A panel of national security experts discussed how the 21st century military will look at the Center for American Progress Wednesday (Edwin Rios / Medill)

WASHINGTON – The 21st century’s military should be an intelligence-driven force that emphasizes small special forces units rather than large armies, a national security expert said Wednesday.

Michael Breen, vice president of the progressive Truman National Security Project, said President Barack Obama’s new defense strategy should drive the budget, while taking into account the changing landscape of potential threats of 21st century warfare.

“In a hyper connected world, you need to talk about the universal national security budget and put development alongside defense,” Breen said during a panel discussion hosted by the Center for American Progress. “The threats we’re basing on are not going to look like they used to look. We don’t live in that world anymore. It’s time to adapt.”

The president proposed cuts to the defense budget of $487 billion over the next decade,  focused on trimming the size of the military, canceling or scaling back weapon programs and shifting focus to the Asia-Pacific region and the Middle East.

Jim Ardenkis, director oft the Progressive Policy Institute’s National Security Project, said the transition from troops stationed on the ground to unmanned surveillance strategies provides defense a cost-effective strategy as part of the budget cuts. He cited an analysis of the 2011 defense budget by the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments that shows military personnel costs were $139 billion, while investment in research and development totaled only $76 billion.

The defense budget could handle further cuts than currently projected without sacrificing the force’s new strategy, said Lawrence Korb, senior fellow at the Center for American Progress. He noted that the projected cuts actually are merely slowing the rate of budget growth and suggested cutting spending on “overbudget, ineffective or unnecessary weapons programs” could save an estimated $350 billion through 2015.

Korb called for an improved cost management system in the Pentagon.

Breen, who served as a captain in the Army and worked with drones as surveillance tools during his stints in Iraq and Afghanistan, said the military’s increased use of drones will continue to create ethical challenges.

“Drone technology is leaping ahead in a groundbreaking speed,” he said. “There is a profound revolution underway. The moral discussion is well behind that, and it’s time for that discussion to be had.”