November 08, 2018

A shrinking budget can’t be allowed to kill modernization

For decades, the Pentagon, abetted by Congress, has behaved like a parent raiding a child’s college fund to pay monthly bills, rather than tightening its belt. Myopically robbing from critical long-term investments to pay for urgent needs resulted in the core problem addressed by the 2018 National Defense Strategy: America’s eroding military advantage against China and Russia.

The NDS, released under the leadership of Secretary of Defense James Mattis and Deputy Secretary Patrick Shanahan, strives to put a stop to this by emphasizing long-term competition with those major powers by prioritizing modern forces over larger, less capable forces.

But Shanahan’s response to news that the Department of Defense’s budget for fiscal 2020 would decline unexpectedly from a planned $733 billion to $700 billion — namely, that the smaller budget would rob funding from future modernization to build a bigger force for today’s problems — was enormously disheartening to those of us who helped create the strategy.

To be fair to Pentagon planners, a sudden drop in the budget this late in the process throw plans into disarray. However, the choice to prioritize near-term investments is flawed and unnecessary — even under a smaller budget. The NDS is a flexible strategy for 21st century great power competition. At its core is a prioritization framework that was designed to accommodate a broad range of uncertainty, including budget shifts.

Put bluntly, this shortfall shouldn’t invalidate the priorities of the NDS; rather, it should force the Office of the Secretary of Defense and the military services to prioritize more ruthlessly. Instead, it appears the OSD is abandoning the core principles of its strategy to fall back on the same approach that got us into our current predicament.

Read the full article in Defense News.

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