In the next six months or so, the Bush administration will make
decisions on the future of the U.S. military that have the potential
for revolutionizing military strategy and the supporting force structure.
There are no cheap solutions. But there is the potential for bold
solutions to the problem of the mismatch between strategy and capabilities.
The central tenet of U.S. defense policy for almost a decade has
been the need to be prepared to fight two nearly simultaneous large
regional conflicts, termed major theater wars (MTWs). The case for
a two-MTW strategy arose naturally with the end of the Cold War.
Each MTW would require five to six Army/Marine Corps divisions,
10 fighter wings, four to six aircraft carriers, half the strategic
bomber force and hundreds of support aircraft, dozens of surface
ships and most of the nation’s space-based intelligence assets.
The two-war requirement was confirmed by the two major assessments
of U.S. military capabilities conducted by the Clinton administration,
the Bottom-Up Review and the last Quadrennial Defense Review (QDR).
Despite the apparent consensus, it is likely that the two-MTW standard
will be a casualty of the strategic review now underway in the Pentagon.
It has been evident for several years now that U.S. military forces
are being over-stretched and over-used. Deployments in support of
contingencies in Somalia, Haiti, the Balkans and the Persian Gulf
are depleting units that would have to take part in a two-MTW situation.
The divisions supporting Balkan deployment were rated as C-4, or
unready for wartime duty, precisely because they are engaged in
peacekeeping duties instead of training for their wartime missions.
Under the current strategy, certain weapon systems such as the
E-6 electronic warfare aircraft and intelligence assets will “swing”
from one theater to the other. It is clear from recent events, when
operations over northern Iraq were curtailed in order to reinforce
forces conducting the air war over Kosovo, that such a strategy
will not work. There are not enough of these units for more than
In testimony last year before the House Armed Services Committee,
witnesses identified a number of shortfalls in the current force
posture. For example, while a two-MTW strategy is estimated to require
some 4,000 Tomahawk land-attack missiles, the Navy has just 50 percent
of that number. Lt. Gen. Larry Ellis, the Army’s deputy chief
of staff for operations and plans reported that the Army currently
lacks the capability to enter a conflict quickly and sustain operations.
The Army also has insufficient ammunition stocks.
Similarly, Vice Adm. Edmund Giambastiani, deputy chief of naval
operations for resources, warfare requirements and assessment reported
that a build rate of eight to 10 ships per year is required to sustain
a two-MTW fleet. Currently, the Navy is producing six ships a year.
The two-MTW standard is likely to be modified, if not cast aside,
in the face of the reality that defense spending is simply too low
to maintain the current force, itself barely capable of meeting
current demands. Estimates vary, but the shortfall in defense spending
is probably no less than $50 billion annually and could be as much
as $100 billion.
The Congressional Budget Office said that $90 billion in procurement
was required to sustain forces under the current strategy. This
is $30 billion more than currently is budgeted for procurement.
Of the $90 billion total, $15 billion would need to go to the Army,
$35 billion to the Navy and Marine Corps, $35 billion to the Air
Force and $5 billion to defense agency systems. This shortfall translates
into a need to reduce forces and personnel by between 25 percent
and 50 percent of the current levels. Even if force structure reductions
were in the range of 25 percent, this would constitute a fatal blow
to the two-MTW strategy.
The Pentagon cannot avoid this shortfall by buying less-expensive
equipment. The need to maintain a global presence with a force 40
percent smaller than that which existed at the end of the Cold War
means that each new system must do more than those they replace
and, hence, must be more capable than their predecessors. The Air
Force needs to buy the F-22 fighter to maintain air dominance, more
C-17 transports to provide mobility, electronic warfare and intelligence
aircraft and more strategic bombers. The Army has an ambitious modernization
program that includes new ground-combat systems and the Comanche
helicopter. The Navy must ensure its global presence and command
of the seas by augmenting its fleet of submarines, acquire more
surface ships, and deploy sufficient F/A-18 and Joint Strike Fighters
(JSF) to equip aircraft carriers. The Marine Corps is acquiring
a new amphibious vehicle, a vertical take-off and landing version
of the JSF, and the V-22 Osprey transport. The growing ballistic
missile threat to the U.S. homeland, forward-deployed forces, friends
and allies means that theater and national missile defenses also
must be built.
What can be done to resolve the mismatch between U.S. military
strategy and the realities of limited resources? The simple answer
would be to abandon the two-MTW standard for a lesser one, say one-and-a-half
MTWs. The simple answer is the wrong one. A lesser requirement is
likely to result in a reduction in forces.
The better answer is to look to new ways to meet U.S. military
requirements through a capabilities-based strategy. In particular,
the United States should consider pursuing an aerospace-centered
strategy. Aerospace power, deployed on land, at sea and in space,
provides a unique set of operational advantages. A revolution in
aerospace power is in the offing. This involves the development
of stealthy aircraft such as the F-22, JSF and B-2 bomber. It includes
the exploitation of long-range “smart” munitions such
as cruise missiles, and satellite-guided bombs. It means deployment
of a new generation of electronic warfare and intelligence platforms.
A potentially revolutionary new capability, the airborne laser,
promises to change the way U.S. forces defeat ballistic missiles
and possibly the full range of air-breathing threats. Space exploitation
will center on new generations of satellites, low cost lift to orbit,
and a capability to maneuver in space.
Daniel Goure is a senior defense analyst at the Lexington Institute,
based in Arlington, Va.
Editor’s Note: This is the first of a series of articles
to be published by National Defense on defense policy and industrial