Defense 2017

Defense 2017

© David Burton 2017

Defense 2017

     Alexander Hamilton wrote in Federalist 23 that the first of the “principal” constitutional obligations of the federal government is to provide for the “common defense” of the United States, and President George Washington wisely reminded us that “To be prepared for war is one of the most effectual means of preserving peace.”

     At the start of 2017, we here in America would be wise to take heed of these admonitions. The world around is becoming increasingly dangerous and our ability to counter these dangers is being seriously called into question. Uncertainty as to America’s ability to defend itself in a dangerous world is not conducive to peace and tranquility.

Where is the U.S. Militarily at the End of 2016?

     Over the past several decades, the strength and preparedness of the United States military has been judged on the requirement that “the United States should have the ability to engage and decisively defeat one major opponent and simultaneously have the wherewithal to do the same with another to preclude opportunistic exploitation by any competitor. Since World War II, the U.S. has found itself involved in a major ‘hot’ war every 15–20 years while simultaneously maintaining substantial combat forces in Europe and several other regions. The size of the total force roughly approximated the two-MRC {Major Regional Conflict} model. {Thus, the} assessment of the adequacy of today’s U.S. military is based on the ability of America’s armed forces to engage and defeat two major competitors at roughly the same time.” (Ref. 1)

     According to the conservative think tank, the Heritage Foundation ( Ref. 1), the strength of the U.S. military is rated as: Army – Weak; Navy – Marginal; Air Force – Marginal; Marines – Marginal, Nuclear Force – Marginal. The following are rated as posing a high threat: Russia; Iran; Middle East Terrorism; African-Pakistani Terrorism; China; North Korea. “Each of the six threat actors continued to be particularly aggressive during 2016, with a not altogether surprising correlation of physical capability and state robustness or coherence.  . . .
     “While all six threats have been quite problematic in their behavior and in their impact on their respective regions, Russia and China continue to be the most worrisome, both because of the investments they are making in the modernization and expansion of their offensive military capabilities and because of the more enduring effect they are having within their respective regions. Russia has maintained its active involvement in the conflict in Ukraine and has inserted itself into the Syrian conflict, and China’s provocative behavior has expanded to include militarization of islands that it has built in highly disputed international waters in the South China Sea. China has also adopted aggressive naval tactics to intimidate such neighboring countries as Japan and the Philippines.
     “North Korea warrants sustained attention. It has reportedly developed a nuclear-capable ballistic missile with sufficient range to reach the United States and continues to invest heavily in developing a submarine-launched ballistic missile, an effort that has generated heightened concerns among U.S. allies in the region.
     “Terrorism based in Afghanistan and Pakistan continues to hold a strong potential to spark a large-scale conflict between Pakistan and India (two nuclear powers) or even to pose a nuclear threat to others should radicalized Islamists gain control of Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal or destabilize Pakistan’s government, which would result in the loss of positive control of Pakistan’s inventory of nuclear weapons.
     “In addition, Iran and the various terrorist groups operating in the Middle East would be a greater threat to U.S. security interests than they currently are if they possessed a greater physical ability to project military power outside of their immediate areas. Such a concern was amplified during 2016 when the U.S. Administration finalized an international agreement pertaining to Iran’s nuclear aspirations that effectively enables Iran to maintain its nuclear research and development infrastructure and associated ballistic missile capabilities even if placed under moratorium for the next decade.
     “With these threats taken together, the globalized threat to U.S. vital national interests as a whole during 2016 rose . . . to ‘high.’ ”(Ref. 1)

     This coming year, 2017, may prove crucial for America’s armed forces and its defense industry. Defense spending has been on a decline during the Obama presidency, as failure to achieve consensus on a budget has resulted in sequestration that has stymied any attempt at realistic defense funding. Over the past 3 decades, congress has witnessed a decline in the number of members who have served in our armed forces and is therefore somewhat deficient in its knowledge of what serving in our military means. “From 1974 to 2016, the number of members who served in the military declined from about 75 percent to less than 20 percent. This generally reflects trends in reduced military service across our country . . .”
(Ref. 2)

     Today, the world is in a much less stable situation than in previous years. Following the end of the Cold War, tensions around the world relaxed. But nowadays, the world is in turmoil with Islamic extremists spreading mayhem. Several nations are threatening to take a more militaristic stance. It’s expected that, “Countries like Russia, China, North Korea and Iran will continue their efforts to undermine the longstanding international order that supported regional and global stability during the past 60 years. Some of these countries will also seek to more aggressively increase their influence or test the United States’ international commitments during a time of leadership transition. All of this will take place during a time when U.S. forces remain actively engaged in military operations in places like Afghanistan, Syria and Iraq. History has shown that international challenges often occur during the early stages of a new administration.
     “The growth in global challenges is occurring at a time when rapid technological change is reducing many operational advantages the U.S. military possessed for the past several decades. Potential adversaries continue to pursue new options for the deployment of nuclear weapons, develop longer range surveillance and strike weapons, and undermine the cybersecurity of U.S. government and industry information systems. For the past several years, senior defense leaders have warned against the narrowing technological edge of our military forces.” (Ref. 2)

     “Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton once wrote that ‘to lead, a great nation must command the respect of others” ('Security and Opportunity for the Twenty-First Century,’ Foreign Affairs, November/December 2007). Countries well understand and respect the message of awesome military might—and more importantly a nation's willingness to use it. Former President Lyndon Johnson said during the Vietnam War that ‘it is our will that is being tried, not our strength’ (State of the Union Address, Jan. 17, 1968). This insightful observation seems truer today than it was over 45 years ago during that other tumultuous time.” (Ref. 3)

     “. . . the common theme across the services and the U.S. nuclear enterprise {at the end of 2016} is one of force degradation resulting from many years of underinvestment, poor execution of modernization programs, and the negative effects of budget sequestration (cuts in funding) on readiness and capacity. While the military has been heavily engaged in operations, primarily in the Middle East but elsewhere as well, since September 11, 2001, experience is both ephemeral and context-sensitive. Valuable combat experience is lost over time as the service members who individually gained experience leave the force, and it maintains direct relevance only for future operations of a similar type (e.g., counterinsurgency operations in Iraq are fundamentally different from major conventional operations against a state like Iran or China).
     “Thus, although the current Joint Force is experienced in some types of operations, it is still aged and shrinking in its capacity for operations.” (Ref. 1)

End the Decline in Combat Readiness

     With funding deficiencies and an ongoing need for combat force deployment worldwide in response to the growing number of threats, our military has declined in combat readiness. This decline is undermining the U.S. military’s ability to protect U.S. interests. This trend must be reversed and the start of this reversal lies in the hands of the President and Congress who determine the military’s funding. They have “an obligation to learn from history rather than repeat past mistakes of allowing military readiness to decline to a point that puts the lives of service members and U.S. national interests at risk.
     “To fight effectively, the U.S. armed forces require the right personnel operating the right equipment with the right training to win.
      - - -
     “The world is still a violent and dangerous place, and major existential threats to U.S. interests remain vague and unfocused.
      - - -
     “Readiness is like a three-legged stool. The personnel, equipment, and training ‘legs’ need to be balanced and in sync to support the load. The most modern equipment is useless without highly trained personnel to operate and employ it. Conversely, outmoded or unreliable equipment can hamper the effectiveness of the most highly motivated and skilled personnel. To fight effectively, personnel must train with their combat equipment, practicing their combat missions under realistic, demanding conditions. Quality personnel, equipment, and training are the essential dimensions of combat readiness.
     {We, as a nation, are failing to support this three-legged requirement!}
      - - -
     “History repeatedly shows that unanticipated events often catch us by surprise and that as a nation, we have paid a high price in blood and treasure to compensate for our lack of preparedness.  . . .
       - - -
     “In the Pacific, U.S. relationships with emerging powers and the future threats they may pose remain unclear.
     “In the Middle East, the political instability that accompanied the Arab Spring may vastly alter the geopolitical landscape established in the 1920s, creating opportunities for a wide spectrum of Islamist parties to advance their undemocratic agendas.
     “Terrorism by non-state actors like al-Qaeda {and ISIS} continues to metastasize.
     “At the same time, warfare is expanding into the economically vital cyberspace domain, and revolutionary developments in unmanned systems {are} changing the very nature of conflict.
     “Rapid reductions in the defense budget are leading to the restructuring or elimination of many programs. This {is} damage{ing} the ability to deter and . . . defeat threats to vital U.S. national interests. Maintaining a military posture capable of achieving these aims requires both sufficient forces of various types and the readiness of those forces for combat.
      - - -
     “In times of {declining defense budgets}, combat readiness of the armed forces often becomes one of the first casualties of fiscal tightening. This was particularly true of the years between World War I and World War II, when the Great Depression and isolationism made military preparedness a very low national priority. Despite the threatening war clouds rapidly expanding in Asia and Europe, the U.S. was woefully unprepared for global conflict. The shock of Pearl Harbor mobilized both the industrial capability and the moral determination to overcome the early, disastrous reversals in the Pacific and tactical defeats in North Africa. Once focused on military production, the U.S. economy rapidly produced overwhelming quantities of ships, aircraft, tanks, ammunition, and other matériel needed for America to become the ‘Arsenal of Democracy.’
      - - -
     “Regrettably, the record of U.S. military preparedness following World War II has been rather checkered. Since then, the U.S. has had less than a year (often much less) to prepare for any of its major conflicts.
     One of the earliest shocks hit in June 1950 when Soviet-supported North Korea invaded South Korea. After the Berlin Blockade in 1949, U.S. forces were focused on the Soviet threat to Europe. Less than five years after the defeat of Germany and Japan, they were ill prepared for more limited wars in areas of less than strategic interest. When the U.S. recognized that land forces would be required to stem the rout of the South Korean military, a hastily assembled force from an Army division on occupation duty in Japan was quickly committed to block the advancing North Korean army.  . . . In the opening battle between U.S. and North Korean forces, it was rapidly overrun and suffered disastrous losses.  . . .
      - - -
     “{After Vietnam,} U.S. forces . . . refocused on the massive Soviet conventional threat to Europe, where combat readiness had suffered significantly . . . New equipment and doctrine prepared the new all-volunteer force to fight and win while outnumbered. Most notably, Army and Air Force leaders recognized the high value of synergistic air–land operations and developed the appropriate war fighting concepts and organizations.
     “The apparent requirement for large conventional forces evaporated when the Berlin Wall came down in 1989, and planning was put in place for significant reductions. However, Saddam Hussein’s unexpected invasion of Kuwait in 1990 put that on hold. Saddam’s decision not to press forward to seize Saudi Arabia gave the U.S. and its allies sufficient time to redeploy forces from Europe and elsewhere. During Operation Desert Storm in 1991, U.S. air and ground units that were trained, organized, and equipped to fight the Soviets proved devastatingly effective against Iraqi forces armed with Soviet equipment.
     This again proved to be the case in 2003 when U.S. air and ground forces swept into Iraq, seized Baghdad, and toppled Saddam Hussein’s government.  . . .
     “While history never exactly repeats itself, we can draw several useful insights from the historical record. First, our ability to predict rapidly emerging threats is imperfect at best. Even in cases in which employment of force was optional, such as the 2003 invasion of Iraq, we have had well less than a year to prepare. Thus, dependence on having sufficient time to bring forces back up to the desired level of readiness before employing them can be a recipe for disaster.
     “As a corollary to this point, readiness can degrade very quickly, so maintaining it requires continuous attention. Readiness is also somewhat specific to each scenario. Forces prepared for one type of conflict may not be as capable in another. Additionally, leaders trained to operate in one type of conflict may not have the mental agility to perform well in another.
       - - -
     “The U.S. has experienced significant downturns in defense spending many times. In almost every case, we have pledged to avoid repeating past mistakes that compromised the readiness of our armed forces. Our record in honoring those pledges is imperfect.
    - - -
     “Regrettably, world events and potential threats to U.S. strategic national interests are not driven by the same forces that drive the political and budgetary gridlock in Washington. North Korea’s increasingly bellicose rhetoric and actions endanger regional stability in the economically vital Western Pacific. The maelstrom of conflict in Syria threatens to engulf its neighbors as Iran continues to pursue a destabilizing nuclear capability in the Middle East. The one-word descriptor for our strategic situation is ‘uncertain.’
     “Under these conditions, allowing the readiness of our armed forces to decline is extremely unwise. Despite major political and legislative challenges, maintaining balance among the different dimensions of readiness {must} be a major goal of our defense policy  . . .
      - - -
     “It is far better to learn the lessons of history than to repeat them. A decade of war, an antiquated and lethargic defense acquisition system, and now a national budget crisis are . . . putting combat readiness at risk.  . . . Trying to ‘fix’ broken readiness after the fact puts both the lives of service members and U.S. national interests at risk.” (Ref. 4) We have been extremely lucky in the past. We have had the time to recover from our unpreparedness. We may not be so lucky in the future. Nuclear weapons, high speed delivery systems and cyberwarfare are causing significant time scale compression.

End Sequestration

     U.S. defense spending was around 4.6% of Gross Domestic Product in 2010 and has steadily declined to around 4.5% by 2016 . As a share of total federal spending over that same period of time, American defense spending has also fallen.[5]

     “The baseline budget for defense in fiscal year (FY) 2016 was $548 billion, which paid for the forces (manpower, equipment, training); enabling capabilities (things like transportation, satellites, defense intelligence, and research and development); and institutional support (bases and stations, facilities, recruiting, and the like). The baseline budget does not pay for the cost of major ongoing overseas operations, which is captured in supplemental funding known as OCO (overseas contingency operations).
      - - -
     “Ideally, defense requirements are determined by identifying national interests that might need to be protected with military power; assessing the nature of threats to those interests and what would be needed to defeat those threats (and how much that would cost); and then determining what the country can afford (or is willing) to spend. Any difference between assessed requirements and affordable levels of spending on defense {constitutes} risk to U.S. security interests.
      - - -
     “In FY 2016 . . . Congress as a whole, acknowledging problems in military readiness and the growing need to replace aging equipment, voted to modify the spending caps set by the Budget Control Act (BCA) by enacting the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2015 (BBA). The BBA increased the spending cap on the defense budget by $25 billion for FY 2016 and by $15 billion for FY 2017.7 It also provided an additional $8 billion for the base defense budget through the OCO account, which is not subject to spending caps as the normal defense budget is.
     “The combined base budget and OCO-for-base budget for FY 2016 was $556 billion. Adjusted for inflation, this was a 5 percent increase over FY 2015 levels but still below the President’s FY 2016 budget request of $561 billion. For comparison, President Barack Obama’s 2012 defense budget, the last under former Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, proposed spending $638 billion on defense in FY 2016. A bipartisan consensus, as seen in the National Defense Panel report in 2014, has identified the so-called Gates budget as the minimum the United States should be spending on national defense.  . . .
     “The restrictions placed on defense spending by the BCA continue to be a major concern of the military service chiefs, who have consistently testified about the damage these restrictions are causing to readiness, modernization, and capacity for operations.  . . . (Ref. 1)

     “One of the top priorities {in the coming years} should be to support efforts to eliminate the dangerous spending reductions associated with sequestration.  . . . At a time when our country faces growing national security risks, we need to ensure that our military remains the best trained and equipped in the world. And sequestration threatens to undermine both. [Emphasis mine]  . . .
     “. . . {It’s also essential to remember that,} Since the 1940’s the defense industry developed the fundamental technologies that ensured U.S. battlefield success. Many of these technologies also spilled over to spur much of our economic growth during this time.” (Ref. 2)

     We need to provide the military and the defense industry the monies they need to ensure America’s military dominance over any potential threat. Our potential enemies need to know that any attack on these United states will result in a response consisting of “Shock and awe!” These potential enemies must be convinced that they cannot defeat us and that their attacking us will result in a very punishing and overwhelming response. In terms of national defense, A “commensurate response” is simply an oxymoron!


  1. 2017 Index of U.S. Military Strength,, 14 January 2017.
  2. Pursuing New Opportunities in 2017, Sid Ashworth, Journal of Electronic Defense (JED), Page 3,
    January 2017.
  3. America's Military Decline - What Does It Mean?, John Ross Schroeder, United Church of God,
    12 November 2013.
  4. The Impact of a Declining Defense Budget on Combat Readiness, Richard J. Dunn, III, Backgrounder #2828 on National Security and Defense, 18 July 2013.
  5. What is the Total US Defense Spending?,,
    14 January 2017.


  23 March 2017 {Article 283; Whatever_53}    
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