One of the primary reasons the original 13 colonies formed a constitutional federal government was to provide for the common defense. Even more than 200 years ago, the Founders understood that the world was a dangerous place. Today, it is even more so. We have more adversaries with more powerful weapons, and they are much closer to us than in the 18th century. Oceans once separating us by months, now only separate us by minutes.
Powerful nation states, like Russia and China, now threaten America. But what might be an even larger concern are rogue states with unhinged and unbalanced leaders like North Korea and Iran. While the spreading danger of radical Islamist jihadism is ongoing, since Sept. 11, 2001, we’ve focused primarily on the terrorism threat, and done little to be better prepared for the more traditional nation state threats.
America needs a military force which can deter any who may endanger Americans. And when an enemy will not be deterred, we must have a military which will quickly defeat them. Some believe diplomacy should play a greater role, but I would argue military preparedness also augments our diplomatic efforts, making conflict less likely.
It isn’t news to anyone that our armed forces have been spread far too thin for the past 15 years. The Joint Chiefs have warned that our military is in a state of “high risk,” if asked to respond to a large conflict. By no means is this a reflection on our soldiers, sailors, or airmen.
They are the most dedicated fighting force on the planet. However, it does reflect poorly on our political leadership over the past decade. We have been fighting terrorism at a hectic pace, but we haven’t done much to ensure our military is properly stocked with the best tools so that they can properly defend us against the changing and growing threats we now face and are likely to see in the foreseeable future.
We’ve shrunk our Army to a level that most experts say is about 25 percent too small, with numbers lower than it was before World War II. As a result, we over-extend our soldiers, deploying them too frequently and for too long to make up the difference.
They fly an aging fleet of helicopters, many that were developed in the 1970s. They use various aging fighting vehicles that are not up to date and do not adequately protect them or give them the best chance to survive a difficult battle. One of the most effective air support tools, the A-10, is being phased-out even though nothing we have now or are developing can adequately fill its role.
Our Navy is smaller than it was before World War I — over 100 years ago. The Navy lacks sufficient jets to properly stock its aircraft carriers. More than one half of its fighter and bomber jets are unable to fly because of repair delays and a shortage of spare parts. This problem won’t be fixed simply by getting more spare parts. The truth is our air fleet is aging and each year the gap between needed planes and ready planes grows larger.
The Air Force has similar problems with an aging aviation fleet — it is now the smallest and least ready it has been in its entire history. To give a brief insight into how bleak the Air Force’s readiness is consider this — over half the bombers pre-date the Beatles and the Beach Boys; our training aircraft were bought when John F. Kennedy was president; most of our fighter jets are over 30 years old. In 1991, during Desert Storm, we had 134 fighter squadrons, now we have only 55.
The Marines’ situation in many ways is even worse — too few marines and equipment that is too old.
These deficiencies exist because the previous administration didn’t believe defense was a priority. Leading from behind meant ignoring pressing shortages and kicking the proverbial can down the road. As a result, things are far worse now than they were a decade ago. The situation will continue to deteriorate unless there is a marked change of direction.
While running for office, President Trump ran on the platform of rebuilding our military, and his Secretary of Defense James Mattis has said it will be a priority to improve readiness, increase personnel numbers, and rebuild the military’s capability. This is promising, but Congress will have to cooperate in order for real change to happen.
Passing a budget each year, rather than weak kneed continuing resolutions, is a good place to start. Cutting waste and oversized bureaucracies will free up needed resources to fix our military shortages. Even as the administration wrestles to shrink the size federal bureaucracies, Congress will have to find a way to provide much needed funding, for our military to reverse the current course.
The government’s uncontrolled growth has crowded out important national security priorities. During recent government shutdowns — even President Obama, perhaps the greatest apologist for big-government, categorized the vast majority of federal employees as “non-essential.”
For example, the federal departments of Education, Treasury, and Housing and Urban Development as well as the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Security and Exchange Commission (SEC), and Federal Communications Commission (FCC), all had 90 percent or greater “non-essential” staff.
The Department of Commerce (DOC) is at 85 percent non-essential. The Department of Labor (DOL) is about 80 percent non-essential.
And so it goes, the federal government has grown mindlessly over the years to a point where non-essential is the norm. How many successful businesses hirer tens of thousands of non-essential employees?
To fix healthcare websites that did not work, the government spent $474,000,000 in just four modest sized states alone. Revolutionary sites such as Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram were developed with far less capital expenditure than the government spent on this task.
The bottom line and hard truth is surprisingly simple — we can afford to properly equip our military if we prioritize it. We may have to choose between 90 percent non-essential employees at various federal agencies and having a well-prepared and well-equipped military defense, but we cannot continue to fund low priorities while starving our military.
The technological advantage that America’s war fighters have historically enjoyed since World War II, is quickly eroding. Our adversaries are rapidly catching up. Our goal should be that our war fighters never have to engage in a fair fight. Rather, we want America’s war fighters to have the concrete advantage in any conflict. Congress must show the discipline and do the hard work to make that happen.
The Obama administration left behind three important fiscal time bombs.
Interest on the deficit is projected to explode by 300 percent in the next decade. Entitlements are also projected to increase nearly 200 percent in the next decade and the planned funding levels for our military were almost $90 billion short every year.
So increasing spending by $50 billion, still leaves a $40 billion shortfall and even that doesn’t make up for a decade of slowly starving our military. The bottom line is that it will take a lot of fiscal discipline to fix the deficit Obama left behind.
It will also take a serious commitment to guarantee we don’t continue to cheat our military.
Here are 10 of the top national defense issues that we must make a top priority to insure that our military properly rebuilds and is fully prepared to defend America against its enemies:
1. Expand and Upgrade Missile Defense. From anywhere in the world, our adversaries can launch a devastating payload that is only 30 minutes away. Even a small warhead detonated at high altitude would obliterate our electrical grid and destroy anything with an electronic component — immediately sending any survivors back to the age of the horse and buggy.
We should have at least 100 Ground-Based Interceptors, probably more, and add a third interceptor site in the eastern United States. Building a transportable launch site for these interceptors would give us the ability to defend a broader area and move those defensive assets to a hot spot that we cannot now foresee.
Additionally, developing a next generation missile kill vehicle that can destroy multiple warheads should remain a priority. We need to deploy the air and missile defensive capabilities of Aegis Ashore and continue to upgrade Patriot systems so that they are highly mobile and quickly deployable to hot spots and can effectively protect our troops in the field from missile threat.
2. Upgrade Radar and Satellite Capabilities. We must upgrade, harden and integrate our radar systems and satellite assets. So much of our defense is reliant upon good, integrated information. This has been a traditional area of strength for our forces, but our advantage is eroding and will disappear as the Chinese and Russians rush to catch up. We cannot give them a stationary target.
3. Increase the Military’s Air Fleet in both Quantity and Quality. Our entire air fleet is aging and has severe shortages. One way to upgrade our capability and solve our shortages, while keeping the costs in check, is to create modern high-tech air fleet of the new high tech stealth F-35 and the latest and most updated versions of F-15s, F-18s, and A-10s. These jets when paired with our newest fighter give us a robust, highly capable air fleet that can defend us against any known threat. This approach will save taxpayers billions.
4. Increase the Navy’s Size. The fleet currently has 275 ships, 80 ships short of what experts have said are required to meet mission requirements. That number needs to include modernized attack submarines, but the truth is that our current fleet includes a lot of aging ships that are in need of substantial technological upgrades or replacement as well.
5. Upgrade the Military’s Fighting Vehicles, Tanks and Artillery Systems. Our adversaries are introducing new tanks and artillery. For example, Russia’s new T-14 Armada is considered by many experts a technological marvel. The Marines still use a number of combat vehicles that were built in the Vietnam era. Sending Marines into battle with equipment that is twice the age of the typical recruit is problematic, if not morally troubling. We have to do better. As any infantryman can tell you, they hope the enemy has absorbed a terrible, debilitating artillery bounding before the infantry advances. Artillery may not grab headlines and it may not excite the imagination, but since gun powder was invented, no great army has existed that didn’t have a powerful artillery capability. Ours is aging and has been neglected. It is time to change that.
6. Upgrade our Nuclear Deterrence. Our land based nuclear missile deterrence is more than 40 years old and must be upgraded. Additionally, we need to develop theatre nuclear weapons to provide deference on a different scale. Our submarine nuclear deterrent must remain stout and undetectable; the Chinese are developing a large submarine presence and we cannot allow hostile powers to cancel out our deference capability.
7. Reform of the Acquisition and Procurement Process and Honor Intellectual Property Rights. How Congress allows the Pentagon to buy what it requires to keep the warfighter and Americans alike safe should be modernized so that our military can take advance of multi-year procurement savings. Whatever reforms we adopt, they must increase innovation, decrease costs, and in the end give us a better equipped military. The government also needs to honor intellectual property rights which incentivizes and rewards innovation. Refusing to acknowledge intellectual property rights only stifles innovation. Let’s leave the authoritarian regimes of China and Russia to stifle innovation in their own countries. We don’t need to follow their example. America’s chief advantage has always been our innovation and can-do attitude. Let’s maximize that, not kill it.
Unfortunately, there are some in the Pentagon who are taking about having government take over the integration of big technology projects. But the most likely outcomes will be: A. dramatically higher costs; B. substantially less innovation; and C. perpetually larger government which will reduce our ability to fund future innovation. None of this is positive. America landed on the moon and built the world’s most powerful military during the Cold War by harnessing America’s natural dynamism and innovative spirit. Government agencies defined the goals and provided oversight along the way, but the American know-how from outside of government did the lion’s share of the innovating, developing and integrating. Our adversaries tried the government as innovator model and came up short. Let’s not mimic their failures.
8. Develop and Deploy Next Generation Unmanned Aerial Vehicles or Drones and Develop Drone Defenses. While manned flight will likely always be an important part of our defenses, drones can perform some missions more effectively and at a lower cost — all while putting humans at less risk. Drone technology is at its infancy so we must remain committed to pressing it forward.
9. Develop a Robust Cyber Offense and Defense. Cyber warfare is growing in its importance as technology is more than hardware, but almost always has software that runs it and makes it work. The ability to defeat the technology of our adversaries by disrupting their systems via cyber warfare is invaluable. Likewise, it is imperative that our adversaries cannot hack into our systems and bring down our defenses. We must actively recruit the best minds and actively develop the best offensive and defensive cyber weapons. In many respects, cyber-warfare will be a key battlefield in any future conflict.
10. Develop the Next Generation of Space-based Missile Defense. Ronald Reagan’s original proposal — a space based system — is the most effective way to protect the nation against all types of missiles. It has the added benefit of making multiple warheads and decoys a non-issue. Such a system would detect m issile launches more accurately and would protect us even from large scale attacks. As the late Sen. Malcolm Wallop, R-Wyo., frequently said, “The obstacles to a robust and layered missile defense are not technological, they are political. Too often politics gets in the way of protecting America. We can do it technologically, but too often we cannot seem to do it politically.”
This priority list should make one thing very clear — we have serious defensive needs. We have been declaring peace dividends since 1989 and more recently we have had an administration that didn’t see the military as a priority. As a result, we have had almost three decades of financial corner cutting when it comes to national defense. Significant, long term commitments to national security are more necessary than ever in given today’s growing threats from adversaries around the world.
George Landrith is the President and CEO of Frontiers of Freedom, a public policy think tank devoted to promoting a strong national defense, free markets, individual liberty, and constitutionally limited government. To learn more about Frontiers of Freedom, visit www.ff.org. To read more of his reports — Click Here Now.