Trump can apply his business skills to start military rebuilding.
The president-elect can apply his business skills to fiscal and strategic advantage
President-elect Trump is testing the ways he can apply his business skills to his new job. He can learn a lot from that process, as can we, about how he can rebuild our military. The first test was his tweet saying that the Air Force’s contract with Boeing for two new Air Force One aircraft should be cancelled because it was too costly at $4 billion. The second came last week when he criticized Lockheed’s $400 billion F-35 program saying its costs were out of control. Both of Mr. Trump’s criticisms were right. If the life cycle cost of the two Air Force One aircraft is $4 billion, it’s too much. The problem-plagued F-35 chronically falls short of mission requirements. The Defense Department estimated its life-cycle cost at about $1 trillion.
Mr. Trump was undoubtedly looking for leverage in future negotiations rather than thinking about cancelling either program. He needs to think deeper than that and in different terms.
During the campaign Mr. Trump often said that our military should be so strong that nobody will mess with us. In September he said, “We want to deter, avoid and prevent conflict through our unquestioned military dominance.”
As a businessman, he knows instinctively that reaching that position of strength can’t be accomplished by just throwing money at the Pentagon. It will require a lot of careful thinking and planning in how to deal with the threats America faces. They come from many sources and in myriad forms.
Important examples of where Mr. Trump can use his business skills are in meeting one of our most serious threats, China, a nation he has frequently spoken of as an adversary, and in performing a proper and necessary defense planning analysis.
China’s military budget will reportedly roughly double between now and 2020 to over $230 billion. But that figure is misleading because China never reveals how much it spends on its military. Part of that spending is concealed by passing it through non-military channels. But China intends to dominate the entire South China Sea and surrounding nations, including our allies Japan and Taiwan, which means it intends to structure its forces to push us out of that area. And it evidently has no intention to rein in North Korea, its dangerous client state.
A recent article in Aviation Week and Space Technology magazine gave an example of how rapidly China is evolving its military capabilities to back up its intentions. Entitled “Long Ranger,” it described what may be a new Chinese air-to-air missile with an estimated range of one hundred twenty miles. (Our best air-to-air missile has a range of about twenty miles).
If it is what it appears to be, the missile will enable Chinese fighters to shoot down slow-moving aircraft such as tankers, JSTARS battle management aircraft and AWACS airborne early warning aircraft. It would be a game changer if the Chinese were able to shoot down those aircraft from distances too far for our fighters to protect them.
The Chinese have also claimed (probably falsely) that their new radars can detect stealth aircraft, rendering them obsolete. Even if what China claims isn’t true, someone will “solve” stealth soon, nullifying a huge technological edge on which we’ve come to depend.
The Chinese are also reportedly preparing the test of a missile designed to destroy satellites in orbit. It successfully tested such a missile in 2007, leaving a trail of debris in space.
A Chinese anti-satellite capability would be another game changer. America’s military and intelligence community are almost entirely dependent on satellites for intelligence gathering, navigation and secure communications. We don’t have the ability to protect those hundreds of satellites (some so classified we don’t admit they exist) from a Chinese kinetic kill capability.
That brings us to the most important context in which Mr. Trump should learn to use his skills. Defense planning is all about determining, measuring and planning to deal with our enemies’ intentions and capabilities. The “Quadrennial Defense Review” — QDR in Pentagonese — is supposed to do all that, but it has become a bloated bureaucratic exercise that fails to perform the task it’s supposed to do.
In 2012, Defense Secretary Bob Gates announced massive cuts in defense spending that he and President Obama had agreed on even before the QDR was performed. The QDR was rendered a useless exercise to paper-over what had already been decided.
We have to do better, and we can. The formula that the Reagan administration developed was called “Defense Guidance.” It gathered together the best intelligence analysts and products of the intelligence community to measure which of the threats were significant enough that they had to be dealt with. From that a national defense strategy was developed to deter or defeat those threats. Then, and only then, was a defense budget created to retire what we didn’t need and to develop what was needed to deter or defeat those threats.
Incoming Defense Decretary Gen. James Mattis will need to revive the “Defense Guidance” formula and get the study done as his first and most important task. It will have to be done under the president’s guidance in secret and then revealed, in part, to congress and the public.
If Mr. Trump can succeed in applying his business skills in those contexts — not just in cost-cutting but in taking advantage of and increasing our strategic and technological advantages, he and Gen. Mattis and Gen. Flynn will rebuild our military so that we can deter or defeat any significant threat.