Defense Panel: Obama Administration Defense Strategy ‘Dangerously’ Underfunded

Chinese, Russian aggression cited by defense experts
U.S. F18 Hornet fighter attack aircraft prepare to take off from the deck of the U.S. nuclear-powered aircraft carrier, USS George Washington during a military exercise off South Korea's West Sea

U.S. F18 Hornet fighter attack aircraft prepare to take off from the deck of the U.S. nuclear-powered aircraft carrier, USS George Washington during a military exercise off South Korea's West Sea / AP

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The Obama administration’s four-year defense strategy lacks funding needed for fulfilling global military missions and the U.S. military faces “high risk” in the world unless changes are made, according to a bipartisan report by a congressionally backed panel of defense experts.

The report by the National Defense Panel, led by former Defense Secretary William Perry and retired United States Army Gen. John Abizaid, criticized the Pentagon’s Quadrennial Defense Review for outlining military responsibilities that cannot be met because of sharp defense funding cuts.

The report concluded that the capabilities called for in the QDR “clearly exceed the budget resources made available to the department.”

“This gap is disturbing if not dangerous in light of the fact that global threats and challenges are rising, including a troubling pattern of territorial assertiveness and regional intimidation on China’s part, [and] the recent aggression of Russia in Ukraine.”

Other threats include nuclear proliferation by North Korea and Iran, the ultra-violent Islamist insurgency in Iraq and civil war in Syria, along with growing unrest throughout the Middle East and North Africa.

“These are among the trends that mandate increased defense funding,” the report said.

Other trends that require growing military capabilities include the rapid expansion of lethal military technologies by states and non-state groups and the rise of military powers in Asia, along with demographic shifts and heated competition for scarce natural resources.

“These and other trends pose serious operational challenges to American military forces,” the report says. “Conflicts are likely to unfold more rapidly. Battlefields will be more lethal. Operational sanctuary for U.S. forces (rear areas safe from enemy interdiction) will be scarce and often fleeting. Asymmetric conflict will be the norm.”

The report said that U.S. military superiority in the world is “not a given” and that maintaining the U.S. military’s operational and technological edge will require “sustained and targeted investment.”

Under President Obama, U.S. military spending has been cut first by $487 billion over 10 years. That was followed by automatic spending cuts imposed by the Budget Control Act that included another $37 billion cut and additional cuts of $75 billion for 2014 and 2015.

The U.S. defense cuts come amid a major conventional and nuclear buildup by China and Russia, nations that have engaged in increasingly aggressive behavior.

China in recent years has claimed large areas of international waters as its territory. Russia’s military forcibly annexed Ukraine’s Crimea and is continuing to back separatist rebels in eastern Ukraine.

While avoiding specific references to U.S. military force size, the panel warned that the military forces projected by the QDR “is inadequate given the future strategic and operational environment.”

“Although our conventional capabilities have significantly improved since that time, so have the capabilities of our potential adversaries, and the security environment facing the department 20 years ago was far less challenging than today and what is projected for tomorrow,” the report said.

“That a substantially larger force was deemed necessary then is powerful evidence that the smaller force envisioned by the Department is insufficient now.”

“We urge both the Congress and the Department to take our recommendations to heart and expeditiously act on them,” wrote Perry, defense secretary under President Bill Clinton, and Abizaid, U.S. Central Command commander under President George W. Bush.

“We must act now to address our challenges if the nation is to continue benefiting from its national security posture,” they said in a cover letter to the report.

On Capitol Hill, House Armed Services Committee Chairman Rep. Howard P. “Buck” McKeon said the report confirms that the Pentagon did not follow the law in producing its last QDR.

McKeon has included a provision in the pending National Defense Authorization Act that would require the Pentagon to revise the QDR.

“The QDR did not do what Congress required,” McKeon said in a statement. “By focusing on budget—rather than threats—the QDR does a disservice to the nation by not examining the force and the resources the nation needs.”

McKeon said the defense panel has produced a bipartisan warning that the national military is facing a “high risk” and that global peace and stability are being undermined.

“It is the same conclusion many Americans have already reached: there is a cost when America does not lead and there are consequences when America disengages,” McKeon said. “What the president fails to understand—which the report points out—is that a strong military underwrites all other tools our nation has for global influence.”

McKeon said the report bolsters calls for adding substantial resources to reverse the military decline.

“Anything less than this jeopardizes our international defense posture and damages our security,” he said.

The report warned that the risk of the U.S. military having to fight two regional conflicts at nearly the same time has increased because of instability. They include potential battles in Korea, the South China Sea, South Asia, the Middle East, Africa, Europe, and elsewhere.

The report said Congress should task the Pentagon to conduct another review that is less based on budget constraints.

“We believe such a review would conclude that the United States must prepare for what will almost certainly be a much more challenging future,” the report said. “We must have an energetic program of targeted reinvestment in research, development, and procurement designed to protect and enhance the technological advantages that are central to U.S. military superiority.”

Investment priorities should include bolstering intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR) systems, space systems, cyber warfare and defense capabilities, joint and coalition command and control, air superiority, long range and precision strike capability, undersea and surface naval warfare, electric and directed energy weapons, strategic lift, and logistical sustainment, the report said.

Specifically, the panel urged building up both the Navy and Air Force. The panel suggested increasing the number of warships from 260 to between 323 and 346 ships and submarines. “An even larger fleet may be necessary if the risk of conflict in the Western Pacific increases,” the report said.

For the Air Force, which currently has the smallest and oldest combat force in its history, the panel recommended increasing both surveillance and strike forces “to rapidly deploy to theaters of operation to deter, defeat, or punish multiple aggressors simultaneously.”

The panel also said the administration’s plan to cut Army forces to the lowest levels in more than half a century “goes too far.”

“We believe the Army and the Marine Corps should not be reduced below their pre-9/11 end strengths—490,000 active-duty soldiers in the Army and 182,000 active Marines—bearing in mind that capability cannot always substitute for capacity,” the report said.

The panel said the administration’s focus on defense cuts as a way to deal with fiscal challenges is not only “too risky” but also will not work. Instead, the defense cuts will increase the danger and “damage our security, prospects for economic growth and other interests.”

Noting the current “readiness crisis” of military forces, the panel said “the U.S. military’s dangerous and growing budget-driven readiness challenges demand immediate action.”

Congress should take steps to restore strategic decision-making power denied to both the president and defense secretary by the Budget Control Act.

Costs for maintaining the all-volunteer military force also need to be reduced, and the defense weapons acquisition process must be reformed, the report said.

The recent increase in the civilian workforce and defense contractors in the Pentagon and military also must be reduced.

The buildup of forward-based military forces in Asia should continue with rotational deployments and new “responsive strike capabilities” there, along with maintaining military forces in the Middle East to deal with Iran.

The Russian invasion of Crimea undermines the QDR conclusion that Europe is a “net producer of security,” the report said, adding that NATO must bolster its forces, especially front line states in the Baltics, southern Europe, and Poland to avoid Russian “intimidation and subversion.”

On aging U.S. nuclear forces, the panel said it is concerned about the near obsolescence of U.S. strategic nuclear weapons and called for a review of strategic nuclear deterrence.

“We conclude that American military forces will be at high risk to accomplish the nation’s defense strategy in the near future unless recommendations of the kind we make in this report are speedily adopted,” the report said.

In addition to Perry and Abizaid, the panel included a mix of Republicans and Democrats, including retired Marine Corps Gen. James Cartwright, vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff under Obama; Eric S. Edelman, undersecretary of defense for policy of George W. Bush; and Michele Flournoy, who held the same post under Obama.

Other panel members included Army Lt. Gen. Francis H. “Frank” Kearney III, former National Counterterrorism Center strategic planner; former DIA Director Lt. Gen. Michael D. Maples; former Rep. Jim Marshall (D., Ga.), and a Vietnam War veteran; retired Air Force Gen. Gregory S. Martin, former commander of the Air Force Materiel Command; and former Sen. Jim Talent (R., Mo).

A Pentagon spokesman had no immediate comment.