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Harold Hutchison / November 18, 2016

First Things First on National Security

There are three things Trump can do to get things on a more even keel.

After perhaps the biggest presidential upset in presidential history comes the task of governing — and the most important aspect of governing for any president is the national security of the United States. It’s the primary constitutional duty of the chief executive. Let’s face it: If we can’t defend ourselves, it’s not going to matter how high — or low — the national debt is.

So what are the top national-security priorities for Donald Trump’s incoming administration? The problems faced are huge, but there are three things his administration can do to get things on a more even keel: Defeat the Islamic State quickly, rebuild the military’s force structure, and recapitalize the equipment.

Defeating the Islamic State is probably the best way to send the world a message that there’s a new sheriff in town. This can be accomplished by changing the rules of engagement and getting the War on Terror back on track. The short-term victory, though, must be followed up to ensure that the job is finished and that American troops won’t have to come back. This likely means the same thing it meant after the Korean War: A remnant of American troops left behind to keep any malefactors in the region (Iran, ISIL, al-Qaida) from starting round four. In essence, accomplishing this first task buys time to carry out the next two. America needs to buy time.

The next task, rebuilding the military’s force structure, is a huge one. The Army was cut from 18 active divisions to 10. The Navy has declined to a ship total not seen since 1916 and has mismanaged its carrier force. The Marines needed to get aircraft from the boneyard. The Air Force has its own problems, being short by 700 pilots. The Coast Guard is facing a shortage of hulls in the water. Reversing this is hard enough in peacetime — and harder still with a War on Terror to fight. But this larger force structure is necessary: As good as our ships, troops and aircraft are, they cannot be in two places at once.

The larger military also will allow for more dwell time for those troops not deployed, and also would grant a reserve to handle crises in several hot spots. Even though the U.S. sent seven Army and two Marine divisions to the Middle East during Desert Storm, there were still 11 active Army divisions, 10 National Guard divisions, and one Marine division available to handle crises elsewhere.

Similarly, there is a need to re-capitalize this expanded force as well. Some short-sighted cutbacks to save money, like the Expeditionary Fighting Vehicle and the premature halt of F-22 production, have forced aging systems like the AAV-7 and the F-15C Eagle to stay on the front lines. With advanced Russian systems being exported, like the S-300 (SA-10 “Grumble”) to “responsible global citizens” such as Iran, the performance margins are way too close for comfort.

One such opportunity is in the B-21 program, formerly the Long-Range Strike Bomber. Current plans call for the purchase of 100 airframes from this program. But think this over: Those 100 planes will be asked to replace 78 B-52H and 62 B-1Bs (a total of 140 planes). Those totals, by the way, do not account for the fact that the U.S. retired roughly 140 B-52G bombers that were almost as capable as the B-52H models.

This is how our troops find themselves stretched thin, even when each bomber can carry numerous precision-guided weapons. It would make more sense for the Air Force to buy enough B-21s to replace each B-52G/H purchased on a 1-for-1 basis (295 airframes), then make plans to replace the more modern B-1B and B-2A bombers with another program, ideally with a production goal of 132 airframes.

This military buildup will be expensive, the costs can be partially offset on several levels. Someone has to build them — that’s a lot of jobs. Manning and maintaining them will employ even more people. Furthermore, the increase of people working will reduce the burden on various anti-poverty programs. While some may claim this is “weaponized Keynesianism,” the purpose of this buildup is to carry out the primary job of the federal government: national defense. Those economic benefits are purely a welcome side-effect.

If President-elect Trump wants to restore America’s national security to pre-Obama levels, these three initial steps are the low-hanging fruit.

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