With two-thirds of National Journal’s National Security Insiders saying they would support deeper defense cuts than what Defense Secretary Robert Gates proposed in January, a panel of them said on Tuesday that adapting weapons-buying priorities to anticipate future conflicts will help make difficult decisions to trim the budget.
“There are going to have to be some significant shifts in what we buy, as well as how we buy it,” said Jacques Gansler, who served as Pentagon acquisition chief during the Clinton administration.
“The world has changed,” Gansler said during the panel discussion hosted by National Journal. “We have to recognize that what we need in the 21st century is different than what we needed in the 20th—and yet we keep buying a lot of the stuff that we said we needed in the 20th century.” He said the military would be better served investing more wisely for future wars, including on more advanced intelligence-gathering and command-and-control systems, cybersecurity priorities, robotics, and unmanned air systems—versus as many heavy tanks and combat vehicles as possible.
David Berteau, a defense industry analyst at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, said one of the United States’ greatest challenges is electronic warfare to match increasing capabilities of rival militaries like China. “It’s really anti access ... denying electronic access.”
But the question of what to buy will depend on what questions the United States is avoiding, said Gordon Adams, a former White House Office of Management and Budget associate director of national security. The United States should be outlining more clearly what the U.S. military role is in the international sphere—and then making cuts to adjust to the “right size,” Adams said.
“We’re almost never driven by that debate,” Adams said, “We’re backed into it … because resources go down and we say, ‘OK, now we have to do less because we have less to do it with.' "
In the first survey of National Journal's new National Security Insiders, 33 of 51 respondents agreed that the Pentagon’s budget should be cut further than the $78 billion Gates proposed. Sixty-one percent said further reductions in weapons acquisition should be considered, followed by force structure (51 percent), personnel (49 percent), and cuts in readiness (29 percent).
“We need to be buying stuff that’s right for what we’re doing, but we need to know what [we’re] doing first,” Adams said, adding it would be a mistake to assume that future conflicts will be based on a “template” from the wars in Iraq or Afghanistan with American boots on the ground.
“[We] may almost see a prototype in the Libya operation,” he said. “We sent planes, we sent Tomahawk [missiles]. Libyans get to do the fighting. We only do stuff from the air,” he said. “That’s consistent with where we are in the world.”