The three experts, Jerry Hendrix, Paul Scharre and Elbridge Colby, have instead put together a report that uses a notional budget that implements a 2 percent increase over the 2017 budget to shape the U.S. military for the next 10 years.
“We have a military that’s in great shape to defeat Saddam Hussein’s army from the first Gulf War,” Colby said, adding that the Pentagon has focused on smaller numbers but invested in more high-tech pieces of equipment with mixed success. Under the proposed budget, the Navy would increase from 272 to 345 ships over 10 years, and the Air Force would gain more than 120 aircraft.
“Numbers matter,” Colby added.
To fix the current balance, Hendrix, Scharre and Colby’s report suggests that the Pentagon invest in what they call a “high-low mix.” This means that the Pentagon invests in both high-tech pieces of equipment, such as the yet-to-be built B-21 long-range bomber, but also buys low-cost single-engine prop planes such as the A-29 Super Tucano to deal with threats in places such as Afghanistan and Iraq.
To pay for this rebalancing, the report proposes canceling the Gerald Ford-class aircraft carrier and America-class amphibious assault ship production lines. The Ford line is estimated to cost more than $40 billion for the three proposed carriers, and the first ship in the class has already encountered numerous construction delays. Also proposed in the report is a projected $55 billion in savings over 10 years by cutting 5 percent of the Pentagon’s civilian workforce and 8,000 contractors.
According to the three experts, their proposed budget would ensure that the Navy still has 10 carriers by the end of the decade; it’s just that the ships would have a new role, acting more as prepositioned operating bases around the world. The shuttering of the Ford and America classes and the repurposing of the remaining U.S. carriers is a response, in part, to “anti-area, access denial.” Known as A2/AD in defense circles, the acronym is the latest buzzword for the threat posed by Russia’s and China’s militaries in the form of anti-ship ballistic missiles and advanced anti-air weapons that will effectively be able to keep U.S. forces from operating unhindered in large swaths of territory. For Russia, this could be in the Baltic Sea and for China, the South China Sea.
A2/AD is one of the driving forces behind the CNAS report, and to counter Russia and China’s burgeoning area denial systems, the budget proposal aims to invest in more unmanned systems and undersea capabilities, such as bolstering the U.S. submarine fleets substantially, to increase “survivability” in these contested environments.
Aside from current ships and vehicles, the report proposes investing in high-end technology such as direct energy lasers for aircraft, and outfitting more surface ships with electromagnetic rail guns to give them a precision strike ability unmatched by any other military in the world.
At the low end of the spectrum, the report’s proposed budget would leave alone the Special Operations communities and keep the U.S. drone fleets at their current levels. The A-10 attack aircraft would stay, and the Army would focus more on the “train, advise and assist” missions that have become a hallmark of U.S. military operations in the past two years.