DC based national security think-tank the Center for a New American Security has released another in its series of reports centered on how the national security establishment ought to organize/re-organize itself to be more effective and efficient in an era of declining military budgets. Entitled "Sustainable Pre-eminence: Reforming the US Military at a Time of Strategic Change", CNAS's crack team of David Barno, Travis Sharp, Nora Bensahel, and Matthew Irvine have put forward a rational, adult blueprint for change to the American military establishment, one that takes as a given our current economic malaise and assumes another $150B in cuts over the next ten years on top of those already apportioned to DoD in the Budget Control Act of 2011. This is a thoughtful, readable approach written at the broad policy level, rather than a treatise on budgets. It is worth reading in its entirety, for it is a useful and potentially prescient tonic to be taken to alleviate the pain of American military decline.
|George Bernard Shaw|
I say this because while CNAS has delivered up a nifty plan for us to run out the clock, it does not have to be so. We can--and should--spend roughly 4% of our GDP on national defense--making it the first bill we pay--while other "discretionary" accounts line up behind it. Additionally, the whole use of terms "discretionary and non-discretionary" amounts to a giant thumb on the scale of government spending, rhetorically walling off great stashes of national resources promised as entitlements generations ago by Congresses long since dead and buried. CNAS (wisely) walks away from a discussion of military pay and benefits in this report, saying that others have covered the subjects well and that reform therein is a matter of political will. Such could be safely said too (a matter of will) about the cowardice of leaving an increasing percentage of government spending unmolested, while we whittle down our military might so that we might fund other "investments".
One might think someone with my body of work would be pleased to see a think-tank so thoroughly embrace American Seapower. And truth be told, this report does just that--clearly in words, and by dealing the Navy fewer cuts than any of the other services, it prioritizes the Navy by reducing it less than the others. Additionally, it re-deploys that which the Navy retains in a more persistent and powerful presence, largely in the Asia Pacific. And if a gun were held to my head and I was made to say "the way it is, is the way it will ever be", then I would probably line up behind CNAS and proclaim this approach to be about as rational a way forward as we are going to see. The Navy retains most of its force structure, and it sets itself up as the strategic blocking force in the Pacific. But there are devils in the details. Much is made of the importance of SSN's in this report, but I seem only to find one addition to the current plan. A CVN and an Airwing are cut--seemingly sacrificed on the altar of "the Navy has to suffer some pain" as little else is offered to justify the cuts. Brookings scholar Michael O'Hanlon's embrace of multiple crews for surface ships is embraced by the CNAS authors, with little regard to the loss of force structure sure to follow, which results in a force that may be more present, but has less aggregated combat power. Put another way, CNAS trades presence for warfighting capacity--not an unreasonable trade--but it has to be recognized for what it is.
CNAS seems to buy the 2007 Navy Strategy's two hub model (IO/Arabian Gulf and East Asia) and shifts more naval power to the Far East. Where does this come from? A declining number of ships, to include 10% fewer Amphibs than are in today's substandard long range plan that does not meet either the COCOM or the USMC requirements, half the LCS's, and an undetermined number of CRUDES ships--already stretched thinly. All of this while the Mediterranean once again shows itself to be a place of interest to us and our NATO partners, whose approach to military power puts both their interests and ours in question.
I'm a huge fan of their suggestions for carrier aviation (cut the JSF buy, keep the Super Hornet line open, diminish/end the USMC tacair presence on CVN's and double down on unmanned), I'm dubious of USAF's ability to take up the unmanned ISR load in the maritime domain, and I'm generally well-disposed to their thoughts on the Marine Corps (which also does well, by comparison).
But in order to LOVE this report, one has to be a good bit more reasonable than I am, and I take my cue on reasonableness from George Bernard Shaw: "The reasonable man adapts himself to the world; the unreasonable one persists in trying to adapt the world to himself. Therefore all progress depends on the unreasonable man."