It is evident to anyone paying attention that the United States has run out the string on its post-World War Two strategy of global engagement, forward military presence and a full spectrum military. The long-standing consensus on the role of the U.S. as the linchpin of the international security system is busted. Seventy-odd years after the United States first deployed forces on the European Continent in order to prevent any nation (well, Germany and the Soviet Union, specifically) from establishing regional hegemony, Russia’s ongoing efforts to dismantle Ukraine and reestablish its European empire are being met largely with indifference by Congress and the American people. More than 40 percent of Americans also think U.S. defense spending at less than 4 percent of gross domestic product is still too high.
The Joint Chiefs of Staff have publicly warned Congress that if sequestration – a reduction of $500 billion in defense spending over nine years that comes on top of an earlier cut of $500 billion – goes back into effect starting in FY2016, the U.S. military will be unable to fulfill all the missions assigned to it. The Regular Army will shrink to 420,000 or possibly even 390,000. The National Guard will decline to between 335,000 and 315,000. The Navy will have to retire at least one nuclear powered aircraft carrier and cut its cruiser force about in half. The Marine Corps could go as low as 168,000. The Air Force will have to retire hundreds of serviceable aircraft. The few modernization programs that are still viable would be placed at risk. The reaction from the public has been muted, to say the least.
So we are going back to the future, back to a time when the United States lacked a military of sufficient size and capability with which to defend its global interests or fight one, much less, two major regional conflicts. This also means going back to an era when there was not a defense industrial base capable of pumping out hundreds of aircraft, armored fighting vehicles and trucks, and dozens of warships, ballistic missiles and satellites a year. Today, there are at most two prime contractors in each major platform category. Further consolidation is likely, which could result in a single dominant U.S. private company. The lower tiers in the supply chains are being thinned out.
The Pentagon needs to come to terms with the reality that by the end of this decade it will no longer have forces sufficient to deal with more than one regional adversary. In the event of multiple regional contingencies or a greater-than-expected threat, the military will have to undertake not just activation of the National Guard and Reserves, but potentially a return to the draft and industrial mobilization.
Industrial mobilization is something the Pentagon hasn’t thought about in decades. It doesn’t even have a good idea what industrial resources are likely to be available or how to access them. Industrial mobilization will mean relying overwhelmingly on commercial industry. Some commercial companies such as Boeing, Honeywell, Oshkosh and Pratt & Whitney do a significant amount of business with the Department of Defense, including providing it with commercially-designed and developed systems that go into or are the core of military platforms. The more the Pentagon can rely on commercial items, the greater will be its ability to mobilize industry in the event of a crisis.
A strategy for industrial mobilization will have to address the mass of regulations, reporting requirements, unique accounting procedures and interminable testing activities that slow down the acquisition system and add time and cost to every item. None of the great industrial enterprises that helped win World War Two had to contend with the bureaucratic nightmare that is the current acquisition system.
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