Trump North Korea summit reveals exactly why it is vital to rebuild the US military

The summit Tuesday between President Trump and North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un creates a tremendous set of potential opportunities for the U.S. and the world – ranging from ending a war that has been in effect for the past 70 years to denuclearizing one of the most unpredictable, aggressive regimes in the world.

However, going into this summit it is crucial for America to understand that while peace is a positive aspiration, the outcome is dependent on hard power calculations. For the United States, that means our firm stand on the proven strategy of peace through strength.

Kim Jung Un has one overriding objective: to retain personal power. He is a leader who has been willing to sacrifice the fundamental well-being of his citizens; wholly ostracize himself from the world community; and continue to suffocate any notion of a functioning economy.

As far as Kim is concerned, he is willing to accept those consequences to ensure his personal position as “supreme leader.”

The one factor that threatens Kim’s calculus is hard military power – the ability of the United States and our allies to swiftly and decisively end his regime.

To ensure America can continue to secure peace through strength, it is well past time to rebuild America’s airpower advantage – to recapitalize what has become a geriatric U.S. Air Force – and to do it quickly, because North Korea is just one of many high-intensity challenges that are facing us.

President Trump has succeeded in getting Kim to understand something very important. If the dictator continues his aggressive behavior by building a nuclear arsenal and is unwilling to pursue a peaceful resolution he creates a greater threat to his existence than he does by taking a chance with a more conciliatory path.

The president has made it clear that there is a threshold, which we almost hit earlier this year with the spike in North Korean missile tests, when the United States and our allies will no longer be able to accept the threat posed by Kim’s hostile actions.

So when President Trump and Kim enter the room to begin their dialogue, it is crucial that there be zero ambiguity in Kim’s mind regarding America’s trump card – our military power.

While U.S. military advantages are eroding, we still retain some distinct advantages. First and foremost, are our operational advanced stealth combat aircraft – the B-2, F-22 and F-35. These planes are highly survivable and militarily effective strike systems that can fly into the heaviest air defenses again and again with little risk of being shot down.

These aircraft yield significant advantages over the last generation of non-stealthy combat aircraft like the F-15, F-16 and F/A-18, whose designs are over 40 years old and have a high likelihood of falling victim to North Korean air defenses. The North Koreans, their Chinese allies, and everyone else in the region understand what the F-35, F-22, and B-2 bring to the fight – an unmatched power projection advantage.

That said, the summit with North Korea highlights the need to recover the readiness of our military lost as a result of arbitrary and damaging defense budget cuts by the Congress and lack of attention by previous administrations.

Since the end of the Cold War, political leaders were quick to assume the United States would not face a capable adversary. They bought too few B-2s and F-22s, while scaling back procurement of the F-35 from the buy rate necessary to recapitalize the Air Force’s geriatric fighter force.

These were bad decisions, as the world turned out to be more dangerous than predicted. In the words of the Senate Armed Services Committee: “The array of national security threats facing the United States is more complex and diverse than at any time since World War II.”

As the committee further explained, past decisions that saw America fail to pursue a prudent modernization strategy mean that “America no longer enjoys the comparative edge it once had over its competitors and adversaries.”

We must reset these circumstances.

A rapid fix is possible. Aircraft like the F-35 are in current production but at a procurement rate less than half that originally planned. It is time to boost that rate to make up for lost time.

The B-2’s successor, the B-21, is midway through its development, but additional focus and resources can ensure new B-21s populate ramps as soon as possible, and in numbers required to execute our new national defense strategy. Past this, the F-22 force must be modernized to ensure the aircraft we have are as capable as possible.

Stealth aircraft are America’s power projection asymmetric advantage. Kim knows this. That is why presence of stealth aircraft in Northeast Asia signals America’s unmistakable resolve and capability – they are the most effective power projection tools in the president’s military arsenal. They are able to deter war in peacetime, and to succeed in war if necessary to fight.

While all Americans hope for progress toward a peaceful resolution with North Korea in Singapore, it is crucial that Congress and the American taxpayers understand that will only happen because of America’s asymmetric power projection advantage. Kim gets that, and that is why he will meet with President Trump.

To ensure America can continue to secure peace through strength, it is well past time to rebuild America’s airpower advantage – to recapitalize what has become a geriatric U.S. Air Force – and to do it quickly, because North Korea is just one of many high-intensity challenges that are facing us.

It is time to rebuild our military to be able to execute our new defense strategy rather than continue letting our defense strategy be driven by arbitrary budget caps.

Hard power is how we got Kim to Singapore.  Ensuring our air arsenal has the capability and capacity to win today and tomorrow is what will allow us to secure peace and stability into the future.

 David A. Deptula is a retired Air Force lieutenant general who planned the Desert Storm air campaign, orchestrated air wars over Iraq and Afghanistan, commanded air operations in the Pacific, and is now dean of the Mitchell Institute for Aerospace Power Studies.