Budget cuts for the next World War

Asymmetric threats have redefined war, and the Internet revolution has blended the product and service world like never before. Imperilled by fiscal stress across the developed world, particularly in the US, a major transformation is underway in modern warfare

Vivek Lall Delhi


The revolution in military affairs has led all nations to respond enthusiastically to emerging technologies. The growing reality is that warfare is entering a new arena, including cyber and space initiatives, where information is the chief currency. This shift is due to the information revolution sweeping humankind. Information superiority aims at reducing one’s observation-to-action loop (observation–orientation–decision–action), while elongating the enemy’s.

The global endeavour is to add ‘force multipliers’ that significantly increase the combat potential of troops, raising the probability of success. The key emerging technologies are precision guidance and stealth products; unmanned platforms; command, control, communications, computers, intelligence, information, surveillance and reconnaissance (C4I2SR) systems; and the expansion of warfare from three dimensions (land, sea, and air) to five, adding space and information warfare.

Fiscal constraints in the United States of America are real, and the effects of sequestration, while delayed, will become increasingly important in US spending decisions. In 2011, President Barack Obama signed the Budget Control Act, introducing a 10 per cent across-the-board spending cuts for the Department of Defense (DOD), which went into effect in early 2013. Those decisions from the administration and Congress have led to examinations of the existing programmes and overwhelming focus on their costs. Sequestration calls for a whopping $1.2 trillion in spending cuts, with half of that amount coming from the DOD.

On February 28 this year, testifying before the House Armed Services Committee, Pentagon leaders said the planned cuts could continue and affect military preparedness, readiness and acquisitions for years to come. The reduction of about $8 billion in the Department of the Navy Fiscal Year (FY) 2013 investment accounts due to sequestration is also far-reaching: impacts will be felt across the board. Naval aviation, strike weapons, ground-warfare systems, shipbuilding and associated support, research and development, training, and outfitting required for current and future readiness, will all feel the impact of budget cuts.

The Army, too, is looking at an FY 2013 budget cut of $12 billion, half of which will be in operations and maintenance. An additional $6 billion in cuts will hit procurement and construction, research, development and testing. These cuts would be applied equally across more than 400
Army programmes.

The Air Force’s programme to develop and purchase new equipment, which it calls ‘New Starts’, has also been affected. Others include the future bomber programme, new unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV), and communications technology. Acquisition of items already developed, like a new refuelling tanker and the F-35A stealth attack aircraft, will also
be delayed.

The 2012 Defence Strategic Guidance identifies a range of missions that US forces need to address with the resources available and details the threat environments in which the missions must be executed. Much of the technical effort focuses on improving the capabilities of the sensor, weapon, communications, cyber, and space systems that will be used to address the emerging threats. The US needs to counter the emerging threats identified in the strategy, particularly the anti-access/area-denial threats posed by Iran and China.

The Air Force will experience greater demands on its forces in the future—with emphasis on the air-sea battle concept—to overcome current and anticipated anti-access and area-denial threats, and continued demand for long-range strike and
intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) platforms.

As concerns stealth and unmanned aerial systems (UAS), there are conflicting considerations. As the US looks forward, its air assets will need more stealth than was actually required or used in Afghanistan, particularly if those assets (including ISR UAVs) are to operate in areas with a high anti-air threat. At the same time, however, the technologies necessary to operate in high threat environments are very expensive to both implement and maintain, and the US government will remain wary about exposing such systems to loss over enemy territory. Hence, tactical considerations will push for stealth, but budget and counter-intelligence factors will push in the other direction. In the US, there is now something of a debate over the future of the Navy’s Unmanned Carrier Launched Airborne Surveillance and Strike (UCLASS) aircraft that reflects these tensions. To get an affordable carrier UAV programme, stealth, payload and range may be sacrificed.

This story is from the print issue of Hardnews: DECEMBER 2013