Declining defense funds and the rise of China may hinder strategic rebalancing efforts.
Whatever the threat; wherever the conflict; whatever the mission; the future U.S. military largely will be defined by forced budget constraints. The ongoing fiscal crisis, haunted by the twin specters of sequestration and continuing resolution, will have a greater say in shaping the future force than either adversaries or advances in weapon technologies.
Even resolution of the thorniest sequestration issues would not change the overall trend of declining financial resources for the defense community. The effects of budget cuts could be severe and might prevent forces from carrying out their missions. In terms of materiel, acquisitions will be slowed and new program starts largely could disappear. Operation and maintenance will be reduced, deployments will be cut back and support resources will be reduced—all as the United States rebalances its strategic emphasis toward the Asia-Pacific region.
These were among the lead topics discussed at West 2013, the annual conference and exposition hosted by AFCEA and the U.S. Naval Institute January 29-31 in San Diego. While the three-day event had the theme of “Pivot to the Pacific: What Are the Global Implications,” discussions largely focused on the dire consequences of the looming fiscal cliff. Audiences that were aware of the impending budget crisis were surprised by the bluntness of the assessments offered by high-ranking Defense Department civilian and military leaders.
One stark assessment came from the event’s first speaker, Adm. James A. Winnefeld Jr., USN, vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Speaking to a packed house at a morning keynote address, Adm. Winnefeld described the looming financial crisis as a “wolf,” adding that it is becoming “increasingly apparent that this wolf is going to catch us.”
Planners will be faced with two unpleasant choices: either the military will become smaller as a result of politically driven choices, or it will not be allowed to become smaller—in which case readiness will suffer to the point of having a hollow force. Ultimately, the U.S. military may be so weakened that some day it may be asked to respond to a crisis, and it may have to say that it cannot.
Robert O. Work, undersecretary of the Navy, warned in a luncheon keynote address, “If we have sequestration, we will have a hollow force by the end of the year.” He added that “‘Flat’ is the new ‘up’ in this defense budget environment.” Looking at the Navy budget, he quipped, “We have an average budget … lower than last year, higher than next year.”
Kori Schake, a research fellow at the Hoover Institution, offered her own blunt assessment. “If the clock is ticking, then the bomb is about to go off.” The Defense Department “has been in denial for months that this was going to happen,” she charged, noting that the administration and the defense leadership made a set of choices that has aggravated it. As a result, the defense community is in for a decade of austerity that will be immutable.
Vice Adm. David H. Buss, USN, commander, naval air forces, U.S. Pacific Fleet, warned against cuts in readiness. “If we’re taking money out of the readiness accounts, the output out the back end will be less than today—that’s at the tactical level.” He added that, at the strategic level, the United States may not be able to map down to reach the tactical level.
Adm. Jonathan W. Greenert, USN, chief of naval operations, described his worries about the effects of sequestration and continuing resolutions on the industrial base. He fears that deep cuts will push some companies into extinction, and they will take with them vital expertise that cannot be reconstituted.
“Half of the nuclear vendors are single source,” the admiral pointed out. “If they go under, I don’t know how we’ll get them back. How we will recover from that, I don’t know.”
All of the services are faced with diverting funds to address key needs. However, even that may not be a viable short-term solution. Adm. Greenert said that, if the Navy does not obtain the funding along with the ability to reprogram it, ships will not be deployed in time and the fleet will not have the readiness it needs.
And that readiness may extend to entire force-defining capabilities. Gen. James F. Amos, USMC, commandant of the Marine Corps, warned that some people will think that key capabilities are not needed—until they are needed desperately.
“People ask why we need a capability for forced entry [invasion],” he related. “It would be pretty naïve to think that, in the future, there won’t be a time and place when our nation says ‘it’s time to impose our will’ and we need a force to enter a hostile place.” That capability might be lost when it is needed the most, he pointed out.
One area that might see growth in spending is cyber. However, any growth in its spending will affect other areas. Terry Halvorsen, chief information officer for the Department of the Navy, declared plainly that there is no new money; there is less. If the services spend more on cyber, then it will have to come from somewhere else.
Halvorsen added that the Navy will need to make decisions in the short term that will not be good in the long term. Addressing industry, he asked, “How can you help me make the least-dumb decisions quicker?”
The U.S. Cyber Command is training most of its growing ranks to serve in the field, said its deputy commander, Lt. Gen. Jon M. Davis, USMC. That number, which totals about 6,000 people assigned to the command, is likely to rise to 14,000 over the next few years. The cyber force is being trained to serve in units geared toward their assignments and settings.
Robert J. Carey, deputy chief information officer for the U.S. Defense Department, explained that the new mobile communications devices proliferating throughout all levels of the military pose a new kind of security challenge. They must be secured so that users can access the cloud through them, but the security measures must not remove the advantages they bring to the force.
One approach to enabling cloud access would be to tie identity credentials to these devices. “If we can’t do that, then we’ve created more of a problem than an answer,” Carey stated.
Innovation is one potential solution to declining budget resources. The dichotomy for the defense community is that, while it needs innovation more than ever with the budget crisis, the military is structured to inhibit or even reject innovative activities.
Rear Adm. Terry B. Kraft, USN, commander of the Navy Warfare Development Command, pointed out that large organizations find it difficult to embrace innovation, as they prefer stability to change. Maj. Gen. Kenneth F. McKenzie Jr., USMC, Marine Corps representative to the quadrennial defense review, enlarged on that statement by noting that military organizations are hierarchal—and hierarchal organizations tend to punish those who challenge the hierarchy, such as innovators.
Adm. Kraft noted that the military used to drive innovation. Now that role is performed by the private sector. The admiral called for making innovation a culture that will empower change. Gen. McKenzie added that people innovate when they feel threatened. The Marine Corps, which operates “in a boundary condition” that is turbulent and chaotic, constantly feels threatened organizationally, so it often turns to innovation.
Adm. Kraft offered that systems that enable better management of intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) may be key to warfighting. The ability to manage ISR is all the more important “when the first person who sees the other will have a significant advantage,” he stated.
Adm. Winnefeld suggested that existing hardware could be adapted for new missions and capabilities, which would mitigate losses elsewhere. He described how the littoral combat ship could be adapted for use in missions beyond those for which it originally was designed. The admiral also called for inexpensive, highly adaptive electronics pods for unmanned aerial vehicles.
Adm. Buss also called for the integration of unmanned systems into naval aviation. When those systems are deployed on carriers, the effect will be a revolutionary jump-start in technology, he predicted.
The military need look no farther than the commercial sector for innovative capabilities, according to one speaker. John Smart, president of the Acceleration Studies Foundation, told the audience that 95 percent of change is evolutionary in that it comes from the bottom up. The top two drivers of change are information technology and nanoscience/nanotechnology, Smart said, adding that these two will have revolutionary effects that will touch on all corners of society.
Ultimately, society will undergo a revolutionary change based on networking. Smart predicted that, by 2040, 2 billion children will be learning to speak English through the use of wristborne personal computers that will display translations and accompanying imagery to their users. With this capability, these 2 billion will become employable in a range of professions in the Western world.
The driver for this development will be Google distributing wrist PCs worldwide, Smart said. As a result, these children will be connected with each other and with all others who are networked, one way or another. This ubiquitous networking will spawn networked groups of individuals who will develop groupthought as information cells. It will affect mental illness and treatment, as sufferers can be connected to “normal” people who would help them reorient their thinking.
Conference speakers did find time to focus on the theme of the pivot to the Pacific, and China constituted a major element of that discussion. China, the world’s rising economic power, is evolving into a military power with a reach that extends increasingly beyond its littoral waters. The U.S. strategic rebalance to the Asia-Pacific region is likely to enmesh U.S. military forces in local issues to a greater degree, and China’s steady growth in military strength will affect how international relations evolve in that vast region.
China’s navy, known as the People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN), elicited diverse opinions from a panel of military officers and academics, but they all agreed that China is extending its power as it aims to become the world’s next superpower. The Middle Kingdom has become increasingly aggressive as its navy reaches farther beyond its littoral waters, and that is having a different effect than the Chinese want.
Capt. Jim Fanell, USN, deputy chief of staff for intelligence and information operations, U.S. Pacific Fleet, said that China has taken control of areas outside its borders that never have been administered or controlled by any government of China in recent history. China’s coastal cutters seem to have no other mission than to harass others to submit to its territorial claims. The result is that the countries of East Asia “now remember why they like the United States,” he said.
Capt. Fanell declared the PLAN has become a very capable fighting force. PLAN maneuvers increasingly are about countering the U.S. Pacific Fleet. “Make no mistake: the PLAN is focused on war at sea and sinking an opposing fleet,” he stated.
Dr. Toshi Yoshihara, professor and the John A. van Beuren chair of Asia-Pacific Studies, Strategy and Policy, Naval War College, said that the key operational challenge is China’s family of land- and sea-based antiship missiles. China has been theorizing about the combined use of different missiles in antiship warfare for more than a decade, he related.
All of the panelists agreed that the PLAN is serving a leading role in Chinese power projection. “The PLAN is at the tip of the Chinese spear,” said David M. Finkelstein, vice president and director, China studies, Center for Naval Analyses.
Adm. Cecil D. Haney, USN, commander, U.S. Pacific Fleet, described how the Pacific Fleet is trying to address its new mission areas. This includes an enhanced ability to operate in a contested environment with low-signature interoperability, as well as being able to combine data to deliver integrated fires rapidly.
Yet, budget issues loom large with that fleet as well. Adm. Haney stated that both the continuing resolution and sequestration offer distinct challenges to the fleet’s ability to meet its obligations amid the strategic rebalancing to the Asia-Pacific region.
For more from the conference, visit the West 2013 Event eNews site.