The United States should prepare for a “hard time” in the 2020s, as its military modernization plans are, apparently, a complete failure.
This was outlined in a new report from Mackenzie Eaglen and Hallie Coyne of the American Enterprise Institute, who says the Department of Defense had best prepare for the reality of the “Terrible ’20s” ahead.
The entire report, 102 pages long, can be read here. [pdf]
“Policymakers and uniformed leaders are sleepwalking into strategic insolvency. If no action is taken, something will break and do so spectacularly,” the authors write. “There is no easy way out of this fiscal bind for the US military. Rather, now is the time for effective mitigation strategies, urgent worst-case scenario planning, hard choices, and political leadership.”
The authors totaled 28 modernization programs that were cancelled between FY2002 and FY2012, as the department constantly shifted funds towards the ongoing war on terrorism efforts instead of towards modernization.
Those programs included $81.415 billion in sunk costs, and while many of those programs did receive follow on efforts, the older programs “rarely significantly informed their successor programs.”
Future modernization challenges are broken down by service, and by two time period: fiscal year 2021-2025, and fiscal year 2026-2031.
The report also has some direct policy suggestions:
- considerations of reduced mission sets;
- develop new ways of working with Congress;
- making sure current modernization efforts have upgradability to avoid a future spike in modernization efforts.
“This report is intended to force a confrontation with the unvarnished reality of how much it will cost to modernize our armed forces to protect the United States’ security in an era of intensifying competition with peer competitors,” the authors conclude. “While reasonable people may disagree about the judgments and calculations included herein (which we welcome the opportunity to discuss), the macro-level trajectory of our military’s degrading comparative strength is indisputable.
“Time and money are no longer on our side; too much of both have been wasted already.”
Still, the most significant recommendation is quite simple: spend more on modernization:
Increase Funding to 3–5% Real Growth. There’s no getting around that the modernization portion of the defense budget must still grow significantly for a number of years or the forces deployed each day around the world will lack adequate equipment to accomplish their mission. To address the strategy-budget gap created by years of anemic modernization accounts, Mattis testified in 2017 that the defense budget topline would require 3–5% real growth each year through 2023.
The report concludes with the following urge – that Washington needs to have a singular aim of what it wants for its military, and chaos should disappear.
“Most Importantly, Decide What the United States Wants from Its Military. The external security of the United States cannot be mortgaged for its domestic safety when both are necessary. Domestic threats and challenges such as pandemics, natural disasters, election security, and economic growth are crucial concerns that unquestionably deserve serious and concerted attention and engagement. However, addressing these priorities will neither solve nor mitigate the United States’ eroding competitive military advantage. As stated in the 2018 National Defense Strategy, “The Department of Defense’s enduring mission is to provide combat-credible military forces needed to deter war and protect the security of our nation.” The 2020 Democratic Party Platform argued that America “can maintain a strong defense and protect our safety and security for less.” This report finds this claim is simply not true. The 2017 Repair and Rebuild report argued that regaining technological superiority was not enough to ensure conventional deterrence in the future. Today, the US military is backed into a corner, increasingly investing to maintain the readiness of today’s force while facing the looming bow wave of the 2020s that has until now largely remained unaddressed and unattended. This report is intended to force a confrontation with the unvarnished reality of how much it will cost to modernize our armed forces to protect the United States’ security in an era of intensifying competition with peer competitors. While reasonable people may disagree about the judgments and calculations included herein (which we welcome the opportunity to discuss), the macro-level trajectory of our military’s degrading comparative strength is indisputable. Time and money are no longer on our side; too much of both have been wasted already.”
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