My FY24 NDAA Wishlist
Return of the MAC-T, Satellite procurement, and Rules for Killer Chatbots
Happy budget season, everyone! It’s that time of year where defense lobbyists earn(?) their pay, Congressional posture and budget hearings fill the airwaves with soundbites, and staffers hate their lives more than normal. Sometime next week, the President’s Budget FY24 proposal will go live (allegedly) and we will once again begin the arduous process of defense budget negotiations and policy prescriptions from the Legislative branch. While everyone focuses on which dollars go where, I’ll be focusing on what new policy initiatives come out of the congressional NDAA process over the next few months and you should, too. The NDAA is the policy and authorizations half of the budget process. In basic terms, the Armed Services committees write DoD policy and make recommendations on funding, but the money comes from the appropriations committees. Numbers get headlines, but the structure of the policies behind them is just as important. So today, here are my top 10 recommendations for the FY24 NDAA. Strap in, this is gonna be a fun one.
1) Hit the Floor
In places we care about defending, Congress has regularly set minimum troop headcounts to ensure that POTUS/DOD can’t pull long-term, dedicated resources to support a short term problem without adequate coverage. Now that we publicly, if reluctantly, talk about about troop numbers on Taiwan. We should begin setting a minimum troop count for Taiwan. As of right now we’re only talking about advisors, and Taiwan has made no public overtures towards a permanent garrison of US troops like we currently have in Korea and Germany. But, as I’ve written about before, we have to expand the advisor presence in Taiwan in order to efficiently and effectively train the Taiwanese military. The following numbers are simply suggestions and dependent upon operational requirements (advisors aren’t cheap), but a five-year plan might have FY24 at 150 troops, FY25, at 300, FY26 at 500, FY27 at 600 and FY28 at 800 troops. This would amount, depending on what unit structure you’re talking about, to a battalion of troops by FY28. Once again, this would simply be the floor and one that would undoubtedly set the pace and debate for 2024 and beyond. Can’t let some isolationist POTUS throw away our foothold on the most important island in the Western Pacific.
2) Military Assistance Command-Taiwan
The MAC concept goes all the way back to the 1950s. Most infamously, MAC-V ran the US war in Vietnam, but variants were set up around Asia as advise and assist groups. The purpose here would be to have a real on-ground fusion and coordination center, run by a 2-star GOFO, for US training ops on the island that would not only manage the advisor garrison, but also run point on coordinating exercises with the Taiwanese and other allies. MAC-T would also run point on actually overseeing the transfer of new weapons to Taiwan. Critically, this would be one step down from a US-Taiwan Defense Command. While I would love to get Taiwan to US Forces Korea level of shared defense planning, we simply aren’t there in terms of security or capability.
3) Dedicated Funding for US-Taiwanese Training
Obviously, the Appropriations Committees will have the final say here, but it should be written into policy that a certain amount of funds within the DoD budget be dedicated each year to the forces currently advising Taiwanese forces on Taiwan. At current troop levels, it wouldn’t even be that high by DoD standards but steady funding can go a long way to stable operational planning. Even within INDOPACOM and service-level commands, you’d be surprised at how funds for the highest priority can get redirected for someone’s pet project.
4) Killer Chatbots
If you haven’t read EX SUPRA, and explicitly the chapter “The Missiles on Maple Street are Fake News” then you may not quite understand my concern about the impact of Chatbot AI on information warfare. To save you the spoilers and nightmares, in our discussions about killer robots, I don’t think we talk enough about managing the machines we interact with every day and how they can be abused for war. Therefore, I propose the DoD be required to include in DODD 3000.09, a section covering Pentagon management of AI in the information warfare space, separate from AI in cyber warfare.
5) Expand Primary and Secondary Launch Facilities in CONUS
If you think we don’t have enough ports and airfields in the Pacific, and the balloon fiasco gave you a good wakeup, let me introduce you to the half-dozen or so launch sites we have for rockets. I’ve written before, both in EX SUPRA and on my theory of orbital combat “Collision Warfare”, about what happens when we start throwing expensive rocks at each other in space, and I highly recommend you read up on that for a full background on this recommendation. The bottom line, however, is that if by sabotage, weather, or kinetic strike we don’t have enough launch pads for orbital replenishment, we won’t be in the fight for long when our satellites start falling out of the sky. As noted in the most recent public DOD report on China, the PLA is actively building an arsenal and plan to disable US assets in space as part of a first strike. Not only would building out our launch pads and space facilities lower our replenishment time, it may deter the PLA from striking in orbit in the first place.
6) Minimum stockpile requirements for long-lead items and backups for satellites
Just as important as recommendation #5, having launch pads doesn’t mean a thing if we don’t have anything to launch. Satellites, like the rockets they ride on, take time and resources to build. Both of these things will undoubtedly be constrained in a wartime environment. Last year, the NDAA covered expanding long-lead purchases for certain defense items, that should explicitly be expanded for satellites systems. Additionally, there should be a minimum stockpiling requirements for whole satellite systems to be ready to launch within a certain window should they be needed. If we have X number of early warning satellites, communications relays, or ISR platforms in orbit, we should have a certain number stored at a high state of readiness to cover down on their loss in the event of war in orbit. Redundancies keep us in the fight, and they can deter the adversary from starting that fight in the first place.
7) Expanding the Army’s Definition of an Infantryman
This is a pet issue of mine, but the US Army used to have a wider set of occupational qualifiers for the different types of infantry (light, mechanized, anti-armor, etc.). Not only should Congress require the Army to look at bringing these back, so that new recruits and existing soldiers can be better classified, evaluated, and trained, it should be expanded to include infantry drone operators. I’ve talked about this before, but the idea here would be fore infantry trained personnel to go to follow-on schools to learn on the various drones that combat units employ. A unique MOS designation, matched with the appropriate redesign of unit MTOEs, would not only attract more people to the infantry, it would help those units better train, employ, and equip those soldiers. As the Army expands its use of drones and experiments with unmanned ground vehicles, we should be training up grunts who know how to use them and can bring that expertise to the battlefield.
8) Recruiting Reforms
You’ve all read the statistics on the problems with Cold War era recruiting standards hurting our ability to bring in Gen Z and soon to be Gen Alpha. This isn’t about wokeism or whatever, it’s about matching the requirements with what the youth of today and tomorrow look like and assessing what would actually hurt the Army to bring in. We don’t need to lower fitness standards, I sure as hell don’t want that. But we do need to look at ending some of the antiquated bureaucratic requirements that delay recruitment and often stop candidacy. At the top of my list are waivers/rejections for ADHD medication and marijuana use (so long as there’s no accompanying criminal conviction). These should no longer be seen as the abhorrent cultural and medical impediments to good soldiering that they once were, they simply don’t line up with the culture and medical climate of today. And cutting these requirements would surely do less harm than the Surge-era strategy of cutting education or felony standards. I’m sure there’s more too, and Congress should create a pilot program that implements these reforms. At the end of the day, wars are fought and won by people. If we don’t have enough people, then we don’t win.
9) The Real Strategic Petroleum Reserve
We need a lot of oil to fight wars. We don’t have enough oil to fight China. Until all our ships run on glowing rocks, we need a strategic petroleum reserve that is tied to our war plans. A war with China would strain both the military and civilian economies. With the (rightful) loss of Red Hill to environmental disaster, the DOD has been slow to match the Pacific’s lost fuel reserves in a way that is both secure and efficient for warfighting needs. Additionally, it should be noted that we don’t have enough storage or delivery vessels to actually bring our fuel, oil, and other petroleum products to the fight. Shipbuilding and purchasing is a problem in its own right and sure to be continually fought over in Congress, here I’d just like to propose that we expand the Strategic Petroleum Reserve to support military demands in time of war without straining the US economy more than it already would. In other words, in addition to the current SPR, an additional reserve should be created to match a 90-day war requirement for a war over Taiwan. As we electrify the economy, that number will no doubt change, but as of right now, we’re short-changed from storage to shipping. Additionally, I would propose that we try to find storage sights that both won’t poison the community like Red Hill or sit in the path of hurricanes and flooring like the current SPR sites along the Gulf Coast.
10) Commission More Information Warfare Officers
As much as I hate to credit the US Air Force, they recently started commissioning information operations officers. This is opposed to the other services who usually see information operations as a secondary billet for a later stage of an officer’s career. The uh, inherent problem with that structure is that the information environment from TikTok to WeChat is saturated by young people who know it best. Requiring IO officers to be field grade officers or senior captains is like sending senior NCOs in their mid-30s to Ranger School. Sure, some can probably get the job done, but fitness and IO are both a young person’s game. In addition to a joint IO curriculum, the services should all allow O-1s to branch into information operations and let the memes fly.
If you enjoyed this article, check out my novel, EX SUPRA. It uses fictional vignettes and narrative to talk about many of the issues I cover in Breaking Beijing. Recently nominated for a Prometheus Award for best science fiction novel, it’s the story about the war after the next war. From the first combat jump on Mars to the climate change-ravaged jungles of Southeast Asia, EX SUPRA blends the bleeding edge of technology and the bloody reality of combat. In EX SUPRA, the super soldiers are only as strong as their own wills, reality is malleable, and hope only arrives with hellfire. Follow John Petrov, a refugee turned CIA paramilitary officer, Captain Jennifer Shaw, a Green Beret consumed by bloodlust, and many more, as they face off against Chinese warbots, Russian assassins, and their own demons in the war for the future of humanity.
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