Seven Defense Priorities
for the New Administration

The United States has the most powerful, precise, and professional armed forces in the world. Nevertheless our military is challenged: Russia, China, Iran, and the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea roil the World Order. Terrorists operate by global franchise, and groups like the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) attempt to establish caliphates. Deterring nuclear war, arguably the highest priority for the Department of Defense, is complicated by new potential routes to nuclear escalation. States deterred by U.S. military might are pursuing asymmetric strategies of “gray zone” conflict: war short of all-out war. Long-term commitments to missions of stabilization, reconstruction, peacekeeping and nation building consume human and financial military resources for decades. New weapons like cyber and autonomous systems are aimed at the heart of the U.S. military strategy predicated on technological superiority; but also offer the U.S. an opportunity to grasp.

The Defense Science Board, an advisory body for the Secretary of Defense and other senior DoD officials, is chartered to address such challenges, including the most irksome problems and potent opportunities, unstructured and consequential, that involve science and technology; and almost always touch on policy, strategy, acquisition, manufacturing, operational concepts, and rules of engagement.

This report summarizes the main findings and recommendations of reports published by the Defense Science Board for the Secretary of Defense during the last dozen years. The purpose of this effort is to aid the incoming Administration to make a fast start in addressing pressing national security issues and opportunities. While the topics that have been addressed span a wide range, seven major themes dominated the Board’s considerations.

1. Protecting the homeland against non-state actors; against enemy states in time of war; and against weapons of mass destruction and cyber;

2. Deterring the use of nuclear weapons to prevent nuclear war;

3. Preparing for gray zone conflicts as war short of all-out war becomes the norm;

4. Maintaining information superiority and what the information infrastructure enables for adversaries and for the U.S.;

5. Anticipating intelligent systems and autonomy including numbers and disaggregation, range, and danger on and above the sea surface that drives warfare undersea;

6. Supporting stabilization, reconstruction, peacekeeping, and nation building to win the peace; and

7. Preparing for surprise to the U.S. and by the U.S.

The themes are elaborated as defense priorities in the seven chapters of the report. Each chapter references the in-depth reports underlying those seven themes. Note that the seven themes are not, and could not be, fully independent of each other, and the first is no more or less imperative than the last.

The Board prepared its last summation at the beginning of the Obama Administration: Defense Imperatives for a New Administration (2008) and Creating a DoD Strategic Acquisition Platform (2009). Some things have changed, some things have not changed.