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Why the US Military is in Serious Trouble

The report of the National Defense Strategy Commission, released Wednesday, reaches conclusions with profound implications for U.S. national security. The report itself is a rarity for Washington, presenting bipartisan consensus that reflects hard-hitting views rather than watered-down, lowest-common-denominator mush.

In sixty-four pages of plain language, the commission paints an extraordinarily troubling picture of the state of U.S. national defenses, calling our present situation a “grave crisis” demanding “extraordinary urgency.” It’s a call we should heed. The 2017 National Defense Authorization Act authorized a commission to “examine and make recommendations with respect to the national defense strategy of the United States.” The commission members are all national security experts, half selected by Republican and half by Democrat leaders of the House and Senate Armed Services Committees. The bipartisan structure gives the commission’s findings particular weight and credence.

In general, the commissioners agree with the administration’s National Defense Strategy (NDS) published this in January 2018. The strategy focused largely on great power competition and stressed the importance of alliances, increasing readiness and achieving Pentagon reforms. However, after identifying those areas of agreement, the report proceeds to describe some significant shortfalls with the strategy and the supporting resources and concepts. In a key passage, the commissioners express skepticism that the Defense Department “has the attendant plans, concepts and resources needed to meet the defense objectives established in the NDS.”

The report notes that the United States now faces five rising challenges – China, Russia, Iran, North Korea, and transnational terrorism – yet has fewer military forces than at any time since the end of World War II. “Simply put,” it observes, “the United States needs a larger force than it has today if it is to meet the objectives of the strategy.”

Numerous defense experts, both inside and outside of government, have been telling us the same thing for years. Today, the navy says it needs 355 ships to execute the NDS; they have 286. The air force says it needs 386 squadrons; they have 312. And the army states it needs 500,000 active soldiers; it has only 476,000. With five potential adversaries to account for, the report observes, a “two-war force sizing construct makes more strategic sense today that at any previous point in the post-Cold War era.” Yet the NDS used only a one-war force sizing construct with an additional undefined ability to “deter” another opponent.

Essentially, that construct provides no capability to deter an opportunistic adversary who sees the U.S. engaged in one regional conflict. Moreover, it provides no ability to suffer combat losses or to maintain any forward presence in any area other than the conflict zone. In sum, the NDS’ one-war force sizing construct understates the amount of forces the U.S. needs to prevail. The commission does not approve.

The commission is unsparing in its description of how inadequate the resourcing is for national defense: “the available means are clearly insufficient to fulfill the strategy’s ends.” The report points to the cumulative impact of the Budget Control Act of 2011, which effectively removed $539 billion from the Pentagon budget, causing a series of cascading ill effects on readiness, modernization and force size. Source: National Interest