May 24, 2012

Refixing the Pentagon. Again.

The professional nitpickers over the Center for a New American Security have just issued a report saying the Defense Department remains welded to the past:

"…the Pentagon still has not enacted the types of reforms that we believe are necessary to sustain U.S. military pre-eminence into the future. Too many DOD structures, processes, programs and operational concepts are legacies of the past, which create unnecessary redundancies, waste valuable resources and encourage unproductive competition among the services rather than competition. These practices are no longer acceptable in the current fiscal environment."

In Sustainable Pre-eminence: Reforming the U.S. Military at a Time of Strategic Change, CNAS authors David W. Barno, Nora Bensahel, Matthew Irvine and Travis Sharp argue that the military must be reorganized to deal with new threats in cheaper ways (one of CNAS’s founders, Michèle Flournoy, recently stepped down from the top policy job at the Pentagon after three years, and rejoined CNAS as a member of its board last week).

The CNAS quartet recommends tried-and-true recommendations that some of us have been reading since Dave Packard was writing similar things on procurement woes 25 years ago:

They say the Pentagon should:

  • Sustain U.S. military pre-eminence but spend less on defense.
  • Use resources more effectively by strengthening interdependence and reducing redundancy among the services.
  • Accelerate investments in leap-ahead technologies, especially unmanned, autonomous and artificial intelligence systems.
  • Downsize military headquarters and the civilian and contractor workforce.

The paper warns that the looming threat of sequestration “would place at high risk the U.S. military’s ability to execute America’s long-standing and generally successful military strategy of global engagement.”

True enough. But every cloud has a silver lining: it also might force the fundamental changes that the national-security bureaucracy has managed to thwart, by inertia and wiliness, for generations.