Equipment in the Planned Force Structure, Given Budgetary Constraints
Deciding Whether to Pay the Price of Maintaining a Large Overseas Presence
Assessing the Appropriate Force Structure
Operating in Coalitions
Determining the Appropriate Structure for U.S. Strategic Nuclear Forces
Barring some severe threat to U.S. national security that demands a military build-up, the defense budget will continue to be under considerable pressure through the end of the decade. At the levels of procurement funding currently planned, there is not enough money to maintain a rate of replacement of the equipment in the planned force structure. Further, the military services have been explicitly instructed to focus on quality of life, training, and readiness of forces, and to look to the procurement accounts first if additional savings are needed.
This is not an immediate problem. Large inventories of equipment were procured in the 1980s, and much of it has years of useful service remaining. The question of equipment modernization cannot be avoided indefinitely, however. The Clinton administration recognizes this and intends that a portion of the additional $25 billion it plans to add to the FY 1995-2000 defense budget will go toward procurement. The Republican leadership has indicated that it will seek additional funds to address this issue. Still, if the trend toward reduced procurement is not reversed, DOD faces difficult choices. Each carries considerable risk either to the capability of U.S. forces in the near term or to the military's ability over the longer term to maintain the edge U.S. forces currently enjoy over present or emerging adversaries. Three options are outlined below:
Stick With the Present Program, There-by Deferring the Problem. The equipment introduced in the 1980s through the early 1990s still represents the most modern and capable military equipment in the world. There is no serious challenge to U.S. leadership in military hardware, and those nations currently developing technically advanced military hardware are traditional U.S. allies in any case. Since most capital military equipment enjoys a useful life of some 20 years, or even 30 years with adequate maintenance and refurbishment, the effects of deferring modernization will not be felt in most classes of equipment for another decade.
But there are a number of risks associated with allowing the military's equipment to age without plans to renew it on a steady basis. First, when block obsolescence does hit in 10 to 15 years, the procurement bill will be prohibitive, forcing the services to either shortchange other accounts or hold on to equipment beyond its useful lifetime. Second, if the Defense Department is not buying new equipment, the U.S. defense industry has no incentive to continue to develop new and better materiel and to keep skilled personnel in place. When the time arrives to begin a new round of procurement, the industrial infrastructure will be diminished. It will then be necessary to pay more to re-establish production lines, and to live with the consequences of years of inattention to designing and manufacturing new military equipment. Finally, if a serious adversary should arise, the dearth of operating production lines will make build-up of U.S. forces slower and more expensive.
Reduce the Planned Force Structure. Reducing the size of the force structure would help restore the balance between force size and modernization in two ways. First, less materiel would be needed to equip the force, so smaller buys would be required to maintain a steady pace of modernization. Second, the money saved on personnel and on operations and maintenance costs with a smaller force structure could be freed up to increase the procurement budget.
The risk in this option is that the U.S. may sacrifice present capabilities in order to invest in the future. In the interim, the U.S. could find itself without an adequate active force structure to implement the strategy articulated in the Bottom-up Review. Further reductions in force structure would carry the risk that two major regional conflicts could not be fought simultaneously, at least not without considerable assistance from allies.
Find Ways of Operating That Are Less Manpower and Force Structure Intensive. The experience of Desert Storm has been influential in shaping analyses of U.S. force structure needs for the coming decades--in particular, for assessing the forces required to fight two major regional conflicts.
A critical part of the advantage that the allied forces gained over Iraq came from their technological edge, which was on display in such highly-specialized systems such as stealth aircraft, precision guided munitions, and superior battlefield surveillance and intelligence. A straightforward count of divisions, tactical fighter wings, and aircraft carrier battle groups tells only part of the story. An approach to force planning that focused on the contributions made by such specialized systems on the modern battlefield might allow savings on traditional weapons platforms such as tanks, planes, and ships, and provide the resources to exploit the opportunities that advances in technology offer to U.S. armed forces.
The risk of this option is that, because fielding such specialized, high-leverage, high-technology capabilities is preceded by years of expensive research, development, and procurement, finding the funds for an investment strategy that focused on such capabilities would require cutting force structure now. Once again, a measure of present capability would have to be sacrificed to make resources available to ensure strength in the future.
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As the overall U.S. force structure declines, it will become more difficult to maintain a robust, permanently-stationed U.S. force overseas. Currently, a forward presence of about 100,000 troops in both Europe and the Pacific rim is envisioned. The U.S. deployment in Europe has endured for four decades as part of a strategy to contain aggression by the Soviet Union. However, now that the Cold War is over and none of Washington's European allies faces the threat of invasion, it might seem safe, from a strictly military point of view, to return these forces to the U.S. This would result in considerable savings. Withdrawn forces could be maintained in a high state of combat readiness in the U.S., and, should a crisis break out, could still be dispatched nearly as quickly as if they were sent from their in-theater casernes.
However, apart from the political question of maintaining a U.S. presence in Europe as a stabilizing force, this option carries two risks: that deterrence would be reduced because the U.S. presence was no longer be visible to a potential aggressor, and that coalition operations would be hampered because U.S. forces were no longer present to train and exercise with allies. The first risk has diminished greatly in Western Europe, where concerns over an invasion threat have generally vanished. Concerns of intimidation by Russia are greatest in the Central and Eastern European nations of the former Warsaw Pact; here, considerable support for U.S. military presence remains. The second risk is more of a concern, as NATO begins to emphasize out-of-area peace enforcement operations, and coalition actions to address emerging crises multiply. Close, ongoing coordination, information exchange, and exercises greatly facilitate the integration of U.S. forces with those of NATO and some potential Eastern European coalition partners. In addition, U.S. forces in Europe are intended to be the keystone to the Partnership for Peace program of joint training and exercises with Eastern European nations.
Korea presents a much more concrete challenge. There is an immediate and present military threat to South Korea, and until the tension on the peninsula is resolved, the risk of withdrawing U.S. ground and air forces is considerable. U.S. deployments in Japan provide a reservoir of rapid reaction reinforcements in case of a crisis in Korea, as well as serving to underpin the U.S. security alliance with Japan. Moreover, savings from base closures in the Pacific would not be substantial, as the Japanese and Korean governments currently pay about 70 percent of the costs of maintaining bases in their nations.
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The programmed force structure is based on the Bottom-up Review, and focuses on fighting two nearly simultaneous major regional conflicts. Some sources of conflict envisioned in the Review may in the next decade work their way toward resolution. Further, it will be difficult to find the resources to modernize the equipment in the programmed force without squeezing out resources needed to maintain readiness and to invest in high-technology, high-leverage military systems.
An alternative method of planning would be to drop specific scenarios and focus defense resources on the military capabilities the U.S. will need in the long term. Washington cannot predict with precision the next conflict it will face, but it can make a fair assessment of the types of capabilities--in terms of new technologies, information dominance, and new doctrinal concepts--that the military will have to bring to the next battlefield. The starting point is to recognize that the classical units of armed forces such as divisions, tactical fighter wings, and carrier battle groups are no longer the only way to bring firepower to a battlefield. Small numbers of specialized, highly capable systems can provide the edge over large classical forces in a conflict.
In Desert Storm, superior reconnaissance, surveillance, and intelligence systems gave the allied forces knowledge of the battlefield far beyond that available to Iraq. Allied forces could deploy in secret, and with full knowledge of the disposition of the main elements of the Iraqi forces. The allies could monitor the movement of Iraqi combat aircraft and attack and destroy them almost at will. Stealth aircraft were able to fly deep into Iraqi territory to strike heavily defended, high-value targets in Baghdad and its environs. Precision guided munitions also struck high-value targets, decimating Iraq's command, control, and communications network and destroying bridges across the Euphrates. This virtually isolated the Iraqi troops from the leadership in Baghdad, destroying morale and making a coordinated response to coalition attacks impossible. This list, while not exhaustive, is indicative of the way warfare has already changed. As technology progresses, the U.S. will have to invest in promising areas of military technology, and develop the required doctrines, command and control resources, and organization to exploit these opportunities.
This does not mean ignoring traditional military formations. As effective as the systems used in Desert Storm were in destroying key parts of Iraqi defenses, a ground combat force remains essential to taking and holding territory. But a focus on incorporating advanced technology more rapidly and more broadly into the military does mean a smaller force structure than called for in the Bottom-up Review, to free up the required resources.
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In the Bottom-up Review, adequate conventional force structure was programmed to ensure that the U.S. could meet its goals unilaterally. However, the margin of error was not great. Moreover, the demand for U.S. military intervention in peacekeeping or humanitarian operations is proving to be heavy. In 1991-1994, there were eleven occasions in which the U.S. deployed 300 or more troops to provide peacekeeping or humanitarian relief overseas. This places a considerable strain on the U.S. ability to maintain the readiness of its forces to fight two major regional contingencies nearly simultaneously.
An alternative approach would be to accept that most if not all of the missions envisioned for the military--meeting major regional contingencies, providing forward overseas presence, and peacekeeping and humanitarian relief--will be done with coalition partners, and to configure the U.S. contribution to the coalition accordingly. The U.S. brings to the field unique capabilities that are key to the execution of an operation. These include:
The U.S. might then rely on coalition partners to bring to the field a larger portion of the classical military formations that are still needed in a broad range of military operations, from the high-intensity warfare prosecuted in Desert Storm to the humanitarian relief operation in Rwanda.
The risk, however, is that U.S. partners may not be there when they are needed. However, this problem is probably manageable. The political imperatives for engaging in overseas operations in a coalition are so strong that, in almost every case, the U.S. would expect to deploy with partner forces anyway. Moreover, the security interests of the market democracies are very similar, and these nations--particularly those of Western Europe--have forces of sufficient size and competence to effectively supplement U.S. deployments. For monitoring and patrolling functions in peacekeeping operations, many nations have infantry units with adequate skills. Finally, the coalition approach also gives the U.S. the option of participating in operations with a lower profile.
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The Nuclear Posture Review was conducted over the course of 1994 to determine the appropriate strategic nuclear force for the United States in 2003, when the START II limits must be reached. The study group examined a number of key issues including:
The Trident SSBN Force. The SSBN force was programmed to consist of eighteen Ohio class submarines, the most modern ballistic missile carrying submarine. Ten were programmed to carry the Trident II missile that carries the highly accurate D-5 warhead and has a longer range than the Trident I missile. The accuracy of the D-5 warhead would give it a hard-target kill capability comparable to land based missiles. The remaining eight boats would continue to carry the Trident I missile that carries the less accurate C-4 warhead.
Neither of these capabilities, hard target kill or extended range, is as critical to the force today as it was when the D-5 program was introduced in the mid-80s. The enhanced accuracy of the D-5 warhead was useful when large numbers of hard targets in the Soviet Union had to be held at risk to deter a nuclear strike on the United States. Even if the U.S. should return to adversarial relations with Moscow, there will be fewer high value hard targets to cover when START II is implemented. The extended range of the Trident II missile is useful if the SSBNs are facing a challenging anti-submarine warfare threat. This is not the case today, nor is Russia building anti-submarine warfare systems at a rate sufficient to recover, let alone exceed, the threat the Soviets were able to pose to U.S. SSBNs in the 1980s.
The Nuclear Posture Review concluded nonetheless that it was important to proceed with the retrofit of an additional four of the eight boats not yet configured to carry the Trident II missile. This keeps the missile production line open through the end of the decade, thereby preserving the technical and industrial infrastructure needed to build ballistic missiles. Should the U.S. be forced to reconstitute this capability, a cadre with the requisite expertise in re-entry vehicle design and fabrication and guidance technologies will be in place.
Silo-based ICBMs. A key recommendation of the Nuclear Posture Review was to maintain three wings of silo-based Minuteman III ICBMs, a total of 450 to 500, down from a total of 1000 before the START agreements. The remaining Minuteman missiles will be converted from three warheads per missile to one warhead per missile to comply with the START II provision that bans land based ICBMs that carry multiple warheads (MIRVs). Any consideration of reducing the force further or eliminating the land based leg of the triad was deferred until after the full implementation of START II provisions.
Before coming to this decision, the question of whether the SLBM and strategic bomber force would suffice in the changed strategic environment was raised. A number of converging factors led the Nuclear Posture Review task force to reexamine the contribution of the silo-based portion of the force to overall deterrent strategy:
The issue was sharpened by the need to invest several billion dollars in the aging Minuteman force to keep it serviceable. The missiles' rocket motors are due to be refurbished and the guidance system needs to be overhauled.
That said, the conclusion of the Nuclear Posture Review was that the Minuteman III force does provide a prudent and relatively inexpensive hedge against the breakdown of good relations with Russia, with a subsequent halt in implementation of the START II treaty. A dispersed force of single warhead missiles in hard silos diminishes the advantages of a pre-emptive strike. An attacker would have to expend several warheads on each silo to achieve a high confidence of destroying it, making the Minuteman force into a large set of low-value targets. Moreover, a force of 450 to 500 Minuteman missiles presents a target set well beyond the capability of nations with small holdings of nuclear missiles to eliminate. Further, the decision to overhaul the missile's guidance system and refurbish its rocket motor will preserve the industrial and technical base of these weapons for another decade.
Finally, two unique characteristics of the Minuteman force were deemed worth preserving. Even with only a single warhead, they are the least-expensive basing mode per warhead on station. They also provide the greatest safety and most secure command and control.