Shaping a 21st Century U.S. Military


6/13/12: By Robbin Laird

Both the right and the left believe in realities that no longer exist. We could not do the 1991 air war today; we cannot man the oceans or provide for global presence with a maritime force operational NOW and planned for the future. And pushing more planes out of the F-35 buy now puts our entire power projection capabilities at risk. Credit Image: Bigstock

As the threat of so-called Sequestration hangs over the military, as uncertainty about missions, forces, equipment and capabilities increase, the Administration, the Congress, and the nation need to face up to a single reality:  Can the U.S. continue to be a global military power in the decades ahead?

(For a look at Sequestration from Boomer’s perspective see

If the commitment to the resources is not there, if the re-structuring of the forces is not down with real missions and commitments in mind, and the cubical commandos and the asserted facts journalists continue to dominate the discussion about national security, the future is not bright.

Both the right and the left believe in realities that no longer exist.  We could not do the 1991 air war today; we cannot man the oceans or provide for global presence with a maritime force operational NOW and planned for the future.  And pushing more planes out of the F-35 buy now puts our entire power projection capabilities at risk.

To argue that the US economy is the number one national security issue is simply to miss the point.  The number one security issue is to defend America and work with its allies to provide as much peace as possible in a troubled world.  To do so, requires putting the right forces out there in the right places with the right partners and allies.

This is doable within an affordable force structure, but you have to have the intellectual commitment, industrial capability and the proper restructuring effort going forward.  It is also about understanding the limits.  You need to prioritize the power projection forces, and re-shape the Army to a realistic mission.  Before one decides to do COIN or Nation-Building, one has to shape the economic plan for sustainability development.  There is no checkbook available to write checks for an indefinite stay in countries far, far away.

As I argued earlier on AOL Defense:

U.S. forces need to become more agile, flexible, and global so they can work with allies and partners to deal with the new world after Afghanistan and Iraq. Protecting access points, the global conveyer of goods and services, ensuring an ability to work with global partners in having access to commodities, shaping insertion forces which can pursue terrorist elements wherever necessary and partnering support with global players all require a reinforced maritime and air capability.


This means priority will be placed on the Coast Guard, the Navy, Marines and the Air Force. This will mean upsetting the apple cart because balanced force structure reduction makes no sense. Our current force structure was redesigned for land wars that the US probably will not fight in the decade ahead. The Army can be recast by the overall effort to shape new power projection capabilities and competencies in the decade ahead.


If the emphasis is on the naval and air services then retiring their older systems, which are logistical money hogs and high maintenance, will save money.


Fortunately, the country is already building these new systems and is in a position to shape an effective transition to a more affordable power projection capability.

(Also see,

Heritage Foundation has provided some insightful videos looking at their take on the challenges moving ahead.  At bottom, it is about ensuring ready forces.  And as the Heritage interviews underscore, that is not on offer with current realities.

Navy Faces Readiness Crisis as More Ships Unprepared for Combat

The year was 1979. America’s military had emerged from the Vietnam War earlier in the decade and was now facing sizable and significant budget cuts.


Capt. Tom Shanahan, commanding officer of the USS Canisteo, had just returned from the Mediterranean Sea and was now leading an overhaul of his fleet supply ship. Over the course of 10 months, the crew assigned to the Canisteo gradually disappeared, relocated by the Navy to other assignments. Those personnel cuts eventually left Shanahan with so few men that he couldn’t take his ship to sea.


“Little by little, they stripped us of a lot of the people we had, key people,” Shanahan recounted recently. “By the time we were ready to get underway from the shipyard and go back to Norfolk, we didn’t have enough people. We didn’t have enough people in any of the departments, but mainly we didn’t have enough people in the engine room.”


Shanahan took the bold step of refusing to certify his ship as seaworthy. He warned his superiors long before his readiness reports. Yet when he deemed his warship not ready for combat, it came as a surprise to many in the military.


“We were in one of those periods where in order to cut costs, we cut personnel. And we cut personnel too far,” he said. “You see that cycle repeating itself, and now we’re in that same situation right now as we were before. So you’re readiness goes down. It just has to.”


More than 30 years later, the U.S. Navy is facing another readiness crisis. Shanahan’s story illustrates how budget cuts after Vietnam left the military unprepared. Cuts today are creating a new set of challenges….

Military’s Aging Aviation Force Puts America at Risk

Like many of the aircraft still used by the U.S. military, the B-52 is telltale example of America’s geriatric aviation force. At a time when our military is asked to do more with less, fiscal constraints have hampered its modernization and recapitalization strategy.

The B-52 might be among the Air Force’s most recognizable planes. Its maiden flight was in April 1952 when President Dwight D. Eisenhower occupied the White House and the Cold War posed the greatest threat to America’s security. Today it is still flying out of Minot Air Force Base in North Dakota.

It’s not the military’s only aging aircraft, however. Along with tankers and fighters, America’s aviation force today is jeopardy of sacrificing dominance in the air environment that came with advancements in the 1960s and 1970s. Simply modernizing and updating those aircraft won’t provide the same edge.

David A. Deptula, a retired three-star general, has witnessed this “geriatric aviation force” firsthand. He earned his wings and flew an F-15 for the first time in 1977. Thirty years later, another Deptula boarded the aircraft. His son, Lt. David A. Deptula II, flew the same F-15 at Kadena Air Force Base in Japan.

The Wall Street Journal documented the amazing father-son story last fall to illustrate the challenges facing the aging force. The elder Deptula recounted for Heritage how the fighter was originally designed for a 4,000-hour service life. That was later extended to 8,000 hours.

“We have really flown these aircraft well beyond what originally would be believed as their replacement lifetime,” Deptula said of the F-15s. “And now, because of some of the fiscal constraints that are being imposed on the Department of Defense, there is consideration being given to extending the lifetime even further….”