By Andrea Shalal
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The U.S. military should invest more in longer-range, stealthy weapons, and especially unmanned vehicles, to leverage current advantages and stay ahead of rapid advances by China, Russia and other potential foes, a Washington think tank said Tuesday.
The report, released by the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments, acknowledged U.S. budget pressures and said funding for new weapons could come from base closures, cuts in personnel benefits and reductions in current modernization programs - such as the shorter-range Lockheed Martin Corp F-35 fighter jet - and even aircraft carriers.
Former Navy Undersecretary Robert Martinage, who wrote the report after spending five years at the Pentagon, said it was meant to stimulate discussion as part of a major push by the Defense Department to accelerate technology developments and outpace gains by other countries.
Representative Randy Forbes, a Virginia Republican and member of the House Armed Services Committee, told a news conference the report was a "great first step" toward a more strategic vision for national defense. He said the current budget cuts and lack of a coherent strategy meant the U.S. military was "either in or dangerously close to a crisis."
Forbes said lawmakers were increasingly concerned about threats to U.S. military systems, and said he saw a "greater window" to ease mandatory, across-the-board budget cuts that are due to resume in 2016.
Martinage said adversaries were developing long-range precision weapons, including ballistic and anti-ship missiles, that could threaten key overseas facilities and U.S. naval forces, and key targeting and communications satellites were also more vulnerable than ever.
To offset those threats, the Pentagon has announced a new drive to develop new "game-changing" weapons, much as it focuses on nuclear weapons and long-range delivery systems in the 1950s, and tactical systems and radar-evading aircraft in the 1970s.
Martinage said the Pentagon should leverage its existing advantages in the areas such as unmanned systems for air and sea, automation and robotics, stealth and complex, networked systems, to ensure continued U.S. military superiority.
He said the U.S. should build a balanced and integrated global surveillance and strike (GSS) network for initial use in the mid-2020s would hedge against growing threats to satellites and U.S. naval assets, while restoring the U.S. military's ability to project power across the globe.
He said the Pentagon also needed to reform its current bureaucratic acquisition process and decrease the long times it now takes to develop and field new weapons.
(Reporting by Andrea Shalal; Editing by Lisa Shumaker)