The war in Ukraine has counterintuitively affected the country’s defense strategy. In the face of Russia’s illegal annexation of Crimea and fomented uprisings in eastern provinces, Ukraine has accelerated its defense strategy with the help of western and NATO-donated weaponry. This has enabled Ukrainian forces to conduct an effective counterattack reconquering roughly 3700 square kilometers of territory. Additionally, Ukrainian leaders have experimented with innovative technology to gain a military edge, such as deploying drones and cyberwarfare tactics. As a result, Ukraine is now better equipped to protect itself against further Russian aggression.

As for the US, the 2022 National Defense Strategy used to be unmistakably clear: China is the core goal. Nevertheless, as the Russia-Ukraine war continues and the Defense Department maintains its investment in the cause, the unexpected outcome of the war in Ukraine gives the Defense Department a better chance of surpassing its primary strategic rival, China.

The Russian invasion of Ukraine has caused upheaval in Europe that has global repercussions, impacting US interests. President Zelenskyy of Ukraine has stated that the US security aid to the country is an “investment.” This is due to the Biden administration’s defense of democracy from authoritarian aggression and their assistance in eliminating the Russian military. However, the impact of US assistance goes beyond that.

The Department of Defense’s current initiatives regarding Ukraine encourage the growth of capability and organizational adaptation that will be essential to stave off a potential future war between China and Taiwan. By providing arms and intelligence to a nation presently in conflict, the US military is honing its skills to do the same for Taiwan. Thus, the Pentagon must maintain this momentum and formalize these changes instead of disregarding them. Ultimately, the advantages of supporting Ukraine will exceed the expenses even when exclusively considering the ramifications of the war upon Taiwan.

Revolutionary Tactics in Conflict

The Russia-Ukraine war has created an opportunity to accelerate the Defense Department’s efforts. The war has highlighted the need for new weapons systems and capabilities that can be used in a great power conflict. It has also demonstrated the importance of speed and agility in developing, testing, and fielding these capabilities. In addition, the Ukraine war has been a proving ground for novel weapons systems, such as unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), that both sides have used to devastating effect. This experience informs how the Defense Department approaches force modernization and pushes it to move faster on procurement.

The US government has responded to the conflict with sanctions against Russia and increased military support for Ukraine, including lethal aid such as Javelin anti-tank missiles and HIMARs. However, this support cannot end the war or protect Ukraine from future aggression. Doing so requires a comprehensive strategy that considers diplomatic, economic, informational, and military measures — all needed to deter Russia from further aggression against Ukraine or other states in its region.

Since 2014, when Russia took Crimea and China militarized the South China Sea, the Defense Department has been attempting to utilize the commercial sector to benefit from sophisticated technologies. However, there have been a variety of obstacles, such as acquisition roadblocks, culture resistance, strict Congressional oversight, and not knowing how these abilities would fare against China or fit into an “aspirational” US operational plan, which has led to this effort’s lack of success. In the 2023 budget request, a significant emphasis was placed on researching and developing breakthrough capabilities instead of investing in novel weapons systems ready for full-scale production. The budget for 2024 has shifted its focus to procurement, but there are still too few prototypes that have made it through the “valley of death” and have been adopted on a large scale. Although the course is correct, the rate of progress could be faster.