Budgets and Strategy
A review of the 20th century’s wars shows how dangerous military unpreparedness is.

U.S. Army troops on the ground in Kandahar Province, Afghanistan


Jim Lacey

Interestingly, the same budget proposal calling for drastic reductions in the size of the Marines and the Army allows for gains in Air Force and Navy personnel. In one of my favorite passages in the new budget proposal, we learn that the Navy needs more personnel so as to support increasing numbers of unmanned platforms! I wonder how many thousands of additional personnel it will need if we automate every ship. (That time is coming.) Here is another wonderful admission in the proposal: The Navy has increased its presence at sea over the last three years to the point that it has three carriers at sea at a time. According to the budget proposal this has stressed the force. Huh?

The Navy typically has at least ten carriers in service, and often eleven. It is also building or planning to build three Ford-class carriers at almost $15 billion apiece. How can it be “stressed” by keeping a mere three carriers at sea at a time? Here, then, is a savings idea for the budget: Scrap six carriers and focus on keeping the remaining four or five at sea. The crews can rotate, as they did in World War II.

I have another, related question: Why are we spending so much on such giant targets? Where is that huge and expensive carrier going to hide when 500 Chinese-built DF-21 anti-ship ballistic missiles come at it? For that matter, tell me why “presence” is so important. Does anyone, anywhere in the world really know whether there is a U.S. Navy ship nearby? Does anyone care? If over-the-horizon strategies are good enough for the Army and Marines, then why not the Navy? We can save a lot of money by keeping our ships in port until they are needed somewhere.

Of course, I am not advocating such a course for the Navy. In fact, it would be absurd to do what I outlined above. It is no less absurd, however, to advocate similar policies for our land forces. For anyone who believes we can generate trained and ready combat divisions faster than the Navy can build new ships and put them at sea does not know his business.

It is time for policymakers to stop funding a military that can fight the kinds of wars we want to fight, and, instead, to start funding a military that can fight the kinds of wars we are going to fight.

— Jim Lacey is professor of strategic studies at the Marine Corps War College. He is the author, most recently, of the forthcoming Moment of Battle. The opinions in this article are entirely his own and do not represent those of the Department of Defense or any of its members.