A Strategy for Stronger Defense

Harold J. Raveché, Ph.D.

Published via LinkedIn Pulse
25 March 2017

F35-FighterJet

The US must now implement a defense strategy that is designed for immediate impact, given the resources needed for pressing domestic issues and the ever-rising global challenges to the free world.

Global challenges include: Massive troop, aircraft, naval and missile build-up in China and Russia; military encroachment in the vital shipping lane of the South China Sea; nation-building through invasion and occupation; nuclear threats from Iran and North Korea; rapid rise of global terrorism; and the ever-present cyber hacking that has yet to reach its destructive potential.

The US defense strategy should contain the following essential components: 1) unwavering political commitment from Congress and President Trump to overhaul defense procurement, with increased accountability of Pentagon officials; 2) redirecting available billions; and 3) breakthrough innovation in defense research and stepping up to the Grand Challenge.

Political ‎Commitment and Accountability. Chronic delays and cost overruns result in less money for our war fighters, along with weapons that may not surpass the sophistication of those developed by adversaries. As noted by Sen. McCain, the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter’s price tag is nearly $400 billion for 2,457 planes – almost twice the initial estimate! The program had originally promised 1,013 fighters by fiscal year 2016 but had only delivered 179. By way of contrast, China’s Chengdu J-20 made its first flight on 11 January 2011, and entered service in November 2016; and, compared with the US’s F-35, the J-20 has longer range, more internal fuel capacity, and larger internal weapons capability, according to Justin Bronk, a research fellow specializing in combat airpower at the Royal United Services Institute.

The Navy’s Virginia-class submarine is slated for transition to a future SSN(X), which is tentatively planned for 2034. However, as noted last September in the The National Interest by Dave Majumdar, given the likelihood of delays and cost overruns, the acknowledged adaptability of the Virginia-class submarine could render that far-off transition unnecessary.

The Pentagon officials responsible for buying weapons and overseeing their deployment are Army/Navy/Airforce/Marine officers and generals. However, the duration of their assignments is much shorter than the lengthy procurement process. They do not “own” the purchasing process they started, because their assignments change. Their promotions do not depend on the ultimate outcome of the weapons purchase and its performance against mission. The Service Secretaries change based on political decisions, not military. So they are not evaluated on the outcome of the acquisition that began on their watch. What profitable company would have such a revolving door policy for their acquisition executives?

It is no coincidence that defense contractors often have operations in the congressional districts of influential members of the House and Senate. Which member of Congress wants to be blamed for loss of jobs because of their courage to reign in cost overruns and delays?

It is time now for the Congress and President Trump completely to overhaul and streamline the defense acquisition process. The purpose is to stop wasting resources and time, and ensure that our warfighters get what they need.

Redirecting Available Billions. The number of US Army and Marine troops that are combat ready is 479,172, with a total reserve force of 548,024, compared to the 2,335,000 active personnel in China’s armed forces, and 771,000 in Russia’s. North Korea allegedly had 1,190,000 active troops as of 2012, and Iran had an estimated 420,000 as of 2011.

 Even if conscription had widespread public support, the cost and time to build comparable sized Armies would further disadvantage the US. The rapid deployment of truly superior defense technology is the only strategy. Where are resources to be redirected?

The scientific initiatives to end WWII included the development of national laboratories devoted to the task. Today, the US Department of Energy (DOE) manages 17 national laboratories whose budgets total approximately $14 billion and which employ several thousand Ph.D.’s in engineering and science. DOE management of the labs has lost focus on defense and allowed lab research to drift into areas already skillfully pursued by many US universities.

The time has come for President Trump and Congress to redirect the budgets and missions of the 17 national labs.Those lab researchers who object should be encouraged to find jobs in academe where they compete for funding.  The labs should be transferred now to the DOD’s Assistant Secretary for the Research Engineering Enterprise, who should be evaluated on how the labs strengthen national defense.

The DOE home for the National Labs is an outdated legacy. Lab programs that are not defense-based should have their personnel and budgets transferred to the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) where the programs will have more focus on innovation and economic benefit.

 Innovation for Breakthrough Research and THE GRAND CHALLENGE. Even if defense-based and classified research were as politically acceptable at US universities as they were in ending WWII, the student makeup in today’s campuses poses huge security threats. A November 14, 2016 Wall Street Journal article sites 328,547 students from China on US campuses. There are 12,269 students from Iran and 61,287 from Saudi Arabia. Many universities actively recruit foreign students, as they cannot attract enough US students to cover expenses.

 How can defense-related research be conducted in such environments? Some might argue that this is xenophobic. However, bribery of students or torture of their family members at home to extract any information deemed useful by adversaries is reality in 2017.

If leadership and personnel at the national labs are not prepared passionately to embrace the defense mission, there are other options. The US Military Academy at West Point, the Naval Academy at Annapolis and the Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs are historically teaching and military training institutions. However, Ph.D. programs in engineering and science for defense research can be established quickly with faculty on leave from US universities and Ph.D.’s from the national labs. Only US citizens can be allowed to conduct classified research. Dual passport holders must surrender their non-US passport. To attract more US-born Ph.D. students, highly competitive, non-taxable fellowships must be provided, and such students must obtain top-secret clearances.

THE GRAND CHALLENGE. Spending big dollars to build up a nuclear arsenal neither has public support nor is a smart use of precious resources. The Grand Challenge for US defense research is to develop and deploy highly innovative non-nuclear systems which render the nuclear weapons of adversaries useless – massive arrays of powerful denial technologies. Such approaches must be constantly updated and improved as techniques will be challenged. The most highly creative US researchers need to step up to this Grand Challenge immediately. Denial technologies should become a national mandate with the fervor and commitment reminiscent of the R&D intensity ending WWII. Stepping up to the Grand Challenge needs the most creative engineers and scientists, adequate budget and committed leadership.

Reform of the woefully outdated defense acquisition process, redirection of available billions of dollars to defense and development, and rapid deployment of innovative technologies, will greatly strengthen US defense while allowing resources to be devoted to domestic problems.

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Harold J. Raveché, Ph.D. is President, Innovation Strategies International, and the former president of Stevens Institute of Technology. He also serves as leader, global development, at Janus Technologies, a cyber security enterprise in Silicon Valley.