Budgeting for the Joint Force

In his Washington Times op-ed this week, retired U.S. Army Maj. Gen. Bob Scales misses the fact that all the United States armed services are seriously under funded.  We as a nation need to increase the total amount we spend on national defense.  Scales, by his own admission, is a historian, and his recommendation to reduce the Air Force and Navy budgets to increase the Army’s share amounts to a willingness to cede America’s asymmetric advantage of air, space and sea dominance.  This conflicts with our historical advantages that have enabled us to be so successful in past wars.  That is surely not the way to maintain our nation’s position as the world’s sole superpower.  We have the best Army, Navy, Air Force and Marine Corps in the world so let’s not break some of them.  Instead, let’s continue to improve all of them.  As Gen. Colin Powell used to say, "When the tide comes in we all rise and when it goes out we all go down."

With one-third of the total defense budget the Army has its fair share of money today — the real issue is where they invest it.  The Army should be focusing on organizing, training and equipping its forces on its core competency: "prompt, sustained land dominance."  Instead, some Army procurement initiatives indicate a lack of focus.  For example, it appears that the Army is building its own "air force."  The Army is planning to buy more medium altitude unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV) than the Air Force.  The $1B Warrior program will be organic to each Army division.  That means if a division deploys, so does the UAV and ground stations supporting it, but if the division remains at home, so does the UAV.  Air Force UAVs, in contrast, were first deployed in 1995 to the Balkans and have been deployed around the world ever since. 

The Army also plans to purcahase its own cargo aircraft for intra-theater airlift, once again an Air Force — not an Army — core competency.  Then there was the Army plan to spend $43 billion on a helicopter to conduct deep attack missions that are a mission of the Air Force and Navy.  Fortunately, that misplaced investment was canceled along with a $12 billion gun that launched unguided projectiles 50 kilometers — well beyond the close-in fight that is the Army’s domain. 

Indications are that in the near-term the Army will need more people.  Nearly 10,000 airmen and sailors are now driving Army truck convoys, protecting bases, acting as prisoner interrogators and providing detainee security, all of which are core Army tasks.  If the Army is to deliver land dominance for the nation it should focus on this mission, rather than looking to sister services to accomplish its core tasks while straying into other services’ mission areas.

Service interdependence is key to joint force effectiveness, and resource efficiency.  If each service concentrated its full effort on its core competencies we could minimize or eliminate roles and missions overlap, as well as maximize our tight budgets and warfighting capabilities. 

Additionally, each of the services’ assets should benefit the entire joint team and be available to the Joint Force Commander.  The Army’s Warrior UAV is a prime example of differing Army and Air Force approach to "jointness."  The Air Force provides all its operational capabilities to the joint force commander because the systems are not tied to a deploying unit.  The Army only provides those UAVs tied to a deploying unit to the joint force commander — a fraction of its complete capability.  

Air Force capabilities benefit every soldier and Marine:  airlift to the fight; medical evacuation out of the fight; air superiority protecting from attack and providing the freedom of movement to attack; sea lane protection, GPS navigation and timing information; air and space-based sensors telling where the enemy is; air and space-based platforms providing beyond line of sight communications; massed precision fires anywhere in the theater; close, medium or deep in minutes — shaping the battlespace and killing the enemy before ground forces even close to contact — as a reminder that five divisions of the Iraqi Republican Guard were eliminated by airpower before soldiers or Marines could even come close to contact during the recent Iraq war.  If Congress takes away money from the Air Force and Navy that accomplishes these tasks, how well will the Army perform?  Short answer: not very well at all.  Such cuts are not in the best interests of a joint approach to warfare. 

All the services are fiscally constrained — the Army is not alone in that regard.  The solution is to increase the Department of Defense’s percentage of the nation’s GDP to 5 or 6% while requiring each of our services to invest inside their defined functions — not rob Peter to pay Paul.  We are involved in a global war.  After World War II and on through the Cold War, the DOD’s budget averaged 8.3% of GDP.  Since the fall of the Berlin Wall, however, our nation has spent less than 3.75% of the GDP on defense, the lowest ever in a time of conflict.  As a matter of fact, during the Clinton Administration their average was 3.25% and 3% during the last three years which dug the hole even deeper.  Now we have an opportunity for a Democrat-led Congress to restore the defense budget to mirror our historical averages.

In 1950, the National Security Council report NSC-68, "the blueprint" for the Cold War, called for a military buildup and increased budgets for the DOD to contain the Soviets.  It outlined a foreign policy shift from defensive to aggressive military preparedness and action against the enemy.  Once again we find ourselves in a similar situation: locked in an ideological struggle against implacable foes who seek to destroy us and our society.  It is time for our nation to show the same will and commitment it took to win the Cold War.  This, too, will be a long war and we need to fund all our armed services to fight and win it.  They are still the best.