Former Senator Jim Talent has been appointed to an independent panel assessing how well the Department of Defense is planning for the future.

Every four years, the Department of Defense is to look ahead, to try to foresee the military’s needs five, 10, 20 years from now. It’s officially called the Department of Defense’s Quadrennial Defense Review. Congress has charged an independent panel of 20 to assess the department’s planning; to determine if the Pentagon is ready for the military challenges of the future. The Secretary of Defense appoints 12 of the members. Congress appoints eight. Talent is among the eight appointed by Congress.

Talent says he worries that our naval fleet is shrinking to numbers not seen since 1916.

“There’s just no urgency about that fact in the Department of Defense and that is a huge thing,” Talent tells the Missourinet. “None of us have lived in an era when American naval power was not present in every important part of the world and we are headed for that kind of an era.”

America must invest more in its weapons, according to Talent, who notes that the country continues to fly 50-year-old bombers with no plans to replace them.

Talent has met with Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, who he says is understandably focused on the current conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan. Still, Talent says long-term planning is needed, such as in Asia where a strong American presence has kept equilibrium among the Koreas, Russia, China and Japan.

“In the absence of something like that, you end up with what we got in the 1940s, when you had a rising Asian power that had nationalistic ambitions and we don’t want that to happen again,” Talent says. “And it’s just my feeling that the department is not focusing on that at all and it needs to.”

Talent says flexibility is the key. He says the United States must be ready both with methods to fight terrorists and with the power to confront military regimes. Talent says the US must keep a wary eye on China, who he says isn’t a military opponent at this time, but must be persuaded that becoming one would not be in its best interest.

The panel delivers its report next month.

AUDIO: Brent Martin reports [1:20 MP3]