The Future of U.S. Military Power

Debating How to Address China, Iran, and Others

"TRANSFORMATION" IS A LUXURY WASHINGTON CAN'T AFFORD

THOMAS DONNELLY

Andrew Krepinevich's essay "The Pentagon's Wasting Assets" (July/August 2009) highlights a number of critical questions facing the Pentagon as it prepares its Quadrennial Defense Review. But his astute observations about operations and technology are no substitute for a larger appreciation of the requirements of U.S. strategy. What might seem "wasting" in the longer term may actually be quite useful or even necessary at the moment. And given what futurism has done to military affairs -- most notably yielding the school of "transformation" as propounded by former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld -- perhaps the United States ought to hold on to a more traditional approach.

Krepinevich's strong suit is his focus on emerging operational challenges, in particular the problems with retaining overseas access to strategic regions. Indeed, Krepinevich was among the first to call attention to these issues years ago, for example, in his 1996 report Air Force of 2016, published by the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments. But designing operations -- an area in which strategy and policy intersect with tactics and technology -- is a very slippery art.

Consider Krepinevich's reference to the military's war simulation Millennium Challenge 2002 and the difficulties of projecting U.S. power in the Strait of Hormuz. Thanks to closer analysis, better tactics, and new investments, a conventional scenario in the Strait of Hormuz would be less dire today than it appeared to be in 2002. Moreover, the possibility of using land-based forces -- whether located in Afghanistan, Iraq, or elsewhere in the region -- is now considerably greater. To be sure, the capabilities of U.S. forces have not changed much, but Washington's ability to use them has. The United States has learned to employ traditional systems in novel ways, allowing supposedly "wasting" assets to have broader applications than originally thought. This is true of the F-16, for example, which began in the 1980s as a daylight dogfighting aircraft but has since been adapted for use in a variety of bombing, close-air-support, electronic-combat, and other missions.

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