Is the US military destined for a “dusty death”?

The US military has a clear problem: modernization – On the way to surrendering a similar fate, Pentagon leaders seem to echo how Macbeth described perpetuating his barren days, “Tomorrow, tomorrow and tomorrow, creeps along at this petty pace day by day. .. The dusty deathpath. Out, extinguished, brief candle!”

Conventional deterrence and the global leadership of the US military will also be extinguished if time is continually wasted on uncertain wishes for an equally uncertain future. Unlike the financial situation or the strategic posture of US military forces, there is a variable over which neither Congress nor the executive branch has control, a variable that burns regardless of perception: time.

Not only are we unable to control it, but we can rarely anticipate what it may bring. The United States entered into “brief” missions in Iraq and Afghanistan that culminated in two conflicts that were nearly twenty years old and still smoldering. Putin decided to invade Ukraine much sooner than planners and defense executives expected – on his schedule, not ours. Time moves away from war plans, even when there are the people, funds, and strategies in place to define the actions it encompasses.

Bureaucracy Lumbers On Rince and Repeat

The Pentagon Biden described a Future Three Year Defense Program (FYDP) approach to resource their national defense strategy (NDS) throughout the five-year defense budget and planning cycles totaling 15 years. The first budget window focuses on the modernization of the nuclear triad, as well as future space, cyber and technological investments. The third five-year installment will focus on getting this future technology into the hands of fighters. And the second, and which has proven to be the most difficult, is to merge new technology with combat-ready gear or gamble not to.

One need only look back at recent administrations to hear the rhythms of history humming the solemn requiem of Third compensation strategy. Nine exercises later, one could argue that the three-FYDP approach met the moment in 2016. But the military balance has shifted too radically away from the United States in Asia since then, and more urgent action and radical change are needed now. The military does not have the luxury of a manufactured peace until sometime later this decade vis-à-vis Taiwan. Announcing that we will be really serious and ready in five years only invites the challengers to act sooner.

Characterizations of effort ranging from “incredibly slow” at “too late“, the Pentagon does not seem to be able get out of neutral and stop playing catch-up.

Nearly a decade after it was first presented as a concept, the Pentagon is still in the first budget window. Meanwhile, our opponents capitalized on time America has under-exploited. Although the Third Offset Strategy and Three FYDP Plans failed to produce significant large-scale capability changes across the Joint Force, they did in earnest help shape and inform the 2018 defense strategy and shifting the Department of Defense’s approach to great power competition. In that sense, Third Offset supporters accomplished what they sought and forged bipartisan support for the new mission.

R&D roads to nowhere

Instead of betting on these now-luxurious time constructs and building on them, decision makers should go all out to achieve their goals by today’s predicted due date.

As the military enjoys the luxury of a manufactured peace through 2027 based on optimistic assumptions, Pentagon leaders are simultaneously ceding permanent combat power and capability today as troops await the boasted tomorrow to bear fruit.

Defense planners are moving far too fast to give away what can’t be salvaged and far too slow to estimate when Beijing might act forcefully against Taiwan. It is both an invitation to aggression and a recipe for failure.

The administration relies on “tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow” to research, purchase and implement future technologies and concepts. However, as the distance from the conflict increases, optimistic expectations about what can be achieved also increase. Just over 80 years ago, US forces in the Philippines surrendered to the Japanese after old equipment manned by semi-trained personnel who lacked combat experience clashed with advanced weapons and fighters. This is likely the long-term trajectory of a repeated three-FYDP approach that continues to shrink and age fighting strength – the same strength used for competition and potential combat – without recomposing or thinking the same way. on the political, budgetary and security circumstances. he actually faces.

Fielding weapons in 2027 means buying them today

If the Pentagon assumes the potential for a revolutionary war in 2027, then it’s a problem here and now for this giant bureaucracy. From senior leadership “thought bubbles” to clean sheet planning to internal programming, congressional approval, corporate research, large-scale procurement, and finally fielding combatant capabilities is a three to five year process. And that’s only in the best-case scenarios.

Want more Stingers, Javelins or HIMAR? See you in 24 to 36 months. But, of course, let’s retire combat force ships that are only three years old while being as sure of Xi’s timing and intent regarding Taiwan as the global elites were for Putin in Ukraine.

The entire Department of Defense must be in step with Operation Warp Speed ​​where urgency and humility are the watchwords, and the armed forces reward speed and ability in the field rather than conformity or perfection. One officer said “whole swaths of the Department go through motions” – a preference for process over power. In a Warp Speed ​​posture, the Pentagon can reduce development and production times to enable immediate implementation of available technology in the systems the U.S. military has todaywhile gathering data from this implementation to empower entirely new technologies still under development.

Accepting a unilateral reduction in skilled manpower, capability, training and posture over the next decade will lead to a self-inflicted stasis, in which our weapons and fighters will look more like antiques than to armed forces – expensive but impractical.

The Pentagon and Congress delayed essential modernization for three decades. maintaining credible American combat power. With their backs to the wall now, policymakers must not cede US military supremacy to a “dusty death,” but rather rethink the pace of productivity by accepting that armed force cannot survive by “buying time” to acquire skills. abilities, but rather by buying abilities to win. time.

mackenzie eaglen is a Resident Scholar at the Marilyn Ware Center for Security Studies at the American Enterprise Institute. You can follow her on Twitter: @MEaglen. This first appeared in RealClearDefense.

Valerie J. Wallis