What's Next

By Tom Shoop

August 15, 2012

Over the next decade, the Defense Department will undergo a transformation unlike any it has experienced in recent memory. It will be required to reduce the size of the military force, continue to reorganize its infrastructure of installations and find a way to modernize weapons systems while cutting its overall budget significantly. 

That effort will require an unprecedented level of innovation and effective management by Defense leaders—both military and civilian. 

These leaders face not only a daunting strategic and policy challenge, but an imperative to restructure, innovate and take out costs—all while ensuring that the nation’s warfighters retain the capacity to meet the country’s security needs. 

The past decade has seen revolutionary changes in defense technology, strategy and tactics, from the massive growth in the use of unmanned aerial vehicles  to a renewed reliance on counter-insurgency tactics. 

The next decade will have to see a similar revolution in the management and operations of the Defense Department. For example, curbing the cost growth in health care and pay and benefits will be critical to meeting budget imperatives. It is these kinds of challenges that we explore in this special issue of Government Executive

In the article “The Next War,” Sydney Freedberg assesses how the answers to today’s budget questions—which weren’t even close to being addressed this summer—will determine how U.S. forces will operate in a highly uncertain world. In the process, the military services are jostling for position and pushing new concepts such as AirSea Battle (based on long-range strikes from drones, stealth aircraft, surface ships and submarines) and hybrid war (a mix of counterinsurgency tactics and conventional combat).

In “Course Correction,” Dan Taylor profiles Vice Adm. David Venlet, who has arguably the least enviable job in all the defense world—getting the massive, troubled F-35 Joint Strike Fighter program back on track. Given that the program’s 15-year history has been characterized as a story of “acquisition malpractice,” keeping costs and schedules under control at this point will be no mean feat.

In “Keeping the Faith,” senior correspondent Kellie Lunney explores how the military is seeking to rein in burgeoning personnel costs (up more than 90 percent since 2001) without breaking its long-standing commitment to service members and their families about the pay and benefits they will receive. It is, to say the least, a tricky balance.

In “Cyber Fallout,” Nextgov’s Aliya Sternstein delves into the rapidly evolving world of cyberwarfare. Two key factors—a critical cyber fighter shortage and the dedication to protecting the civil liberties of Americans—will make it a big challenge to carry our success in conventional warfare into the cyber arena.

Also in this issue, longtime congressional staffer Winslow T. Wheeler and Marion C. Blakey, president of the Aerospace Industries Association, debate the potential impact of a defense budget sequester. Neither of them thinks the sequester is a sound approach, but they differ on just how devastating cutting the defense budget would be. 

Finally, the last word in the issue goes to our own intrepid reporter Bob Brewin, who reflects on the difference between what a radio operator carries into battle today and what he had on his back in Vietnam. The technology may be very different, he writes, but some things just don’t change.

By Tom Shoop

August 15, 2012