If there is a single overriding theme to Joint Forces Command’s newly released Joint Operating Environment 2010 report, it is the reminder that a critical component of national power is economic power; something often lost on military analysts and so called strategists. The JOE discusses at length perilous federal budget imbalances, oil dependency, the damage inflicted by the 2008 economic meltdown, declining resources, climate change and a number of the familiar and unsavory effects of globalization.
The part that really jumped out to me was where the JOE said the military’s approach to buying new high-tech weaponry has become a strategic liability and is weakening the force. A big reason is because long development timelines for new high-tech gear means troops in the field are not getting the latest and greatest in a timely or cost effective manner.
The early 21st century is the age of the asymmetric opponent, and that asymmetry extends to defense spending, the JOE says, using the IED war as an illustrative example. “The United States has spent literally billions to counter these crude, inexpensive, and extraordinarily effective devices. If one were to multiply this ratio against a global enemy, it becomes untenable.”
The JOE points out that because the Chinese have become masters at reverse engineering and because they have lower labor and material costs, they’re able to produce a comparable unit of capability at far lower cost than we are.
The failure to reform acquisition is “no longer a bureaucratic issue: it is having strategic effects,” the JOE says. Absent reform, enemies will develop weapons faster, more effectively and certainly cheaper than the U.S. That’s a pretty big indictment of the almighty military industrial complex.