Deep reductions in defense spending, however ill-advised, seem all but inevitable given America’s fiscal condition. In order to realize up to $100 billion in annual savings in the worst-case scenario, the Department of Defense will be required to go where the money is, namely people and operations and maintenance accounts. Logically, this means shrinking force structure, eliminating infrastructure and retiring older weapons systems. The Army, for example, is reported to be considering reducing the number of active duty combat brigades by a third, from 45 to 30. One would assume that this means a comparable reduction of dozens of combat support and combat service support units. The other services would be required to make similarly severe cuts in the event of a worst-case scenario.
Even as the Pentagon considers cuts of up to one-third to its current force structure it will need to spend more in some areas. A shrinking force structure means that every service person in the field, each ship forward deployed and combat aircraft on patrol will need to be that much more capable or effective. This means continuing to invest in critical enablers that support effective power projection and combat operations.
One example of a necessary investment is aerial refueling. The ability to project U.S. power forward and to conduct effective air operations in distant skies is dependent on adequate air refueling. Even where friendly air bases are relatively close to the area of operations such as the recent Libyan campaign, airborne tankers were in high demand. The KC-45 program is a critical enabler that will need to be continued.
Another area for continued investment is electronic warfare. U.S. adversaries use a lot of electronics ranging from triggers for improvised explosives to cell phones to air defense radars. As the sophistication of enemy electronic systems increases, so too will the need for advanced countermeasures. Deployment of the Next Generation Jammer may well make the difference when it comes to U.S aircraft being able to penetrate hostile air defenses.
A third area where the defense department will need to spend money is intelligence analysis, fusion and exploitation. Investment in advanced collection systems has led to an avalanche of information. Unfortunately, the ability to make sense of the deluge of data has not kept up. The defense department needs to invest both in human resources and in systems to exploit all the material that can be produced by current and planned collection systems.
A fourth example of an area requiring sustained investment is military medicine, in general, and tele-medicine, in particular. As the size of the force shrinks, the value to the nation of each individual soldier, sailor, marine and airman’s life and well-being increases. The survival rates for soldiers in combat is already above 90 percent. The marriage of near-instantaneous long-distance communications with advanced sensing and imaging is creating the potential for medical intervention and support at long range. Tele-medicine can improve critical care both in forward areas and in the transport of wounded personnel to advanced medical facilities.
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