkers, usually labeled as “revolutionaries,” to propose a new national security strategy? What we need is a group of Captain (later Admiral) Rickovers; a group of folks not controlled or encumbered by the communities from which their promotions and suppositions were derived. It is well known that when Captain Rickover proposed nuclear power for ships, his future in the Navy and promotion to Admiral was blocked. It took direct and forceful Congressional intervention to get Rickover into the flag officer ranks. And once there, he continued to receive personalized support from Congress until he rose to institutionalize and head the Office of Naval Reactors, an enterprise that fielded decades of innovative, technologically superior Naval systems. Other services have similar stories of officers whose careers were impeded as a result of revolutionary thinking and ideas expressed bravely within the system. An Army/Air Force example that comes to mind was the court martial of General Billy Mitchell, whose advice and predictions were later vindicated by the obvious importance of air power during World War II. There are many other examples similar to Rickover and Mitchell.
Are the best science and most promising technologies being developed within our laboratory system being considered by those that develop national security strategy? History would suggest the answer is no. First, past strategy reviews have rarely used the latest science and technology as cornerstones to form the basis of an NSS, as the examples of Rickover and Mitchell travails would seem to prove. Second, when justifying new program starts, the latest science being developed by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) and the service laboratories rarely becomes an integral part of the basis for the strategy.
Since new programs consume huge sums of money, the result of an analysis of alternatives should rarely lead to the selection of a “new start” alternative versus an upgrade or modification of a legacy system. New systems should be developed only when significant advantages over legacy systems are clearly identified as leap-ahead, attainable, and affordable. However, in the tradition of Rickover and Mitchell, when the maturation of a particular technology promises to revolutionize our military, we should be aware of the potential of the new technology and leverage the enhanced capabilities as much as resources allow. Many times leap ahead technologies remain in the science laboratories because legacy system defenders prevent the new technology alternatives from being considered.
If we combine the selection of a group of truly revolutionary thinkers, combined with giving them access to classified defense science and new program start justifications, a new NSS might just allow us a rare opportunity to leverage the very best current and near-term future capabilities. Instead of a flag officer group, or group of esteemed Senior Executive Service (SES) folks, why not seek out the rebels within each service, and allow them to directly report to either the Secretary of Defense or some other senior official tasked to shepherd our revolutionary thinkers both actively serving and retired? Such a group should include people with expertise in the science side of commercial industry and government laboratories, expertise from fields such as global information architecture, quantum mechanics, quantum computing, medical/genomic sciences, cyber operations/cyber protection, block-chain development, telecommunications, metallurgy, electromagnetic spectrum exploitation, sub-atomic physics, power systems technology, artificial intelligence and robotics.
To only form another traditional team of folks whose objectives are, in truth, to protect the status quo, will only leave us with another round of systems similar to those we currently have, with an occasional allowance of a revolutionary system added to the mix. But if we begin with a combination of a true threat analysis and incorporation of the latest science advantages possible from our government defense laboratories and commercial industry science, then we might have a chance to invest in programs that will leverage our greatest two strengths: the brave, creative potential of our soldiers, sailors, marines, and airmen combined with the full creative potential of our proven government and commercial scientific sectors. This may lead us to cheaper, more current and dominant technologies with wider availability at a more affordable price than the force structure we currently enjoy. The digital age ushered in what we then named, a “Revolution in Military Affairs.” Perhaps the quantum age will usher in a new era of a “Revolution in Military Planning.”