Military transformation is one of the important guarantees for the United States to ensure military superiority after the Cold War. According to the RAND Corporation, military transformation refers to profound changes in the military field. This change is neither a rapid change nor a simple improvement of weapons and equipment. It emphasizes the overall qualitative change of the military field and the long-term process of gradually advancing this change. Since the Trump administration took office, the United States has obviously accelerated the adjustment and reform of the military field. The basic logic and adjustment of the new round of military transformation have gradually become clear.
Specifically, the first is to determine the “threat-based” transformation path. This is a fundamental adjustment of the “capability-based” army building strategy from the Rumsfeld era in the context of the existing resources that are difficult to support the “full spectrum” capacity building.
The “capacity-based” model places greater emphasis on the autonomy and flexibility of military planning, based on the development of military capabilities in all key areas. In the 2018 National Defense Strategy Report, the Trump administration clarified that “long-term strategic competition between countries” is a core challenge, claiming that “the United States should compete with itself in areas where it has advantages and the enemy is at a disadvantage.” This means that “based on threats” has become the choice of the United States in the new international environment, focusing on the strengths and shortcomings of Sino-Russian military power, and taking this as the core to reinvigorate the military strength. To this end, the US military has successively formulated new war theory and operational concepts focusing on “core challenges” such as “multi-domain warfare”, “distributed killing” and “dynamic military deployment”, and gradually applied to US military operations.
The second is to simultaneously expand military spending and military scale, and strive to reverse the long-standing “low level of readiness” and financial constraints since the two wars. The Trump administration has taken measures to circumvent the “automatic deficit reduction” mechanism and substantially increase military spending. Since 2017, the national defense budget has been added, and the budget application for the fiscal year 2020 has increased to 750 billion US dollars, laying the financial support for this round of military transformation. At the same time, the Trump administration adjusted the policy of “reducing and increasing quality” since the beginning of the Bush administration, and changed it to “quantity and quality”. Following the expansion of 16,600 people in FY 2018 and an increase of 15,600 in FY 2019, the US military has continued to shrink after 2009, while increasing the number of original armament procurement plans.
The third is to promote military transformation through the reform of the national defense management mechanism. In this round of transformation, the US military’s implementation of the Ministry of Defense management system, military formation, acquisition mechanism and human resources reform initiatives is the largest institutional change since the end of the Cold War. For example, the US Department of Defense set up an independent “Chief Management Officer” to split the functions of the former Deputy Minister responsible for procurement, technology and logistics to improve work efficiency and military use efficiency, reduce redundant overlapping institutions, and strengthen cost control.
The US military also followed the requirements of the competition of major powers and the evolution of war forms, and promoted the reform of the military structure, including the establishment of the Army’s future command, the restart of the second fleet, the upgrade of the network command, and the establishment of the joint operations command-level space command. In addition, on the basis of the construction of the “future troops”, the US military has reformed the human resources system with the form of war, so as to meet the needs of dealing with the competition of big countries and maintain the long-term advantages of human resources.
The fourth is to look at the future form of war and create a new war model. The United States has significantly accelerated the deterrent capacity building in the new space field, including the completion of the network army construction plan in advance, the related ideas, plans and tools for cyber warfare are basically in place, and used in the Middle East anti-terrorism battlefield for actual combat; in addition to the establishment of the Space Command, The introduction of space warfare regulations, for the first time established space is a “combat domain” similar to land, sea and air, and proposes the concept of “air and space joint operations area” to promote the integration of space operations into the joint combat system. At the same time, the US military has stepped up its planning and explored the operational mode under the intelligent conditions. The various military organizations have formulated an “intelligent development road map” to explore the war winning mode under the future technological conditions from the military theoretical level. The exploration of the new war mode follows the traditional practice of the transformation of the US military in history. It aims to preempt the commanding heights of the future war with the concept of preemptive strikes and form a new “generational” advantage against the opponent.
The fifth is to reshape the geomilitary layout in an important strategic direction. In this round of military transformation, the focus of the geo-military layout is to use the stocks, through global operations, force utilization, and power maneuvering, to further consolidate the existing military layout and ensure the military strength of key areas. To this end, the US military is guided by the “Indo-Pacific strategy”, relying on the “two-way extrusion” approach from the West Pacific and the Indian Ocean to create a new structure that will contain and contain large regional powers, and then seek from a more grand geographical map, from both sides. Create a new geographical advantage. In this process, the US military pays particular attention to improving the existing military deployment form and the innovation of regional operational concepts. While ensuring the traditional methods of military bases and facilities, it also uses new frontier presence and force delivery methods to enhance military presence. Dynamicity and action “untestability.”
The US military transformation will further stimulate international military competition that has emerged in recent years and exacerbate the risks of the new arms race.
On the one hand, the US military transformation itself has a strong “competition” orientation, and it also has the consideration of guiding competition, stimulating competition and then dragging its opponents into the trap of the arms race. Judging from the six strategic documents and transformational practices of the US military, the US military has already identified “competition” as an effective means to cope with the reduction of its military superiority. It also regards “competition” as a powerful tool for exerting pressure on opponents under the “grey zone” condition. For example, the US Department of Defense’s “Indo-Pacific Strategy” clearly proposes to expand the “competitive space” with its rivals.
On the other hand, from the experience of modern international military transformation, the military transformation of big countries often has profound interactions, which easily leads to military competition or a sustained arms race. The United States is trying to lead a new trend of military transformation through this military transformation. Under relatively stable technical conditions and strategic and tactical environment, the mutual “learning” and “imitation” between major powers has long been the norm of international military competition, and thus the major countries in recent years. The direction and path of military transformation have shown greater convergence. In this context, in addition to the competition of core elements such as resource input, personnel quality, and military mechanism, the speed of transformation and quality, and the choice of competition path are likely to become the key factors for shaping future international military competition.
The relevant policy adjustments for the US military transformation are gradually being implemented, but its future prospects still face many uncertainties.
From the inside, the US military, as a complex system with complex operations, has always been “hostile” to military reforms, complex interests, deep-rooted military culture, and the traditional inertia of the bureaucracy, often becoming the fundamental factors hindering change. The current transformation of the US military involves new adjustments to the defense management mechanism, the redistribution of military resources, and the re-planning of the military’s ideas. It is bound to face internal paralysis by triggering the existing interests.
From the outside, the US military transformation is aimed at both China and Russia. The two countries have different military strengths and pose different levels of challenges to the United States. This will significantly increase the difficulty of the US military transformation. At the same time, in the new wave of military technology changes, the United States has not been as unique as the nuclear age and the information age. The first-mover advantage is not obvious, and it is difficult to lead the overall military transformation by relying on mastering the advantages of a single technology. Faced with potential changes in the form of war, major issues such as the direction and path of military transformation, the priority of technology research and development, and the direction of resource investment, the risk of decision-making errors has increased significantly, which will add greater uncertainty to the US military transformation.