DoD Identifies Key QDR Themes

The Pentagon leadership has identified at least seven overarching themes it will address during the crucial Quadrennial Defense Review, according to several sources in the building. Alongside these themes, Defense Secretary Robert Gates made it clear in his budget proposal that he will use the 2009 QDR to examine the rationale for a number of major weapons programs, particularly the Air Force’s air fleet and Navy shipbuilding.

The Pentagon leadership has identified at least seven overarching themes it will address during the crucial Quadrennial Defense Review, according to several sources in the building. Alongside these themes, Defense Secretary Robert Gates made it clear in his budget proposal that he will use the 2009 QDR to examine the rationale for a number of major weapons programs, particularly the Air Force’s air fleet and Navy shipbuilding.

The strategic review will run through the summer with the intent to have it wrapped in time to inform FY 2011 defense budget decisions. There is some concern in the Pentagon that the short time line might prove inadequate for a “comprehensive” strategic review and could produce a rushed product, according to sources I spoke with. The worry is that the outcome will reflect the thinking and biases of the newly installed Obama team in OSD without adequately accounting for the views of the services. The QDR will be run out of the office of Under Secretary of Defense for Policy, Michele Flournoy. Flournoy played a similar – though less prominent — role in the Clinton administration so she is familiar with games the services play during a QDR.

This QDR will use the 2008 National Defense Strategy as a point of departure. A big theme in the strategy document, and a point Gates’ emphasizes repeatedly, is the need to achieve “balance” across the military. Gates has clearly decided what the future of conflict will look like and he believes the services are weighted far too heavily towards large scale conventional war and wants to shift their focus towards the lower end of the conflict spectrum. “Last year’s National Defense Strategy concluded that although U.S. predominance in conventional warfare is not unchallenged, it is sustainable for the medium term, given current trends,” Gates said.

He also wants the QDR to capture battlefield lessons from Iraq and Afghanistan and believes those should influence force structure and spending decisions. His call for more aerial drones and his push for big investments in Mine Resistant Ambush Protected Vehicles are examples where battlefield lessons have influenced spending choices; we should expect more of these. Gates says fewer costly, leading-edge weapons are needed to insure against the rise of a great power; greater investment is needed to add troops and buy greater quantities of less technologically advanced weapons for hunting terrorists and waging counterinsurgency campaigns.

Major questions and themes the QDR will examine include:

Irregular Warfare. The 2006 QDR elevated the importance of irregular warfare, calling it the “dominant” form of future warfare, and the 2009 QDR will examine how to further configure the military to better adapt to irregular war and will attempt to institutionalize lessons from the ongoing wars.

High End Asymmetric Threats. This is basically looking at China and Iran and examining how to better deter and counter potential threats from those countries, such as anti-access weapons, anti-satellite weapons, long-range anti-ship missiles, the proliferation of ballistic missiles and, more so in the case of Iran, the WMD threat.

Global Posture. The review will examine how to adapt forward basing and presence to a changing world, including basing in Europe, the Middle East and Asia, naval deployments, and whether there are duplicative efforts among the services in some areas. “If you have bombers in the Pacific, then do you also have to have aircraft carriers, or can it be an either/or for much of the time? Do we always have to have everything in every service?” Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. James Cartwright said this week. The QDR will likely address whether the military should drop the “two major regional contingency” strategy that was supposed to have guided force sizing, but never has.

Business Processes. Gates has repeatedly called for acquisition reform to get control over costs and the need to make “tough choices” on weapons and spending. “We must ensure that requirements are reasonable and technology is adequately mature” before programs go forward, he said. His moves to add acquisition personnel and reduce the role of contractors in procurement is likely just a first step. He wants to reform the acquisition system so it can speed weapons to the battlefield and lessen the need for ad-hoc procurement arrangements, such as JIEDDO, that were created to try and avoid the often Byzantine weapons buying process. On Gates’ comments on the need for acquisition reform, CSIS’ Anthony Cordesman had this to say: “The secretary advanced some key issues and priorities for reform. Unfortunately, exactly the same comments could have been made during the Eisenhower administration – and were.”

Whole of Government. DOD will try to better define its requirements and role in homeland defense as well as the perennial issue of how to better support inter-agency partners in stability operations. While “inter-agency” and “whole of government” have been thrown around a lot, there are still no plans, budgets or measures of effectiveness for integrating State, DOD and USAID efforts, Cordesman said. “It may be impossible to modernize the U.S. security posture until the chaos, lack of focus, and waste in the foreign aid efforts in wars like Iraq and Afghanistan are addressed.”

High Demand Low Density Assets. Gates announced big spending increases for aerial drones, helicopters, special operations transport, “ISR enhancements and experimental platforms” and other critical “enablers” that are in high demand and low supply. Cordesman says that while the additional spending on ISR is welcomed, a “clearer picture” is needed of the “overall architecture,” such as the data communications network and bandwidth issues. He also says major reforms are needed to deal with “massive cost escalation and delays in the U.S. satellite program.”

Cyber War. Pretty much everybody agrees that there will be massive spending on cyber security in this administration.

In his budget proposal, Gates said the QDR would determine the fate of a number of weapons programs. As he put it, “these programs that I described as being delayed in many cases are in fact going to be programs that are examined in the QDR to see whether there is a — what the need is going forward.” These include:

Army Ground Vehicle Modernization. Gates cancelled the vehicle part of the Army’s FCS program that were intended at some point in the future to replace legacy systems such as the M-113, M-109 Paladin Howitzer, Bradley Fighting Vehicle and M-1 Abrams tank. Gates said he intends to re-launch the Army’s vehicle modernization effort and that the new designs must “meet the needs of the full spectrum of conflict.” He also made it clear that he wants a return on investment from the $25 billion DOD spent over the past few years buying MRAPs, and expects the Army to find a place for the vehicles in its future formations. The ultimate design of those formations would appear to be under review as well, according to comments from Cartwright. Oh, and as Cordesman pointed out there was no mention of “reset” in Gates’ rollout, a rather important set of near term decisions on what war worn equipment to replenish and replace and what to scrap.

The Air Force’s Long Range Bomber. The 2006 QDR said the Air Force should develop a new long range bomber by 2018. This week Gates put an end to that effort before it really got much traction. Not to presuppose the outcome, but Gates sounded pretty skeptical that anybody would come up with a terribly convincing justification for a new bomber. The bomber cancellation along with the accelerated buy of the F-35 JSF, “will produce an Air Force that is best able to operate over short ranges with small payloads,” a decision that should be debated in the QDR, CSBA said of Gates’ proposal. If the need for a new bomber doesn’t come out of the QDR then it’s highly likely that any future long-range strike program will be unmanned, because then you’re getting well into the 2030s or 2040s before you would see a new airframe.

Navy Shipbuilding. Because Gates delayed the next generation cruiser program (CG-X) and outlined only a “tentative” plan for destroyers, the QDR must “rationalize future requirements and create a sustainable long-term building program,” for major surface combatants, CSBA said. The decision to slow aircraft carrier builds was not a surprise. The QDR will examine the need for new amphibious warfare ships, Gates said, and the sea-basing concept needs further fleshing out before the Navy starts buying offshore platforms.

Cordesman said Gates’ budget proposal “raised at least as many questions as it answered,” and “only began a series of massive adjustments to the U.S. defense posture that will play out over at least a decade.” He doesn’t have particularly high hopes for the QDR: “it is far from clear as yet that it will be any better tied to a clear force plan, procurement plan, and future year defense program and budget than its largely meaningless predecessors.”