Most of Marshall’s writings over the past four decades are classified. He almost never speaks in public and even in private meetings is known for his long stretches of silence.
His influence grows largely out of his study budget, which in recent years has floated between $13 million and $19 million and is frequently allocated to think tanks, defense consultants and academics with close ties to his office. More than half the money typically goes to six firms.
Among the largest recipients is the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments, a defense think tank run by retired Lt. Col. Andrew Krepinevich, the Harvard graduate who wrote the first papers for Marshall on the revolution in military affairs.
In the past 15 years, CSBA has run more than two dozen China war games for Marshall’s office and written dozens of studies. The think tank typically collects about $2.75 million to $3 million a year, about 40 percent of its annual revenue, from Marshall’s office, according to Pentagon statistics and CSBA’s most recent financial filings.
Krepinevich makes about $865,000 in salary and benefits, or almost double the compensation paid out to the heads of other nonpartisan think tanks such as the Center for Strategic and International Studies and the Brookings Institution. CSBA said its board sets executive compensation based on a review of salaries at other organizations doing similar work.
The war games run by CSBA are set 20 years in the future and cast China as a hegemonic and aggressive enemy. Guided anti-ship missiles sink U.S. aircraft carriers and other surface ships. Simultaneous Chinese strikes destroy American air bases, making it impossible for the U.S. military to launch its fighter jets. The outnumbered American force fights back with conventional strikes on China’s mainland, knocking out long-range precision missiles and radar.
“The fundamental problem is the same one that the Soviets identified 30 years ago,” Krepinevich said in an interview. “If you can see deep and shoot deep with a high degree of accuracy, our large bases are not sanctuaries. They are targets.”
Some critics doubt that China, which owns $1.6 trillion in U.S. debt and depends heavily on the American economy, would strike U.S. forces out of the blue.
“It is absolutely fraudulent,” said Jonathan D. Pollack, a senior fellow at Brookings. “What is the imaginable context or scenario for this attack?”
Other defense analysts warn that an assault on the Chinese mainland carries potentially catastrophic risks and could quickly escalate to nuclear armageddon.
The war games elided these concerns. Instead they focused on how U.S. forces would weather the initial Chinese missile salvo and attack.