Although many of today’s national security discussions focus on the war in Ukraine or Congress’ actions on the 2023 budget, a far more important, strategic and bureaucratic battle is taking place at the Pentagon to build the 2024 agenda.
For those unfamiliar with the Pentagon’s jargon and deadlines: from January to July, the services are building their five-year budget proposals, called the “Program”. As the budget for 2023 is now in the hands of Congress, the military is currently building the program for 2024-2029, which will be presented to the Office of the Minister of Defense in July. The services build their program on the basis of the Defense Planning Manual, detailed instructions and resource levels given to them by the OSD. From August to November, the services defend these programs in front of OSD staff, almost in the same way that a PhD student defends his dissertation. In December, the President’s Office of Management and Budget provides final financial guidance, and in January the budget goes to the printer to be presented to Congress in February. (Of course, this schedule is in an ideal world.)
Today, the services are making their final programming decisions, such as which weapons to cease, which force structure will be reduced and what levels of readiness they will maintain. Given what we are learning about the war in Ukraine, there are four important lessons we need to learn that, if adopted, would change the current strategy that underpins the defense budget.
First, we will probably run out of bullets and weapons in a protracted war on several fronts. We now have two data points from wars, small in scale and scale, that have shown us that it takes years to replenish spent ammunition: the last decade war against ISISand on the current war in Ukraine. This is part of the Ministry of Defense’s deliberate strategy of hoping that “shock and awe” will make wars short. Wars are a test of will, and if your opponent knows you’re running out of ammunition, he’ll find a way to hold on and fight until you’re out of bullets. The Russians are establishing this right now, but even three years ago the Commission for National Defense Strategy declares“Almost any conflict between the United States and its most capable competitors would lead to a significant demand for high-precision long-range munitions. Large quantities of short-range high-precision munitions will also be needed. ”
What should DoD do? Invest billions of dollars in building fast capacity for ammunition and weapons. At the moment, the Ministry of Defense is too concerned about the efficient and cheap production of ammunition and weapons, instead of ensuring that the arsenal of democracy has a growing but more expensive capacity to increase production during war. It will be expensive, but not as expensive as running out of bullets during a war.
Second, prepare for war in this decade, not just war in the next decade. Secretary Robert Gates warned that the Pentagon was “the next war-it“In the case of the ongoing development of the 2024 agenda, the strategy must be prepared for war with China in the 2030s, taking risks in the 2020s. This can be seen, for example, in proposal to spend almost as much on research and development ($ 130 billion) as on public procurement ($ 145 billion). But Russia has shown us that a declining force will strike sooner or later. Many believe that China’s growth is no longer assured, and this could make Beijing much more dangerous in 2027 than in 2037. The Pentagon’s current focus on future weapons on current weapons needs to be changed; that is, we need to see much more money spent on current weapons at the expense of future weapons development. Importantly, if you spend more on supplying field weapons now, many of the supply chain problems encountered today will improve. Conversely, if the Ministry of Defense remains focused on future developments, the supply chain will only become weaker as real production lines dry up in an attempt at research and prototyping rather than production and manufacturing.
Thirdly, nuclear modernization, while crucial to our deterrence, must not be at the expense of conventional forces. Russia is nuclear strong and conventionally weak. This pose, like now we see, increases the chance of nuclear war, not reduces it. Estimates of the delayed modernization of the US nuclear triad are close to $ 1 trillion. Without additional funding, we risk becoming a modernized nuclear power with limited capacity in our conventional forces. Our army, navy, marines and air force are already too small. The recapitalization of the triad is important, but must be done with additional funding from OMB, not from internal cost reductions by conventional forces to cover the triad’s account.
Finally, inflation can do more damage to our combat forces than has been done by any enemy or even in the last decade of sequestration. It seems that the United States may be on the path to a cumulative jump of two to three years nearly 20 percent. To put this in context is the same as cutting the defense budget by $ 160 billion. From the first denying there was high inflation at the beginning of last year, until insisting then it was just transient claiming it really won’t affect the Pentagon, the administration is seriously misleading Congress and the public. Now we see reports from artists wishing to move away from fixed cost contracts and negotiating large increases in future long-term contracts to ensure that they will also be offset by inflation. If left unchecked, inflation will destroy power, just as in 1979. OMB must provide DoD with increased funding, although it will be politically unpleasant.
Taken together, an unsustainable supply chain, reduced supplies of current weapons, exchanges of conventional nuclear forces and underestimation of the impact of inflation will certainly lead to a future military catastrophe and encourage our adversaries to act sooner rather than later. OMB and OSD can and must take immediate action to address this decline, and they must do so today before the services can complete their program. It is easy to sit back and make fun of the condition of the Russian military, but it is much harder to look in the mirror and wonder what part of the Russians’ experiences would be like for us if we got involved in a large-scale war. The resource strategy drawn up before the war in Ukraine, combined with record high inflation, cannot be considered correct. Instead, our defense and resource strategy needs to be updated, informed by the four lessons above, to ensure that we do not face the fate of the Russian military. We owe nothing less to the American people.
John Ferrari is a Visiting Fellow at the American Institute of Entrepreneurship (AEI). A retired three-star Army general, he served as director of the U.S. Army’s program analysis and evaluation.