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Restoring conventional US military deterrence is a long-overdue course change. Building off the strategic and analytical foundations of AEI’s defense strategy, To Rebuild America’s Military, this report develops programmatic depth and detail to the principles and objectives identified in that publication. To Rebuild America’s Military laid out the ends of a new defense strategy for the United States and sketched out how military means fundamentally undergird all the tools of national power. This report supplements To Rebuild America’s Military by adding budgetary details—the ways—to the goals of repairing and rebuilding the military while making recommendations for force planning and development over the next five-year Future Years Defense Program (FYDP) and beyond. These recommendations have been updated to reflect changes in the budgetary, military, and political environment since 2015 and over the likely course of the FYDP.
Repair and Rebuild answers a simple question: What plans and priorities should new defense spending increases be geared toward if Congress endorses a three-theater force?1 What can actually be bought in the next five years with higher military spending? The binary construct of investing in either today’s readiness or future capability must be discarded. The military must stop looking for perfect weapons solutions to roll out in the 2030s and instead build in capacity for the inevitable international crises that will occur in the meantime. This report demonstrates that lawmakers and service leaders can make force development choices that better suit the complex set of challenges the US military faces on a daily basis. New defense investments should focus on a diverse portfolio: near-term readiness restoration, tailored force structure expansion, new forward basing, rapid and expansive incremental upgrades, increased production rates for existing weapons systems, and, yes, targeted acceleration of promising “offset” technologies.
At its core, this report tries to move beyond the historical “barbell investment strategy” that constantly seesaws between the “weights” of the military’s imminent needs and its anticipated yet distant high-tech wars of the future. This barbell investment strategy has guided defense spending choices and trade-offs during the past two decades of investment, constantly ignoring the “long bar” of steady-state presence and deterrence missions that comprise the bulk of daily US military activity. This approach fails to build in sufficient slack to create adequate operational and strategic reserves, and it leads to greater acquisition risk by attenuating or truncating proven weapons and upgrades on hot production lines in favor of ambitious and lengthy development programs of new weapons. Policymakers tend to ignore the porridge bowl that is “just right.”
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