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Military Must Continue Progress to Deter Competitors

Gerald Scroop

September 11, 2020

The U.S. military has seen tremendous progress in readiness, equipment, processes and personnel over the past five years, and the United States must continue on that road in order to deter Russia and China, a top Defense Department official said.

Deputy Defense Secretary David L. Norquist told attendees of the virtual Defense News Conference yesterday. He spoke about the changing threats, U.S. military moves and what the future may hold.

Russia and China saw America's preoccupation with violent extremism after the events of 9/11 as a "strategic opportunity" to catch up to the United States military, Norquist said. "China and Russia noted how we fought and began designing their militaries and capabilities to counter our strengths and exploit our weaknesses," he said.

And they have closed the gap. China invested heavily in its army, increasing the budget by an average of 10 percent per year. Since 2001, China has launched its first domestic aircraft carrier; demonstrated the ability to shoot down satellites; modernized and expanded its nuclear capabilities; successfully tested a hypersonic glide vehicle; and fielded short-, medium-, and long-range missiles in volume, Norquist said.

China has also exerted growing power in Asia, Africa, Oceania and in cyberattacks worldwide. In 2015, China's President Xi Jinping pledged not to militarize the artificial islands China had built in the South China Sea. He broke that pledge, Norquist said.

China is also working to weaken America's web of allies and partners in the Indo-Pacific region.

In four years, we have become more lethal, a stronger partner and a wiser spender. But despite our progress, we cannot stop here.

Deputy Defense Secretary David L. Norquist

Russia is playing the same game. In 2008, Russia invaded Georgia and still occupies two provinces. In 2014, Russia annexed Crimea by force — something we had not seen in Europe since World War II — and entered combat against Ukrainian forces in Eastern Ukraine. Russia seeks every opportunity to weaken NATO.

"Our goal over the next decade is to maintain a force strong enough to deter aggression and, should deterrence fail, to prevail in any conflict," Norquist said. "This requires us to continue adapting and changing." 

The United States is concentrating on leap-ahead technologies like artificial intelligence and hypersonic weapons. But the nation is also investing in the people needed to use these new capabilities, he said.

The new technologies only go so far. They must be fielded in a way "to make the sum greater than the parts," he said. 

Norquist chaired a Future Naval Forces Study. "We examined ships and Marine units we have, and those we might build by 2045," he said. "We looked at their costs, their analytical capabilities, and we war-gamed different combinations of ships and Marine forces against different future missions and challenges."  

The results of this study will be used to build the fleet and forces needed over the next 25 years. 

The face of a man, wearing protective glasses, is seen through windows in a large metal tube. Inside the tube is a pointed metallic object.

He noted that the Joint Staff is developing a draft Joint Warfighting Concept to align personnel, equipment, organizations, training and doctrine as the military transitions to all-domain operations.

Research into hypersonics continues, and he said DOD has twice flown a hypersonic glide body over 2,000 miles in under 20 minutes at speeds approaching 20 times the speed of sound.

"While we focus on accelerating the development of our own capabilities, we remain aware of what our near-peer competitors are doing," Norquist said. "Just as China and Russia watched us closely, we are watching them to exploit their weaknesses."

All of this does require investment. He called on Congress to continue adequate, timely funding.

Budget cuts, as some propose, will endanger the United States and cause a reversal of readiness, he said. 

"Warfighting is in a new era," Norquist said. "In four years, we have become more lethal, a stronger partner and a wiser spender. But despite our progress, we cannot stop here. China's plans are ambitious, and we need to keep making strides."

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