Tag Archives: DoD

The Surprising Doctor Carter

Ashton+Carter+Senate+Armed+Services+Holds+UhNRqSF9NtNlOn Tuesday Dr. Ashton Carter begins his tenure as Secretary of Defense. While many observers regard Dr. Carter as a caretaker nominee tasked to mildly manage the Department of Defense (DOD) during the President’s last two years of office, the experienced and capable Dr. Carter has the potential to do much more. His strategy as Secretary should have three priorities.

First, Dr. Carter must develop new concepts and field new capabilities necessary to assure the ability of the United States to deter and defeat aggression, in particular by China. While the U.S. military was largely focused on Iraq and Afghanistan, China developed formidable Anti-Access/Area Denial (A2/AD) capabilities that threaten U.S. allies and partners in the vital Asia-Pacific region and complicate U.S. operations. While multiple states, including Russia and Iran, are fielding A2/AD capabilities, and while A2/AD capabilities may continue to proliferate globally, the ability of the United States to deter and defeat Chinese aggression serves as a bellwether for U.S. capabilities worldwide.

In response, Dr. Carter should articulate to the public that China will serve as DOD’s pacing threat and that DOD’s recently unveiled Third Offset Strategy will seek to counter Chinese capability, just as the First and Second Offset Strategies countered Soviet capabilities. While many of the activities of the Third Offset Strategy should be classified, two key indices can serve as palpable indicators of progress. First, whether funding is reapportioned from the Army to the departments most relevant in a conflict with China: the Air Force and the Navy. Dr. Carter will have the Fiscal Year 2017 budget to do so. Secondly, within the Services, DOD must adequately fund and accelerate programs relevant in the most operationally stressing scenarios involving China. In many cases, these are crucial capabilities that the Services have been slow to develop for a variety of reasons. For instance, for the Navy, the ability to rapidly reload weapons while underway at sea; for the Air Force, a credible effort to harden and disperse airfields throughout the Western and Central Pacific; and, for the Army, the development of conventional intermediate-range offensive missiles similar to those currently fielded by China (and possibly Russia).

Dr. Carter’s second priority should be advocating for the nation to return defense spending to pre-sequestration levels. Former Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta warned that allowing sequestration to happen would be like, “Shooting ourselves in the head.” The Department’s own Quadrennial Defense Review warned that, under sequestration-level cuts, risks to our nation “would grow significantly.” After these cuts took place, DOD slashed readiness and force structure in order to preserve a modicum of modernization funding. This has resulted in an increasingly hollow force incapable of appropriately facing the nation’s increased scale of threats in Eastern Europe, the Middle East, and the Western Pacific. While increased funding for DOD alone is insufficient, it is perhaps Dr. Carter’s most challenging priority given a seeming lack of interest and will in Congress and the White House.

His third priority should be ensuring DOD funds are spent efficiently. The dramatic rise in DOD overhead costs, such as pay, benefits, and bases, is crowding out funding available for warfighting. This is producing a military that is better compensated than ever before, but dangerously unprepared for a major war. Dr. Carter must convince the President and Congress to enact significant military compensation reform and a new round of Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC). The opening of hearings on the congressionally-mandated Commission on Military Compensation and Retirement Modernization represents a bipartisan opportunity for Congress to take action against spiraling personnel costs. As with a new round of BRAC, Congress will need to demonstrate bipartisan leadership to overcome pressure from interest groups, allay the concerns of current and retired military members, and enact these essential reforms.

The security challenges facing our nation are numerous and unrelenting, not the least of which is continued combat in Afghanistan. With only two years in office, it is unlikely Dr. Carter will be able to reform the entire defense enterprise and address every threat. However, by focusing on these three priorities, he can surprise skeptics and set the DOD on the right course to appropriately providing for our nation’s defense.

Timothy A. Walton is a principal of Alios Consulting Group, a Washington, DC-based defense and business strategy consultancy. He specializes in Asia-Pacific security dynamics.

Building a DoD Outpost in Silicon Valley: DEF Innovation Competition

As part of our continuing Innovation Week (or two weeks – call it innovation), we will be posting the contestant pieces from the DEF Innovation Contest. Originally posted at the DEF Website.

On Sunday, 26 October, the Defense Entrepreneurs Forum hosted an innovation competition sponsored by the United States Naval Institute. $5,000 in prizes were awarded after the eight contestants made their pitches. We will feature the one-pagers from the competition over the next 8 days. The following contribution is from Josh Steinman, a US Naval Officer.

Donate to CIMSEC!

Software is increasingly becoming the defining mechanism by which the Army, Navy, Air Force and Marine Corps achieve tactical, operational, and strategic decision dominance. Previously the Department of Defense had achieved this ability through industry.

As software takes on increasingly prominent roles in the Department of Defense, we will need to establish closer relations with the industry that builds it, much like the Department of Defense built long-standing ties to the industrial base during the pre-War, inter-War, and post-War periods of the early 20th century. These close links will ensure that the DoD retains the ability to rapidly integrate cutting edge digital technologies into our operations, as well as influence their development at all stages.

ref-mobile-lab1

One high-impact, low cost way to advance this goal is to establish a small joint detachment of hand-picked DoD personnel to operate primarily in Silicon Valley that would act as an intellectual “long-range reconnaissance squad”. This entity would consist of approximately 10 personnel nominated by a small group of senior officers and civilians (plus 1 support and 1 General or Flag Officer), stationed in the greater San Francisco Bay Area. Their mission would be to help integrate the defense and software industries by achieving the following tasks:

a. Ensure continuity of action before, during, and after senior officer and civilian visits with entities in the non-Defense technology sector. Achieve this by acting as travel agent for senior officials before they depart (coordinating visits with local technology companies), local guide upon arrival, note-taker and action officer while engaged on the ground, and execution agent upon the senior’s departure.

b. Identify early-stage ventures with potential DOD applicability and connect them with appropriate resources to utilize their technology for DOD purposes. Interface with DOD and service-centric early-stage and midstage venture capital firms, and liaison with entities such as DARPA, IARPA, US Army REF, CNO’s Rapid Innovation Cell, and OSD RTTO.

c. Educate students, entrepreneurs, academics, and venture capitalists on DOD challenges and process with an eye towards changing attitudes towards the DOD. This would include conducting “presence missions” at regular events like SXSW, TECHCRUNCH DISRUPT, and even Burning Man.

My proposed first step is to send an exploratory detachment of 3-5 officers out to Silicon Valley for a one-month site survey mission that would result in a full proposal white-paper, to be submitted to the Joint Chiefs of Staff within 90 days of their return. Costs for such a survey are on the order of $6,000 per person, for one month.

Donate to CIMSEC!

A Post-Sequestration Blueprint for a Leaner and Smarter Military

Five months after the much-dreaded sequestration went into effect, many defense analysts and military officials alike are worried about the negative repercussions of the drastic budget cuts on military readiness. In his latest commentary, the rightwing commentator Alan Caruba declared that “The U.S. military is on life support.” Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel also argued in his Statement on Strategic Choices and Management Review (SCMR) that “sequester-level cuts would ‘break’ some parts of the strategy, no matter how the cuts were made [since] our military options and flexibility will be severely constrained.”

Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel answers reporters' questions during a Pentagon press briefing on the recent Strategic Choices. Navy Adm. James A. Winnefeld Jr., right, vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, joined Hagel for the briefing. (DOD photo by Glenn Fawcett)
Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel answers reporters’ questions during a Pentagon press briefing on the recent Strategic Choices. Navy Adm. James A. Winnefeld Jr., right, vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, joined Hagel for the briefing. (DOD photo by Glenn Fawcett)

To its credit, the SCMR seemed to hint at operational and structural adjustments underway by offering two options—trading “size for high-end capacity” versus trading modernization plans “for a larger force better able to project power.” Nevertheless, one important question which went unasked was whether or not the US Armed Forces alone should continue to play GloboCop.

The current geostrategic environment has become fluid and fraught with uncertainties. As Zhang Yunan avers, China as a “moderate revisionist” will not likely replace the United States as the undisputed global champion due to myriad factors. As for the United States, in the aftermath of a decade-long war on terror and the ongoing recession, we can no longer say with certainty that the United States will still retain its unipolar hegemony in the years or decades to come.

That said, Secretary Hagel is correct that the United States military may need to become leaner in the face of harsh fiscal realities. To this must be added another imperative: The US Armed Forces must fight smarter and must do so in ways that may further America’s strategic and commercial interests abroad.

So how can the United States military fight smarter and leaner?

COCOMs
Possible Combatant Command Realignments

First, given massive troop reductions whereby the Army personnel may be reduced to 380,000 and the Marine Corps “would bottom out at 150,000,” while at the same, the DoD is seriously considering restructuring existing Combatant Commands (COCOMs), it no longer makes sense to deploy or train troops for protracted counterinsurgency campaigns or foreign occupations. Instead, should another transnational terrorist group or a rogue state threaten homeland security, the United States could rely on SOF (Special Operations Forces) commandos and UAV (Unmanned Aerial Vehicles) to selectively target and neutralize potential threats. While the SOF and UAV surgical raids should not be viewed as substitutes for deft diplomacy, they can provide cheaper and selective power projection capabilities.

Second, since the United States Navy may be forced to “reduce the number of carrier strike groups from 11 to 8 or 9,” it can meet its power projection needs by encouraging cooperation among its sister navies and by bolstering their naval might. One example of such partnerships would be to form a combined fleet whereby America’s sister navies “may share their unique resources and cultures to develop flexible responses against future threats” posed by our adversaries.

Third, the United States may encounter more asymmetric threats in the form of cyber attacks, CBRN (Chemical, Biological, Radiation, Nuclear) attacks, and may also be subjected to attacks from within by homegrown terrorists and drug cartels—all of which may wreak havoc and may even cripple America’s domestic infrastructures. As retired Admiral James Stavridis argues, such asymmetric attacks may stem from convergence of the global community. Such threats require that the United States take the fight to its adversaries by cooperating with its allies to “upend threat financing” and by strengthening its cyber capabilities.

Fourth, where rogue states such as Iran, Syria and North Korea, are concerned, the United States could implement what General James Mattis refers to as the “proxy strategy.” Under this arrangement, while “America’s general visibility would decline,” its allies and proxies would police the trouble spots on its behalf.

Fifth, the United States must be prepared to defend homeland against potential missile attacks from afar. The United States may be vulnerable to hostile aggressions from afar following North Korea’s successful testing of its long-range rocket last December and Iran’s improved missile capabilities. Thus, improving its missile defense system will allow greater flexibility in America’s strategic responses both at home and abroad.

Last but not least, the United States Armed Forces needs to produce within its ranks officers who are quick to grasp and adapt to fluid geostrategic environments. One solution, as Thomas E. Ricks proposes, would be to resort to a wholesale firing of incompetent generals and admirals. However, it should be noted that rather than addressing the problem, such dismissals would ultimately breed resentment towards not only the senior brass but civilian overseers, which will no doubt exacerbate civil-military relations that has already soured to a considerable degree. Instead, a better alternative would be reform America’s officer training systems so that they may produce commanders who possess not only professional depth but breadth needed to adapt to fluid tactical, operational, and strategic tempos.

ohmanmarchjpg-4e06c3b3e4dd8566
“The US Military Establishment’s Greatest Foes” By Jack Ohman/Tribune Media Services

Despite the hysteric outcries from the service chiefs and many defense analysts, in the end, the sequestration may not be as dire as it sounds. In fact, Gordon Adams argues that after several years of reductions, “the defense budget…creeps upward about half a percentage point every year from FY (Fiscal Year) 2015 to FY 2021.” Simply stated, one way or the other, the US Armed Forces may eventually get what it asks for–as it always has been the case. Nonetheless, the sequestration “ordeal”—if we should call it as such—offers the US military object lessons on frugality and flexibility. Indeed, American generals and admirals would do well to listen to General Mattis who recently admonished them to “stop sucking their thumbs and whining about sequestration, telling the world we’re weak,” and get on with the program.

Note: This article was originally published in its original form in the Naval Institute’s blog and was cross-posted by permission.

Jeong Lee is a freelance writer and is also a Contributing Analyst for Wikistrat’s Asia-Pacific Desk. Lee’s writings on US defense and foreign policy issues and inter-Korean affairs have appeared on various online publications including East Asia Forum, the Georgetown Journal of International Affairs, the World Outline and CIMSEC’s NextWar blog.

Hagel’s Sequestration Speech: A Warning, Not a Plan

There is no other hand...
There is no other hand…

Before his appointment as U.S. Secretary of Defense, concerns existed that Chuck Hagel was a proponent of the massive cuts envisioned for the DoD as part of Sequestration. With his Statement on Strategic Choices and Management Review (SCMR) (31/07/13), the Secretary has made it very clear that he is no bedfellow of austerity.

Followers of security policy have already drawn out two possible paths from the Secretary’s words. However, the real thrust of the speech was that these were not options, as he sums up in his closing:

The inescapable conclusion is that letting sequester-level cuts persist would be a huge strategic miscalculation that would not be in our country’s best interests…

 

It is the responsibility of our nation’s leaders to work together to replace the mindless and irresponsible policy of sequestration.  It is unworthy of the service and sacrifice of our nation’s men and women in uniform and their families.  And even as we confront tough fiscal realities, our decisions must always be worthy of the sacrifices we ask America’s sons and daughters to make for our country.”

At multiple points within his piece, the Secretary reiterates that Sequestration cuts are not only damaging, but roughly impossible:

The review showed that the “in-between” budget scenario we evaluated would “bend” our defense strategy in important ways, and sequester-level cuts would “break” some parts of the strategy, no matter how the cuts were made.  Under sequester-level cuts, our military options and flexibility will be severely constrained…

 

Unlike the private sector, the federal government, and the Defense Department in particular – simply does not have the option of quickly shutting down excess facilities, eliminating entire organizations and operations, or shutting massive numbers of employees – at least not in a responsible, moral, and legal way…

 

In closing, one of the most striking conclusions of the Strategic Choices and Management Review is that if DoD combines all the reductions I’ve described, including significant cuts to the military’s size and capability – the savings fall well short of meeting sequester-level cuts, particularly during the first five years of these steep, decade-long reductions.”

That is to say, even if we break the back of our armed forces, we still fall short of the required austerity. The original intent of Sequestration, as an “impossible scenario,” is unfortunately coming to pass – not in possibility but in functionality.

The reality is that the real portion from which the cuts must come is the compensation that consumes “roughly half of the DoD budget,” but even then…

The efficiencies in compensation reforms identified in the review – even the most aggressive changes – still leave DoD some $350 billion to $400 billion short of the $500 billion in cuts required by sequestration over the next ten years.  The review had to take a hard look at changes to our force structure and modernization plans.”

The most worrisome reality check laid down by the Secretary is that if Sequestration is not rescinded for DoD, the reforms suggested will require the agreement of a recalcitrant Congress that was more than willing to execute Sequestration, but unwilling to bear the political consequences of the actions they’ve forced. Most likely, that scenario will only lead us deeper down the strategically damaging rabbit-hole:

These shortfalls will be even larger if Congress is unwilling to enact changes to compensation or adopt other management reforms and infrastructure cuts we’ve proposed in our Fiscal Year 2014 budget.  Opposition to these proposals must be engaged and overcome, or we will be forced to take even more draconian steps in the future.”

The Secretary has not, through the SCMR’s response to Sequestration, put down a viable plan for the future. He has set down a warning of what is to come. Let us hope that warning is heeded.

Matt Hipple is a surface warfare officer in the U.S. Navy.  The opinions and views expressed in this post are his alone and are presented in his personal capacity.  They do not necessarily represent the views of U.S. Department of Defense or the U.S. Navy.