Framework for Constructing a New Era Alternative
Table Of Contents
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.
Implications of Alternative
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:
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?
Alternative: Desert Storm Standard -- longer defensive phase followed by deliberate offensive phase, if necessary
Implications of Alternative
Personnel Allocation (000s)
|US Ground Forces (Army and Marine Corps)|
|US Air Forces (all services)|
|USN & USMC||1100|
|Naval Aircraft Carriers|
|Hypothetical Allocation of Proposed Force in Two MRC Scenario|
USA & USMC
|Defensive Shield 1||2.7||0||7.7||2.7||3||0|
|Defensive Shield 2||2||0||6.3||2.3||2||0|
|Strategic reserve or
deployed outside combat areas
|Long-term replacements and
provision for protracted major war
Disposition of US Military Personnel in Two MRC Scenario
|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|
|Hypothetical Allocation of Proposed Force in MRC/LRC Scenario|
USA & USMC
|MRC (all phases)||4||1||12||6||4||0|
|Strategic reserve or
deployed outside combat areas
|Long-term replacements and
provision for protracted major war
|Disposition of US Military Personnel in MRC/LRC Scenario|
|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|
Much of the new system procurement scheduled to occur in the next ten to twelve years reflects:
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:
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.
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.
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)?
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.
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:
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
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:
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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