March 29, 2001 | News Releases on National Security and Defense

Heritage Study Offers Guidelines for Military Modernization

WASHINGTON, Mar. 29, 2001-As the Bush administration prepares to implement what reportedly will be a comprehensive overhaul of U.S. armed forces, a new Heritage Foundation paper offers some guidelines "to create a 21st century force that can protect America's future interests with minimal risk to today's national security."

Years of shrinking budgets and growing deployments have put a tremendous strain on America's military, writes Jack Spencer, a defense and national security analyst in Heritage's Davis Institute for International Studies. But before the Bush administration begins to modernize the armed forces, he says, it first must decide what it wants them to do.

"Modernization must focus on warfighting, not peacemaking or peacekeeping," Spencer says. "Its aim should be threefold: defend the homeland, deter near-term aggression and maintain long-term conventional military supremacy."

Some military advocates are urging the administration simply to modernize current weapons, while others want it to invest in "next-generation" ones already on the drawing board or opt for revolutionary "generation-after-next" weapons. But the task of modernization isn't so simple, Spencer says: "Some weapons systems require immediate attention, others require we reach for better technology, and still others require we think generations ahead."

Spencer sets out five guidelines for efficient, effective military modernization:

  • Long-term investments shouldn't be made at the expense of near-term requirements. Although preparing for future threats is important, ignoring today's threats can prove fatal. For example, rather than spend $300 million over the next 30 years on 4,000 tactical aircraft as currently planned, the military should diversify its air-to-ground strike options over that period by developing a force of manned and unmanned aircraft augmented by long-range precision strike missiles.
  • Modernization efforts must focus on warfighting. The decline of America's military readiness can be traced largely to increasing participation in so-called "operations other than war," such as peacekeeping efforts and humanitarian interventions. America's commitment to those operations also is compromising the future of U.S. warfighting ability. For instance, Spencer argues that the Army's planned purchase of 2,131 "Interim Armored Vehicles" at a cost of $4 billion is a reaction to its high level of commitment to non-combat operations. The IAV purchase should be scaled back, and those funds should go to research and development, he says.
  • Modernization must secure a competitive advantage for the United States over its potential adversaries. The "procurement holiday" of the last decade and the rapid proliferation of military technologies to even Third World countries demands that modernization efforts focus on unmet needs of the military and unaddressed threats from abroad. For example, Spencer says, rather than extend the life of the 50-year-old B-52-the current plan-America should begin to phase out that plane in favor of the B-2.
  • Modernization must balance capabilities with efficiency. Given budget constraints and political realities, military modernization must be carried out as efficiently as possible, but to emphasize efficiency over capability could degrade military readiness, Spencer says. Today, no country can detect or defend against America's SSN nuclear-powered attack submarines. Yet the fleet has slipped from 96 to 56 since 1990. The most efficient way to rebuild the force is to refuel seven Los Angeles-class SSN subs scheduled for decommissioning before the end of their useful lives. This won't obviate the need for increased production of the new Virginia-class subs, but it would alleviate the short-term shortage at minimal cost.
  • Modernization must respond to a changing security environment. Potential adversaries are designing weapons meant to exploit U.S. military weaknesses, such as our vulnerability to ballistic and cruise missiles, our reliance on information networks and space for battlefield information, and the need to base forces in forward areas. That's why the United States must build a missile defense, work to protect its digital battle information network and develop ways to place forces in forward areas even without cooperation from allies, Spencer says.

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