JOE SESTAK: Why we need defense reform

 

TO: Robert Field

FROM: Joe Sestak, Admiral (Rtd.) and former Congressman

Robert,

We have lost command of the Western Pacific to China, according to our Pacific Commander. Does anyone else in the current presidential field know how to reform the military to be more effective at less cost, by harnessing cyber and other new technologies?

In my op-ed in the Newark Star-Ledger(below), I wrote that while our military still ranks as the best in the world, it is losing that position because too many vested interests hold it back from responding to the challenges of tomorrow instead of those of yesteryear. The issue is not how much money we are spending, but how we are spending it. We need to transform our military forcesby focusing on force posture, not force structure. Instead of measuring military readiness in terms of overall size and numbers, we must focus on metrics of capability, particularly in technology, and positioning.

For example, rather than buying more submarines at $2 billion each, we can develop a netted sensor information system to track enemy submarines, and then direct an aircraft to drop a torpedo for the “kill.” This is even more germane as water becomes translucent, eventually transparent, by emerging technologies. Rather than double-down on less relevant, expensive units, we must invest in new technology that gives us better capability, not just more unnecessary capacity at more cost.

We need to realize that the key battlefield today is no longer necessarily on land, on air or on sea – it is in cyberspace. Some of the greatest national security threats we face cannot be defeated or defended by traditional military hardware, but only by greatly enhanced cyberspace warfare, including both offensive cyber-warfare and cyber-security.

Precisely how such technological capability affects traditional warfare is why numbers as the measure of our military might are obsolete. Take the most powerful Navy “unit” — the aircraft carrier. Today, one carrier can strike eight times the targets in 24 hours as it could two decades ago — giving us 80 carrier equivalents as compared to just 10 carriers a few years ago. An investment in the new domain of cyberspace from just 10 carrier equivalents (1 carrier “unit”) would provide an immense growth in warfare capability.

In fact, our Pacific commander now says that we have lost command of the Western Pacific — the first loss of command of the seas since World War II. He has said that we need to redirect our investment to put more into cyberspace.

We need smart defense reform that can allow us to do more with less– focusing on cyberspace, sensors, robotics, artificial intelligence and other new technologies that reflect what our military needs today. We must break out of the paradigm of the military–industrial–congressional complex. Without such reform, we will permit those innovative warriors of other nations such as China to command future warfare.

 

NEW JERSEY STAR LEDGER

WHY WE NEED DEFENSE REFORM Posted Nov 10, 2019

As we deal with the rise of China on the world stage, along with other autocratic regimes like Russia and non-state actors like ISIS, we must invest in controlling transformative warfare as we have done in the past, Joe Sestak says.

 

By Star-Ledger Guest Columnist

 By Joe Sestak

It is said that in an early draft of his famous speech General Dwight D. Eisenhower warned against the “military–industrial–congressional complex” before ultimately scrapping the third adjective. He should have kept it in. Our military still ranks as the best in the world, but it is losing that position because too many vested interests hold it back from responding to the challenges of tomorrow instead of those of yesteryear.

The issue is not how much money we are spending, but how we are spending it. With our nation’s defense budget having increased for the fifth year in a row, we are approaching spending levels reached during the height of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. More than the next seven countries combined, it is also more than at any point since World War II.

I know how difficult it is to reform the Pentagon budget. As the three-star admiral in charge of the Navy’s Warfare Requirements, my controversial proposed reduction in ship levels from 375 to 260 challenged the long-held assumption that numbers were the best measure of military capability. I saw a future dominated by whoever best harnesses cyberspace – and still do. However, my proposal proved unnerving to those in the military-industrial-congressional complex.

For far too long we have continued to mark our military prowess by the size of our forces: believing that numbers of ships, planes, and brigades is what most matters — just like during the Cold War. But the right metric is now knowledge gained by sensors, satellites, and drones, and our capability to quickly turn this information into swift action, particularly through the new domain of warfare, cyberspace.

We need to transform our military forces by focusing on force posture, not force structure. Instead of measuring military readiness in terms of overall size and numbers, we must focus on metrics of capability, particularly in technology, and positioning. For example, rather than buying more submarines at $2 billion each, we can develop a netted sensor information system to track enemy submarines, and then direct an aircraft to drop a torpedo for the “kill.” This is even more germane as water becomes translucent, eventually transparent, by emerging technologies. Rather than double-down on less relevant, expensive units, we must invest in new technology that gives us better capability, not just more unnecessary capacity at more cost.

We need to realize that the key battlefield today is no longer necessarily on land, on air or on sea – it is in cyberspace. Some of the greatest national security threats we face cannot be defeated or defended by traditional military hardware, but only by greatly enhanced cyberspace warfare, including both offensive cyber-warfare and cyber-security.

Other countries’ dominance of cyberspace, whether for cyber-attacks or for leveraging actionable intelligence, would do devastating harm to our present military as well as to our economy and people. We need our Defense Department, in conjunction with our intelligence agencies and interagency processes, to rule this new domain of warfare, dominating the commons of cyberspace as it once did the commons of the seas and of the air. And it certainly will not be able to command the seas or air without control of cyberspace.

Precisely how such technological capability affects traditional warfare is why numbers as the measure of our military might are obsolete. Take the most powerful Navy “unit” — the aircraft carrier. Today, one carrier can strike eight times the targets in 24 hours as it could two decades ago — giving us 80 carrier equivalents as compared to just 10 carriers a few years ago. An investment in the new domain of cyberspace from just 10 carrier equivalents (1 carrier “unit”) would provide an immense growth in warfare capability. As we deal with the rise of China on the world stage, along with other autocratic regimes like Russia and non-state actors like ISIS, we must invest in controlling this transformative warfare area as we have done in the past.

I’m glad to see Congress convening a bipartisan “Future of Defense Task Force” to tackle the issue of defense priorities. We need smart defense reform that can allow us to do more with less – focusing on cyberspace, sensors, robotics, artificial intelligence and other new technologies that reflect what our military needs today, rather than what it needed a half century ago. In doing so, it must break out of the paradigm of the military–industrial–congressional complex. (When I asked one congressman why they had come to serve on the House Armed Services Committee, the answer was, “I have a depot to protect.”) Without such reform, we will permit those innovative warriors of other nations such as China to command future warfare.

 

Joe Sestak is a former Navy Admiral and Congressman (PA-07), and is currently a Democratic Presidential candidate.

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Updated: November 12, 2019 — 10:42 am