In his first major policy address, Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta presented his vision of the military of the future. There are reports that Panetta has already signed off on a new Defense Planning Guidance, the key document that lays out a U.S. defense strategy and defines the key planning and programming priorities to execute that strategy.
Panetta argued that the world remains a dangerous place. While continuing to assert the importance of addressing the threats posed by terrorist groups, the focus of his speech was on state-based threats ranging from North Korea and Iran to a modernizing Chinese military. Panetta signaled a shift from the policies of his predecessor. In particular, Panetta emphasized the need to be prepared to fight two wars, if only in order to deter a second adversary from taking advantage of the situation in which the U.S. is committed to fighting a first war.
The list of missions for this 21st century military is quite extensive. It must be forward deployed in critical regions and capable of projecting power globally. It must provide reassurance to allies and deterrence of potential adversaries. Most important of all, it must be militarily preeminent in the world. The secretary mentioned a number of areas in which the U.S. military has established and exploited significant military advantages: precision-guided weapons, unmanned systems, cyber and space technologies.
At the same time, Panetta made it clear that as a result of budget pressures, cuts will have to be absorbed. The choice has already been made, according to Panetta: “We know that the military of the 21st century will be smaller. But even if smaller, it must be supremely capable and effective as a force to deal with a range of security challenges.” He went on to address the likely criticism from some quarters that the U.S. needs a large military, particularly to handle future Iraq/Afghanistan type protracted deployments saying “a smaller, highly capable and ready force is preferable to a larger, hollow force.”
Panetta seemed to imply that force structure cuts would fall most heavily on the Army. He specifically mentioned the size of the ground forces in addressing the subject of future force structure. He suggested an expanded role for the National Guard and Reserve to respond to a crisis — which I would interpret as the second war.
The only way to meet the range of missions defined by the secretary, to be globally deployed, agile, responsive and extremely potent, is to focus the 21st century military on air and sea-based capabilities. Modern air and sea-based forces provide the presence, flexibility and sheer combat power the U.S. will most require in the 21st century. To the list Panetta provided I would add missile defenses, long-range strike and anti-submarine warfare which are also areas of U.S. technological and operational advantage.
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