Throughout my career, I spoke frequently about the kind of defense America deserved — that is, a modern, balanced and ready force. This is still true.
While some of the threats to our nation are different today, many are the same we have faced through our 235-year history.
In 2011, we took our forces out of Iraq by year’s end and have begun in earnest to draw down forces in Afghanistan.
There will be strong arguments made to stay with the force we have built over the past 10 years.
However, while the senior leadership in the Office of the Secretary of Defense and the Joint Chiefs reflect on the past, they are compelled to develop a fresh national security strategy to meet the continuing threat of terrorism and a world being reshaped by new players and new dynamics.
The new Air-Sea Battle concept will be part of this new strategy and will require a range of capabilities to include submarines, stealth aircraft, space surveillance, anti-satellite weapons and long-range strike platforms to counter anti-access and area-denial weapons being fielded by potential adversaries. Such a strategy will be resource-constrained.
Except in the middle of major wars, this has always been the case for security strategies. Going forward, two of the key resources that will have to be addressed are manpower and funding.
The programmatic/hardware side of the funding issue is getting most of the attention in the media because we’ve entered a period of significant economic challenge. The country has amassed trillions of dollars of debt and the time has come to seize control of that situation.
The senior leadership has experience with addressing the programmatic/hardware funding issue. Waste and inefficiency must be identified and eliminated. Programs must be reduced and eliminated. Reduced defense budgets and force-structure reductions go hand in hand. Procurement and operating accounts are targeted, and in the end, the troops are asked to do more with less.
We have been through funding cuts in the past, but for the first time in 50 years, the manpower issue may be every bit as important as the procurement and operating accounts. They are certainly related, and the relationship has become critical due to the size and construct of the all-volunteer force.
In its current form, the force has become unaffordable. Total personnel costs are consuming more than half of the DoD bud-get. Nonetheless, our nation deserves a modern, balanced and ready defense.
The big question is, how does the department reduce its budget and continue to provide a modern, balanced and ready defense when more than half of the budget is committed to personnel costs?
The all-volunteer force has provided the nation with the most capable and experienced force in our history. We need to preserve that capability; however, we cannot afford the imbalance of resources stemming from the size and composition of the force.
The answer to that question is right before us: We should return to our historic roots as a militia nation.
So, what does that mean, exactly? Simply put, it means we should return to the constitutional construct for our military and the days when we maintained a smaller standing military and a robust militia.
In this time of fiscal burden, of seeking ways to lessen expenditures and pare down our debt, this is an idea that warrants real consideration. And the way to get back to this construct is pretty direct should our military and civilian leaders at the Defense Department be interested.
It starts with a well-articulated national security strategy. Then, rather than reducing the size of the military to meet budgetary necessities, the force should be reshaped with the goal in mind of maintaining as much of the capability and professionalism that exists in today’s forces to meet the challenges of the future.
To do that, leaders must put old parochial norms aside and be willing to actually shift forces and capabilities to the National Guard and Reserve.
This would enable significant personnel reductions in the active components. It would also result in a larger reserve component. Most important, it would preserve capability and equipment that has cost the American taxpayer trillions of dollars, nest it in our mostly part-time Guard and Reserve, and have it available should it be needed.
This concept worked well for our country for the better part of two centuries. Unfortunately, several generations of leaders have come and gone, and most of today’s leadership fails to recognize the true potential of the militia model.
We need our collective senior military and civilian leaders to recognize there is a way back to a smaller active military and a larger militia posture. The fiscal environment and emerging threats demand it.
To do otherwise is to allow the budget to drive the future capability in a way that fails to meet the needs of the nation.