Electrician Jimmy Parker, installs cables into the cockpit of an F-35 Joint Strike Fighter test aircraft at the Lockheed-Martin facility in Fort Worth, Texas, Thursday, October 4, 2007.

Major 2010 defense budget cuts expected to be announced by Secretary Gates today are part of a broader theme laid out in last year’s National Defense Strategy and his Foreign Affairs article seeking more “balance” in the military’s equipment portfolio away from high-end systems to fight conventional wars and more toward counterinsurgency capabilities.

In the Post-Cold War world, however, the United States has chosen through numerous defense strategies to embrace a global vision of the world consistent with broad interpretations of its national interests and international priorities. In short, America has accepted its position as the world’s sole superpower and set a consistent framework for America’s military.

Assuming the future will likely mirror the present or recent past is flawed—particularly given global uncertainty and America’s dismal track record for wrongly predicting the future. Instead, the United States must hedge against uncertainty by retaining a core set of military capabilities that can win in any type of future conflict. These capabilities include air superiority, a Navy that can project force throughout the maritime domain, space and cyberspace dominance, and proficiency in both traditional land warfare and the irregular missions like those in Afghanistan and Iraq.

The Obama administration has made clear current wars are likely to be an indication of the “hybrid” threats the nation will face in the future—even though these threats are nothing new. In Iraq, the U.S. fought a conventional war to remove the regime of Saddam Hussein and later fought a counterinsurgency to protect civilians from insurgent attacks, terrorist bombs, and sectarian militias while standing up Iraqi forces. Likewise, Israel fought a hybrid conflict against Hezbollah in 2006 that showed the growing sophis¬tication of this asymmetric threat to the West.

Unfortunately, the conventional platforms used by the Navy and Air Force will almost assuredly continue to serve as billpayers for the shift toward acquiring more irregular warfare capabilities, including:

  • DDG-1000 destroyer
  • Ballistic missiles defense systems
  • Long-range bomber
  • Army Future Combat Systems’ network and vehicles
  • Next-generation tanker
  • Future cruiser
  • CVN Ford-class aircraft carrier and a carrier wing
  • Transformational Communications Satellite program and

It remains a sad irony that so-called “hard” budget choices are always those that seek to cut defense modernization budgets rather than advocate the less popular position to increase the defense budget based on current military requirements and a dramatically stressed and aged force.

Only by increasing the modernization budget can the United States continue to field a military force trained and equipped to meet its national interests and global responsibilities. Failing to invest adequately, or worse, pursuing a military force that is ill-prepared for the future, is a path towards relinquishing American primacy.