The Cost of Revolution

By Major John Gamboa, USMC

Framing discussions of how to exploit the full potential of the RMA is a strategy-resource mismatch that is causing great discord within DoD and Congress. As the Quadrennial Defense Review (QDR) and the National Defense Panel (NDP) highlighted, a large force and substantial quantities of equipment are required to execute our National Military Strategy, which requires us to be able to fight and win two nearly simultaneous major theater wars. This is not cheap.

DoD analysts are assuming a $250 billion top line (adjusted for inflation) annual defense budget for the foreseeable future, and the ramifications of such a cap are not encouraging. Independent analyses, as well as reports from the operating forces, have shown that $250 billion is inadequate to maintain the desired level of readiness and sustainability. Although this figure represents approximately 2.5% of our current gross domestic product, it falls well short of the estimated 4% needed to adequately fund our current two major theater war force structure.

The Quadrennial Defense Review
summed up the current fiscal realities:

In an environment where the budget is not growing and the highest priority has been accorded to maintaining the forces and their readiness, the primary mechanism for adjusting to these unplanned expenses has been a yearly postponement in some planned modernization goals. 2

Those "unplanned expenses" typically have resulted from underfunding in depot maintenance and real property maintenance and unfunded contingency operations, a situation that has been exacerbated by unrealized savings from cost-reduction initiatives. This has led to a migration of money from procurement to the underfunded accounts. With DoD now approaching a 50-year low in budgeted buying power, modernizing rapidly aging equipment is a daunting task.

The enactment of the Balanced Budget and Taxpayer Relief Acts of 1997 further increased pressures on DoD. Accounting for inflation, DoD purchasing power is projected to decrease by $30 billion between fiscal years 1997 and 2002. 3 Given the department's commitment to raising annual procurement expenditures to $49-$60 billion over the next five years, there will be some difficult tradeoffs. The search for modernization funding may force reductions in infrastructure costs and sets up the possibility of additional force structure cuts.

During the QDR process, the services and OSD were reluctant to recommend falling off the two-major-theater-war strategy for fear of force structure and commensurate funding cuts. DoD ultimately endorsed the unaffordable strategy, while harboring hopes that Congress would save the day with funding increases. The recently signed fiscal year 1999 defense appropriations bill provides $250.5 billion for DoD, but this is inadequate to correct our continuing resource-strategy mismatch. Responding to extraordinary appeals from the Joint Chiefs of Staff for an additional $27.5 billion over the next five years to correct critical servicewide readiness problems, Congress earmarked $9 billion for DoD within its year-end "emergency" supplemental. With only about $1 billion of this funding expected to go toward readiness shortfalls, this legislation is just a Band-Aid to current readiness problems, because it fails to address the root cause of the resource-strategy mismatch that perpetuates the inadequacy of an inflation-adjusted $250 billion top line.

The RMA Alternative

Examining future threat scenarios, congressional defense committees found all projections pointing to the improbability of fighting even one large-scale conventional war involving cross-border aggression during the next 15-20 years. Members of Congress recognized this unique opportunity—a period when no near-peer competitor is capable of challenging U.S. might conventionally—and realized that there would be no better time to accept the near-term risk associated with pursuing the leap-ahead technologies offered by the RMA.

Within Congress, Senators Dan Coats (R-IN) and Joseph Lieberman (D-CT) of the Senate Armed Services Committee have stepped forward as the leading proponents of RMA implementation. Both have made it clear that they will introduce legislation imposing Congress's will if they are not satisfied with OSD's efforts.

The timing certainly appears right to pursue an RMA, but Congress has failed to take action to correct our out-of-synch National Military Strategy. In a speech to senior Army leaders, Senator Lieberman noted the difficulty in finding the resources to fund the RMA while maintaining forces for two major theater wars:

We are now in the annual process of authorizing $257 billion for the military . . . if we accept this budget we won't provide resources to implement the NDP's recommendations in a serious way, because we simply do not have the resources to do both. And the likelihood of getting more to do both is small. 4

As the senator makes clear, no one has yet found a way to free the estimated $5-10 billion needed to jump-start the RMA process. Even so, Senator Coats says that the as-yet nonexistent money to fund joint experimentation should be funded and protected, regardless of other requirements:

The joint experimentation process must be adequately resourced. Experimentation funds should be fenced by the Pentagon comptrollers and not reallocated to pay bills during the budget review. . . . But, we cannot let joint experimentation take a backseat to individual service initiatives concerning future capabilities. The fiscal environment precludes us from achieving each service's vision of future capabilities. 5

This is an example of the type of logic—pitting the services against OSD and the Joint Staff—that is making the services wary of the emerging course of RMA implementation. And the Secretary of Defense's recent establishment of an RMA Oversight Council using the membership of the Defense Resources Board is an ominous signal that OSD sees the issue as one that ultimately must be addressed by shifting resources.

In context with other fiscal pressures facing DoD, the RMA is just the latest in a long list of unfunded mandates that are placing service funding authority under constant assault. Many joint programs are valid, but they compete with service-unique programs and place service core competencies at greater and greater risk. These competing priorities are forcing the services to choose between what they know and what they need, and what external elements think is best for them. The impact is clear: for every funded joint program, there is likely to be an unfunded service-unique program.

Funding Pressures

From the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs . The Chairman's role in service resource allocation matters has undergone a controversial yet expansive evolution. Beginning with the Goldwater-Nichols Defense Reorganization Act of 1986 and culminating in Joint Vision 2010 , the Chairman has gradually yet steadily sought to increase his programming authority. This has caused concern among the service chiefs, who see only a limited role for the Chairman in deciding how service resources should be spent.

Empowered by Goldwater-Nichols, the Chairman exercises his programming authority using the Chairman's Program Recommendation (CPR). What began as a simple correspondence to the Secretary of Defense has grown into an exhaustive list of joint programs in need of support. With input taken almost exclusively from the unified commanders-in-chief and Joint Staff, a process that should balance service needs against those of the joint community instead has tended to ignore the feedback of the service chiefs.

Programs meeting Secretary of Defense criteria for support then are included in the Defense Planning Guidance. These join the growing list of programs that the service chiefs are expected to fund in their program objective memorandums (POMs). Unsurprisingly, service programs bear the brunt of paying for the Chairman's priorities.

Failure to comply with the CPR is addressed in the post-POM assessment—the Chairman's Program Assessment—which provides recommendations to the Secretary of Defense on how service resources should be adjusted to best serve the needs of the joint community.

When the Chairman released Joint Vision 2010 in 1996, the services believed they were receiving an unconstraining vision of desired endstate capabilities for consideration while refining and implementing service operational concepts. What has evolved, however, is a document that is now being used to measure program worthiness.

From Joint Experimentation . Facing increased pressure from Congress, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs recently has taken bold steps to expedite Joint Vision 2010 implementation and joint experimentation. In December 1997, he announced that Commander-in-Chief, Atlantic Command (USCinCACom), would assume control of five Chairman-controlled activities instrumental to current joint experimentation efforts:

  • Joint Warfighting Center
  • Joint Communications Support Element
  • 0/00 Joint Command and Control Warfare Center
  • Joint Battle Center
  • Joint Warfighting Analysis Center

By transferring these activities to USCinCACom, the Chairman has inserted a much-needed unity of effort. Although J-7 (operational plans and interoperability) and J-8 (force structure, resources, and assessments) have struggled mightily to develop road maps and implementation plans to tie all the joint experimentation ends together, a multitude of problems remain. Chief among these is the uneven playing field that pits unvalidated joint requirements against validated service programs.

Service programs must comply with DoD Instruction 5000—which lays out the process for initiating and validating program initiatives; many joint initiatives, however, lack the validated mission needs statement and operational requirements documents required by DoD 5000. Nevertheless, the joint community continues to clamor for additional money to purchase a never-ending list of "neat ideas." The fact that many of these ideas lack the analytical rigor necessary for cost-benefit comparison does not seem to deter the joint community from pursuing claims on service resources.

Unfortunately, many organizational and resourcing questions remain. Where will USCinCACom get the increased funding needed to execute its new responsibilities? Will service-unique experimentation efforts and funding be subsumed into a larger joint experimentation effort? How will material solutions transition from successful experimentation to full-fledged acquisition programs? With so many uncoordinated and disconnected ongoing efforts—National Defense Panel follow-up studies; leading-edge science and technology efforts; J-5's 1998 Joint Strategy Review/Unified Campaign Plan review; J-6's C4ISR Decision Support Center initiative; Defense Planning Guidance-directed RMA studies; 24 OSD/Joint Staff studies; 70-plus Joint Warfighting Analysis Center contracts, Defense Science Board summer studies, etc.—when will the Joint Staff reveal a strategy that ties this multitude of RMA efforts under one overarching strategic umbrella?

Until these questions are addressed, the services will remain wary of joint experimentation plans that jeopardize service experimentation efforts while creating new bills for them to pay.

From Congress . Any optimism that congressional plus-ups to the DoD top line will save us has been dashed. The 1998 House Appropriations Committee language sent the department a clear message:

As a result of the recently approved Budget Agreement . . . future defense bills will be a zero-sum game. . . . Should OSD and the services persist in underfunding critical programs or resorting to budget gimmicks . . . they should do so knowing full well that these problems will be corrected only through reductions to other budgeted programs. 6

This message makes clear that the services will be held tightly to their fiscal guidance, but Congress continually has shown an inability to suppress its own appetite for excess. Although the balanced budget agreement legislates fiscal discipline, the fiscal year 1999 DoD budget legislation is full of pork-barrel programs that serve interests other than national defense. In addition to needed contingency supplementals, Congress has provided money for unrequested procurement, construction, and job-producing programs that cater to home districts. This "tip of the iceberg" funding—although it would appear to benefit the services—leaves the services facing unfunded costs for associated operations-and-maintenance requirements. These requirements sap money from higher priority programs.

The services' inability to fund all of these external mandates seems to be of little consequence to those who continue to apply the pressure. At this point, each service has little choice but to disobey elements of the Defense Secretary's programming guidance. This can result in potentially debilitating shifts in service program and budget allocations as OSD analysts review the service POMs and "adjust" programs with little regard for the service strategies on which they are built. The magnitude of these funding shifts should not be underestimated; more than $9 billion was shifted during the department's fiscal years 99-03 program review and $45 billion was reallocated during the fiscal year 99 budget review.

Shaping Implementation

DoD has made enormous progress in providing programmatic oversight of service investment strategies. Yet, what began as moderate, beneficial guidance has burgeoned into overwhelming, stovepiped, and often contradictory mandates. With the Office of the Secretary of Defense now fully committed to a rapid RMA transformation, the department's inclination to strap new technology onto a flawed two-major-theater-war strategy is certain to disrupt the services' ability to provide ready, capable forces.

The responsibility for shaping DoD's RMA implementation strategy is squarely in the services' court. If they fail to articulate service transformation strategies, OSD and Congress will step in and synchronize the process. Unfortunately, service visions are at risk of becoming subordinate to the Chairman's, and those who fail to adequately fund the Chairman's vision of the RMA are likely to face additional funding shifts.

Pursuing the RMA is the right thing to do. The problem with our current approach is that too much power has been placed in the hands of too few. There are many paths to the ultimate destination; to allow one line of thinking to dominate and suppress the others is sure to put us on the wrong path. It is critical that OSD, Congress, and the services work together to develop a holistic approach to integrating the RMA into the National Military Strategy. Only by creating an environment that supports service core competencies and innovation at the lowest levels will we be able to realize the full potential of the RMA.

Major Gamboa is an infantry officer who recently completed a tour at the Pentagon working in Programs and Resources Department, Headquarters, U.S. Marine Corps. He currently is attending the Marine Corps Command and Staff College.

   1. Senator Joe Lieberman, speech to the Association of the United States Army, Washington, DC, 26 February 1998. back to article
   2. William S. Cohen, Report of the Quadrennial Defense Review (Washington, DC: Government Printing Office, May 1997), p. 20.
back to article
   3. Congressional Budget Office, The Economic and Budget Outlook: An Update (Washington, DC: Government Printing Office, September 1997), sect. 4, ch. 2. back to article
   4. Lieberman, speech to the Association of the United States Army. back to article
   5. Senator Dan Coats, "Joint Experimentation: Unlocking the Promise of Future Capabilities," Joint Forces Quarterly (Autumn/Winter 1997/1998), pp. 13-19. back to article
   6. H.R. 2266 Defense Department FY98 Appropriations Bill (Washington, DC: Government Printing Office, 25 July 1997). back to article



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