QDR: Pentagon Realigning Procurement Policy

InsideDefense [January 31 edition, subscription only] reports that, “One of the most significant results of the 2005 Quadrennial Defense Review will not be found in the final report or in the Pentagon’s accompanying fiscal year 2007 budget request.” It is a major change in the process by which force structure and procurement is conceptualized.

Central to the QDR’s recommendations regarding changes to front-line capabilities is a refinement of a key component of the National Defense Strategy called the “force planning construct.” This forms a basis for all contingency plans and is a core justification for the composition of the armed forces, as well as the number — and types — of ships, aircraft, trucks and tanks the services require.

The QDR adjusts the force planning construct to better account for the post-Sept. 11, 2001, strategic landscape by focusing on three areas: homeland defense; the global war on terrorism, renamed the “long war” in the review; and conventional campaigns.

The new force planning construct underscores the significance U.S. military planners now ascribe to stability and reconstruction missions. “For the foreseeable future, steady state operations, including operations as part of a long war against terrorist networks, and the associated rotation base and sustainment requirements, will be the main determinant for sizing U.S. forces,” states the draft QDR report.

The construct is predicated on the ability of the U.S. military to defend the homeland and maintain its presence in a number of regions around the world. At the same time, U.S. forces must be capable of conducting two simultaneous major operations, with one of them being a large-scale stability and reconstruction campaign like the current Iraq and Afghanistan missions, and the other being a major conventional war. “While we are saying we can handle two major campaigns, we now realize one of them may be of a prolonged, irregular nature,” said the senior defense official. The construct calls for U.S. forces to surge to a “win decisive” level of effort in one of these campaigns.

Pentagon leaders believe that various policy levers can be pulled to affect the “elasticity” of U.S. forces, increasing their flexibility to carry out a wider range of missions, the senior defense official said. These policies include decisions tethered to mobilizing the force, framing the rotation base of each service, setting operational criteria, determining the U.S. military presence around the world and weighing what portions of the force to forward-deploy vs. what pieces to keep in training and education.

Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and his senior leadership team were in a unique position in crafting this QDR. They were the first Pentagon incumbents with a chance to conduct such a sweeping assessment of U.S. military capabilities in two decades. As such, they were able to leverage four years of thinking about the new strategic landscape and benefit from a National Defense Strategy issued last March, at the outset of the review.

They also were able to build on a major budget decision abruptly handed down on Dec. 23, 2004, which many believed marked the unofficial launch of the 2005 QDR — and, the thinking went, would serve as a bellwether for dramatic changes to military investment plans. More than $55 billion was slashed from the Pentagon’s fiscal year 2006 to 2011 weapon system investment roster in that program budget decision, which touched nearly every big-ticket weapon system in the Defense Department’s inventory. That budget action effectively shifted tens of billions of dollars from Air Force and Navy programs to the Army. Many interpreted that as a sign the QDR would further cut expensive Air Force aircraft programs and Navy ship programs to boost spending on ground forces shouldering the lion’s share of responsibility in Iraq and Afghanistan.

This is important. While few cuts were made to major weapons systems, there was a realignment in the way increases were handed out.

For decades, despite radical changes in the size of the force and the nature of the threat posture, the proportion of Defense spending allocated to each of the Services remained almost perfectly static. Finally recognizing that the ground forces are bearing the brunt of current operations and forecast future operations–and actually realigning the budget to account for that–is big, indeed.

It’s about time.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is a Security Studies professor at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Brent Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. He's a widower and father of two young daughters. He earned his PhD from The University of Alabama. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.