National Defense Panel releases sobering assessment on the future of the U.S. military

Aug. 12, 2014
THE MIL & AERO BLOG, 12 Aug. 2014. The U.S. military today is in trouble; don't just take my word for it. The challenges facing the Pentagon don't just add up to a bit of trouble; this is BIG trouble -- perhaps the biggest trouble that U.S. military forces have faced since the end of World War II -- and it's going to take time and a lot of money to fix.
THE MIL & AERO BLOG, 12 Aug. 2014. The U.S. military today is in trouble; don't just take my word for it.

The challenges facing the Pentagon don't just add up to a bit of trouble; this is BIG trouble -- perhaps the biggest trouble that U.S. military forces have faced since the end of World War II -- and it's going to take time and a lot of money to fix.

Once gain, this isn't just my opinion. This is the conclusion of the National Defense Panel in its report released less than two weeks ago entitled "Ensuring a Strong U.S. Defense for the Future."

The report accompanies the Pentagon's 2014 Quadrennial Defense Review -- a study by the Pentagon every four years that analyzes strategic objectives and potential military threats.

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" ... the defense budget cuts mandated by the Budget Control Act (BCA) of 2011, coupled with the additional cuts and constraints on defense management under the law's sequestration provision, constitute a serious strategic misstep on the part of the United States," says the report's executive summary.

One of the only ways to fix this and many other problems facing the U.S. military is more money in the defense budget -- perhaps a lot more. Defense cuts over the last three years have "caused significant investment shortfalls in U.S. military readiness," the report states, and "have prompted our current and potential allies and adversaries to question our commitment and resolve."

Failure to turn this ship around "will lead to an America that is not only less secure but also far less prosperous," the report states. "In this sense, these cuts are ultimately self-defeating."

That's quite a sobering assessment. Still, in this era of political partisanship, this kind of rhetoric could be expected on a daily basis from right wing and the Republican party. Just who are the people on this National Defense Panel?

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It starts with William Perry, who was U.S. secretary of defense from 1994 to 1997 during the Clinton Administration, and the father of the Pentagon's move to commercial off-the-shelf (COTS) components and technologies.

Then there is Eric Edelman, who served as U.S. ambassador to Finland and Turkey during the Clinton and Bush administrations. Michele Flournoy served as the Pentagon's under secretary of defense for policy from 2009 to 2012 during the Obama Administration. Jim Marshall served as a Democrat congressman from Georgia from 2003 to 2011 and is the immediate past president of the U.S. Institute of Peace. Several retired Army, Air Force, and Marine Corps generals also are on the panel, as is James Talent, former Republican senator from Missouri.

This doesn't exactly sound like a bunch of right-wing partisans to me. Instead, it sounds more like a bipartisan group representing a wide range of government and business interests from both sides of the aisle.

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That's a big reason I'm taking their recommendations seriously, and why members of Congress and the Obama Administration should, too. It's why the conclusions from this report are so shocking -- especially to those of us who grew up taking a strong U.S. military for granted.

The Pentagon's 2014 Quadrennial Defense Review (QDR) makes several recommendations on how to restore U.S. global military dominance in today's dangerous world, fraught by instability in the Middle East, Russian threats in Eastern Europe, and an expanding China in the Pacific.

There's just one problem with the recommendations in this year's QDR: we can't afford them. " ... the capabilities and capacities rightly called for in the 2014 Quadrennial Defense Review ... clearly exceed the budget resources made available to the Department [of Defense]," the report states. "This gap is disturbing if not dangerous in light of the fact that global threats and challenges are rising ... "

The trends the Pentagon faces today "mandate increased defense funding," panelists say. In the future "conflicts are likely to unfold more rapidly. Battlefields will be more lethal. Operational sanctuary for U.S. forces (rear areas safe enemy interdiction) will be scarce and often fleeting. Asymmetric conflict will be the norm. In this rapidly changing environment, U.S. military superiority is not a given; maintaining the operational and technological edge of our armed forces requires sustained and targeted investment."

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In particular, the report recommends increased military procurement and research in several areas. "We must have an energetic program of targeted reinvestment in research, development and procurement designed to protect and enhance the technological advantages that are central to U.S. military superiority," the report states.

"Priorities for investment should include intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) systems, space architecture, cyber capabilities, joint and coalition command and control, air superiority, long range and precision strike capability, undersea and surface naval warfare, electric and directed energy weapons, strategic lift, and logistical sustainment."

Wow. Has anything been left out? This sounds like the U.S. military across the board is long overdue for a sustained period of revitalization -- something that has been severely lacking during the current administration.

Still, the problems are much bigger and more complicated than simply writing larger checks. The U.S. government is deeper in debt that it's ever been, and the nation's political resolve to bolster and renew its military forces is in question.

Here's hoping that will change in the future, because we desperately need the will, the sacrifice, and the money necessary to bring the U.S. military back up to fighting trim.

About the Author

John Keller | Editor

John Keller is editor-in-chief of Military & Aerospace Electronics magazine, which provides extensive coverage and analysis of enabling electronic and optoelectronic technologies in military, space, and commercial aviation applications. A member of the Military & Aerospace Electronics staff since the magazine's founding in 1989, Mr. Keller took over as chief editor in 1995.

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