January 14, 2021 | From Trump to Biden Monograph

Defense

January 14, 2021 | From Trump to Biden Monograph

Defense

Current Policy

The Trump administration’s National Defense Strategy (NDS) made clear in 2018 that “[l]ong-term strategic competitions with China and Russia are the principal priorities” for the Pentagon.1 The NDS accepted that deterring rogue states and defeating terrorists remained part of the Defense Department’s mission, but suggested the United States had expended scarce time and resources fighting secondary threats.

While the Obama administration’s 2014 defense strategy emphasized “rebalancing to the Asia-Pacific,” it underestimated the severity of the challenges presented by Beijing and Moscow and did not make great power competition the explicit priority.2 Furthermore, both the Obama administration and Congress consistently failed to provide the U.S. military the timely, sufficient, and predictable funding necessary to conduct operations, maintain readiness, and modernize forces.3 Accordingly, the Pentagon confronted a dangerous readiness crisis in 2017.4

Meanwhile, Moscow and Beijing worked to modernize their forces and develop new ways to overcome the United States and its allies on the battlefield.5 “The security and wellbeing of the United States are at greater risk than at any time in decades,” warned the bipartisan, congressionally mandated National Defense Strategy Commission in its November 2018 report.6

To address this increasingly dangerous situation, the NDS declared that the Department of Defense must build a more ready and lethal force able to “deploy, survive, operate, maneuver, and regenerate” in all domains – not just air, land, and sea but also space and cyberspace.7

Anticipating the cost of recovering lost advantages, the Trump administration worked with Congress to raise the Pentagon’s budget from $606 billion in 2017 to $671 billion the next year, yielding inflation-adjusted growth of 8.2 percent. Modest real growth followed in the next two years; President Trump’s final budget request did not keep up with inflation.8

With an emphasis on space and cyberspace, the administration undertook significant reforms to the Department of Defense’s structure. This included elevating U.S. Cyber Command to a unified combatant command in May 2018.9 Notably, however, this step did not prevent a devastating cyber operation against the United States that was revealed to the public in December 2020.10

The administration also created U.S. Space Command in August 2019 and established the U.S. Space Force in December 2019. The establishment of the Space Force gave rise to the first new military branch since the creation of the Air Force in 1947.11

In recognition of the growing technological prowess of potential great power adversaries and the changing character of warfare, the Trump administration prioritized military research and development (R&D), with the Pentagon submitting its largest R&D budget request ever for fiscal year 2021.12 Questions linger, however, about whether the current Pentagon R&D spending is sufficient.13 China’s share of global R&D rose from 4.9 percent to 26.3 percent from 2000 to 2018, while the U.S. share fell from 39.8 percent to 27.6 percent during the same period.14 Key Pentagon R&D areas include “hypersonics, artificial intelligence, quantum science, biotechnology, directed energy, microelectronics, and 5G networks,” according to former Secretary of Defense Mark Esper.15

To ensure the U.S. military can effectively employ such capabilities once fielded, the Pentagon also sought to develop a new warfighting doctrine that seeks to link every sensor, system, and weapon into a seamless network that can expeditiously detect threats, determine how to respond, and deliver the necessary munitions.16 Overall, extensive work remains necessary to restore U.S. military advantages; the success of these efforts will determine the outcome on future battlefields.

Assessment

The Trump administration inherited a U.S. military in desperate need of both conventional and nuclear force modernization and suffering from one of the worst readiness crises in years. Many worried about the growing military power of China, but Washington had no effective consensus on defense priorities.17

To its credit, the Trump administration shifted the Pentagon’s focus to great power competition and worked with Congress to obtain increased funding18 to improve readiness and initiate the most significant U.S. military modernization effort in decades.

In March 2020, Army leaders testified that the service had “successfully rebuilt tactical readiness,” reporting that 74 percent of active-duty brigade combat teams (BCTs) had reached the top levels of readiness.19 Three years earlier, the Army vice chief of staff testified that only three out of 31 active-duty BCTs “could be called upon to fight tonight in the event of a crisis.”20

In addition, the Army established six modernization priorities and more than 30 associated R&D programs that focused on new missiles, combat vehicles, helicopters, networks, air defense systems, and individual soldier weapons.21 Still, in March 2020 congressional testimony, Army leaders cautioned that the service will require “time and patience” as well as “timely, adequate, predictable, and sustained funding” to field these new capabilities.22

Unfortunately, time is short. Indo-Pacific Command assessed in early 2020 that the military balance of power with China continues to become “more unfavorable.” The command warned that the United States is “accumulating additional risk that may embolden our adversaries to attempt to unilaterally change the status quo before the U.S. could muster an effective response”23

An F-35A Lightning II taxies during a combat exercise at Hill Air Force Base, Utah, on May 1, 2019. (U.S. Air Force photo by R. Nial Bradshaw)

The Trump administration sought and received significant defense funding increases for 2018 to strengthen the U.S. military, but real growth in the defense budget was negligible or nonexistent since then – falling well short of the 3 to 5 percent real annual growth recommended by the bipartisan National Defense Strategy Commission.24

To make an effective case for robust defense spending, the Pentagon will need to exercise strong financial stewardship25 and resolve lingering audit challenges.26 That would help undercut the fiction that cutting Pentagon waste and inefficiency can yield massive savings that safely enable large cuts in defense funding.

The Pentagon will certainly need robust funding to address continued challenges in the Air Force and Navy without dangerously slashing the size of the Army.27

Despite improvements since 2017, the Air Force’s inventory of aircraft remains too small, too old, and too busy – consistently struggling to achieve adequate aircraft mission-capable rates.28 Similarly, America’s naval fleet is far too small, lacking the capability and lethality that the United States will need to deter and potentially defeat an increasingly capable Chinese military.29 With approximately 85 percent of the joint force based in the continental United States, the Department of Defense lacks sufficient air refueling and sealift capacity; this endangers its ability to deploy forces with sufficient speed in a contingency.30 Additionally, it remains to be seen whether the Space Force will add military capability or simply redundant bureaucratic infrastructure.

A U.S. Marine Corps MV-22 Osprey assigned to Marine Medium Tiltrotor Squadron (VMM) 164 (Reinforced), 15th Marine Expeditionary Unit, lands on the flight deck of the amphibious assault ship USS Makin Island. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Jacob D. Bergh)

Despite significant progress in building combined readiness with America’s allies and partners at the tactical and operational levels, Trump pursued a number of burden sharing efforts and military withdrawals that harmed America’s strategic alliances and security.31

At home, in an action that damaged civil-military relations, Trump used the National Guard on June 1, 2020, to aggressively clear from Lafayette Park peaceful protesters exercising their constitutional rights.32

Recommendations

  • Maintain robust defense funding. To fund current operations, advance vital modernization programs, and avoid a repeat of the 2017 readiness crisis, the Biden administration should seek real growth in the defense budget each year. This level of defense funding is both necessary and affordable.33
  • Solidify America’s alliances. The Biden administration should seek to heal and strengthen alliances that have been damaged in recent years, with a particular focus on NATO. The Biden administration should halt most of the Trump administration’s military withdrawal plans from Germany and task the Pentagon with conducting a new assessment of the U.S. military posture required in Europe with a focus on readiness, alliance unity, and deterrence.34 That said, the incoming administration should continue to push allies to invest more in defense while jettisoning Trump’s ill-advised approach to “burden sharing” with countries such as Germany and South Korea.35
  • Strengthen defense R&D with allies. The United States confronts an intense military technology competition with China and Russia. To win this competition, the Biden administration should establish more effective and systematic military R&D partnerships with tech-savvy democratic allies. That should include a U.S.-Israel Operations-Technology Working Group,36 authorized in Section 1299M of the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2021.37
  • Strengthen U.S. military posture in the Indo-Pacific. The growing military capabilities of China’s People’s Liberation Army require the United States – along with regional allies and partners – to undertake a series of doctrinal developments, capability investments, and posture adjustments in the Indo-Pacific.38 The Biden administration and Congress should fully support and fund the Pacific Deterrence Initiative, which would help address a number of serious shortfalls in the region, including those related to infrastructure and logistics.39
  • Avoid timeline-based withdrawals from the wider Middle East. The Trump administration initiated timeline-based troop withdrawals in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Syria that dangerously ignored the advice of commanders, persistent threats, and conditions on the ground. The Biden administration should halt ongoing withdrawals from the wider Middle East and conduct a thorough review of what force posture U.S. interests require in each country.40 A terrorist surge resulting from the withdrawals would not only endanger Americans but would also jeopardize efforts to prioritize the long-term threat posed by China.41
  • Continue robust arms sales programs. The Biden administration should continue and expand arms sales where it serves U.S. interests,42 including to NATO partners in Europe and to partners such as Taiwan43 and India in the Indo-Pacific. In the Middle East, Washington should seek to build a more unified and militarily capable coalition to check the Islamic Republic of Iran, while preserving Israel’s qualitative military edge and adhering fully to the law.44

A Terminal High Altitude Area Defense, or THAAD, interceptor missile launches during a flight test at the Ronald Reagan Ballistic Missile Defense Test Site in the Marshall Islands on August 30, 2019. (Courtesy photo via Department of Defense)

  • Improve America’s missile defense capabilities. The missile threat to the United States and its deployed forces continues to grow.45 The Biden administration should sustain efforts to strengthen American homeland and theater missile defenses. That should include continued improvements to the Ground-Based Midcourse Defense system, as well as efforts to capitalize on the successful November 2020 test of a Standard Missile-3 Block IIA interceptor against an intercontinental ballistic missile.46 Congress should also support U.S. Indo-Pacific Command’s request for a “360-degree persistent and integrated air defense capability in Guam.”47
  • Continue modernizing the U.S. nuclear triad. As Russia and China modernize their nuclear triads, the Pentagon is undertaking a vital and long-overdue effort to modernize all three legs of America’s nuclear triad, including the Ground-Based Strategic Deterrent, the B-21 bomber, and the Columbia-class submarine.48 The Biden administration should continue these modernization efforts and Congress should provide the necessary funding.49

  1. U.S. Department of Defense, “Summary of the 2018 National Defense Strategy of the United States of America,” January 26, 2018. (https://dod.defense.gov/Portals/1/Documents/pubs/2018-National-Defense-Strategy-Summary.pdf)
  2. U.S. Department of Defense, “2014 Quadrennial Defense Review,” March 4, 2014. (https://archive.defense.gov/pubs/2014_Quadrennial_Defense_Review.pdf)
  3. Bradley Bowman, “Dysfunctional Congress could leave soldiers behind,” The Hill, November 9, 2019. (https://thehill.com/opinion/national-security/469747-dysfunctional-congress-could-leave-soldiers-behind)
  4. Bradley Bowman, “Midterm Assessment: Defense,” Foundation for Defense of Democracies, January 31, 2019. (https://www.fdd.org/analysis/2019/01/31/midterm-assessment-defense)
  5. David Kilcullen and Kori Schake, “The Dragons and the Snakes: How the Rest Learned to Fight the West,” Remarks at an event hosted by the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, March 10, 2020. (https://www.fdd.org/events/2020/03/10/the-dragons-and-the-snakes)
  6. U.S. National Defense Strategy Commission, “Providing for the Common Defense,” November 13, 2018. (https://www.usip.org/publications/2018/11/providing-common-defense); Eric Edelman and Gary Roughead, “Implementing the National Defense Strategy,” Remarks at an event hosted by the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, January 1, 2018. (https://www.fdd.org/events/2019/01/28/implementing-the-national-defense-strategy)
  7. U.S. Department of Defense, “Summary of the 2018 National Defense Strategy of the United States of America,” January 26, 2018. (https://dod.defense.gov/Portals/1/Documents/pubs/2018-National-Defense-Strategy-Summary.pdf)
  8. The $671 billion number for fiscal year 2018 included $6 billion in emergency funding. U.S. Department of Defense, Office of the Undersecretary of Defense (Comptroller), “National Defense Budget Estimates for FY 2021,” April 2020, pages 264–265. (https://comptroller.defense.gov/Portals/45/Documents/defbudget/fy2021/FY21_Green_Book.pdf)
  9. U.S. Cyber Command, “U.S. Cyber Command History,” accessed December 3, 2020. (https://www.cybercom.mil/About/History)
  10. David E. Sanger, Nicole Perlroth, and Julian E. Barnes, “Billions Spent on U.S. Defenses Failed to Detect Giant Russian Hack,” The New York Times, December 18, 2020. (https://www.nytimes.com/2020/12/16/us/politics/russia-hack-putin-trump-biden.html)
  11. Secretary of Defense Mark T. Esper, U.S. Department of Defense, “Message to the Force on Accomplishments in Implementation of the National Defense Strategy,” July 7, 2020. (https://www.defense.gov/Newsroom/Transcripts/Transcript/Article/2266872/secretary-of-defense-mark-t-esper-message-to-the-force-on-accomplishments-in-im)
  12. U.S. Department of Defense, Office of the Undersecretary of Defense (Comptroller), “United States Department of Defense Fiscal Year 2021 Budget Request,” May 13, 2020. (https://comptroller.defense.gov/Portals/45/Documents/defbudget/fy2021/fy2021_Budget_Request_Overview_Book.pdf)
  13. House Armed Services Committee, “Future of Defense Task Force Report 2020,” September 23, 2020. (https://armedservices.house.gov/_cache/files/2/6/26129500-d208-47ba-a9f7-25a8f82828b0/424EB2008281A3C79BA8C7EA71890AE9.future-of-defense-task-force-report.pdf)
  14. John F. Sargent Jr., “Global Research and Development Expenditures: Fact Sheet,” Congressional Research Service, April 29, 2020. (https://fas.org/sgp/crs/misc/R44283.pdf)
  15. Secretary of Defense Mark T. Esper, U.S. Department of Defense, “Message to the Force on Accomplishments in Implementation of the National Defense Strategy,” July 7, 2020. (https://www.defense.gov/Newsroom/Transcripts/Transcript/Article/2266872/secretary-of-defense-mark-t-esper-message-to-the-force-on-accomplishments-in-im); see also: Christian Brose, The Kill Chain: Defending America in the Future of High-Tech Warfare (New York City: Hachette Books, 2020), pages 162–183.
  16. Christian Brose, The Kill Chain: Defending America in the Future of High-Tech Warfare (New York City: Hachette Books, 2020).
  17. U.S. National Defense Strategy Commission, “Providing for the Common Defense,” November 13, 2018, page v. (https://www.usip.org/publications/2018/11/providing-common-defense)
  18. Mark F. Cancian, “U.S. Military Forces in FY 2021: The Budget and Strategy Overview: Four Challenges and a Wild Card,” Center for Strategic and International Studies, October 20, 2020. (https://csis-website-prod.s3.amazonaws.com/s3fs-public/publication/201019_Cancian_FY2021_Budget_and_Strategy.pdf)
  19. Secretary of the Army Ryan McCarthy and Chief of Staff of the Army General James P. McConville, “Statement on the Posture of the United States Army,” Testimony before the Senate Committee on Armed Services, March 26, 2020. (https://www.armed-services.senate.gov/imo/media/doc/McCarthy–McConville_03-26-20.pdf)
  20. Vice Chief of Staff of the Army General Daniel Allyn, “Current State of Readiness of the U.S. Forces,” Testimony before the Senate Committee on Armed Services, February 8, 2017. (https://www.armed-services.senate.gov/imo/media/doc/Allyn_02-08-17.pdf#page=5)
  21. Andrew Feickert and Brendan W. McGarry, “The Army’s Modernization Strategy: Congressional Oversight Considerations,” Congressional Research Service, February 7, 2020. (https://fas.org/sgp/crs/natsec/R46216.pdf)
  22. Secretary of the Army Ryan McCarthy and Chief of Staff of the Army General James P. McConville, “Statement on the Posture of the United States Army,” Testimony before the Senate Committee on Armed Services, March 26, 2020. (https://www.armed-services.senate.gov/imo/media/doc/McCarthy–McConville_03-26-20.pdf)
  23. Bradley Bowman and John Hardie, “Aligning America’s ends and means in the Indo-Pacific,” Defense News, April 22, 2020. (https://www.defensenews.com/opinion/commentary/2020/04/22/aligning-americas-ends-and-means-in-the-indo-pacific)
  24. U.S. Department of Defense, Office of the Undersecretary of Defense (Comptroller), “United States Department of Defense Fiscal Year 2020 Budget Request,” March 2019. (https://comptroller.defense.gov/Portals/45/Documents/defbudget/fy2020/fy2020_Budget_Request_Overview_Book.pdf); see also: National Defense Strategy Commission, “Providing for the Common Defense,” November 13, 2018. (https://www.usip.org/publications/2018/11/providing-common-defense); Seamus Daniels and Todd Harrison, “What does the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2019 Mean for Defense?” Center for Strategic and International Studies, August 5, 2019. (https://www.csis.org/analysis/what-does-bipartisan-budget-act-2019-mean-defense); Bipartisan Budget Act of 2019, Pub. L. 116-37, 1049 Stat. 133, codified as amended at 2 U.S.C. § 900. (https://www.congress.gov/bill/116th-congress/house-bill/3877)
  25. U.S. Department of Defense, Office of the Undersecretary of Defense (Comptroller), “U.S. Department of Defense Financial Improvement and Audit Remediation Report (FIAR) Report,” June 2020. (https://comptroller.defense.gov/Portals/45/documents/fiar/FIAR_Report_June_2020.pdf)
  26. U.S. Department of Defense, Office of Inspector General, “Fiscal Year 2021 Top DOD Management Challenges,” October 15, 2020. (https://media.defense.gov/2020/Nov/18/2002537497/-1/-1/1/TOP%20DOD%20MANAGEMENT%20CHALLENGES%20FISCAL%20YEAR%202021.PDF)
  27. Clifford D. May, U.S. Army Chief of Staff General James C. McConville, and Bradley Bowman, “Competing in the Pacific: A Conversation with U.S. Army Chief of Staff General James C. McConville,” Remarks at an event hosted by the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, November 19, 2020. (https://www.fdd.org/events/2020/11/19/competing-in-the-pacific)
  28. Secretary of the Air Force Barbara Barrett and Chief of Staff of the U.S. Air Force General David L. Goldfein, “United States Air Force Posture Statement Fiscal Year 2021,” Testimony before the Senate Committee on Armed Services, March 3, 2020. (https://www.armed-services.senate.gov/imo/media/doc/Barrett–Goldfein_03-03-20.pdf); John Venable, “U.S. Air Force,” The Heritage Foundation, November 17, 2020. (https://www.heritage.org/2021-index-us-military-strength/assessment-us-military-power/us-air-force); U.S. Government Accountability Office, “Weapon System Sustainment,” November 2020. (https://www.gao.gov/assets/720/710794.pdf)
  29. Mark Montgomery, “Is Esper’s New Plan for the Navy Enough for the Indo-Pacific?” War on the Rocks, October 21, 2020. (https://warontherocks.com/2020/10/is-espers-new-plan-for-the-navy-enough-for-the-indo-pacific)
  30. General Stephen R. Lyons, “Statement Before the Senate Armed Services Committee On the State of the Command,” Testimony before the Senate Committee on Armed Services, February 25, 2020. (https://www.armed-services.senate.gov/imo/media/doc/Lyons_02-25-20.pdf); see also: Clifford D. May, General Stephen R. Lyons, and Bradley Bowman, “Military Mobility and Great Power Competition: A Conversation with USTRANSCOM Commander General Stephen R. Lyons,” Remarks at an event hosted by the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, August 12, 2020. (https://www.fdd.org/events/2020/08/12/military-mobility-and-great-power-competition)
  31. Ed. Bradley Bowman, “Defending Forward: Securing America by Projecting Military Power Abroad,” Foundation for Defense of Democracies, December 15, 2020. (https://www.fdd.org/analysis/2020/12/15/defending-forward)
  32. Quint Forgey, “‘Outraged’: Trump faces condemnation for clearing protesters, threatening military force,” Politico, June 2, 2020. (https://www.politico.com/news/2020/06/02/trump-protests-military-force-296368)
  33. S. Department of Defense, Office of the Undersecretary of Defense (Comptroller), “National Defense Budget Estimate for FY2021,” April 2020, pages 292–294. (https://comptroller.defense.gov/Portals/45/Documents/defbudget/fy2021/FY21_Green_Book.pdf)
  34. Bradley Bowman and Ben Hodges, “Worth Preserving: US Military Posture in Germany,” Defense One, October 5, 2020. (https://www.defenseone.com/ideas/2020/10/worth-preserving-us-military-posture-germany/168974)
  35. Bradley Bowman and David Maxwell, “Maximum Pressure 2.0: A Plan for North Korea,” Foundation for Defense of Democracies, December 5, 2019. (https://www.fdd.org/analysis/2019/12/3/maximum-pressure-2)
  36. Bradley Bowman, “Securing technological superiority requires a joint US-Israel effort,” Defense News, May 22, 2020. (https://www.defensenews.com/opinion/commentary/2020/05/22/securing-technological-superiority-requires-a-joint-us-israel-effort)
  37. William M. (Mac) Thornberry National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2021, H.R.6395, 116th Congress (2020). (https://www.congress.gov/116/crpt/hrpt617/CRPT-116hrpt617.pdf)
  38. Eric Sayers and Mark Montgomery, “Seizing the Advantage in the Asia-Pacific,” Foundation for Defense of Democracies, December 15, 2020. (https://www.fdd.org/analysis/2020/12/15/defending-forward-seizing-the-advantage-in-the-asia-pacific)
  39. Bradley Bowman and John Hardie, “Aligning America’s ends and means in the Indo-Pacific,” Defense News, April 22, 2020. (https://www.defensenews.com/opinion/commentary/2020/04/22/aligning-americas-ends-and-means-in-the-indo-pacific)
  40. The focus of the review should be on preventing a resurgence of the ISIS caliphate in Iraq and Syria and depriving terrorists in Afghanistan of the breathing space they seek to once again conduct terrorist attacks against the U.S. homeland. Either development would not only endanger Americans, but would also siphon additional defense resources from the Indo-Pacific. Ed. Bradley Bowman, “Defending Forward: Securing America by Projecting Military Power Abroad,” Foundation for Defense of Democracies, December 15, 2020. (https://www.fdd.org/analysis/2020/12/15/defending-forward)
  41. Bradley Bowman, “To Succeed in Competition With China, Don’t Abandon the Middle East,” Foundation for Defense of Democracies, September 10, 2020. (https://www.fdd.org/analysis/2020/09/10/competition-china-dont-abandon-middle-east)
  42. Bradley Bowman, “Objectives of U.S. Arms Sales to the Gulf: Examining Strategic Goals, Risks, and Benefits,” Foundation for Defense of Democracies, June 16, 2020. (https://www.fdd.org/analysis/2020/06/16/objective-of-us-arms-sales-to-the-gulf)
  43. Bradley Bowman and Andrea Sticker, “Arm Taiwan—but Skip the Nukes,” Foreign Policy, August 4, 2020. (https://foreignpolicy.com/2020/08/04/taiwan-military-aid-nuclear-weapons)
  44. Jeremy M. Sharp, “U.S. Foreign Aid to Israel,” Congressional Research Service, November 16, 2020. (https://fas.org/sgp/crs/mideast/RL33222.pdf)
  45. S. Department of Defense, Office of the Secretary of Defense, “2019 Missile Defense Review,” January 2019. (https://www.defense.gov/Portals/1/Interactive/2018/11-2019-Missile-Defense-Review/The%202019%20MDR_Executive%20Summary.pdf); “Missiles of China,” Center for Strategic and International Studies, July 16, 2020. (https://missilethreat.csis.org/country/china)
  46. Bradley Bowman and Behnam Ben Taleblu, “Successful SM-3 weapons test offers missile defense opportunity,” Defense News, November 21, 2020. (https://www.defensenews.com/opinion/commentary/2020/11/21/successful-sm-3-weapons-test-offers-missile-defense-opportunity)
  47. Bradley Bowman and Major Shane Praiswater, “Guam needs Aegis Ashore,” Defense News, August 25, 2020. (https://www.defensenews.com/opinion/commentary/2020/08/25/guam-needs-aegis-ashore)
  48. This modernization effort should also include the Long-Range Standoff Weapon as well as nuclear command, control, and communication systems associated with the nuclear triad.
  49. A modernized nuclear triad would help secure the American homeland and provide a sound foundation for genuine arms control negotiations, which should demand strong verification measures, address all types of nuclear weapons, and include Russia and China.

Issues:

U.S. Defense Policy and Strategy