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Re-evaluate Approach to Defense

Having served in the U.S. Navy for 31 years, I strongly believe that the security of America is the first responsibility of Congress. In turn, this demands the requisite investment of our significant but still limited national treasure. But the proper amount of investment must be determined within the context of our overall national security requirements. The two key questions that we must consider are therefore: (1) What is the necessary share for defense security within a comprehensive national security strategy; and (2) is that share actually being applied toward the right warfare systems for future security challenges. I would argue that the present defense share is quite adequate, for the future — but this assessment is dependent on a reversal of how the Department of Defense is approaching the second question.

Since 2001, total defense spending has doubled and has actually increased by 62 percent, even without war spending. In current dollars, defense funding is higher than at any time since World War II. And no one questions that as the war ends in Iraq, we must invest the necessary resources to regain the readiness of our ground forces. But two issues must be addressed in ensuring that there is both the requisite — and efficient use of — funding to meet the defense challenges of the future. First, as our nation’s 77 million baby boomers age, the demographics of Medicare and Social Security are such that by approximately 2030 we will have a larger national debt than the gross domestic product; in short, the mortgage on our nation will be larger than our country’s income.

Compounding our economic security is that we have a $9 trillion debt, with 45 percent of it owned by foreign nations — a percentage that is growing every day because Americans, for the first time since the Great Depression, are at a negative savings rate. We are therefore limited in the national resources needed to invest in education, infrastructure, research into sustainable energy alternatives and other initiatives that can secure our nation’s future; and the “returns” from even that limited investment are increasingly being given to the foreign nations funding our debt — and not to Americans.

Second, while we must have a comprehensive approach to resolving our national security that includes our economic, health and education security, this fiscal challenge also makes it imperative that our approach to defense security is not only effective in terms of our needed fighting force, but also efficient in terms of the best return warfighting for our money.

There is no question that we must “reset” the Army and Marine Corps (presently upward of $22 billion annually for quite a few years) to repair, rebuild and upgrade their battlefield equipment returning from Iraq. And the future has our Air Force requesting an additional $20 billion each year to meet its future needs, while the Navy says it must more than double its shipbuilding funding to $22 billion in each of the next 30 years.

I believe that two key reforms within the DOD are not only necessary to ensure the needed resources for our fighting force, but also necessary to provide the right fighting force for the security challenges of the future.

The first change is the hardest — but most needed — to ensure the right military force. Past “benchmarks” of military prowess — quantity, that is the number of Navy ships, Air Force wings, Army Divisions — are the wrong metrics for the future force. Rather, the greatest improvement in warfare capability would be to effect a transformational change that would ensure the U.S. warrior of the future always has the “knowledge” to act before his adversary as a result of our dominance of cyberspace. To “know with assurance,” whether before a planned strike (such as Iraq attacking Kuwait) or for the assured identification of a foe during the fog of battle, is the emerging dimension of warfare that can ensure U.S. military dominance in the future, from the global war on terror to regional conflicts.

But key to this future warfighting capability is the joint procurement of the network-centric systems needed to provide this “knowledge” to the U.S. military in order for it to act more swiftly than an adversary. This is a change from previously determining warfare capability, which was really only capacity, by adding up ships, aircraft, etc. In short, the domain of cyberspace by a truly transformed military — one that is truly a “capability-based” force, rather than one measured by “capacity” or numbers — needs to be built on a “knowledge-intensive,” network-centric foundation.

The DOD has tremendous modeling and simulation resources that demonstrate the enormous warfighting capability enhancement of a military that is network-centric-based, where the “number” of units is an “outcome” from such an assessment and not an “input requirement.” But a “capability-based” assessment in a Defense Department — and Congress — that presently measures “might” by numbers is not the only change needed to provide both a more effective and a more efficient fighting force.

The second issue that must be addressed is the escalating spiral within the DOD, of significant cost growth and schedule delays on the key acquisition programs in each service. Key programs slated to deliver warfighting capability, such as the Littoral Combat Ship, Future Combat Systems, Coast Guard Deepwater and the F-22 aircraft, have become acquisition challenges, with rapidly rising costs and poor acquisition performance.

In what seems a self-fulfilling prophecy, the services appear to under budget as programs are presented to Congress for approval, only to overrun those budgets during program execution. For example, the Government Accountability Office continually warns that the Navy’s future shipbuilding funding needs are significantly understated, citing a long history of critical analysis that points to budgetary needs far in excess of those stated in the 30-year shipbuilding plan.

The DOD acquisition process requires overhaul. Lead times for weapons systems are longer than ever and costs continue to escalate. Services are also paying increasing costs to develop and produce unique weapons systems for the same or similar mission, for example, the Patriot vs. SM3 missile defense systems. Acquisition officials appear to change stated and approved acquisition plans without much discipline, thereby increasing costs, such as for LCS, CVN-78, Ground/Air Task Oriented Radar system, and SBINet. It is time to impose a strategic pause — or, at least, a review — in defense acquisition so that the DOD can overhaul the process to ensure taxpayers receive a fair value for their dollar, and warfighters receive capable systems on time and within budgets. The undersecretary for Defense for acquisition, technology and logistics must re-evaluate not only what we buy, but how we buy it.

The Congress should conduct a comprehensive review of the DOD acquisition process, enlisting all the resources available to Congress, including — but not limited to — the GAO as well as the Congressional Research Service. This review should produce a record of programs that are performing well, as well as programs that completely failed and were terminated before delivering fieldable capability. Furthermore, the lessons learned from successful programs should be captured and used to develop new acquisition guidelines that are implemented DOD-wide.

This effort is needed not only to ensure a more cost-effective proficient military as Congress appropriates funding, but will also serve to ensure the credibility of both the DOD and contractors that currently seem to present their costing under a “tyranny of optimism” that rarely proves true.

In sum, the DOD cannot obtain the warfare system it says it needs to continue to do the job of protecting the nation with its current approach. Adding to this challenge is the fact that the mortgage on America is becoming larger than its income. Our future depends on our ability to enhance our defense security, while also addressing our education, health care, energy and economic security. In order to do this, we need strategic solutions — like those outlined above — to ensure that the DOD, and our nation, have what is required to keep American citizens safe.

Rep. Joe Sestak (D-Pa.) is a member of the Armed Services Committee.

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