Obama signals change on defense

Just a few years ago, in the Obama administration's fiscal 2013 defense budget summary, the word "Russia" was mentioned briefly in the context of the new strategic arms treaty. By contrast, in the fiscal 2017 summary, President Obama proposes spending increases for "countering Russian aggression," including the quadrupling, to more than $3 billion, of funds for deploying a persistent Army brigade in central and Eastern Europe. … The recognition that Russia has evolved from hoped-for partner to serious threat is welcome. The intent of the increased spending is to reassure allies made nervous in the face of Russia's new aggressiveness and "send a strong message of deterrence."

Meanwhile, while the U.S. military concentrated on counterinsurgency warfare during the past decade, Russia was making impressive advances in electronic warfare and other military technologies. Like China, Russia has a smaller defense budget than that of the U.S., but it has been sinking resources into weapons systems that are "asymmetric," meaning that a relatively small investment can undermine a formidable conventional U.S. capability. Russia, for example, has reportedly developed a new unmanned nuclear-capable underwater drone, while China is improving its antisatellite capability. Both have leapfrogged technology hurdles, in some cases by stealing blueprints from the U.S.

How to respond? Obama's budget doubles Air Force offensive cyberoperations from $12.8 billion to $25 billion, according to Defense One. The budget contains money for research and development on railguns and lasers, swarming autonomous vehicles, guided munitions, electronic warfare and more technology wonders that remain in classified budgets. While Western allies must continue the fight against the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant and other forces of instability, they also must recognize that, through no choice of their own, a new age of deterrence has dawned.