U.S. outstripping allies in defense tech

"Future War: What Trends in America's Post-Cold War Military Conflicts Tell Us about 21st Century Warfare"

The interoperability gap between the U.S. armed forces and their allies is widening to the point that it could radically change the future of coalition combat, according to a report released today by Northrop Grumman Corp., a defense contracting giant.

The United States is outpacing European allies in the areas of research and development in military technologies by a significant magnitude, Northrop Grumman found.

In its report, "Future War: What Trends in America's Post-Cold War Military Conflicts Tell Us About 21st Century Warfare," Northrop Grumman analyzed three post-Cold War conflicts—Desert Storm, Allied Force in Kosovo, and Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan—to assess how U.S. forces might fight during the next decade.

The trend toward battlefield connectivity, and the use of precision munitions and unmanned aerial vehicles, will continue and will provide the U.S. armed forces a strategic advantage on nearly every front, according to the report. Simultaneously, however, any allied coalitions will tend to be ad hoc and will demonstrate the United States' technological superiority over its allies.

The report, researched and written during the past year, was co-authored by Christopher Bowie, former senior analyst at the Northrop Grumman Analysis Center and now the deputy director of strategic planning for the Air Force; Robert Haffa Jr., director of the Northrop Grumman Analysis Center; and Robert Mullins, a Northrop Grumman senior analyst.

"The challenges stem from political constraints as much as technological, and that is something we learned in Kosovo, where a consensus was required [to get things done] within NATO constraints," Mullins said. "Subsequent coalitions have been and will most likely continue to be U.S.-led."

American advances in military technology compared to those made by allies could diminish the role allies play in future combat, Mullins said. They would be relegated to niche roles.

"That is not to say coalitions will cease to exist or that the job the allies do is not important, but the future focus will be on niche capabilities and specialized operations," he said. "The European defense investment is not overly robust."

The report says the United States spends more than 60 percent more on defense than its European allies, and that difference is widening.

"With few opportunities available to close this gap, it is likely that the United States will depend on its European allies less and less for military contributions during future war," the report says.

Commodore Jon Welch of the British Royal Navy expressed the same concern in January in a presentation at the AFCEA International-Naval Institute conference in San Diego. Allies have been an overlooked part of adapting to a network-centric model, Welch said, and that could cause serious problems in future wars.

"We need to think about our allies before just coalitions, and one way to do that is to get NATO to fix" some of the problems, Welch said. "Don't wrestle with the problems on your own. Tell the allies what you're buying and what you're doing with it."

Haffa, director of the analysis center, said the U.S. investment in military technologies will continue to provide the armed forces with the greatest edge in any future combat role.

"Precision-guided munitions are the most revolutionary technology that will affect the way we fight and give us the greatest edge," he said.

Munitions will increasingly be able to seek out and destroy sites—even moving vehicles—thanks in part to the adoption of global positioning systems that enable missiles and bombs to find their targets more accurately and advances in sensor technology.

Despite the unique characteristics of each conflict, isolated lessons can be drawn out to assist in future combat, regardless of the location or enemy, the report says.

"Our trend analysis suggests strongly that, in order to adequately prepare for what is becoming an increasingly hostile security environment, the U.S. must invest in concepts, capabilities and enabling technologies to sustain its competitive advantage on the future battlefield," the report says.

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