A lack of predictable and sufficient funding for modernization has left the military attempting to dig itself out of a technological deficit it cannot spend its way out of, according to Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Marine Gen. Joseph Dunford.

“We are going to have to do more than buy hardware to get out of the trough we are in,” Dunford said. “We are going to have to expend some intellectual capital and develop disruptive, innovative ways to meet our requirements.”

As an example, Dunford detailed the bountiful resources poured into beefing up the military’s intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance capacity and capabilities over the last decade or so. The significant investment in unmanned aerial vehicles and other platforms has done little to fulfill the global ISR demand, he said.

Since 2003, the military has increased the ISR capability and capacity available to combatant commanders by 1,200 percent. Since 2007, the number of ISR platforms has gone up 600 percent. Yet less than 30 percent of ISR demand is met, Dunford said.

“That is a challenge we cannot buy our way out of,” he said. “I think we are going to have to think really hard about how do we collect, how do we analyze and how do we disseminate information at the tactical, operational and strategic levels to feed decision making.”

The Air Force has plans to increase the number of combat air patrols (CAPs) over the next five years from 60 to 90, which will fulfill only about 34 percent of the global ISR demand, he said. Resources must be invested in ISR capability instead of simply more unmanned aircraft, he said.

“The problem we are confronted with is now how to afford more Predators” he said. “The problem we are confronted is now how to expand the enterprise as we know it. The problem we are confronted with is making decisions and ensuring our leadership and our airmen have the information they need to make decisions.”

Other areas that require investment are the nuclear triad, long-range precision fire capability, electronic warfare, cyber and space. The list represents an unrealistically heavy lift for a Defense Department that has seen a net decrease in modernization dollars over the past five years.

Still, the Pentagon is basing its strategic investments on the perceived capabilities of what Dunford calls the “Four-Plus-One” threats of Russia, China, Iran, North Korea and violent extremism.

“Looking at the four challenges, more properly using those four challenges as a lens through which to look at the joint force, is useful,” he said. “It can inform our assessment of the capability and capacity that we have in the inventory today and that we require in the inventory of the future.  My assumption is that if we take a look at those four-plus-one and we build joint capabilities and capacities that deal with the challenges associated with those four-plus-one or some combination thereof, in the future we will find ourselves with a competitive advantage against any adversary.”

The Defense Department is keenly aware of trends in capability development within Russia, China, North Korea, Iran and among terrorist groups, he said. It also studies their organization structures and contemplates scenarios in which the United States might have to confront each or a combination of them.

As he has said and other high-ranking military officials have agreed, Dunford listed Russia as the number-one threat to U.S. military and strategic interests. The Russian military has invested heavily in long-range conventional strike and nuclear capabilities, cyber, space, EW and undersea capabilities.

“Despite their demographic and economic challenges, they have made significant investments in their military capability,” he said. “They are also operating with a frequency and in areas that we haven’t seen in over two decades. Over the past few years we have seen Russia modernize existing systems that pose a direct threat to the United States and our allies.”

Both Russia and China are seeking to limit the U.S. ability to project power in their respective regions, he said. While China’s intentions and budgets are opaque, Dunford said its military leadership has launched concerted efforts to upgrade its nuclear enterprise, power-projection, space, cyber, ballistic missile and air-defense capabilities.  

“I think we will be close to getting it right even if where we fight in the future has nothing to do with,” that list of potential enemies.