Since the release of the new defense strategy, much has been made of the shift to the Asia-Pacific region, its abandonment of the so-called two Major Theater Wars (MTWs) construct and the force structure reductions. The Administration will need to flesh out these ideas, explaining how it will implement the shift and why prospective adversaries will be deterred given the change from two to one MTWs and the associated force structure reductions. But these ideas really reflect the present realities, geostrategic and fiscal. More important, are the principles in the strategy intended to guide the design of the future Joint Force? Among these are: maintaining a broad range of capabilities, investing in readiness, training and sustainment so as to avoid a “hollow” force, reducing the costs of doing business, preserving the All-Volunteer military and preserving the industrial base.
The single most important concept in the entire strategy and the most difficult to get right is “reversibility” The strategy admits – and our recent history supports – the idea that we are often incorrect in our anticipation of future threats and security challenges. Given Secretary Panetta’s recent comments on Israel and Iran, the new strategy may not even last out the year. So, it is important that as the military is downsizing and shifting its focus from one region to another that it be able to reverse course. According to the strategy, reversibility applies to “the vectors on which we place our industrial base, our people, our active-reserve component balance, our posture, and our partnership emphasis.”
The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have given some decision makers the mistaken impression that there is no need to plan for reversing course, to prepare now for a future defense buildup or to preserve capabilities. According to this erroneous perspective, if we throw enough money at the problem we can solve it.
The reality is very different. There are military items that for all intents can be treated like commodities. These may even include some platforms where there are a number of producers and the differences between the military and civilian versions of the same item are relatively small. But there are many others for which both the production capability and supporting S&T community is specialized, small and often fragile. This includes combat aircraft, ships, tactical and strategic missiles, most munitions, armored combat vehicles, much of military electronics and sensors and combat arms.
In addition, the training base is of vital importance to any prospects of reversibility. For the Army and Marine Corps in particular, it may be more important to preserve elements of the generating force, the people installations and capabilities that turn young civilians into superb warriors and organizes and trains units, than it is to hold on to the last combat battalion.
Money is rarely the determining factor regarding the military’s ability to build up. Time and knowledge are. With all the money in the world it takes a year or more to create and deploy a new Army brigade combat team, even if all its equipment were available on day 1. It takes much longer to develop the engineering/scientific talent and create the skilled work force needed to design, develop and build a new aircraft, ground vehicle, ship or missile.
At a minimum, the Department of Defense needs to think through how it will preserve the basic capabilities needed to fight and win two MTWs. In addition, it needs to identify those critical capabilities, facilities, personnel and organizations that will generate the military capabilities of tomorrow. Finally, the Pentagon needs to invest in maintaining a robust production capability for military unique items, components, subsystems and platforms.
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