Home inFocus Defense Modernization and Challenges Ahead (Winter 2016) Priorities for America’s Military Services

Priorities for America’s Military Services

Jewish Policy Center Winter 2016

The decline in America’s defense budget is mirrored by a decline in both force structure and capability. There is a growing consensus on the need to restore both in order to maintain American credibility in foreign affairs. inFOCUS asked a group of esteemed retired Flag and General Officers to discuss their priorities for the individual services.

Air Force Priorities

GEN William J. Begert, USAF retired as Commander, Pacific Air Forces, and Air Component Commander for the Commander in Chief, U.S. Pacific Command.

January 2016 will mark 25 years of daily combat operations for the United States Air Force. Not a day has gone by since the start of Desert Storm without Air Force airplanes going into harm’s way. In the 1990s it was the First Gulf War, Bosnia, enforcement of No Fly zones in Iraq, and Kosovo. Since 9/11 it has been Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, as well as other locations. The Air Force is combat experienced and combat hardened; however, is it ready for future challenges, especially high tempo operations in contested airspace? The answer is “maybe” but there are significant concerns.

The Air Force is too small. Since the end of the First Gulf War in 1991 the Air Force has gone through significant downsizing. In Desert Storm the AF had 134 fighter squadrons. Today we have 49 fighter squadrons. Half of those fighter squadrons are in the Air National Guard or Reserves. The Air Force is down to 311,000 Airmen on active duty. On any given day over 70,000 are stationed forward (outside CONUS) with another 25,000 deployed from home station (mostly in or near combat zones). Additionally, the AF has had to take on new missions like cyber operations and more than 50 continuous drone orbits in multiple combat zones. Meanwhile, space has become a contested area of operations that has to be addressed. The Air Force needs to grow – and grow in the areas that count.

The Air Force desperately needs to be modernized. It is close to being a geriatric Air Force. The fighters and bombers that won Desert Storm in 1991 are largely the same airplanes we are using today. The B-52s and the KC-135s were built in the early 60’s and it’s likely the pilots that will fly them on their last flight to the bone yard have not yet been born. When I was a force structure programmer in the Pentagon in the 1980s, we had a goal of the average age of the fighter force to be less than 10 years, and we got close to that goal. Today the average age is more than 25 years old and is growing. Our nuclear force of airplanes, weapons, and communications systems is dangerously antiquated.

The readiness of the Air Force is becoming questionable. Those of us who served in the 1970s, when readiness was atrocious, recognize what is going on. As the budget squeeze gets tighter and tighter, in order to meet the dollar bogies set by OMB and the White House, the Pentagon starts to “take risks” in the logistic accounts. War reserves, spares, munitions, and infrastructure are all asked to take risk so that daily operations and training can continue. In the Air Force flying hours are protected unless there is no other place to go. When sequestration first hit, half the fighter squadrons were grounded. We are starting to see the results. Less than half of the squadrons can do their designated full spectrum mission. Half of the fighter pilots are not continuing their careers. Instead they are heading for the airlines and other civilian opportunities, despite being offered generous bonuses to stay in the Air Force. This is a slippery slope that will lead to disaster.

What should be done to address these issues?

The Air Force needs to be right-sized to align human resources to the mission it is being asked to do. We must restore our Guard and Reserve to true reserve forces. Today we are almost treating them as if they were on active duty. Over the long haul this will not work. We need to retire old weapon systems and replace them with more modern and capable systems. Lastly, we need to buy back the risks we are taking in readiness accounts. Specifically, among the things I recommend:

  • Keep the tanker replacement program on track
  • Accelerate the F-35 program so that unit costs go down and older airplanes can retire; however, we need to grow the number of fighter squadrons by at least 50%. This will help restore balance to our reserve forces
  • Keep the new bomber program on track and buy at least 100 bombers
  • Modernize our nuclear enterprise, including communications
  • Reopen the F-22 line and buy at least 200 more airplanes. It is the most capable air dominance fighter in the world and we don’t have enough to cover today’s requirements. I also recommend selling at least 100 F-22s to Japan to share reopening costs and to help stabilize Northeast Asia.
  • Quickly develop and deploy a replacement to the A-10. While the F-35 will do an excellent job on close air support (much like the F-16 today), a dedicated close air support fighter would be highly useful in the global war on terror, which will continue for generations
  • Ensure our Science and Technology budget is robust enough so that we can stay ahead of our peer competitors
  • Keep our classified space programs on track to insure our dominance in the space domain

This is not a comprehensive list but it should at least start a conversation on how to rebuild our Air Force. I lived through the dark days of the 70s and saw the revival Ronald Reagan brought to our military. He restored our readiness, modernized our force structure, and restored our morale. It’s time again.

To Have a Ready Army

LTG Gary Speer, USA retired as Deputy Commanding General/Chief of Staff, U.S. Army Europe and Seventh Army, Germany

The purpose of the Army is to fight and win our nation’s wars. The Army deploys as part of a joint force with worldwide responsibilities and interests, deterring adversaries and assuring allies, building increased partner capacity, responding to regional challenges, providing humanitarian support, and disrupting terrorist networks. The Army provides the staying power of the Joint Force in many areas including communications, intelligence, logistics and sustainment, mission command, and many other critical functions.

As daily news highlights, the world is still a very dangerous place with a range of security threats to our nation and our allies. Today, America’s Army remains engaged with allies and partners around the world in over 150 countries, including Iraq, Afghanistan, Korea, Eastern Europe and Africa, throughout the Pacific, the Balkans, the Baltics, and Latin America. Russia, China, North Korea, Iran, ISIS, and radical violent extremist organizations currently challenge the U.S., each in their own way, and will likely continue for some time into the future. As such, demand for U.S. ground forces will increase as the global environment continues to be uncertain and increasingly unstable.

At the annual meeting of the Association of the U.S. Army, General Mark Milley, Army Chief of Staff, clearly identified the Army’s priorities: readiness, the future force, care of soldiers and their families, and the Army civilian workforce.

Ready to Fight and Win Today: Readiness across the Army (Active, Guard, and Reserve) is the number one priority. Readiness to fight and win in ground combat requires the necessary training, leadership, and resources to win – sufficient resources to sustain the current equipment, technological edge, training overmatch, and enhanced leadership development and education units must be manned at combat levels, and equipment must be upgraded, maintained, and modernized. A unit that is ready today did not become so in short order; it took time and predictable resources, individual and collective training, multiple exercises, and constant repetition.

Further, readiness is directly related to our nation’s ability to deter adversaries. We cannot focus on just one type of war, or just one enemy at a time, or just one region. We must be prepared for the full range, regaining combined arms proficiency after a decade of counterinsurgency.

Future Force – Preparing to Win Tomorrow: Today, we must set the conditions to increase our effectiveness to meet challenges of the future. Transformation to the future force has already begun.

Over the past decades, the Army has benefited from a technological and readiness overmatch that enabled a historically small number of soldiers to accomplish significant objectives while minimizing casualties. Yet, the technologies that gave us the advantage are increasingly available to state and non-state adversaries at lower cost. We should look to a wide variety of emerging technologies and new concepts that may have significant impact on ground warfare including technologies in communications for mission command, robotics, nano-technologies, human performance, explosives and propellants, hypersonics, directed energy, cyber, protective materials for personnel and equipment, and a variety of developments in weapons technologies.

We are the best-equipped, best-trained, and best-led Army in the world, but we cannot rest on our laurels. The world is rapidly changing and the future is unpredictable and uncertain. We must build capacity now to set conditions for future growth and capability to respond to any threat. We must shape the force, constantly adapt, and be flexible enough to change quickly to meet the challenges of the future.

Caring for our Most Valuable Asset – our People: Soldiers, families, and civilians are the Army’s most valuable asset. They must be treated with dignity and respect and afforded an equal opportunity to excel based on individual merit. The objective is to maintain a high-quality force within the approved (budget constrained) end-strength. The Army is a professional team and standards-based organization. Although the Army will decrease in overall size, it will continue recruiting America’s best young men and women.

In sum, the Army must continue to deliver mission success in this complex world. Winning matters; there is no second place in combat. The U.S. Army is the world’s premier ground combat force, ready to fight today and prepared to fight tomorrow.

Diverse Missions for the Coast Guard

VADM D. Brian Peterman, USCG retired as Commander, Coast Guard Atlantic Command

The United States Coast Guard is unique among the five military services in that it resides in the Department of Homeland Security and has, in addition to a war-fighting role, domestic law enforcement and regulatory responsibilities. The 42,000 active duty men and women of the Coast Guard are responsible for carrying out an expansive set of missions including ports and waterway safety, drug interdiction, aids to navigation management, search and rescue, living marine resource protection, marine safety, defense readiness, migrant interdiction, marine environmental protection, and ice operations.

Long considered a low threat mission, ice operations have recently risen to the forefront of national concern. The melting of the polar ice cap is opening access to undersea polar resources and shipping lanes through a region with many hazards but scant rescue resources. The nation is interested in protecting resources in the United States exclusive economic zone but we have only one heavy icebreaker in the entire U.S. fleet. President Obama stated he would like to begin the immediate build of two additional heavy icebreakers to allow the Coast Guard to perform polar research, protect undersea resources, and be available to assist mariners. It is critical that Congress allocate the funds in the next budget to get this long-term shipbuilding process started.

The terrorist threat has magnified the need for effective border security and the Coast Guard is at the forefront in protecting the maritime approaches to the U.S. Large Coast Guard cutters are assigned to interdict drug traffickers far from our shores while medium-sized cutters patrol coastal areas for contraband and illegal migrants attempting to land in the U.S. The added threat of terrorists mixing with this drug and migrant flow to gain access requires the Coast Guard to maintain high vigilance. Some new cutters and aircraft are being provided for this mission and it is important that funding continue to complete this resource improvement program.

At the center of the Coast Guard’s needs is the replacement of aging equipment. Extending the service life of ships and aircraft has long been a Coast Guard trait. In my 36-year career, it wasn’t until the fourth ship I served on that my age was greater than that of the hull. The tragic sinking of the cargo ship El Faro with all hands in November ignited criticism for sailing a 40-year-old ship well beyond its projected life span. But one of the Coast Guard cutters that was involved in the search for survivors is 50 years old with no replacement in sight. There is a $10.5 billion project over 19 years to replace the medium endurance cutters with a new fleet of 25 Offshore Patrol Cutters. It is imperative that Congress provide necessary yearly funding to keep this critical recapitalization program on track.

The Coast Guard has a diverse set of missions and its workforce is equally diverse. The men and women of the Coast Guard are a remarkably resilient and dedicated force that will be ready to respond to all threats and hazards. They deserve our country’s support.

The Marine Corps: The “Most Ready” Service

MG Larry Taylor, USMCR retired as Deputy Commander, Marine Forces Reserve in New Orleans

In the past few years, as we have looked at what our national security priorities should be, there has been much talk of the “most likely” uses of our military capabilities. A sort-of consensus seems to have arisen in the popular culture that the most likely employment of the armed forces is something similar to what we have been doing in what is called the Arc of Instability, ever since major ground combat units were withdrawn from Iraq and Afghanistan. While it is important to discuss “most likely” scenarios, it is much more important to assess what is “most risky” in terms of our national interests.

Although we must be prepared to respond to the likelihood of terrorism, instability, provide disaster relief, and humanitarian assistance, along that Arc from Sub-Saharan Africa all the way across Asia to the Pacific, the “most risky” scenario, by far, is to be unprepared for major theater war against a near-peer adversary. In sum, while we must be prepared for the entire range of military operations, preparing for (and thereby hopefully deterring) major theater war must be our #1 priority.

The enduring role of the Marine Corps within our national security architecture is exactly suited to this period of our history. The Corps is, by law, a force of combined arms, to include supporting aviation, designed to be the most ready to conduct operations along the entire spectrum of conflict. It is the “middleweight” force-in-readiness that paves the way for the employment of the heavier forces of the other services when needed.

There are serious shortfalls, however, in the Corps’ current capabilities. The most critical of these is surface mobility, on both sea and land. In order to be “most ready”, Marine Expeditionary Units must be forward deployed aboard amphibious ships of the Navy. Navy-Marine Corps operational plans require 38 such ships. The current fleet is, in the recent words of a senior Marine Corps leader, “chasing 30,” and many of these ships are aging.

An even more immediate need is to replace our worn-out Vietnam-era amphibian tractors, which also serve as our primary armored personnel carriers on land. In November, we awarded the first contracts for our new Amphibious Combat Vehicle (ACV), but the planned initial operating capability for the ACV is 2020, with deliveries not scheduled to be completed until 2023. We need to accelerate this timetable.

Not all of our priorities are “big-ticket” end-items such as amphibious shipping and ACVs, however. Tight budgets have created shortages of such “sustainment” items as spare parts for maintenance and ammunition for training.

In addition, if we are entering what I would call an “interwar” period, Marines, and all the services, must take care to maintain the “warrior ethos.” Peace, or the perception of peace, is a formula for the cultivation of martinets and dilettantes. Professional military education (PME) can help us keep the tip of the spear as sharp in peace as in war. Today’s Marines have spent most of their careers focused on the Middle East. There is a need to refocus our PME on the flanks of NATO, and especially the littorals of Southeast Asia. PME is a low-cost, high-reward investment that has served us well in previous “interwar” periods. Even with the best and most modern equipment, there is no substitute for cultural and geopolitical knowledge, neither is there a substitute for the warrior ethos. When an interwar period ends, as they always do, our brains must be as combat-ready as our equipment.

The U.S. Navy: Maintaining our Freedom

RADM Thomas J. Wilson, USN retired as Oceanographer and Navigator of the Navy

With the nation entering the final year of President Obama’s administration it is a good time to conduct an assessment of the U.S. Navy to determine what changes, if any, are necessary going forward. Here are three items to consider.

The need for a Navy: The nation has placed significant resources toward its land forces and supporting air forces in the last decade-plus. The land wars in Iraq and Afghanistan fully engaged the Active, Reserve and Guard components of the U.S. Army, Marine Corps, and Air Force. The Navy’s engagement has largely been limited to its Special Forces component, the SEALS, and naval air forces. Even the traditional role of Marines embarked in Navy ships was ramped back as the Marines were fully engaged ashore. Recent events tend to marginalize the importance of the Navy and its unique role in defending the nation. But Chinese behavior may change that.

It has been said that we have owned the seas for so long we have forgotten how bad it was when we didn’t. Yet it was in my father’s lifetime that ships were sunk in the shadow of New York City. Today, more than ever, our economic lifeblood is the sea. By value, 38% of U.S. exports and 53% of imports are by sea. Freedom of the seas may sound like a lofty, esoteric legal principle but it represents national economic survival and the Navy, partnered with the U.S. Coast Guard, is a key player. The nation must be reminded that without secure sea-lanes we become an oversized island and without investments in the Navy we jeopardize our future.

Correctly Sizing the Navy: Having established an economic requirement for the Navy, the next statement may seem obvious: the Navy needs ships and aircraft. The argument that modern ships are so capable that fewer are necessary is specious and uninformed. The Navy is currently too small to adequately meet national peacetime needs. In order to influence outcomes the Navy needs to “be there.” To keep one carrier battle group deployed the Navy needs three: one deployed, one in maintenance, and one training to deploy. We can argue whether the correct multiple is 3 or 2.5 or any other number, but we should be able to agree it certainly is not 1. The Navy must be forward to safeguard sea-lanes and deter aggression and in order to be forward it must have ships and aircraft. A small (ish), modern, and capable fleet in Norfolk or San Diego cannot be a deterrent 5,000 miles away. To those who say this is an outdated Cold War idea, I refer you to ships sinking within sight of U.S. shores.

Modernizing the Navy: Ensuring freedom of sea-lanes may involve combat. The Navy does not enter conflicts intending to convince the adversary of his mistake. Rather it enters with but one intention—to apply overwhelming combat power to win. It has no interest in a fair fight. A winning fleet must, by definition, be a modern fleet and that means the fleet must be in a constant state of modernization, particularly as potential adversaries modernize and expand their fleets. The U.S. Navy continues to postpone its upgrade plans due to resource constraints. Modernization is expensive and while those costs are a subject for a different time they represent the cost of freedom. It is far less expensive to maintain freedom than to buy it back.