The key assumption behind the 2010 Quadrennial Defense Review (QDR) is that the United States will have sufficient time and warning with which to win the wars it is in now and then “pivot” to address future high-end or more complex threats. In the meantime, the military will also be participating in lots of disaster relief, conflict prevention and partnership building exercises. The reality is that we may have much less time than the QDR assumes before major conflict again preoccupies the Department of Defense’s time, attention and resources.
The People’s Republic of China (PRC) is already well into a decades-long military modernization program. It now has over 1,000 short and medium-range missiles capable of attacking U.S. forces in the Western Pacific, U.S. bases and our friends and allies. According to intelligence reports, the PRC has even developed a special aircraft carrier-killing ballistic missile just for the U.S. Navy. The annual threat assessment warns that China is pursuing a laundry list of modernization activities in all the areas that would give the ability to counter U.S. military power: attack submarines, sea mines, anti-satellite weapons, air defenses, electronic warfare, cyber attack and long-range strike. India just completed testing a new longer-range nuclear-tipped ballistic missile. The government in New Delhi is also undertaking a major military modernization program; U.S. defense companies are bidding on some parts of this program. India recently reinforced its forces in the eastern Indian Ocean opposite a Chinese base in Myanmar with advanced fighter aircraft, attack helicopters and amphibious ships. Iran is pushing forward on its nuclear weapons program, test firing its ballistic missiles and in deep negotiations with Russia to acquire advanced air defenses. Speaking of Russia, that country not only has a major indigenous arms program underway, including its own “F-22sky” fighter but is about to get state-of-the-art amphibious warfare ships from France. Russia is selling Venezuela over $4 billion in arms including fighters, helicopters, artillery and small arms.
Meanwhile, the U.S. has been investing tens of billions of dollars on equipment to fight Iraqi and Afghan insurgents and to hunt down Al Qaeda. Many of Department of Defense’s (DoD) new investments such as the Ground Combat Vehicle and MQ-9 Reaper, while quite appropriate for low intensity warfare, are not what will be required against more competent, better-armed adversaries. The Air Force is even buying some antiquated, Soviet era MIL-19 helicopters so it will have something on which to train partners who use that kind of equipment. At the same time DoD is either terminating or cutting back on precisely those programs that would allow this country to meet a future high-end adversary: F-22, C-17, DDG-1000, a new missile cruiser, amphibious warfare ships, the future maritime prepositioning force and advanced missile defenses. There is money in the budget for a new long-range strike system but DoD has little idea what it wants to build or why.
The presumption in the QDR and by Defense Secretary Gates that the United States will have the luxury to do the strategic “pivot” or the resources to respond to a major state-based threat must be challenged. This is particularly the case in light of projected U.S. budget deficits for decades to come. The global military balance is turning against the United States. Like Great Britain in the 1930s, the United States could find itself without the time or the resources needed to respond to the threat in a manner sufficient first to deter war and then to win it. To add to the danger, the Obama Administration has ordered the Intelligence Community to give a lower priority to gathering information on China. That is like Neville Chamberlin ordering MI 5 to pay less attention to Germany in the 1930s.
Find Archived Articles: