New is Better…Well, Maybe: Impending Considerations for Military Modernization, Warfighting Concepts, and the Defense Budget


By: Elliot Seckler - NDIA Junior Fellow

There has been much discussion surrounding military modernization in recent years. Across industry, the government, private capital providers, and academia, partnerships directly aimed at modernizing the military have not only strengthened but also amplified in magnitude and reach within the U.S. Coinciding with these developments, the military Services have been working out new concepts for conducting operations.

At the NDIA Emerging Technologies Institute (ETI) formal launch event, held on July 26, Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs General John Hyten discussed Strategic Directives meant to drive the requirements of the military Services’ modernization: contested logistics; joint fires; joint all-domain command and control; and information advantage.  The main goal is to re-imagine joint interoperability among the Services.

According to General Hyten, such a significant and time-sensitive modernization endeavor must be understood as a concept: “you should never limit yourself as you begin a concept with what you don’t think you can do.” Yet within the same comment, he acknowledged the reality of having “to figure out what is affordable, what is practical, what can you do, where can you bring it from, [and] who can have it.”

This is the real impending challenge to military modernization, despite the major efforts aimed at strengthening the relationships and partnerships among all stakeholders involved. And it is precisely what ETI identified as the Modernization Quandary during its workshop on June 7 and subsequent report published on July 26th. 

In order to modernize the military and align with new concepts of warfighting, DOD will need to reconcile the funding demands of delayed acquisition programs with the levels required.  ETI’s Executive Director, Dr. Mark Lewis, identified these modernization priorities during the workshop as being “nuclear modernization, an expanded U.S. Navy fleet, Next-Generation Air Dominance platform…not to mention delivering hypersonic weapons at scale, enabling artificial intelligence, advanced electronic warfare, new directed energy systems, [etc.].”

As noted by AEI’s 2021 Report on “The 2020s Tri-Service Modernization Crunch,” this deferred acquisition is also referred to as the “modernization crunch”-- a period of time when an “overwhelming amount of military purchases must be made simultaneously.”

To adequately ensure the U.S. military does modernize to address the new competitive landscape, the challenge of defense modernization needs to be addressed at a speed required to be effective. This is not new, and many people have acknowledged this.  However, there is one element of military modernization that will require more consideration.

In addition to acquisition and integration of new capabilities, the new Strategic Directives will need to be aligned with the resourcing and funding of capabilities and programs in ways that enhance military modernization. This will require different approaches to aligning strategic concepts, budgets, and capabilities.

For example, effective processes would need to address the challenges of managing budget allocations of modernization priorities resulting from new warfighting concepts with the recapitalization of platforms. A further consideration within the next one to three years will be determining how various emerging technologies can reconcile the vast amounts of spending needed for recapitalizing legacy capabilities.

Therefore, forming these new processes at the speed of relevance is equally important to reforming acquisition, prototyping, and testing. Doing so will ultimately enable such modernization priorities not only manifest but also endure.

Whether or not our military can effectively modernize with the current budget will be influenced by the adjustments taken to reconcile funding mismatches between technology priorities and impending acquisition spending on current platforms, each aligned to the requirements set by new warfighting concepts. This is a central element of modernization that requires better and more diligent attention from the stakeholders involved.

Topics: Emerging Technologies

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