A Must Read for Trump's National Security Team

A Must Read for Trump's National Security Team
U.S. Marine Corps photo by LCpl Becky Calhoun
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Think tanks in Washington, D.C. generally do not promote each other’s products. The marketplace of ideas is highly competitive, resources are scarce, and the attention span of stakeholders is limited. Talking up another think tank’s work usually, comes at the expense of developing and promoting your own ideas and studies.

Nevertheless, I am breaking with standard think tank practice to recommend a newly published report from the American Enterprise Institute, authored by Mackenzie Eaglen: Repair and Rebuild: Balancing New Military Spending for a Three Theater Strategy. This report should be required reading for the entire national security establishment.

Today, the U.S. faces a national security crisis of nearly unprecedented scope and severity. The number of adversaries is growing rapidly as are the means available to them. Moreover, in a number of areas, these adversaries have surpassed our military not just quantitatively, but also in the sophistication of their weapons systems.  At the same time, the U.S. military is worn out from nearly two decades of continuous operations, lacks adequate resources to meet current demands for basic necessities such as precision munitions and needs to overcome a lost decade of modernization. To be blunt, it is time to stop debating the size of future aircraft carriers, the relative merits of fourth versus fifth generation fighters or the future of the tank and get on with the task of creating the military the Nation requires.

The report’s author must be complimented for taking on the central flaw in most proposals on future defense spending and the size and shape of the military. This is the disconnect between the magnitude and variety of core U.S. national interests and vital security commitments on one side of the ledger, and the inability of the current U.S. military to defend them all on the other side. No exhortations for decision makers to make tough choices or do more with less can resolve the contradiction between too many demands for military power and the inadequacy of the supply. Short of a tectonic shift in the way this country defines its national interests, the only choices available are either to build and then sustain a military adequate to the defense of America’s interests and values or to prepare for a long twilight struggle.

Ms. Eaglen’s report is grounded in two basic strategic truths. First, that this country is a global power and, therefore, our military must have the capacity to simultaneously protect national interests in multiple theaters, most notably Europe, East Asia and the Middle East. The second is that in addition to the capacity to sustain a multi-theater defense strategy, the military must have a full spectrum of capabilities in order to meet the range of threats that exist today.

Repair and Rebuild rejects the false choice often presented in the current defense debate between the need to shore up current readiness and the requirement to modernize in anticipation of future threats. Instead, it recognizes that the military must do both with an emphasis on ameliorating current weaknesses and capability gaps. The report asserts that “the military must immediately expand, increase its full-spectrum readiness, and arm itself with what is available—even as it invests heavily in the next-generation technologies that will manifest themselves in 2030 or 2035.”

Repair and Rebuild provides detailed recommendations for both near-term actions to repair the damage done to the military by decades of underfunding and overuse and initial investments that begin the process of rebuilding its erstwhile preeminence. It proposes across-the-board investments in munitions and readiness. National and theater missile defenses would be augmented with additional Ground-Based Interceptors, Patriot and THAAD batteries and new sites for Aegis Ashore. Priority for long-term investment should be given to creating a secure and robust multi-domain command and control network. With respect to U.S. conventional forces, the report argues for robust investments in the following areas:

  • Building a larger, more lethal Army and Marine Corps. Quantity matters when it comes to ground forces. In addition to expanding the size of both the Army and Marine Corps, the report recommends rapidly upgrading the Army’s Abrams, Bradley, Stryker and Paladin fleets, acquiring additional Army and Marine Corps artillery and long-range rocket battalions, accelerating both the Joint Light Tactical Vehicle and Armored Multipurpose Vehicle programs, providing both Services with additional air and missile defenses, upgrading existing rotary wing fleets and investing in electronic warfare systems. The Marine Corps also should acquire additional F-35B fighters. Modernization priorities include acceleration of the Long Range Precision Fires, Future Vertical Lift, the Amphibious Combat Vehicle, tactical drones and tactical lasers.
  • Charting a course towards a 350 ship Navy. In the near-term this involves, in particular, accelerating the construction rates for aircraft carriers, increasing procurements of attack submarines, amphibious warfare ships, light combatants and logistics ships, speeding up modernization upgrades for the surface fleet and buying additional F/A-18 E/F and F-35C fighters. Longer-term, the Navy needs to move towards a missile cruiser replacement, acquiring the LX(R) amphibious warfare ship, exploiting directed energy weapons and investing in unmanned air and undersea platforms.
  • Recapturing the high ground for the Air Force. The report makes the case for emphasizing near-term investments in fifth-generation platforms, sensor fusion and agile networks. This translates into procuring additional F-35A fighters, speeding up development of the B-21 bomber and increasing the size of the planned buy, recapitalizing the J-STARS fleet and the resilience of space-based systems. Air Force modernization should pursue directed energy weapons, hypersonics, advanced power systems, penetrating reconnaissance platforms and electronic attack.

What’s the price to repair and rebuild the U.S. military? The report provides detailed cost estimates for its recommendations. The additional cost for the full package of recommendations would be $100 billion more in fiscal year 2018 and around $533 billion more through fiscal year 2022 than the last defense budget proposed by the Obama Administration. While this is indisputably a lot of money, it is worth noting that overall defense spending under this plan would be a little over four percent of GDP and around 10 percent of all federal spending. Moreover, the cost to the Nation a failure of deterrence, much less losing a conflict against a near-peer or major regional adversary, is almost beyond calculation. The extra defense spending needed to repair and rebuild the U.S. military is a worthwhile expenditure.

Daniel Gouré, Ph.D., is a vice president at the public-policy research think tank Lexington Institute. Goure has a background in the public sector and U.S. federal government, most recently serving as a member of the 2001 Department of Defense Transition Team.

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