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How Much is Enough?

A number of long-term defense spending proposals have been circulating in Washington, such as the National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform. None, however, are based on proven methods of defense planning. In realistic defense planning, national security challenges drive force structure requirements: how many brigades, wings, carrier groups, and other military assets are needed; where they are deployed; and how they are used. The requirements determine the costs.


It makes no sense to have a defense debate without at least beginning with a sensible assessment of what military assets are required to protect America's vital national interests. To fill that void, The Heritage Foundation prepared, "A Strong National Defense: The Armed Forces America Needs and What They Will Cost."


The force structure in the report was developed using the same analytical methods that Pentagon planners and the Armed Services Committees of Congress use to determine U.S. defense needs. The underlying principle is that any considerations of force size and capability must begin with determining likely missions based on security interests:


  • What will the U.S. military be expected to do?
  • What challenges will it likely face in protecting vital U.S. interests at home and abroad?
  • What capabilities will the military need?
  • How much will it cost over the next five years?
  • What are the possible consequences of failing to develop and maintain these capabilities?


This analysis describes the dangers that U.S. military forces will likely face and the capabilities needed to meet those dangers in five strategically important regions: Asia, the Middle East, Europe, the American homeland, and globally. The President's fiscal year (FY) 2012 budget request is used as a baseline. This analysis also examined authoritative open-source documents, such as the 2010 Quadrennial Defense Review (QDR) and the 2010 QDR Independent Panel report. However, this paper envisions a more robust force than the one proposed in the 2010 QDR.


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