Call for Articles: The Military Roles and Missions Analysis that America Deserves
The Senate version of the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) contained within it a proactive provision that assigned some hard research tasks to the Department of Defense about the roles and missions of the military services. It demanded answers in the form of a report to Congress by February 2019. Perhaps because some of the taskers were too hard — or, more likely, too uncomfortable — for some, section 1041, “Report on highest-priority roles and missions of the Department of Defense and the Armed Forces,” was softened and watered down in conference. The final result (section 1075 in the law that President Donald Trump signed this week) does not put any golden calves under threat, or even under serious scrutiny.
As someone who believes serious scrutiny is the absolute minimum owed to the American servicemember and the taxpayer, I am putting out a call for articles that should seek to answer the taskers assigned by section 1041 of the Senate version of the NDAA. I can think of no better group of people to tackle these issues than the War on the Rocks community.
I have only lightly edited and reformatted the original text of section 1041 below. When pitching and submitting articles to answer these questions, please follow our submissions guidelines. Please also include “Roles & Missions” in the subject line. And in the text of your email, tell us which of the below taskers you seek to answer. Please note: Many taskers have multiple parts. You may try to answer a single tasker in its entirety or address one of these subordinate parts.
We are looking for detailed submissions from experienced voices. These should be grounded in political and budgetary realities, but that does not mean that radical solutions are discouraged.
The 2018 National Defense Strategy correctly characterizes the leading strategic challenges facing the United States as the re-emergence of great-power competition, the erosion of the United States military’s technological advantage, enduring violent extremism and instability in the broader Middle East and Africa, and continued uncertainty in the United States about the availability of sufficient resources for national defense. The strategy correctly prioritizes the development of a more lethal joint force that is ready to deter and, if necessary, defeat aggression by great-power competitors with advanced military capabilities, while conducting counter-terrorism operations in a more sustainable manner, together with allies and partners.
Unfortunately, the National Defense Strategy, and the implications of the document for the size, structure, shape, roles, missions, and employment of the joint force, was not completed in time to inform fully the budget of the president for national defense for fiscal year 2019. Many of the Defense Department’s programs of record are upgraded replacements of legacy systems that were not premised on the assumption that future conflict could occur in highly contested environments against militarily advanced near-peer rivals.
At the same time, considerable growth in the size of the military will not be possible without growth in the budget, because the current future-years defense program assumes that defense spending after fiscal year 2019 will only increase at the rate of inflation, while costs for two of the largest drivers of expenditures for the department, namely military personnel and operation and maintenance, continue to grow faster than the rate of inflation.
Budgetary savings through internal reform and efficiencies are certainly worth pursuing, but previous attempts to generate additional resources through such mechanisms were not successful. Going forward, increased force modernization investments should be based on a rigorous reassessment of whether current programs will meet present and future warfighting requirements against near-peer rivals that are making rapid military technological advancements.
For this to be possible, the Department of Defense must conduct further analytical work in order to facilitate the implementation of the National Defense Strategy and to provide Congress with a more rigorous understanding of, and justification for, future requests for resources to organize, train, equip, and employ the U.S. military.
As such, the secretary of defense should refine the National Defense Strategy into more specific operational tasks and force planning scenarios that the joint force must be ready and able to perform. This should be done so that we all might have a better understanding of joint force development priorities and the roles and missions of each armed service.
It is for these reasons that we at War on the Rocks ask for analytical articles that re-evaluate the highest priority missions of the Department of Defense, and the roles of the armed services in the performance of such missions. The analysis in these articles should be aimed at supporting the implementation of the National Defense Strategy, optimizing the effectiveness of the joint force, and informing the preparation of future defense program and budget requests.
With those goals in mind, please address the following:
- Describe in detail the pacing threats for each of the military services as well as for special operations forces. Also assess the manner in which such pacing threats determine the primary role of each service and special operations forces, including the connection between key operational tasks required by contingency plans.
- Describe in detail the requirements for the size and composition of the services. Include the year-by-year plan for achieving such requirements, relevant force posture assumptions, and the associated military personnel costs of such plan. This should include a breakdown by service (Note: Please consider service-specific articles instead of articles that try to answer the entirety of this tasker):
a. The required total end strength and force structure by type for the Army;
b. The required fleet size of the Navy, identified by class of ships and the corresponding total end strength requirement once that fleet size is achieved;
c. The required number of operational Air Force squadrons, identified by function and the corresponding total end strength requirement once that number of squadrons is achieved;
d. And, the required total end strength and force structure by type for the Marine Corps.
- Re-evaluate the roles of the armed forces in performing low-intensity missions, such as counter-terrorism and security force assistance, including the following:
a. An assessment of whether the joint force would benefit from having one service dedicated primarily to low-intensity missions, thereby enabling the other services to focus more exclusively on advanced peer competitors.
b. A detailed description of, and accompanying justification for, the total amount of forces required to perform the security force assistance mission and the planned geographic employment of such forces.
c. A revalidation of the Army plan to construct six security force assistance brigades, and an assessment of the impact, if any, of such plan on the capability of the Army to perform its primary roles under the National Defense Strategy.
d. An assessment of whether the security force assistance mission would be better performed by the Marine Corps, and an assessment of the end strength and force composition changes, if any, required for the Marine Corps to assume such mission.
- Reassess the roles and missions of the total ground forces, both Army and Marine Corps, to execute the National Defense Strategy, including the following:
a. A detailed description of the allocation of roles for the Army and Marine Corps in deterring and waging war against advanced peer competitors that can complement the activities and investments of each service and optimize the capabilities of each such service.
b. A detailed description of the appropriate balance and mix of Army force structure, including light infantry, mechanized infantry, armor, air defense, fires, engineers, aviation, signals, and logistics, that is required to perform the roles and missions of the Army against its pacing threats.
c. A detailed description of the modernized capabilities and concepts to be developed by the Army to contribute to joint force operations against advanced peer competitors, including the manner in which Army aviation will evolve in light of unmanned aerial vehicle technology.
d. A revalidation of the requirement for ground force modernization efforts, including the Joint Light Tactical Vehicle, Future Vertical Lift, and Mobile Protected Fires, that are not optimized for conflict between the United States and advanced peer competitors.
e. A detailed description of requirements for Army forces needed to support theater operations.
- Assess, based on operational plans, the ability of power-projection platforms to survive and effectively perform the highest priority operational missions described in the National Defense Strategy, including the following:
a. An assessment of the feasibility of the current plans and investments by the Navy and Marine Corps to operate and defend their sea bases in contested environments.
b. An assessment of whether amphibious forced entry operations against advanced peer competitors should remain an enduring mission for the joint force considering the stressing operational nature and significant resource requirements of such mission.
c. An assessment of whether a transition from large-deck amphibious ships to small aircraft carriers would result in a more lethal and survivable Marine Corps sea base that could accommodate larger numbers of more diverse strike aircraft.
d. An assessment of the manner in which an acceleration of development and fielding of longer-range, unmanned, carrier-suitable strike aircraft could better meet operational requirements and alter the requirement for shorter-range, manned tactical fighter aircraft.
e. An assessment of the manner in which the emerging technology to operate large numbers of low-cost, autonomous, attributable systems in the air, on and under the sea, on land, and in space could change the manner in which the joint force projects power globally.
- Assess, based on operational plans, the ability of manned, stealthy, penetrating strike platforms to survive and perform effectively the highest priority operational missions described in the National Defense Strategy, including the following:
a. An assessment of whether anticipated advances in stealth technology and the employment of such technology on existing or developmental systems, such as the F–35 and B–21 aircraft, can be expected to outpace and overmatch adversary capabilities to detect and target such systems.
b. An assessment of the ability of fourth-generation aircraft with advanced sensors and weapons to perform certain missions as or more effectively than fifth-generation penetrating strike platforms.
c. An assessment of the manner in which the emerging technology to operate large numbers of low-cost, autonomous, attributable systems in the air, on and under the sea, on land, and in space could obviate or reduce the requirement for penetrating strike platforms.
- A re-evaluation of the most effective and efficient means for the joint force to perform the air superiority mission in both contested and uncontested environments, including the following:
a. An assessment of the ability to achieve air superiority from other domains, including with land-based systems, naval systems, undersea systems, space-based systems, electronic warfare systems, or cyber capabilities.
b. A validation of the envisioned operational and cost effectiveness of the Penetrating Counter-Air platform, and of the requirement for developing this system as part of the Air Force Next Generation Air Dominance program.
c. A detailed description of the optimal mix across the joint force of fourth-generation and fifth-generation fighter aircraft, bomber aircraft, and Next Generation Air Dominance systems to fulfill operational demands for air superiority.
d. A detailed description of the manner in which the joint force will perform the mission of light aerial attack in uncontested environments to support counter-terrorism and security force assistance missions, and the mission of countering violent extremism operations, at the lowest cost to the readiness of advanced, multirole combat aircraft.
e. A determination of what armed force, in addition to the Air Force, should have a role in the mission of light air attack in uncontested environments.
- A re-evaluation of the roles and missions of the joint special operations enterprise, including the following:
a. A detailed assessment of whether the joint special operations enterprise is currently performing too many missions worldwide, and whether any such missions could be performed adequately and more economically by conventional units.
b. A detailed assessment of whether the global allocation of special operations forces, and especially the most capable units, is aligned to the pacing threats and priority missions of the National Defense Strategy.
c. A detailed description of the changes required to align the joint special operations enterprise more effectively with the National Defense Strategy.
- Reassess the manner in which increased use of the space domain should revise or reallocate the requirements of the joint force, including the following:
a. A detailed description of the missions, including joint moving target indication, air battle management, and missile and aircraft tracking and targeting, that could be performed more effectively from space-based platforms due to emerging technology and operational requirements.
b. An assessment of the manner in which the joint force can take advantage of the development and deployment of disaggregated commercial satellite internet constellations to replace legacy tactical communications networks and devices and achieve multidomain command and control more effectively and at lower cost.
c. An assessment of the manner in which to ensure that the joint force has access to technologies that deliver superior offensive space capabilities and a maneuver advantage to and within the space domain, including reusable launch systems and spacecraft, on-orbit refueling and manufacturing, on-orbit power generation, and exploitation of space minerals and propellants.
d. A detailed description of the actions to be taken by components of the department to promote and protect the development of a licit space economy, including the following:
i. Defense of commercial activities, facilities, and claims.
ii. Safety of navigation.
iii. Rescue and recovery.
iv. Construction and maintenance of public works in Cis-Lunar Space.
v. Active debris remediation.
vi. Establishment of an on-orbit national strategic reserve of space minerals and propellants.
10. Reassess the manner in which the joint force will perform the mission of logistics in contested environments, including the following:
a. A revalidation of the requirement for the KC–46 tanker aircraft, including an assessment of the aerial refueling requirements in contested environments and a greater reliance on distributed systems of systems.
b. A detailed assessment of whether the mission of logistics in contested environments could be better performed by larger numbers of lower-cost, autonomous systems capable of dispersed operations on land, at sea, and in the air.
c. A detailed assessment of whether greater forward stationing of joint force capabilities and personnel would be more operationally effective in performing the contact and blunt missions of the National Defense Strategy.
Ryan Evans is the CEO and editor-in-chief of War on the Rocks.