If the President and Congress make the right decisions over the next 10 years, America will have the optimal military to keep the nation safe, free, and prosperous while responding to the emerging national security challenges of the 21st century. Achieving the ideal mix of U.S. military forces will require building a robust complement of capabilities for the spectrum of missions the armed forces will face, ensuring adequate funding for ongoing operations, maintaining a trained and ready all-volunteer force, preparing for the future, and fundamentally reforming manpower and procurement policies.
To realize these goals, both the President and Congress must commit to a program that addresses the most pressing priorities: preparing, fielding, and sustaining the force.
Preparing the Force. To field the right force for the future, the Pentagon must change how it manages manpower costs and how it acquires goods and services.
The success of the all-volunteer military depends on a well-designed compensation package that attracts highly qualified people to military service. Above all, the compensation should be flexible and should favor cash and defined-contribution plans for health care and retirement. With the private sector conducting most scientific research and development, the Defense Department will need to become more adept at leveraging the private sector's capacity to provide the military with cutting-edge technology.
Fielding the Force. Rebalancing the defense budget and establishing the appropriate mix of military capabilities will remain great challenges in the years ahead.
The armed forces must prepare for the future without the luxury
of focusing their preparations on a single enemy or particular type
of conflict. Thus, while the U.S. needs to continue modernizing its
conventional military capabilities to deter and, if necessary,
fight and win against state-based actors, it also needs to build a
force that can deal with a myriad of other challenges. These
challenges range from defeating terrorist networks to preventing
the acquisition or use of weapons of mass destruction to preventing
To balance its defense portfolio more effectively, the U.S. must also invest in its strategic forces:
- Missile Defense. The U.S. should build a balanced system by concentrating on fielding additional interceptors at sea, in the air, and in space.
- Space Capabilities. The U.S. should execute the President's 2006 Space Policy Directive by achieving space situational awareness, fielding an operationally responsive array of space systems, and developing capabilities to protect U.S. space assets and counter the exploitation of space by hostile forces.
- Nuclear Forces. The U.S. should remedy the problem of nuclear weapon atrophy by designing, testing, building, and fielding a new generation of nuclear weapons.
Finally, because the requirements of U.S. forces in the future will likely wax and wane, maintaining a healthy and robust Reserve Component is vital. Reserve Component forces should be updated and adapted to better fulfill the tasks of the 21st century: supporting homeland security activities, theater support operations, and post-conflict missions.
Sustaining the Force. To provide the resources for preparing and fielding the force that the nation needs, Congress must ensure that baseline defense spending is at 4 percent of gross domestic product for the next five to 10 years. This will require adopting fiscally responsible policies in non-defense spending, which must include reforming entitlement spending.
Conclusion. Providing for the common defense is Washington's responsibility, and meeting that responsibility is an achievable goal. Congress and the next President need to make the right choices over the next 10 years to prepare, field, and sustain the all-volunteer force.
If America's leaders make the best decisions, the U.S. will continue to be defended by a military that is trained, equipped, and ready for the tasks of the 21st century. The American people should expect nothing less.
James Jay Carafano, Ph.D., is Assistant Director of the Kathryn and Shelby Cullom Davis Institute for International Studies and Senior Research Fellow for National Security and Homeland Security in the Douglas and Sarah Allison Center for Foreign Policy Studies at The Heritage Foundation. Baker Spring is F. M. Kirby Research Fellow and Mackenzie M. Eaglen is Senior Policy Analyst for National Security in the Allison Center.