October 05, 2011

CNAS: Hard Choices--Responsible Defense in an Age of Austerity

The Center for a New American Security has a new study out in which they put forward four broad force structure options in support of national strategy.  Each takes as a given a certain level of budgetary pain, and each is successively more painful based on the estimate of the cuts needed.  It is well written and logical.  From an email the incomparable Peter Swartz of CNA put out, here are some of the highlights: 

"The US military should focus on the Western Pacific and Indian Ocean and broaden engagements along the Pacific Rim, largely through a stronger maritime and air presence as well as the strategic use of ground forces to support key allies"

"naval and air forces will grow increasingly important in the future strategic environment""Given the changing operational environment, today's force has too many heavy armored formations, short-range strike fighters, amphibious capabilities and manned aircraft"

"The US military should increase investments in certain research and development programs to discover breakthrough technologies, such as stealthy, long-range , combat-capable unmanned aircraft systems (UASs) , along with unmanned submersibles

"The study proposes four alternative scenarios for consideration, labeled "Reposition and reset," "Constrained global presence," "Selective leverage," and

"Focused economy of force." Each is associated with a particular specific set of force cuts (and a few plus-ups).

"All  four scenarios . . .

. . . retire six CG-47 cruisers and reduce the planned procurement of Littoral Combat Ships (LCS), and, depending on the scenario, reinvest some of the savings into DDG-51 destroyers equipped with Aegis missile defense systems . . .

. . . reduce the planned procurement of stealthy F-35 short-range fighters and, depending on the scenario, reinvest some of the savings into improved F/A-18 E/Fs, F-16s and development of advanced UASs . . .

. . . avoid cutting next-generation nuclear delivery vehicles . . .

. . . prioritize operational activities tied to theater missile defense programs, such as the Aegis sea-based system . . ."


This report is an important piece of work for several reasons:

1.  CNAS has a great deal of currency in Washington, especially with the folks in the Obama Administration.  

2.  The report is a straight up validation of the ascendancy of American Seapower.  Co-authored by LTG David Barno (USA) (ret) and released by an organization run by the nation's premier COIN theorist (John Nagl), this work bespeaks an intellectual honesty that does great credit to CNAS.  Yes, I know.  I say this in no small measure because I agree with their conclusions.  Guilty.  But that doesn't make their findings any less worthwhile.

3.  This isn't the first time CNAS has called for breaking the "Iron Triangle" within DoD--this time, they back it up with force structure recommendations.  I'd be intersted to know which (if any) other think tanks in town have also advocated the Iron Triangle be broken.  Do I agree with all of their force structure suggestions?  No.  In particular, I find myself wanting to fence off unmanned ISR to the maximum extent possible.  That said, if strategy is the art of making choices, then CNAS is "all in".