The Challenge We Face Today Is to Manage The Coming Slowdown in Defense
The Challenge We Face Today
Is to Manage The Coming Slowdown in Defense Spending
Keynote Address at the CSIS Global
Security Forum 2011 on The Future of War: As Delivered by Deputy Secretary of
Defense William J. Lynn, III, The Willard Hotel, Washington, D.C., Wednesday,
June 08, 2011.
Source : US DoD.
Thank you John.
The past ten years have been filled with enormous changes in
national security policies. Yet throughout this extraordinary decade in
international affairs, one thing has remained constant. And that is the
leadership John Hamre has provided at CSIS. At every turn, John has positioned
CSIS to contribute to our most pressing debates. And the capital campaign he led
has now yielded CSIS a new building, which John helped break ground at last
month. Thanks to his leadership, CSIS is poised for another decade of thought
Please join me in congratulating John on more than ten years
as President of the Center for Strategic & International Studies.
Since 9/11, we have had the ability to address new defense
challenges with increased resources. We will not have that luxury for the
foreseeable future. The deficit crisis requires all government functions to
reduce their planned spending levels. Defense will be no exception. It is not
plausible programmatically or politically to exclude the 20 percent of
government spending encompassed by defense from deficit reduction plans.
The challenge we face today is to manage the coming slowdown
in defense spending wisely and responsibly. This requires making judgments about
the nature of our future security environment, which is an exceptionally tricky
business. As that great strategist Yogi Berra once said, predictions are
difficult – especially about the future.
In fact, we have a particularly poor track record of
projecting when, where, and against who we will fight. Secretary Gates has
described our record in this regard as perfect – we have never gotten it right.
But there is one area where I would argue our predictions
have a better record. This is with regard to the future of war itself -- that is
how wars will be fought, what technologies will be transformative, and what
tactics will be effective. Nations that accurately predicted prior trends in
warfare emphasized maneuver warfare over fortifications, bought aircraft
carriers instead of battleships, and understood the paradigm-shifting
significance of nuclear weapons.
In order to sustain the right defense capabilities in the
coming spending slowdown, we need a similarly considered understanding of future
warfare trends. For most of human history, we fought our battles on land and at
sea. It was only in the last century that the terrain of war spilled into the
air and under the ocean. Space first figured in conflict three generations ago.
Most recently, we find ourselves operating in and depending on cyberspace.
Warfare, first transformed by the industrial revolution, then
by the atomic revolution, is now being revolutionized by the information age.
This is the national security environment in the 21st century—diverse military
actors and capabilities, acting simultaneously across multiple domains, with
more interdependencies than ever before.
The full scope of this extraordinary transformation was
witnessed by a man we paid tribute to earlier this spring. Frank Buckles was 110
years old when he passed away in February. He was the last surviving U.S.
veteran of the First World War, of nearly five million who served. The story of
his life, and how warfare changed during it, gives us insight about our future
Born in a barn by lantern light, Buckles bluffed his way into
the Army at age 16. Weeks after enlisting, he set sail on the ocean liner
Carpathia—the same ship that rescued Titanic survivors. In France, Buckles saw
the horrors of trench warfare first hand while serving as an ambulance driver on
the Western front.
The tide of history swept over Buckles again in 1941 when the
Japanese invaded the Philippines, where he was working as a shipping merchant.
He was held prisoner for 38 months until the Army rescued him and his fellow
prisoners in a daring parachute raid. The very week he was rescued, the design
for the atom bomb was finalized, ushering in a new era of warfare that eclipsed
industrial might alone.
Buckles went on to farm cattle in West Virginia. There, he
rode his tractor until over 100 years of age. Even at that age, he participated
in the next great transformative revolution -- the introduction of the
information age. Buckles, his obituary noted, was one of the few Americans born
in the McKinley administration to have a Facebook page.
The three revolutions that Buckles’ life encompassed brought
an avalanche of military technologies and introduced whole new dimensions to war.
The implications of these past shifts for the military have been profound.
The issue for us as we consider what capabilities and
programs to protect in a defense drawdown is what course future technological
trends will take.
In that context, I would identify three strategic trends that
could shape our future national security environment: lethality, duration, and
asymmetry. Each of these trends has implications for how we design our defense
programs going forward. Each, if not carefully managed, could weaken our
- The first and most prominent trend in the global strategic environment has
to do with access to lethality.
Previously, when you looked at the range of threats we faced,
the more capable the potential adversary, the higher the level of lethality they
possessed. For centuries, the most economically developed nations wielded the
most lethal military power. Secondary actors on the international stage
possessed second rate capabilities. Developing counties and insurgent groups had
little or no access to highly lethal technologies.
Today, this linear relationship between economic and military
power no longer holds. Terrorist groups with few resources can mount devastating
attacks. Insurgents can defeat our most advanced armor with fertilizer bombs.
Rogue states seek nuclear weapons. Some criminal organizations even possess
world class cyber capabilities.
The three revolutions Buckles lived through have granted low
end actors access to high end capabilities. Lethality at the low end of the
spectrum can rival that at the high end. As a result, both sophisticated and
unconventional opponents pose credible challenges to our security.
The change in lethality has increased the risks we face and
diversified the range of threats we must be prepared to confront. Defense
planning must reflect this development. Our military must be able to confront
both high-end and low-end threats. We must have what Secretary Gates has called
“a portfolio of military capabilities with maximum possible versatility across
the widest spectrum of conflict.”
The increase in lethality across the threat spectrum means we
cannot prepare exclusively for either a high end conflict with a potential near-peer
competitor or a lower-end conflict with a counter-insurgency focus. Because our
ability to project force is challenged by either scenario, we must maintain
capabilities to meet both. We have decisions about how to size our forces for
these disparate contingencies, but we must equip for both. In other words we
will need both fifth generation fighters and counter-IED technology.
The increase in lethality also has implications for homeland
defense. For a century before World War II, our oceans insulated us from attack.
Even after the advent of the nuclear age, only a nuclear-armed superpower could
truly threaten our homeland. But now technology allows small groups with focused
lethality to wield influence that only nation states could before. The increase
in lethality – whether due to weapons of mass destruction, cyber attacks or IEDs
-- has changed forever the relationship between homeland defense and national
For several decades now we have assumed kinetic engagements
would be relatively short. And that is how we planned: for intense but
ultimately short battles that yielded decisive victory. Desert Storm is the
prototype. A month long aerial bombardment and a 100-hour ground campaign, with
clear transitions between conflict and post-conflict phases.
This construct does not fit our current reality. For most of
the past decade we have been fighting two wars. Each began with an intense
combat phase, but then, as the adversary persisted, the transition between
conflict and post-conflict become unclear, and the scope of our mission expanded
dramatically. Our deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan have now lasted longer
than the U.S. participation in World War I and World War II combined. The stress
this places on our force turns out to be far more challenging to manage than the
intensity of the initial kinetic phase.
A central concern for the Department is managing the burden
the duration of conflict places on our troops, their families, and the national
treasury. This trend also has important implications for force planning. We must
plan to sustain long-term commitments for a range of plausible conflicts.
Because duration becomes as important a driver of planning as intensity, we must
maintain enough force structure to allow adequate dwell times between
deployments. This is likely to have important implications for how we size,
structure and utilize our reserve force components. We need the ability to scale-up
force structure for longer conflicts. The long-term costs of extended conflicts
must be considered in our strategic calculus.
Battlegrounds used to be a meeting place of like-on-like
forces -- cavalry on cavalry, armor on armor, and in the Cold War, nuclear
versus nuclear. We generally faced enemies whose framework for the use of force
was similar to our own. Our challenge was to develop superior capabilities and
tactics within that framework.
This like-on-like paradigm is disappearing. In stature, the
American military is dominant by almost every measure. There are very few
militaries that can or will challenge us directly. Yet we are finding that this
very dominance causes our adversaries to become more creative in their approach.
Today, adversaries can defeat us only if they sidestep our
construct for the use of force. Our adversaries depend on asymmetric approaches
that target our weaknesses and undercut our advantages. So insurgents such as
the Taliban and al Qaeda in Iraq avoid engaging our military in direct
force-on-force engagements. Instead, they use IEDs and assassination as their
weapons, and they hope to use the longer duration of war to wait us out.
Unconventional forces are not the only one to embrace this
approach. Traditional powers also seek asymmetric capabilities. Anti-access and
area denial strategies are perhaps the most vivid example of the asymmetric
approach in conventional conflict. Rather than confront our substantial
conventional advantages in power projection, some nations are pursuing ballistic
missiles that seek to push our forces further from the battlefield In this way
asymmetric tactics are being built directly into conventional capabilities our
forces may face in the future.
The source of the rise in area-denial and anti-access tactics
is the proliferation of precision-strike weapons. From Desert Storm to the
present, the U.S. and its allies have had relatively exclusive access to
sophisticated precision-strike technologies. Over the next decade or two, that
technology will be increasingly possessed by other nations. The diffusion of
precision-strike technology will have a cumulative effect. It will enable anti-access
and area denial strategies, thereby creating challenges for our ability to
project power to distant parts of the globe.
To address these anti-access tactics and defeat area-denial
strategies, we need to develop a range of capabilities, particularly missile
defense and long range strike.
The ability to strike targets worldwide is an important
deterrent against aggression. So we are making a major investment in a family of
long-range strike systems that will allow us to penetrate defenses and deliver
munitions worldwide. This family of systems includes electronic attack
capabilities, more advanced intelligence and surveillance platforms, and a new
long-range bomber, capable of both manned and unmanned operations.
Asymmetric tactics are also spreading beyond the traditional
domains. Potential attacks in cyberspace perhaps best illustrate growing
asymmetry in warfare.
Internet technology increasingly underpins both our military
and economic strength. But, in turn, this reliance on IT has created new
vulnerabilities. Those wishing to cause us harm no longer need an industrial
complex to marshal deadly force. Advanced weapons systems, like a fifth
generation fighter or carrier battle group require major investments in research,
development, and production and a significant technological base. In contrast,
cyber capabilities have low barriers to entry. A small number of highly trained
programmers, using off the shelf equipment, can develop toxic tools, and deploy
them to great effect.
The cyber threat is further maturing in two dimensions.
First, its absolute effects are moving up a ladder of escalation. To date, we
have primarily seen cyber tools used to exploit information or disrupt networks.
We are only beginning to see cyber tools used to cause physical effects. But
tools that can cause physical destruction are out there.
The cyber threat is also intensifying in a second dimension.
Presently, the highest levels of cyber capabilities reside in nation-states. But
because our military power provides a strong deterrent, most nation-states have
no more interest in conducting a destructive cyber attack than they do a
conventional military attack. The risk for them is too great. So even though
nation-states are the most capable actors, they are the least likely to initiate
a destructive attack.
Terrorist groups however have no such hesitation—with few
assets to strike back at, they are hard to deter. If a terrorist group gains a
disruptive and destructive capability, we have to assume they will strike with
little hesitation. So in cyber, we have a window of opportunity to act before
the most malicious actors acquire the most destructive technologies. We need to
continue moving aggressively to protect our military, government and critical
The bottom line is that the cyber threat and the other
asymmetric threats require us not to become complacent with our conventional
superiority. Just as World War I showed the obsolescence of cavalry and World
War II the battleship, we may be surprised at how rapidly our current
state-of-the art systems are overcome by developments that we cannot foresee
Let me conclude by saying that in predicting the future, I
proceed cautiously. I do not have a crystal ball. I agree with Yogi Berra. But I
also believe we can make informed judgments about the future of war by looking
beyond specific scenarios, to the trends of warfare, and the historical forces
that drive them. The three trends I have just described—the increasing access to
lethality across the threat spectrum, the longer duration of warfare, and the
growing prevalence of asymmetric threats—pose challenges to our projection of
power. They are each, in different ways, the result of our entry into a new era
of war, one driven primarily by the overlay of the information age atop the
industrial and atomic revolutions. They can and they must inform our defense
What we need to do at this juncture, in this fiscal
environment, is to take the long view about what strategic trends are important.
This brings us back to Frank Buckles. In his lifetime, he saw first-hand the
impact of the industrial age on warfare in World War I. He witnessed the dawning
of the atomic age during and after World War II. And he lived to be a
participant in the information age.
The sixteen year old farm boy who fought in the First World
War and survived the Second lived to see the impact of each of these revolutions
in warfare. During this same period, Frank Buckles also witnessed an
extraordinary series of U.S. military innovations—from the bi-planes to UAVs,
from machine guns to precision-guided munitions, from telegraphs to satellites.
Buckles watched these innovations help our forces maintain and expand their edge
over our adversaries.
Now, the challenge for us is to navigate our nation’s fiscal
circumstances without disrupting the capabilities of the world's most effective
military force. We need to make the right judgments about the nature of our
future security environment. We need to invest in the right capabilities and
force structure that address the trends in warfare I have outlined today. And we
need to relentlessly adapt our technology and our doctrine as threats evolve and
mature. If we do these things, we will ensure our forces are ready for the
future of war.