One can hear the slow thundering footsteps of the beast. He slowly trudges up the hill and although he grows larger with each step, he leaves behind a trail of dollars. In the meantime, the swift millennial teenager longboards past the monster, over the hill, and into the beautiful sunset. This is a story of our national defense in the twenty-first century. Our Defense Department has more in common with Grendel than Beowulf. It is slow; it is tedious; it has tangled itself in its own red tape. It needs to change.
Currently, the U.S. is ranked the most powerful military in the world with a budget of $682 billion and 2.9 million active personnel. Russia has the second most powerful military with a relatively bargain budget of $91 billion and China is third with a budget of $166 billion. Our Defense Department is, without a doubt, a big, powerful giant. Can we slim down our defense budget and continue to have the most powerful military in the world?
In 2012, U.S. military spending declined from $711 billion to $668 billion. In addition, President Obama’s latest budget proposes cutting national security spending to 2.4 percent of our national GDP by 2023, approximately a trillion dollars in cuts. With the budget crisis, these cuts need to be made. Julian Barnes of the Wall Street Journal writes, “Flight range, firepower and technological prowess are no longer the only features that matter. The Pentagon says it now gives equal weight to a far more pedestrian point: cost.”
A budget cut is what the U.S. military needs to jump to greater defense technology. The Pentagon should use these budget cuts as an incentive to improve efficiency and embrace cost-effectiveness with newer technology. The Pentagon needs to hold onto the coattails of its eclectic hipster cousin: Silicon Valley. Thankfully, the Defense Department is already on this track with the establishment of NeXTech, a project established by the Defense’s Rapid Reaction Technology Office to identify new technology that can be used for national security purposes. Yet, as Walter Pincus correctly notes, “The military services have traditionally had a hard time adapting to the emergence of new technologies and new threats to national security.” The U.S. military believes it is facing an either/or scenario: investment in new technology or cut national defense spending.
A prime example of the military’s dilemma is the Defense’s recent decision to continue to use the Cold War U2 planes rather than invest in more unmanned drones like Global Hawks. The Air Force argued that it was less expensive to keep flying its U2 manned surveillance planes than invest in the technology to build more drones. Yet, unmanned drone systems are the future. Investing in the technology and infrastructure now will enable the Air Force to set itself on the right path for future technological growth. The United States is currently a military powerhouse. We need to invest in current technology to remain that way.
Companies like Northrop Grumman, Lockheed Martin, and Boeing have an interest in capitalizing in Silicon Valley technologies and broadening their capabilities for the military. It is in these companies’ best interest to invest in R&D so they can outsmart their competitors. Furthermore, it is in their best interest to cut costs. In the last three years, operating costs of Northrop Grumman’s Global Hawk have dropped over fifty percent, from $40,600 per hour in 2010 to $18,900 per hour in 2013.
A September 2013 paper by the Center for New American Security sees the next decade as an opportunity for “exponential growth of unmanned and increasingly autonomous robotic systems, the power of data-mining technologies…and the possibility that directed-energy weapons [like lasers] could dramatically alter the offense-defense balance in key military competitions.” Yet, it will be the commercial sector that will drive the majority of future innovations. American defense contractors can modify Silicon Valley’s new technology and build modern defense systems to sell to the military.
Over time, the behemoth giant named Pentagon will slowly slim down with the help of the millennial teenager, Silicon Valley. With defense contractors acting as a liaison, the latest technology will be infused into future military systems.