Project on Defense Alternatives

Framework for Constructing a New Era Alternative
to the Bottom-Up Review

Project on Defense Alternatives
Carl Conetta and Charles Knight
February 1997

Table Of Contents


1. Force Structure Modernization Guidelines for "New Era" US Defense Posture
1.1 Force structure
1.2 Modernization, procurement, defense- industrial policy

2. Conventional Force Requirements: Comparison of BUR Guidelines and "New Era" Alternative
2.1 BUR conventional force sizing guideline: nonspecific "Two War" standard
2.2 BUR conventional force sizing guideline: hyperwar standard (ie. deploy, fight, and win one MRC in <100 days)

3. Alternative "New Era" Defense Structure
3.1 Two MRC scenario
3.2 MRC/LRC scenario

4. Modernization and Procurement Strategy
4.1 Argumentation on modernization and procurement
4.2 Setting R&D and acquisition goals: How do we factor-in threat?
4.3 America's current defense industrial base and the coming military technical revolution
4.4 A coherent vision of future warfare must lead research, development, and acquisition policy
4.5 The military technical revolution: What does it imply for R&D and acquisition priorities?

5. Are We on the Threshold of a Hollow Military?
5.1 Argumentation on "hollow military"


The Congressional mandate to the newly appointed (Winter 1997) National Defense Panel requires consideration of alternatives to the official defense plan embodied in the Quadrennial Defense Review. This paper, combining various aspects of PDA's research and analysis over the past six years, offers such an alternative in summary and outline form. Details of many of the specific aspects can be found in other PDA reports.

1. Force Structure Modernization Guidelines for "New Era" US Defense Posture

1.1 Force structure

  • Relatively small standing military: 1 million active personnel
  • Greater emphasis on reserves: 60:40 ratio of active-selected reserve personnel
  • Reconstitution (cadre) base within active component allowing long-term increase of standing force if necessary

1.2 Modernization, procurement, defense-industrial policy

  • Few new additions of major combat systems until 2005
  • Emphasize service-life extension and selected upgrades to meet potential near-term threats
  • Emphasize R&D to meet "uncertain" longer-term threats
  • Downsize existing military-industrial base to conform to maintenance, service-life extension programs, and upgrade requirements; preservation of existing military-industrial base secondary to general socioeconomic renewal
  • Development of industrial/technical "labor reserve" to preserve essential military-industrial skills

2. Conventional Force Requirements: Comparison of BUR Guidelines and "New Era" Alternative

2.1 BUR conventional force sizing guideline: nonspecific "Two War" standard

  • Focus US regional military planning on requirements for specific defense of Korean and Arabian peninsulas, including near-simultaneous defense.
  • European defense largely in the hands of Europeans; US contribution includes smaller forward presence (<100,000 troops), reconstitution base at home (to expand active force if need be), and reserves with European defense mission.
  • Outside areas of core concern (Europe, Korea, Persian Gulf) large-scale US intervention (>80,000 troops) occurs only on a strictly balanced multinational basis -- and only when "war danger" in core areas is low.
  • US Army and Air Force should assume principal responsibility for defense of core areas (USN and USMC play secondary role); USN and USMC assume principal responsibility for peacetime presence mission and lesser contingencies outside core areas.

Implications of Alternative

  • Reduced force structure requirement, especially for USN and USMC
  • Greater scope for use of reserves
  • Reduced requirement for strategic lift, especially for C-17
  • Reduced requirement for transcontinental bombers

Argumentation on "Two-war Standard"

It is inappropriate for the United States to embrace any nonspecific numerical "warfighting standard" at this time -- whether one, two, or many MRCs. Unlike a force sizing guideline such as "the defense of Europe," for example, the prescription to be able to fight "two MRCs" separates the statement of military requirements from a clear statement of US interests.

During the Cold War the use of nonspecific numerical warfighting standards reflected a geostrategic environment characterized by a multifaceted global contest between peer superpower alliances -- a contest in which regional conflicts of even little intrinsic value to the US could be unexpectedly transformed into tests of will. In this context the multi-war standard:

  • recognized the integration of various anti-Western threats in a global complex centered principally in Moscow, accepted the logic of the "domino theory" and, thus, treated many conflicts of low intrinsic interest to the US as aspects of a larger, more critical contest,
  • recognized that challenges could come anywhere in a variety of forms thus (i) requiring great flexibility and (ii) precluding the option of focusing our security efforts on just one or two areas,
  • recognized limits to the West's capacity to simultaneously squelch all the outbreaks that might overlap or occur simultaneously,
  • reflected the hope that having the capacity to fight and win at least several conflicts simultaneously -- say, major wars in the West and East and one MRC elsewhere (2 ½ war standard) -- would achieve a more general deterrence.

The conditions that today make this approach inappropriate are (i) the clear lack of an integrated global threat, (ii) the lack of a peer superpower adversary, and (iii) the relative weakness and poor prospects of what Dr. Lake calls "backlash states." Whereas security managers at one time had talked in terms of playing a high-stake domino game with a superpower rival, today we are at worst facing a handful of dominos who stand scattered and alone. Some of these have a moderate intrinsic value in terms of US interests; most do not.

The "two war" standard is also supposed to provide a hedge against the possible rise of a new global competitor. But this type of long-term uncertainty is best addressed by building a long-term reconstitution base -- not by permanently maintaining an overly-large active military.

Why would an explicit focus on Northeast Asia and the Persian Gulf be substantially less demanding than an abstract two-war standard?

  • In the Persian Gulf, American air power is uniquely effective. In Northeast Asia the West has powerful local allies: S. Korea and Japan. Specifically, the current balance on the Korean peninsula is such that a deployment of outside forces less than 40 percent as great as the one for Desert Storm would be sufficient to give the West and its allies a theater-wide advantage over N. Korea greater than that of the Gulf War. Three or four armored division equivalents and four or five air wings would do the trick. (The US already maintains about 2/3 AD equivalents in the area and the US + Japan have about 3 ½ wings at hand. Hence, relatively little additional strategic deployment would be needed.
  • Both areas have very well developed base infrastructures -- easing the task of rapid deployment. Moreover, a special focus on just these two areas would allow greater dependence on prepositioning and forward deployment.
  • A special focus on just these two areas would also allow us to concentrate our intelligence assets and our diplomatic/arms control efforts.

2.2 BUR conventional force sizing guideline: hyperwar standard (ie. deploy, fight, and win one MRC in <100 days)

Alternative: Desert Storm Standard -- longer defensive phase followed by deliberate offensive phase, if necessary

  • America's active-component armed forces should be large enough to deploy two, robust defensive shields, plus some.
  • In the future, reserve combat units must mobilize immediately whenever major conflict threatens in one or more focal areas.
  • As reserves mobilize they will provide the flexibility for full US commitment to one region (with mostly active combat units in the field) or commitment to both Korea and the Persian Gulf (relying on mix of active and reserve combat units).
  • Concurrent operations in two core regions will require greater reliance on reserves than currently planned: one-third of the deployed personnel will be selected reservists.
  • Concurrent operations will also require significant redeployment between theaters and a serial war-fighting strategy that emphasizes the fight in one theater and then in the other.

Implications of Alternative

  • Reduced active-component requirement; more emphasis on reserves
  • Reduced strategic airlift requirement
  • Increased land-based prepositioning requirement


  • DOD's efforts to accelerate the pace of future large-scale operations as a matter of necessity reveal that DOD has lost all sense of proportion in evaluating likely future regional foes.
  • The supposed requirement for accelerating the deployment and use of decisive force reflects central front logic, which holds that the United States has little or no margin for delay in prosecuting offensive operations in regional wars. This loses sight of the fact that none among our likely regional adversaries can achieve a fast and irreversible fait accompli of any real significance. None has military capabilities five percent as great as those of the alliance that the West once faced over the European central front. And in no theater outside Europe are the immediate risks and stakes even remotely comparable to those in Europe during the cold war.
  • In combination with the two-war standard, the "hyperwar" standard has the effect of greatly increasing active force and strategic lift requirements; the time frame for hyperwar virtually defines reserve combat units out of the picture. This is not a necessity; it is a choice. America's profound strategic superiority gives it the freedom to choose a less frantic and extravagant approach to regional defense.

3. Alternative "New Era" Defense Structure

Peacetime Military
Personnel Allocation (000s)
Active Components 1,035
Selected Reserves 715
TOTAL 1,750

US Ground Forces (Army and Marine Corps)
Division Equivalents Personnel
Active 7 400
Selected Reserve 8 465
3 (in AC)
Marine Corps
Active 1.3 100
Selected Reserve .7 45
TOTAL 20 960

US Air Forces (all services)
Fighter Wings Aircraft
USAF   1100
Active 10  
Reserve 8  
USN & USMC   1100
Active 9  
Reserve 2  
TOTAL 29 2900

Naval Aircraft Carriers
Active 7
Reserve 1

3.1 Two MRC scenario

Hypothetical Allocation of Proposed Force in Two MRC Scenario
Division Equivalents
Fighter Wings
All Services
Active Reserve Active Reserve Active Reserve
Defensive Shield 1 2.7 0 7.7 2.7 3 0
Defensive Shield 2 2 0 6.3 2.3 2 0
Swing Force/Offensive Increment/Replacements 2 3.3 3 3 1 0
Strategic reserve or
deployed outside combat areas
1.7 1.7 2 2 1 1
Long-term replacements and
provision for protracted major war
0 3.7        
Reconstitution units (3)          
TOTAL 8.3 (3) 8.7 19 10 7 1
20 29 8

Disposition of US Military Personnel in Two MRC Scenario
(Korean and Persian Gulf conflicts)

Active Reserves
Deploying to Theaters of War (defensive shields, swing force, offensive increment, replacements) 630 430 200
Strategic Reserve or nuclear mission or deployed outside theaters of war 275 175 100
Nondeployable Infrastructure and other personnel 585 430 155
Non-activated Selected Reserves 260   260
TOTAL 1,750 1,035 715

3.2 MRC/LRC scenario

Hypothetical Allocation of Proposed Force in MRC/LRC Scenario
Division Equivalents
Fighter Wings
All Services
Active Reserve Active Reserve Active Reserve
MRC (all phases) 4 1 12 6 4 0
LRC 1 1 0 2 0 1 0
LRC 2 .3 0 1 0 0 0
Strategic reserve or
deployed outside combat areas
3 4 4 4 2 1
Long-term replacements and
provision for protracted major war
0 3.7        
Reconstitution units (3)          
TOTAL 8.33(3) 8.7 19 10 7 1
20 29 8

Disposition of US Military Personnel in MRC/LRC Scenario
Active Reserves
Deploying for MRC (all phases) 380 280 100
Deploying for LRC 1 75 60 15
Deploying for LRC 2 25 20 5
Strategic Reserve or nuclear mission or deployed outside theaters of war 300 200 100
Nondeployable Infrastructure and other personnel 600 475 125
Non-activated Selected Reserves 370   370
TOTAL 1,750 1,035 715

4. Modernization and Procurement Strategy

Much of the new system procurement scheduled to occur in the next ten to twelve years reflects:

  • the requirements of an overly large force structure,
  • the purported need to accelerate the pace and intensity of major regional conflicts, and
  • exaggerated concern about maintaining the defense industrial base.

Also evident is a tendency to measure procurement needs against an abstract standard of "technical feasibility" -- not the predicted capabilities of potential adversaries (Technical Feasibility Standard).

An alternative approach better suited to the New Era would:

  • Gear only R&D and some prototyping efforts to the technical feasibility standard,
  • Gear full-scale development & procurement to assessment of actual & emerging threat capabilities,
  • Gear the defense industrial base to the requirements for R&D, prototyping, maintenance, service-life extension, and upgrade needs. (Much of today's DIB will be irrelevant to our defense needs after 2010. Renewal of the civilian economic & technological base is more important to ensuring future defense capabilities.)

4.1 Argumentation on modernization and procurement

The greatest threat to the timely modernization of our armed forces is an overly large force structure. Even more so with modernization than readiness, the negative effects of every dollar spent today on surplus structure will grow exponentially. First, in a budget-constrained environment, the resources spent on surplus structure obviously restricts modernization. Second, maintaining an overly large force structure increases both O&M costs and the demand for relatively wasteful short-term or "interim" acquisition; in other words, at the margins of an overly large force is a bloc of surplus systems that are quite old and, thus, costly to maintain.

4.2 Setting R&D and acquisition hoals: How do we factor-in threat?

For each area of basic combat functions (C3I, air superiority operations, anti-submarine warfare, armor- anti-armor, etc.) the goal of research should be to explore the boundaries of what is technically feasible. In other words, "requirements" are set by the limits of physical principles and imagination. Acquisition policy should follow a logic very different from that guiding research. It should reflect an assessment of development trends in current and potential "threat states." We should not fixate on our adversaries' theoretical "access" to a particular technology (say, radar-guided air-to-air missiles). Instead, we should assess their capacity to field, integrate, maintain, and effectively utilize suites of advanced weapon systems in operationally-significant numbers. The knowledge that a potential adversary may in the future gain access to radar-guided air-to-air missiles, for instance, is not that helpful by itself in the process of establishing US acquisition requirements. The more relevant question is, What actual capability will our potential foes possess in each area of combat activity -- for instance, in air defense or air superiority operations?

Such calculations involve uncertainty and, therefore, some risk -- but much less uncertainty and risk than during the cold war period, when our adversary had economic and technological strength roughly comparable to our own. The United States can hedge against uncertainty in an economical way by fully funding research efforts and moving select technologies fairly far along in the development process -- short of actual procurement. This reduces the risk of pegging acquisition to predictions of future threat capabilities, and does so in a way consistent with budget restraint. An emphasis on modularization would further reduce risk by allowing quick "drop-in" upgrades to existing systems. This, because it is easier to quickly advance subcomponents from prototype status to mass production than it is to advance entire platforms and their associated weapon suites.

4.3 America's current defense industrial base and the coming military technical revolution

Does preservation of the current military industrial base beggar our ability to meet the requirements of combat after 2015? In some cases, efforts to preserve the military industrial base (MIB) rest on very shaky rationale; the requirements to maintain M1 Abrams production capability and two shipyards capable of producing nuclear submarines, for instance, are greatly overstated. In some cases where the needs for reconstitution capability are realistically stated, the chosen strategy for preserving the industrial base is extravagant. For instance, surplus procurement of items (low rate production) is the most wasteful way to preserve the MIB. Selective mothballing and the creation of a small Defense Industrial Reserve labor force would be preferable. In a budget-constrained environment, preservation of an industrial base for obsolescing items could undermine future capability by beggaring other areas, for instance, R&D. Can the nation afford to both substantially support the 1980s industrial base and lay the foundation for 21st- century end items (and production processes)?

4.4 A coherent vision of future warfare must lead research, development, and acquisition policy

Looking forward 20 years and more, development trends in basic research can suggest the general contours of future warfare. A vision of future warfare is necessary if we are to establish appropriate priorities within R&D and Acquisition policy, and between these two areas of policy.

The vision of future warfare and military technology should be well-integrated and coherent -- not "jointed." This means it cannot be a composite of individual service views (much less service branch views). Nor should this vision comprise a stack of weapon system "snapshots" offered up by different sectors of industry or individual companies. Of course, all of these self-interested actors would contribute to the formulation of a vision -- but the final goal should be a distillation of views -- not a stew.

Failure to produce a well-integrated and coherent vision will impede our ability to set priorities and fruitfully allocate scarce resources. In times of plenty, such failure leads to redundancy, inefficiency, and waste; in a budget-constrained environment such failure will, in addition, produce gaping holes in some critical areas of technical capability. Now more than ever we need a coherent vision -- one that suggests clear priorities. But DOD's continuing practice is to proceed anarchically from individual development programs and individual service views to a political compromise that lacks internal coherence. To the extent that priorities are clear, they are also "soft" -- that is susceptible to political winds.

4.5 The military technical revolution: What does it imply for R&D and acquisition priorities?

We are today on the verge of a military technical revolution; the Gulf War only hinted at its potential, which will not be realized until 2010 or after. The changes that may occur in the armed forces of advanced industrial nations over the next 15-20 years could be as profound as those that occurred between 1930 and 1942. Identifying the character and focal points of change is the key to choosing a successful defense investment strategy.

To appreciate the present challenge it is helpful to think of military modernization as occurring at three levels: platforms, subcomponents, and architecture (ie. the "system of systems"). In this view (1) subcomponents fill platforms and surround them; (2) The architecture or the "system of systems" rests on subcomponents -- especially C3I components -- that integrate all other subcomponents and platforms into a coherent array.

The current MTR revolves around architecture and subcomponents, not platforms. The functions that it primarily involves are (1) C3I, (2) reconnaissance, surveillance, and target acquisition, and (3) computation and simulation. More generally (and with application to all technology areas) it involves the principle of modularization, which should inform all aspects of design (both force structure and weapon design). Development along these lines will dramatically boost combined-arms synergy and allow much greater accuracy and efficiency in force allocation (that is, in our ability to choose and constitute the right force for the right job and then deliver it to the right place in a timely fashion.)

Several imperatives and cautionary notes follow from this view, and they provide standards against which the BUR should be judged:

  • Modernization should emphasize development at the level of the "system of systems."
  • Modernization at every level should reflect a "whole system" perspective. For instance, it is neither vital nor efficient for a large proportion of America's future weapon platforms to have organic stealth features. Instead, we should ensure that our defense array as a whole can defeat an opponent's array. It is precisely wrong to conclude from the Gulf War that all or most of the individual elements of our defense array must be made over in the image of the most advanced. Contrary to this approach, the Gulf War showed (1) how very advanced systems could operate as "enablers" for much larger numbers of less advanced systems (2) when both types are effectively integrated in a system of systems.
  • Modernization should emphasize "modularized" subcomponents and suites of subcomponents, not platforms. This will provide the freedom to "drop in" new capabilities as they become available and are needed. Modularization can provide flexibility in several dimensions. First, it will allow us to tailor individual weapons and platforms to specific missions and threats. Second, it will allow us fit current acquisition to actually existing levels of threat while retaining the capability to quickly upgrade our weapons and platforms by moving new "drop-in" subcomponents from prototype status into mass production. (See section 2.3, below)
  • Because we are on the threshold of a MTR, the United States should not emphasize the near-term acquisition of mid-generation or "interim" systems -- especially platforms. Modular upgrades to existing platforms and systems together with (1) service-life extension programs and (2) vigorous R&D and prototyping constitutes the most effective and economical strategy for crossing the threshold of the MTR during the next 15+ years. In most cases, the addition of new platforms should be delayed until after 2007.

5. Are We on the Threshold of a Hollow Military?

  • The principal long-term danger of "hollow-ness" arises from the maintenance of an overly-large force structure in the context of tightening budget constraints.
  • Potential problems for the near-term derive mostly from
  • post-cold war transition costs -- eg. force restructuring and redeployment cost;
  • post-Gulf war force reconstitution costs; and
  • delays in base closings.
  • The "hollow force" debate has relied on a highly questionable standard of readiness: annual O&M expenditures per unit or per soldier. This counts any new efficiency in O&M spending as a threat to readiness!
  • There are good reasons to expect a decline in O&M requirement per soldier as
  • the drawdown increases the proportion of newer equipment in force,
  • the number of units stationed overseas is reduced,
  • simulation technologies for training and for conducting exercises come on line,
  • the slow down in procurement of new systems reduces the training challenge, and
  • new information management systems become available.

5.1 Argumentation on "hollow military"

Nothing in the current debate on force retrenchment has generated less light per unit of heat than the issue of readiness. Readiness refers to the time required to transform the combat potential of armed forces into available combat power. Statements of military strength often assume (i) freshly trained and healthy troops, (ii) military units at assigned troop and equipment levels, and (iii) military equipment in proper working order. The real state of armed forces units usually deviates from this ideal -- often substantially. Measures of readiness are meant to convey some idea of how long it will take to close this gap -- which is a different and more vital piece of information than the simple calculation of the gap's size.

Direct and comprehensive measures of readiness are quite feasible with regard to smaller and mid-size units (say, those involving between 1000 and 4000 personnel). Assessing the readiness of larger units, assemblages of units ("joint force packages"), and entire services within any meaningful timeframe is another matter. There are not enough yardsticks -- in this case, training and exercise sites and units -- to go around. Testing the readiness of the "whole system" in real time would, at any rate, prove remarkably disruptive.

Although new information technologies, processing systems, and testing protocols should substantially improve the reliability and thoroughness of efforts to gauge readiness, they will always involve an extrapolation from samples and, thus, some degree of uncertainty and subjectivity. Within this margin of uncertainty, political and bureaucratic interests can play fast and loose with the "facts." Indicative of such play in the current debate on readiness is

  • The assertion by some observers that reductions in Operations and Maintenance spending per unit or per soldier evidences a degradation in readiness, and
  • The failure of "hollow force" alarmists to distinguish between ephemeral and structural readiness problems.

Operations and maintenance spending involves more than those elements of military activity that directly affect combat readiness. Hence, a ten percent reduction in such spending does not imply a ten percent reduction in readiness. Moreover, even if one isolates that portion of O&M budgets most relevant to combat readiness, any attempt to simply equate spending reduction with a decline in readiness would read improvements in efficiency as a problem.

As America's armed forces make the transition to a post-Cold War defense posture -- which involves force cuts, unit relocation and reassignment, and base consolidation -- we should reasonably expect some temporary degradation in readiness. Similarly, it should be expected that the return to routine following the massive Gulf War deployments of 1990-1991 should entail some temporary readiness short-falls. In both cases, a salient feature of short-term difficulties would be a backlog of equipment at depots. This should not be taken as evidence for structural or long-term readiness problems; nonetheless, it is often treated as such. Temporary dips in readiness levels should not cause great concern unless the refractory period -- in this case, several more years -- is regarded as especially dangerous and challenging to a nation's military capability in aggregate.

There are several reasons, prima facie, to believe that the challenge of readiness in the coming years will ease -- although an observer would be hard pressed to find these reflected in the current "hollow force" debate:

  • New communication and information processing technologies and protocols will increase the efficiency and effectiveness of training and exercises. Similar information management systems will permit the armed forces to close readiness gaps faster and to more rapidly assemble "force packages" from a disparate array of the most ready units.
  • As the proportion of newer "information-age" equipment in the force increases, every dollar spent on readiness should produce a higher yield of combat power as a function of both (i) the much greater capability of recent and next generation equipment and (ii) the higher average rates of availability made feasible by new diagnostic equipment and modular (or "drop-in") replacement parts. Although high-technology equipment is more expensive to maintain and requires more highly-trained operators, O&M expenses can be regarded as "higher" only if one sets aside the pivotal issues of capability and availability.

A final question central to assessing the military's state of readiness is, How ready must the total (ie. active and reserve) force be to meet US strategic and operational requirements given the new security environment? Clearly, it should make a difference that the United States and its core allies no longer face one million "peer competitor" troops within a few days striking distance of the most vital of our assets. Plans to deliver six divisions from the United States to Europe within ten days were never very realistic; thankfully, we no longer face a challenge of that magnitude.

Citation: Carl Conetta and Charles Knight, Framework for Constructing a New Era Alternative to the Bottom-Up Review, Project on Defense Alternatives. Cambridge, MA: Commonwealth Institute, February 1997.

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