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One of the most critical operational challenges the United States is likely to confront in a future conflict, particularly in the Indo-Pacific theater, is the threat of massed precision-guided air and missile attacks on overseas ports, bases, and other vital facilities. DoD has invested significant resources to defend against ballistic missile attacks on the United States, as well as its forward bases and forward-operating forces. However, it cannot still defeat large numbers of ballistic missiles, cruise missiles, and unmanned aerial systems.
Weapons do not conduct military operations in isolation from one another, and yet the U.S. defense community devotes considerable attention each year to individual platforms. The time spent appraising specific weapons is understandable, given the huge investments and cutthroat politics surrounding these projects, not to mention the defense budget boiling everything down to line items, but is misplaced in a strategic context.
The United States' (U.S.) provision of weapons to Ukraine over the last year has raised critical questions about the overall supply of Western munitions and the ability of the weapon industrial base to meet the munitions demands of contemporary conflict. Although war in Ukraine has focused the world’s attention on the munitions issue, a survey of previous U.S. strike operations reveals that the U.S. has struggled to meet PGM demands in nearly every major campaign undertaken since their adoption. Looking to the future, simply producing and procuring more PGMs may not be enough to satisfy the requirements of a near-term great power conflict given current fiscal, industrial, and political constraints.
The threat to U.S. and allied air facilities in the Indo-Pacific region is increasing. Current air force posture is vulnerable to adversary first strike due to insufficient posture resiliency—the ability of deployed forces to survive, operate, and regenerate under adversary attack. The recently announced decision to replace the permanent F-15C Eagle squadrons at Kadena Air Base with a rotational deployment only reduces the effectiveness of U.S. Indo-Pacific air forces in the event of a conflict. Defense planning in recent years has outlined recommendations to improve the defense of both facilities and others in the region, but these recommendations have only been partially implemented at best.
On September 20, 2022, CSBA Counselor, Eric S. Edelman and Franklin C. Miller, Principal at The Scowcroft Group, testified before the United States Senate Committee on Armed Services regarding nuclear strategy and policy.
In the aftermath of the U.S. withdrawal from the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty in 2019, then-Secretary of Defense Mark Esper indicated that he believed it would be useful to deploy conventional intermediate-range ballistic missiles in the Indo-Pacific region. But it is not yet clear that allied or partner governments in either this region or in Europe would be willing to host such capabilities on their territory.