Wary of a more muscular Russia and China, US Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel said the Pentagon aims to make a new push for fresh thinking about how the US can keep and extend its military superiority despite tighter budgets and 13 years of war.
Hagel on Saturday announced a “defense innovation initiative” that he likened to historic and successful campaigns during the Cold War to offset military advantages of the US’ adversaries.
“We must change the way we innovate, operate and do business,” he told a defense forum.
In a memo to Pentagon leaders in which be outlined the initiative, Hagel said the US must not lose its commanding edge in military technology.
“While we have been engaged in two large land-mass wars over the past 13 years, potential adversaries have been modernizing their militaries, developing and proliferating disruptive capabilities across the spectrum of conflict. This represents a clear and growing challenge to our military power,” he wrote.
In separate remarks to the forum, US Joint Chiefs of Staff Vice Chairman Navy Admiral James Winnefeld, said Russia and China began reasserting themselves on the world stage to capitalize on America’s “distraction” during the long wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
“In protecting our allies against potential mischief from these powers, we’ve always counted on our overmatch in capability and capacity to offset the challenges of distance and initiative,” Winnefeld said. “That overmatch is now in jeopardy.”
Hagel said the US could no longer count on outspending its rivals and potential adversaries, but longstanding overseas alliances and the US’ reputation for dependability require that the military be able to project power abroad.
“If this capability is eroded or lost, we will see a world far more dangerous and unstable — far more threatening to America and our citizens here at home than we have seen since World War II,” he said.
Hagel said that the US cannot afford to relax or assume that the military superiority it developed during the Cold War would automatically persist.
Hagel said he is launching a long-range research and development program to find and field breakthroughs in key technologies, including robotics, miniaturization and advanced manufacturing techniques such as 3D printing. He said the Pentagon would call on the private sector and academia for help.
“This program will look toward the next decade and beyond,” he said. “In the near-term, it will invite some of the brightest minds from inside and outside government to start with a clean sheet of paper and assess what technologies and systems the Department of Defense ought to develop over the next three to five years.”
Hagel likened the program to former US president Dwight D. Eisenhower’s “New Look” program in the 1950s, which sought to rapidly expand the US nuclear weapon arsenal to offset superior conventional military power from the then-Soviet Union in Europe. He also compared it to the 1970s push by the Pentagon to emphasize long-range research into technologies that yielded such significant breakthroughs as stealth aircraft, Patriot air defense weapons, precision-guided bombs and missiles and more sophisticated surveillance systems.
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