Pentagon Giving Away Needed Capability

On the path to ceding a similar fate, Pentagon leaders seem to echo how Macbeth described the perpetuation of his fruitless days, “tomorrow, tomorrow, and tomorrow, Creeps in this petty pace from day to day…The way to dusty death. Out, out, brief candle!”

The U.S. military’s conventional deterrence and global leadership will also extinguish if time is continually wasted on uncertain wishes for an equally uncertain tomorrow. Unlike the financial state or strategic posturing of American military forces, there is one variable of which neither Congress nor the Executive has control—one that burns away irrespective of perception: time.

Not only are we unable to control it, we can rarely anticipate what it may bring. The U.S. entered “brief” missions in Iraq and Afghanistan that resulted in two nearly twenty year conflicts still smoldering. Putin decided to invade Ukraine much earlier than defense planners and leaders anticipated—on his timeline, not ours. Time slips away from war plans, even when there are the people, the funds, and the strategies set to define the actions encompassed by it.

Bureaucracy Lumbers On Rinse and Repeat

The Biden Pentagon outlined a three-Future Years Defense Program (FYDP) approach to resourcing their National Defense Strategy (NDS) across the five-year defense budget and planning cycles totaling 15 years. The first budget window focuses on modernizing the nuclear triad, along with space, cyber and future tech investments. The third five-year tranche will focus on bringing this future technology into the hands of warfighters. And the second, and proven to be most difficult, is fusing new technology with combat-ready equipment or taking the gamble of not.

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It only takes looking back over recent administrations to hear the rhythms of history hum the solemn requiem of the Third Offset Strategy. Nine fiscal years later, one could argue the three-FYDP approach met the moment in 2016. But the military balance has shifted too starkly away from the United States in Asia since then, and more urgent action and dramatic change is needed now. The military does not have the luxury of manufactured peace until a time of our choosing later this decade vis-à-vis Taiwan. Advertising that we will be really serious and ready five years from now only invites challengers to act sooner.

From characterizations of effort ranging from “unbelievably slow” to “too late,” the Pentagon cannot seem to break out of neutral and stop playing catch up.


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