Hoover Institution (Stanford, CA) – On Tuesday, September 26, American defense strategist and Hoover visiting fellow Christian Brose presented his case study “Moneyball Military: An Affordable, Achievable, and Capable Alternative to Deter China,” before an audience of scholars and students at the Hoover Institution.
Brose’s work is part of a new series of case studies hosted by the Hoover History Lab. Directed by Kleinheinz Senior Fellow Stephen Kotkin, the History Lab was recently launched with a mission to supply a growing demand for consequential historical analysis among students, the business community, policy officials, and people working in other sectors of society.
Drawing from his prior experience as staff director of the Senate Armed Services Committee and his current position as chief strategy officer at Anduril Industries, Brose warned that the US national defense enterprise is systemically broken and that our ability to deter great power conflict has been eroding for decades.
Most at fault for this state of affairs, Brose suggests, is the Pentagon’s centralized Planning, Programming, Budget, and Execution (PPBE) process, whereby funding and procurement decisions are made years in advance based on imagined projections of future military scenarios, which may or may not correspond with later realities and necessities.
In Brose’s view, PPBE is conducted by well-meaning, hard-working public servants doing their best to predict the future on unrealistic timelines but that the US military is being disrupted.
Another longstanding assumption undergirding PPBE, Brose argued, is that the United States will always be able to project military power through large, exquisite, expensive, and relatively uncontested legacy systems such as aircraft carriers, submarines, tanks, and manned airframes.
The problem with this assumption, Brose asserts, is that it is simply no longer true.
Brose highlighted how the war in Ukraine has, in relatively short order, disrupted decades of defense planning, strategizing, and production practice. In his view, the conflict shows how the modern battlefield, in many respects, runs contrary to the US national defense establishment’s historical expectations. Both the Russians and the Ukrainians have employed large numbers of smaller, lower-cost, and partially autonomous systems that are easily shared among different units, alongside older Soviet and Western surplus hardware.
Further, advanced aviation technology and software is becoming more affordable to produce and deliver. This reality is evident in Ukraine, where acquisitions of advanced drone and loitering munitions by Kyiv from Turkey and by the Kremlin from Iran continue to shape the way that conflict is being fought.
Recognition of this dawning military reality has, in Brose’s view, catalyzed the formation of a consensus in Washington that the United States currently faces a real lack of readiness to engage in serious peer or near-peer conflict anytime soon—let alone great-power conflict with a nation four times larger than the United States in population, with other real advantages in terms of national assets and hard power.
For example, Brose described how the People’s Republic of China currently maintains 232 times the shipbuilding capacity of the United States. While American vessels tend to be larger, more expensive, and more individually capable than their counterparts among the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) navy, the PLA navy threatens to be able to overwhelm US forces across the Indo-Pacific region through numerical superiority and broader simultaneous reach alone.
Brose suggested that the current balance in military capabilities between the United States and China results from the fact that since the 1980s, the United States has deindustrialized while China has hyperindustrialized.
Nevertheless, he identified a hopeful possible path forward for the United States.
Brose calls his solution the “Moneyball Military,” with the end goal of establishing what he refers to in his essay as a “parallel pathway that is flexible, entrepreneurial, meritocratic, and properly disruptive” compared to the current US force. What is old, large, and expensive must become new, small, and cheap—in line with the revolution in digital consumer technology that has changed the world and disrupted many industries over the past two decades.
As in other industries, the way to get more innovation and abundance in the defense sector is to encourage more competition among more suppliers, under conditions of economic freedom.
One positive development Brose shared was the recent bipartisan appropriation of significant additional funds to expand the Defense Innovation Unit (DIU), a segment of the Department of Defense tasked with developing nontraditional means of improving American security. Utilizing the venture-capital model common across Silicon Valley, DIU invests in portfolio companies while working with them and their military customers to create and scale innovative solutions to pressing security problems.
“We need a force generation process that looks less like China at its worst and more like America at its best,” Brose said.