DoD Official: Force Size Limits Modernization Efforts

Two years into the pivot to the Asia-Pacific region and the concurrent drawdown in Afghanistan, Pentagon officials today related to Congress the Defense Department’s strategy to maintain U.S. superiority in military technology.

Frank Kendall, undersecretary of defense for acquisitions, technology and logistics, told the House Armed Services Committee that until U.S. forces are reduced to sustainable levels, DOD will be forced to disproportionately reduce modernization, the very investments that yield technological superiority in the Asia-Pacific region and elsewhere.

“Uncertainty about future budget reductions make sizing our force problematic and encourages a slower drawdown in our force structure,” Kendall said. “This, in turn, causes even larger reductions in modernization.”

Still, Kendall indicated, DOD faces numerous challenges and opportunities in the Asia-Pacific region, particularly related to the increase of anti-access and area-denial military capabilities.

Current investments and technology are intended for the pursuit of America’s interests in the face of North Korea’s nuclear weapons and missile programs, Kendall told the House panel.

North Korea’s most significant developments are in medium- and long-range ballistic missiles that could be equipped with nuclear warheads, the undersecretary said, and U.S. investments to counter these threats are in national and regional missile defense. Plus-ups, Kendall reported, include ground-based interceptors at Fort Greeley, Alaska, the deployment of a Terminal High Altitude Area Defense System battery to Guam and the in-progress introduction of a second ballistic missile defense radar system into Japan.

“These investments will enhance our ability to defend the homeland and Japan,” Kendall said, adding that the efforts complement ongoing initiatives to strengthen ballistic missile defense capabilities in general. And anti-access and area-denial capabilities run the gamut, he added, noting China’s space control investments, offensive cyber capabilities, conventional ballistic and cruise missiles and air-to-air capabilities, including fifth-generation fighters.

While China pursues a long-term, comprehensive military modernization program focused on anti-access and area-denial capabilities, U.S. investments are limited by budget cuts that fall disproportionately on modernization, he asserted. Despite resource constraints, DOD officials have taken steps to address the threats, Kendall said.

Since the publication of the Defense Strategic Guidance in 2012, the DOD has continued research and development and procurement investments focused on the Asia-Pacific region. Kendall cited examples of fiscal year 2014 investments requested by the White House and appropriated by Congress, including cyber defense, land-based key asset defense, maritime surveillance, air dominance and precision strike capabilities.

The undersecretary acknowledged that DOD faces ongoing challenges in the Asia-Pacific region.

“Technological superiority is not assured, and we cannot be complacent about our posture,” Kendall said. “This is not a future problem; this is a ‘here now’ problem.”

Though DOD officials may wrestle with the uncertainties of spending cuts, he said, some aspects of the pivot nonetheless will continue to flourish, thanks to partnership building, senior leader retention and relationship-building and increased exercises, Kendall said. “A lot of those things can happen even in a reduced budget situation,” he added.

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