On Being Distracted

Article excerpt

Unfortunately, some military related headlines in major newspapers today focus on side issues that serve only to take the eyes of the American people off the strategic and national security issues. Other headlines suggest that the most important security issue is withdrawing from war: We left Iraq, we're leaving Afghanistan, and we killed Osama bin Laden. Game over. Simply declaring that al Qaeda, its affiliates and other threats have disappeared is a fantasy, especially for the United States - a nation with global interests, global responsibilities and global enemies. In any case, the nation is distracted from the real strategic issues we face:

Readiness

By failing to address the fiscal needs of America's defense forces in a timely manner, Congress is putting readiness at real risk. One example of many proves how dire the situation has become. The Army's aviation reset program is already about $177 million underfunded for fiscal year (FY) 2013. This underfunding is the result of a $6 billion shortfall because Congress has failed to pass appropriations legislation. Further reductions - which seem entirely possible given the climate on Capitol Hill and the ambiguity of sequestration - could suspend all Army aviation reset operations for the remainder of FY 2013. The results: more than 80 aircraft currently disassembled, not completed and returned to units; almost 40 units' readiness reduced; termination of the reset contract resulting in 2,100 skill-labor layoffs; and no contract for FY 2014, meaning the 509 aircraft in Afghanistan and the 278 stateside aircraft deferred this year probably won't be serviced. Each of the other services is in a similar situation. Over time, the crack in overall readiness will only widen as the services focus on deploying units and statutory funding obligations and have little remaining for sustained training and maintenance.

The need for adequate maintenance and product-improvement funding increases, given that service modernization accounts are likely to be very small for the foreseeable future. Further, Congress must reform defense acquisition laws so when the nation can fund modernization, the services can execute without wasting the time and money associated with the current bureaucratic procedures of acquisition.

Strategy

Broken readiness in the face of strategic uncertainty is dangerous. An objective look around the world is sobering: Our war against al Qaeda is not over, and the drone strategy of "killing our way to success" is unlikely to achieve U.S. strategic objectives. Declaring success in Iraq and Afghanistan has not improved American security. America's enemies will try to seize Syrian chemical weapons when the Assad government falls. Iran's influence in the Middle East is destabilizing. Independent of its development of nuclear weapons, Iran's ability to threaten shipping through the Strait of Hormuz is growing. Pakistan's future and its nuclear capacity remain in doubt, given the internal challenges it faces. Strategic reality defies a pivot to the Pacific.

In fact, one of the more important strategic realities is that we don't know who we might fight next, when, where or under what conditions. Pivoting to the Pacific seems more like a bureaucracy "picking a future" with which it wants to deal and using it to derive force structure, equipment requirements and funding levels rather than a strategy that matches reality.

In a time of strategic ambiguity, while we remain fighting an active, global enemy, the actual requirements seem to be: Stay engaged in many areas (robust exercise program around the world, robust intelligence means) and have a flexible mix of force and equipment options (air, land, sea, space, conventional, cyber and special operations) and the means to get what you need to where you need it fast (access to air and sea ports, air and sea lift, control of air and sea choke points).

Breaking current readiness and optimizing the American armed forces against a potential future Pacific threat - rather than actual threats - is a dangerous bet for a nation with global interests. …