It’s not often that a bipartisan anything comes out of the House of Representatives these days. So read on for what may become a seminal commentary from two of the most respected thinkers on the House Armed Services Committee. Reps. Randy Forbes (R), chairman of the seapower and power projection forces subcommittee, and Rick Larsen (D), a senior member of Forbes’ subcommittee and the strategic forces subcommittee, argue that the unthinking budget approach of giving each service a roughly equal piece of the budget pie must be changed. Their words are sure to echo in the increasingly fierce budget debate as the $500 billion in sequestration cuts begin to really bite deep in coming months. The Editor.


Reps. Rick Larsen and Randy Forbes

It would come as no surprise to anyone for us to say that Washington has a problem generating and implementing long-range strategy. The real challenge rests with addressing the origins of this dilemma. We think one hindrance to good strategy is clear – the Pentagon’s long-standing practice of building budgets that, regardless of our strategy, give relatively equal shares to each of the services. This trend has remained constant over the past several decades despite continuous cycles of change as the Cold War peaked and then came to an end, as new strategy documents were introduced, as budgets grew and shrank, and as new technologies altered the way wars are fought.

The “fair-share” approach is antithetical to good strategic planning and the Pentagon, whatever the size of its budget, cannot afford to continue on this course. Put another way, if the United States is going to posture its conventional and strategic forces to maintain a competitive advantage in the decade ahead, we are going to have to do much more than striving to dole out equal shares of the Pentagon budget pie.

The landmark 1986 Goldwater-Nichols Act has demonstrably strengthened our fighting forces by promoting jointness. No other nation on earth can synchronize as many disparate military activities to achieve such overwhelming effects. That said, at the same time Goldwater-Nichols has enshrined the achievement of consensus among the Armed Services as the highest bureaucratic good. This “least common denominator” approach means that all benefit in flush times and all share pain equally in times of scarcity, irrespective of the overarching national strategy and emerging threats.

The Department of Defense and Congress should reject this approach. Real strategic choices should not be built on fair budget percentages but on hard calculations about the types of capabilities the Combatant Commanders need to meet the missions we ask them to execute.

Instead of talking in terms of percentages, we should seek to answer questions of strategy and budgets by asking what we anticipate the national security environment will look like over the next five, 10 and 20 years. From there we can ask what America’s defense priorities and objectives will be and decide what combination of military capabilities are best suited to support these ends. While strategy is about ways, means, and ends, too often we dictate an arbitrary mean, or a budget figure, as the starting point and then let that drive the ends we desire.

What does the next decade or two hold? Certainly, the past decade has been characterized by prolonged counterinsurgencies in the Middle East and South Asia. These operations have exerted tremendous strains on our Army and Marine Corps, which received significant budget increases commensurate with the missions assigned to them by the President and Congress. While the United States will remain active in the Middle East, the shifting security dynamics in the Asia-Pacific have necessitated a re-emphasis of our efforts to this region. As such, we believe that in the coming decade we will ask a disproportionate contribution from our maritime and power-projection forces.

Going forward, the Pentagon needs to better translate its strategic priorities into new resource-allocation priorities. This should mean investing in a mix of capabilities that can operate in environments that are becoming contested by anti-access/area-denial networks. To achieve this, traditional assumptions about how our military conducts sea control, projects power, or operates in the electromagnetic spectrum will need to be challenged. Although a discussion about the ways to achieve this goes beyond the scope of this brief essay, we are fully confident this process does not begin by allocating equal budgets to each of the services. It is time to bust-up this long-standing and intellectually lazy method of managing our defense posture.

We look forward to continuing this critical discussion as the Pentagon concludes its Strategic Choices and Management Review and moves ahead with the development of the 2014 Quadrennial Defense Review.

Rep. J. Randy Forbes (R-VA) and Rep. Rick Larsen (D-WA) are members of the House Armed Services Committee.


  • Sunbird

    “No other nation on earth can synchronize as many disparate
    military activities to achieve such overwhelming effects.”

    No other nation on earth squanders vast sums of tax dollars like the US on defense. The overwhelming effects are crumbling infrastructure and declining quality of life. The Penta-gone has created an ever-increasing gap in wealth between the middle class and wealthy rewarding the military industrial complex. In America defense is the highest priority not the health and welfare of citizens.

    Rep. Larsen is not serving his constituents with militarization of the unique environment of the Pacific Northwest. Stationing 49 more P-8’s at Whidbey Island, WA and more training of Growler pilots in the middle of Ebey’s Landing National preserve is unconscionable. The disruption of the activities of residents on Whidbey and surrounding communities from the LOUD noise that often occurs late at night must stop. These military activities should be stationed in an area of less population.

  • Aurora

    Now all these two have to do is convince the eternally campaigning president and the eternally squabbling congressional leadership to listen to reason.

    “resource allocation priorities”? What resources? 50%+ of the defense budget is in personnel related expenses. This is projected to increase to 80% in the not-too-distant-future if these people don’t take action–SOON. When, not if, the interest rates on Treasuries start to rise, it’ll be too late.

    You all were elected to do the people’s business. Sometimes that involves making touch choices that could threaten your next re-election campaign. Show some courage and do the right thing. There’s life after politics.

    • Colin Clark

      Congressional staff and lawmakers: what say you? Will you break the purple triangle?

    • Don Bacon

      For pols there’s no life BUT politics. Most of them stay in office virtually forever, thanks to gerrymandering and corporate political contributions –it’s their life.

    • Lop_Eared_Galoot


      The military doesn’t work on a basis of mission as work force by total but rather by /cycles/ of deployment, rest, training and readiness exercises to start the loop again. Thus they have manning ratios (as total unit counts or as size of units) which reflect something more akin to police or fire department in the civilian world of ’24:7:365, the bell rings and we go…’ capability.

      With this as a given, the most immediate, ‘corporate’, answer to your prayers is probably just not going to be achievable as early exits from service contracts by the largest combat elements.

      Nor will contractors, who got into the game by promising maintenance which the Army couldn’t afford to train for, readily give up their scam of megabucks per hour as ‘bill everything’ alternative to proper, in-house, service depots for an Army at peace.

      These are people who joined up to get more than they gave and have instead given more than they thought they would, under stop loss and the constant grind of rotation into the combat theater.

      Push them too hard and they will quit anyway. While a new generation of idiots (and I mean that because 90% of the Army’s recruits come from urban and rural poor0 chooses welfare over national service lest they get a leg blown off in some hole we don’t even have the guts to keep, once we’ve rolled it over.

      I would instead suggest that the USAr and Marines need MORE money than the other services, simply to refit and recoup their war shattered force structures. The Big Question then being how they are to be repurposed to fight a new battle in a blue-water dominated region. Or if they should in fact be configured, principally, as an engineering capability for propping up the social welfare state we have become.

      IMO, more than any other combat force component, the ground forces need to acknowledge the limitations of the human on the modern battlefield and do as much as possible to multi-task (no sleep, don’t need it, no four year plan, don’t exit-service) automate their CS/CSS capabilities in a cascade effect which can daisy chain technology into the civilian world’s approach to labor as a function of rapid and continual surplus release of generationally surging robotics.

      We did it with the Predator and other UAVs which only have limited civilian utility. Now we must do it with ground vehicles and anthropomorphics to radically alter the combat presence vs.logistical base support requirements (i.e. to do both the combat role and the ‘night shift = logistics, ho boyee!’ mission sets while themselves neither eating nor sleeping).
      In a world where peoples no longer are willing to go to war to secure the tribute as resources they need to sustain their own existence by taking from those not as strong, the military must now enable as much as enoble the peace.
      And only they have the organizational mass as access to the defense and university R&D base by which to bring off such a revisionist system in a fashion that is so successful, nobody complains that it isn’t robber baron capitalism.

  • Don Bacon

    It’s important to get the language correct before there can be any hope of properly funding US defense. The “prolonged counterinsurgencies in the Middle East and South Asia” is a pleasant but incorrect way to describe failed US imperialistic invasions & occupations.

    The recent stationing of a weakly-armed propulsion-challenged “combat ship” in the Malacca Strait to protect China shipping from pirates is a much more reasonable pursuit of US world hegemony. (just kidding)

    In any case, let’s cut to the chase, this “fair-share budget strategy” is designed to funnel more money to airplane- and ship-builders and less money to ground equipment builders and ground forces. That’s where the political campaign contributions are. Let’s get on with it. It’s a bipatisan consideration that politicians on both sides of the aisle can agree on — money. Green. Bucks. Benjamins.

  • Truthiness

    The title should read “Two representative with large naval installations and shipbuilding yards in their districts want more money for the Navy and shipbuilding.”