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It Ain't About the Hardware - By Gordon Adams | Foreign Policy


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read a book called Market Forces.

Still another is about the future size and deployment of forces. Should they be forward, or held in the United States? Should the Army and Marines shrink, or stay the size they plan to be by 2016? Will the Navy get smaller and smaller, or grow to 300 ships or more?

Lovely, interesting questions, rife with huge disagreements among the military services, between the services and the Office of the Secretary of Defense, left-leaning think tanks versus right-leaning think tanks. Reams of paper, videos, testimony, the vast outreach of the defense-thinking complex.

It's all great stuff; it keeps consultants, bureaucrats, elected officials, and the "chatterers" busy. But, and here's the bottom line up front, if the Pentagon does not use the Strategic Choices and Management Review (SCMR), the next budget planning cycle, and the forthcoming Quadrennial Defense Review (QDR) to deal with its management issues, and if Congress fails to heed the need for management reform, all that debate will be irrelevant.

It won't matter if you want more planes or fewer, more troops or a smaller force, the right hardware, or the opportunity to confront or befriend China. Declining defense budgets, already well underway, combined with the costs of people and property, will eat the tradeoff space that allows anyone to make sensible policy and hardware decisions.

It's not just me talking. There was a striking letter and event on Monday, June 3, in which defense analysts from left to right joined forces in petitioning the administration and the Congress to ditch the politics of defense and focus on the management dilemma.

Twenty-five defense analysts got together on the letter, folks who spend many a happy hour debating each other on defense and national security. They ranged from Mackenzie Eaglen and Tom Donnelly of the American Enterprise Institute, Dov Zakheim of the Center for Strategic and International Studies, and Todd Harrison of the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments, to Larry Korb from the Center for American Progress, Chris Preble of the CATO Institute, and myself and my colleagues Barry Blechman and Russell Rumbaugh from the Stimson Center.

And we agreed on some critical fundamentals that DOD, the White House, and Congress need to tend to: the encrusted and politically reinforced barnacles of pay and benefits for the troops and retirees, the sprawling physical infrastructure of the military, and what Secretary Hagel himself once described as the "bloated" back office of administration at the Pentagon. There is no mystery meat here, no new research discoveries that need be made. The need for reform in these three things has been blindingly obvious to any observer for a very long time.

The military compensation and benefit system, generous to the forces, is now eating defense resources at an alarming rate. As the letter points out, military compensation costs per active troop rose 56 percent in constant dollars from FY 2001 to FY 2012, doubling in current, inflated dollars.

So it's a LITTLE about the hardware. 

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