Today's U.S. military is the product of history--not of the missions and threats it now faces. American forces are hampered by overlapping roles and missions, arcane organizational structures, Cold War platforms and programs, and recruiting practices detached from modern needs. If it were starting fresh, this is not the military the United States would build.
The hard truth is that inertia, not strategy, is the main force shaping the military. Major weapons programs take decades to develop and are nearly impossible to kill. Promising new technologies and concepts never see the light of day if they threaten traditional approaches. Byzantine bureaucracies comprising dozens of overlapping command structures stifle innovation, slow response time, and create needless barriers. Recruiting and retention processes designed in the 1970s frustrate many military personnel who expect a 21st-century employer.
What if we could start from scratch? What might the U.S. military look like if we hit Ctrl+Alt+Delete and reset the force? Would we establish a separate Army, Navy, Air Force, and Marine Corps? Would we give them the overlapping capabiiities--planes and helicopters, commandos and cyberspace units--that they have today? Would we give regional commanders the power of veritable viceroys?
As budgets tighten, other powers rise, and technologies proliferate, it is time to stop and ask: Is there a better way? What follows is a thought experiment about what the U.S. military might look like if we started today with a blank slate.
In our vision, the military would be organized around its three overarching missions: defend the homeland, defeat adversaries, and maintain a stabilizing presence abroad--themes that run through defense strategy documents over the last quarter-century, regardless of presidential administration. In a revolutionary break from current practice, these new commands would be responsible not only for executing these core missions, but also for developing the capabilities to achieve them. We would invest more in robotics systems of all kinds, protect existing special operations and cyberspace capabilities, and reduce less relevant capabilities like short-range aircraft and tanks.
The military's personnel system would also be reformed to meet modern needs. New recruitment tools would allow the hiring of midcareer professionals who have skills in key areas, like cybersecurity and economic development. …