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 August 2005 

Lt. Gen. Lawrence P. Farrell, Jr., USAF (Ret)

Strategy and Budget Driven by Global War on Terror

August 2005

by Lt. Gen. Lawrence P. Farrell, Jr., USAF (Ret)

For several months now, there has been widespread speculation about the outcome of the Pentagon’s Quadrennial Defense Review.

The final report is not scheduled to be completed and sent to Congress until February, but looking at what is happening in the world today, there are clear indicators of where the QDR is headed. It appears fairly certain that the review will initiate a change to the current military posture, which requires that the services size their forces so they can fight and win two major regional conflicts.

The force design of the current strategy, which was slightly modified from an earlier version after the 9/11 attacks, is “1-4-2-1.” The first “1” means the military must be prepared to defend the U.S. homeland. The “4” stands for the ability to deter hostilities and counter aggression in four regions of the world. The “2” means it must be capable of swiftly defeating two adversaries in overlapping military campaigns. The final “1” stands for the capability to win one of the two campaigns decisively, while also being able to conduct a limited number of lesser contingencies.

One assumes that the new strategy will depart from the emphasis on major conventional conflicts and focus more immediately on the needs of the global war on terror. That surely will lead to changed and likely reduced requirements for traditional military hardware, particularly warplanes and capital ships.

The immediate priorities of fighting terrorism—versus the transformation construct of the last QDR—will be the dominant factors shaping force structure and weapon buying decisions for the foreseeable future.

Commitments in Iraq and Afghanistan also will play a major role in the Pentagon’s long-term strategy. Troops likely will remain there in significant numbers for several more years. It’s worth noting that the United States historically has had a tough time withdrawing its military presence after major conflicts—witness Korea, Japan, Germany and Bosnia—because we keep discovering that continuing U.S. force presence (well after the end of hostilities) helps provide stability. Bosnia is especially noteworthy since the United States went there in 1995 with coalition partners, strictly limited objectives and a one-year time frame. Most Americans would be surprised to discover that we still have a few hundred troops in Bosnia.

Another overriding issue that will influence the QDR is the affordability of weapons systems. Pressure on military programs to cut costs and on the services to tighten their budgets grows by the day. As one Air Force official put it, this is the first time that the Defense Department deliberately asked the service, as part of the QDR process, to downsize the force in order to cut costs, rather than base decisions strictly on strategy and mission requirements.

The Air Force and the Navy, particularly, are being asked to cut back purchases of warplanes and new ships, in order to help fund Army and Marine Corps personnel and equipment. The Air Force already has reduced the number of F/A-22 air superiority fighters it plans to buy, and is expected to also trim the quantities of F-35 Joint Strike Fighters. The Navy is eliminating one aircraft carrier from its fleet of 12, and is likely to scale back major ship programs such as the DD-X destroyer and the Virginia-class attack submarine.

It is, in some ways, understandable why high-tech programs are bearing the brunt of the budget ax. The difficulties that U.S. troops have encountered in Iraq combating insurgents and hunting Al Qaeda cells call for other qualities than those designed into present high tech systems in development and early production. It is evident that, in the short term, technology alone does not provide all the answers. The resiliency of this enemy clearly demonstrates that more resources are needed in human intelligence collection and analysis, as well as cultural awareness and civil affairs.

Many of us have wondered how military transformation fits into all this. After all, transforming the military into a high-tech, network-centric force has been touted by Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld and his team as a central goal of the Defense Department. But will there be enough resources to fight the war on terrorism, to buy the advanced technologies, space assets and sophisticated networks that are envisioned, and finally to recover from the effects of the Iraq and Afghanistan conflicts?

It is to be hoped that the QDR will provide some answers, but it is hard to see how we can afford everything, especially as we see the defense budget starting to level off even in the face of increased demands on our military. But despite this reality, we still need to continue to keep our eyes on the high end of warfare, and ensure we don’t lose the capabilities we have built at great expense over the past decades to address the full spectrum of warfare. We may well, sooner or later, have to fight another war, and we don’t know what that future enemy will have in his arsenal. We need to keep our technology on the cutting edge, both to prepare for unplanned contingencies and to preserve our ability to deter major conflicts.

The QDR, finally, also will be about homeland defense. The recent terrorist bombings in London painfully remind us of how vulnerable we are, and how easy it is to attack our infrastructure, such as mass transit and power plants. Military programs surely will be competing for resources with domestic initiatives to secure the nation’s infrastructure. We expect the QDR to recognize all this, but whether the words line up exactly with fiscal and strategic realities remains to be seen. The next president’s budget will tell the real story.

Please email me your comments to lfarrell@ndia.org.

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