The U.S. advantage in precision strike is waning and simply using more current generation precision guided munitions (PGM) to offset an enemy’s countermeasures could be a very costly proposition, the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments (CSBA) think tank says in a new report.

In its report, “Sustaining America’s Precision Strike Advantage,” CSBA details salvo competitions: the dynamic between two militaries that each have PGMs and capabilities to counter one another’s strikes. CSBA says in this competition, both combatants seek to gain advantages by improving their capabilities to attack and defense.

An artist rendering of the Zumwalt class destroyer DDG 1000, a new class of multi-mission U.S. Navy surface combatant ship. Photo: U.S. Navy.
An artist rendering of the Zumwalt class destroyer DDG 1000, a new class of multi-mission U.S. Navy surface combatant ship. Photo: U.S. Navy.

Senate Armed Services Committee (SASC) Chairman John McCain (R-Ariz.) on Wednesday lauded the report, calling munitions an important topic on Capitol Hill that often gets overlooked in favor of larger platforms like aircraft carriers. McCain said the report would be an important part of discussions next year as congressional authorizers work on the fiscal year 2017 authorization bills.

“Munitions are a priority for the Senate and House Armed Services Committees,” McCain said during a Capitol Hill event unveiling the report.

Instead of trying to simply out shoot the enemy, CSBA argues the Defense Department could create new operational concepts and exploit weapons technology that would maintain the U.S.’ precision strike advantage. CSBA also believes that DoD could leverage its long-range strike advantage by conducting precision strike operations from bases that are out of reach of most cruise and ballistic missile threats.

To address the growing threat of advanced point defenses, CSBA says the military could shift toward conducting short-range, standoff attacks. Strikes from any distance, the report said, could be more effective if U.S. power projection forces exploit operational concepts such as tunneling and collaborative weapons employment that increase the probability PGMs will reach their targets.

CSBA makes a number of recommendations, including DoD changing operational concepts. To sustain its precision strike advantage, CSBA says the Pentagon should place a greater emphasis on long-range operations, adopt new operational priorities for short-range aircraft and adopt new basing approaches.

DoD, CSBA says, should also free magazine capacity for offensive strike PGMs. The think tank says the military’s current long-range layered air defense approach preferentially uses large, expensive surface-to-air interceptors and only uses smaller, short-range interceptors or other air defense systems after long-range interceptors have failed. DoD should develop the ability to reload vertical launch systems (VLS) at sea. CSBA says this would enable ships to replenish their strike weapons and allocate more VLS cells to other missions without first returning to port.