The QDR Goes to War

Dec. 1, 2001

The Pentagon’s new national military strategy declares defense of the US homeland to be its top priority and spells out new, businesslike plans for balancing near-term and long-term readiness. It calls for having military power sufficient to compel a change of a regime in one Major Theater War, while at the same time, stopping an enemy advance in another. It signals a shift in US emphasis from Europe to the Asia-Pacific region.

The strategy also aims squarely at preventing shocks and surprises such as the Sept. 11 terrorist strikes in New York City and Washington. DOD hopes to succeed by dispensing with a focus on “likely” threats and identifiable foes and shifting to preparations for dealing with dangerous capabilities, regardless of who may possess them. The Pentagon also wants a more robust intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance capability such that the United States can keep “persistent” watch over any given area, without gaps.

In addition, it maintains that long-range precision-strike systems shape up as perhaps the most important transformational capability on the horizon.

This new capabilities-based strategy anticipates that enemies will use asymmetric means, such as cyber-war, terrorism, and chemical and biological weapons, to attack the United States and its forces and will not challenge the American military in its areas of dominance, such as air or naval power. The strategy would restructure packages of American military power by the effects they can achieve, rather than by their traditional roles. To this end, the military would forge new joint commands.

Such is the essence of the report on the 2001 Quadrennial Defense Review, submitted to Congress Sept. 30. This QDR report, mandated in law, preoccupied the Pentagon and the armed services for the seven months preceding the September attacks.

Deep Uncertainty

“We cannot and will not know precisely where and when America’s interests will be threatened, when America will come under attack, or when Americans might die as the result of aggression,” wrote Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld in a foreword to the report.

“We should try mightily to avoid surprise, but we must also learn to expect it,” he added, noting that intelligence about the intentions and capabilities of enemies will never be perfect. The ability to prepare for surprise and adapt to it when it comes is at the heart of the new strategy, Rumsfeld said.

In testimony before the Senate Armed Services Committee, Deputy Defense Secretary Paul D. Wolfowitz said the QDR was “largely completed” prior to the Sept. 11 attacks and that the events of that day “confirm” the QDR’s basic direction, particularly the move toward homeland defense and preparations for terrorism.

Wolfowitz said that the 71-page document-which includes a largely favorable assessment of its usefulness by Army Gen. Henry H. Shelton, the now-retired Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff–is a consensus product of senior military and civilian leaders, but that the consensus came only after heavy debate and a “push” by Rumsfeld in certain directions.

In the QDR report, Rumsfeld wrote that the US will follow a four-step concept: assure, dissuade, deter, and defeat. The US will assure friends and allies and foster a worldwide climate for freedom and prosperity. At the same time, it will continue developing military capabilities–through research, procurement, or operational experimentation–that will dissuade potential enemies from trying to develop their own rival capabilities. If that doesn’t work, he asserted, the US military must be strong enough to deter an opponent from aggression, and if deterrence fails, America’s armed forces must be able to “decisively defeat” any opponent.

Assurance would come in the form of forward deployed forces and the willingness of the US to share military technology with its friends and allies, to form strong coalitions that will fight alongside each other in a crisis.

Dissuasion would be achieved by maintaining dominance in those military arts and technologies where the US already has unquestioned superiority and by consistent, though “selective,” investment in new platforms and technologies. A full three percent of the Pentagon’s annual budget will go to basic science and technology, Rumsfeld pledged. Deterrence would come from maintaining sufficiently sized, equipped, and exercised forces to convince a rational opponent not to commit aggression.

Major Theater Wars

In the event of two overlapping Major Theater Wars in different parts of the world, the QDR states, the US should have the ability to not only defeat one of the enemies but occupy his country and force a regime change. In the second MTW, US forces will have to be able to “defeat the efforts” of the enemy, preserving a later option to “decisively defeat” him as well.

A decisive defeat was characterized by defense officials as being equivalent to the outcome of the 1991 Gulf War, in which Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait was reversed and its military capability severely degraded, but Iraq itself was not occupied or forced to undergo a regime change.

Meanwhile, the QDR calls for collaboration with law enforcement, local emergency services, intelligence services, and other Cabinet departments to defend the nation and conduct operations abroad against known enemies. These activities–ranging from diplomatic sanctions to freezing of financial assets, criminal arrests, responding to biological attacks, electronic surveillance, and dropping bombs–have all been undertaken against terrorist targets in the period following the Sept. 11 assaults. In this sense, the new strategy is already being pursued.

Like the 1997 review, the 2001 QDR concludes that the US faces no peer competitor in the world in the near future, but it notes that regional powers potentially will have the means to threaten US critical interests. It observes that ballistic missile technology is proliferating and puts high priority on achieving practical missile defenses as soon as possible.

The QDR report flatly states that Russia no longer poses a conventional threat to the US and that the two countries actually share some military objectives, such as the defeat of terrorism. It observes that, with the exception of the Balkans, Europe is relatively secure and that the US should shift its attention to South Asia. There, it notes, national militaries are growing commensurate with national economies, but governments in the region tend to be unstable.

Rumsfeld assistant Stephen A. Cambone told reporters the change in emphasis is not a shift but an example of how DOD will tailor forces for given regions “to meet … evolving circumstances.”

The QDR report suggests that the Navy should make arrangements to homeport more of its warships in the Asia-Pacific region, keep two aircraft carriers in the area, and investigate whether friendly nations there would allow the Marine Corps to conduct amphibious training. Some Marine pre-positioned equipment should also be moved to the Asia-Pacific region, according to the QDR. Likewise, the Air Force will seek basing arrangements in the Indian Ocean and Persian Gulf.

Other critical areas where the US will act to preclude “hostile domination” include Northeast and Southwest Asia and the Middle East. Neither Central Asia nor sub-Saharan Africa was mentioned as areas of critical interest. The US will seek “peace and stability in the Western Hemisphere” and act to preserve “sea, air, and space, and information lines of communication,” as well as access to “key markets and strategic resources.”

No Force Cuts

Although there was much public worry that the QDR would devolve into a budget-cutting exercise–seemingly driven by the faltering economy and revenue shortfalls from a large tax cut–no call for force-structure reduction appears in the document. The report confirms the existing force structure, which includes about 1.4 million uniformed personnel and 18 Army divisions, 12 aircraft carriers, and 88 Air Force fighter squadrons. Of those USAF squadrons, four are Air National Guard air defense squadrons.

The QDR also specifies that the US should maintain the current number of combat-coded heavy bombers–112 of them. It is a figure that would preserve the Air Force’s current available bomber fleet, whether or not the service is permitted to reduce its B-1B fleet from 93 to 60 airplanes.

Despite the lack of changes in force structure and end strength, Wolfowitz conceded to the Senate panel that there had been an effort to find “efficiencies” by reducing manpower and assets. After the Sept. 11 attacks, though, the search for such reductions was considered “meaningless” and dropped, he said.

Still, Wolfowitz acknowledged that, while “in most scenarios” the force structure’s size poses “moderate levels of risk,” in some others, “the risk would be high.”

Gen. John P. Jumper, the new Air Force Chief of Staff, said he does not anticipate an increase in end strength as a result of the QDR and worries that this will stress the Air Force even further. But he also noted that USAF is taking a hard look at itself to see if “all of the people in the Air Force that should be on deployment status are on deployment status.”

Previous QDRs did not address “the full range of threats to the US homeland” nor did they properly account for the demands of Smaller-Scale Contingencies or the requirements of forward deploying forces to deter conflict, Wolfowitz told the Senate defense panel.

The 2001 QDR says, “The new construct explicitly calls for the force to be sized for defending the homeland, forward deterrence, warfighting missions, and the conduct of Smaller-Scale Contingency operations.” By planning for all such needs, requirements for systems and capabilities in short supply–airlift, for example, and special operations forces–will be more accurately stated. The QDR does not discuss specifics of airlift, such as whether more C-17s should be acquired.

Under the new construct, comparable force packages will be rotated to more evenly distribute the load of undertaking contingencies and providing presence. Air Force Aerospace Expeditionary Forces, for example, or a Marine air wing might substitute for an aircraft carrier in a given area.

Decisions Deferred

The lack of force structure or end strength changes puzzled Senate Armed Services Committee chairman Carl Levin, who told Wolfowitz at the same hearing that the QDR “seems to me full of decisions deferred.” Paraphrasing Shelton’s QDR assessment, he described it as more of a vision “than the comprehensive roadmap to the force of the future” that had been promised. Wolfowitz said the programmatic and budgetary changes that would begin to implement the QDR would appear starting with the Fiscal 2003 budget request.

The QDR has dominated the Pentagon’s activities since March, when the Bush Administration began making enough leadership appointments at the Defense Department that a serious overhaul of military strategy could begin.

Rumsfeld empaneled 19 separate study groups to examine various facets of defense organization, technology, strategy, and business, in search of more relevant or efficient practices and places to invest. These were in addition to a panel Rumsfeld himself chaired, before becoming Secretary of Defense, on the organization of military space activities, which wrapped up in January. (See “The Space Commission Reports,” March 2001, p. 30.)

These study groups considered the strengths that the US should not give up–its current asymmetric advantages–but also offered ideas on how the military should transform itself to confront future threats. Those that “reported out” in a public way concurred that longer-range platforms, highly precise attacks, information connectivity, and leap-ahead technologies are essential to preserving the US military edge.

The Pentagon’s biggest managerial challenge will come in trying to balance near-, mid-, and long-term risk, says the report of the QDR. In the near term, the US is engaged in combat operations, and funds must be devoted to maintaining them. In the midterm, military facilities which have suffered from long budgetary neglect must be rebuilt or repaired, or service personnel will quit. In the long term, new technologies must be matured into new weapon systems for future readiness.

The Pentagon is developing formulas for assigning risk in each of these areas and to determine how best to trade one against the other. However, given the long neglect of military facilities, revitalizing them can’t happen overnight, Pentagon comptroller Dov S. Zakheim said.

Shelton, in his assessment of the QDR, noted that DOD has “successfully raised annual procurement spending to the $60 billion level” but warned that it may take an addition of $100 billion to $110 billion a year to arrest the problem of “rapidly aging weapon systems.”

Transformation of the force will be a priority, but the speed of transformation will depend on what the nation devotes to defense spending in the coming years. Since most weapon systems were not gradually replaced as they should have been in the 1990s, the cost of rapidly replacing them all at once would be very high, Wolfowitz said before the Sept. 11 attacks.

“To think we can’t afford what we need … is simply wrong,” he emphasized in his October testimony. He added that “we need to move in those directions more rapidly and with more resources than we would have envisioned before the attacks.”

The 10 to 20 Percent Solution

In testimony, Wolfowitz asserted that he would consider the force radically altered if only “10 or 20 percent of the capability is transformed.” This would allow the older, nonreplaced assets, “what we call the legacy forces, to perform their missions more effectively.”

Transformation will be undertaken to achieve six critical operational goals, according to the QDR. These are:

  • Protecting critical bases of operations, such as the US homeland and allies, and defeating weapons of mass destruction.
  • Assuring the integrity of information systems and conducting information attacks.
  • Projecting and sustaining US forces in distant theaters where anti-access means are being employed and defeating those means.
  • Denying enemies sanctuary “by providing persistent surveillance, tracking, and rapid engagement with high-volume precision strike, through a combination of complementary air and ground capabilities against critical mobile and fixed targets at various ranges and in all weather and terrains.”
  • Enhancing the capability and survivability of space systems and their support infrastructure.
  • Using the leverage provided by information technology and innovative concepts to develop “an interoperable, joint C4ISR [Command, Control, Communications, and Computer, Intelligence, Surveillance, and Reconnaissance] architecture and capability that includes a tailorable, joint operational picture.”

The fourth goal–high-volume precision strike at various ranges, including long ranges–is a “major transformational capability,” Wolfowitz pointed out to the Senate panel. He said the Pentagon is looking for better ways to tie the eyes of special operations forces on the ground to bombers and strike aircraft looking for hard-to-find moving targets. Such a capability is one “we would like to have today,” he added.

Anti-access capabilities-weapons of mass destruction, shore-based anti-ship batteries, theater ballistic missiles, and anti-space capabilities that could interfere with US satellites–will likely be located throughout an enemy country, the QDR notes. Given advanced surface-to-air missiles, access to enemy airspace could be denied “to all but low observable aircraft.”

The development of “robust capabilities to conduct persistent surveillance, precision strike, and maneuver at various depths within denied areas” will be critical in the near future, according to the QDR.

The report also touts space control as an emerging transformational mission.

“Space surveillance, ground-based lasers, and space jamming capabilities and proximity microsatellites are becoming increasingly available,” says the report. A “key objective for transformation … is not only to ensure the US ability to exploit space for military purposes but also as required to deny an adversary’s ability to do so.”

Mum on Systems

In keeping with its emphasis on capabilities, the QDR avoids discussing specific new systems, such as the F-22 fighter or Crusader artillery vehicle and their relative contributions to transformation but instead focuses on the effects desired from the military as a whole.

Jumper said the QDR “talks a lot about what the Air Force does anyway,” with regard to global operations, the use of a rotational force–as manifested in the 10 Aerospace Expeditionary Forces–“and it talks about space and information warfare, command and control, and information technologies–all already enjoying a full head of steam in the United States Air Force.”

But “what I see this portends for the Air Force is what I call the horizontal integration of manned, unmanned, and space. And when I say manned, I don’t necessarily mean airborne or spaceborne platforms; I also mean things on the ground, like people, who do simple things like put eyeballs on the target.” Jumper sees the next requirement as integrating all ISR assets and combat systems “at the digital level, so that they’re networked in a way that can resolve ambiguities about target location/target identification at the machine level.”

Overall, “I think that we are on the road in each of these major categories that they’ve described,” Jumper said.

Transformation will also involve organization, and the QDR seeks to establish a new Standing Joint Task Force under each of the regional combatant commands, such as Central Command and Pacific Command. These will ensure interoperability and communication capability among the services and with likely allies in the area and establish standard operating procedures and tactics.

The SJTFs will “develop new concepts to exploit US asymmetric military advantages and joint force synergies.” Besides collecting the best that each service has to offer, the SJTFs may offer a lighter, leaner, and more efficient approach to dealing with crises.

An enabling technology for SJTFs will be a space based radar, as well as airborne and human intelligence, to track moving targets and pass the information to area strike assets.

The SJTF “could serve as the vanguard for the transformed military of the future,” the Pentagon asserts in the QDR.

The Pentagon is also contemplating a joint opposing force to play the enemy to SJTFs in exercises and experiments, which will take place every two years at a minimum.

Future technologies seen having potentially large impact on the US military include nanotechnology, for very small devices and ISR systems; extreme stealth; advanced, high-speed computers; biometrics for tracking adversaries and identifying people for security purposes; and commercial satellite imagery.

Base Closure Coming

Rumsfeld’s QDR also serves notice on Congress that more base closures will be sought. DOD wastes up to $4 billion a year by keeping unnecessary bases open, the report contends. The QDR forecasts the joint use of military bases by more than one service or other government agencies.

Emphasis is also placed in the QDR on retaining people, deemed the most critical military asset. The QDR underlines the need to revitalize dilapidated facilities for personnel and their families and to make sure they are not pressed past their limits.

The Defense Department “should not expect its people to tolerate hardships caused by inequitable or inappropriate workloads within the force, aging and unreliable equipment, poor operational practices, and crumbling infrastructure,” according to the report.

Jumper said he was heartened that the QDR did not become a cost-cutting exercise.

“As we got into [previous] reviews it became evident very quickly that the idea was to reduce force structure. This QDR does not.”

He’s also happy that the QDR did not become a turf battle between the services. “I’m very pleased to say that the services did not fall into that trap this time, as opposed to the last Quadrennial Defense Review, where the services were pretty much at each other’s throats.” There has been a realization, he said, that “there’s a profound requirement for each of the specific skills that each of the services bring, and they’re not always used in equal proportions, but that doesn’t mean that they won’t be used next time.”

Jumper said, “We are … finally past this stage we went through in the last QDR, of trying to describe how each [service] would go win the war all by ourselves. … Nobody … in any of the leadership thinks any one of us is going to do it alone.”

In his foreword to the QDR document, Rumsfeld insisted that it is critical for America to invest more money in defense.

“The loss of life and damage to our economy from the attack of Sept. 11, 2001, should give us a new perspective on the question of what this country can afford for its defense,” Rumsfeld asserted. “It would be reckless to press our luck with false economies or gamble with our children’s future. This nation can afford to spend what is needed to deter the adversaries of tomorrow and to underpin our prosperity. Those costs do not begin to compare with the cost in human lives and resources if we fail to do so.”

What the Force Must Be Able To Do

From Paul Wolfowitz, deputy secretary of defense, in Oct. 4 testimony to the Senate Armed Services Committee:

“In the QDR, we are proposing a new, more comprehensive approach. US forces will maintain the capability to:

  • Defend the American homeland.
  • Deter conflicts in four critical areas of the world, by demonstrating the ability to defeat enemy attacks, and do so far more swiftly than in the past or even today.
  • Defeat aggressors in overlapping time frames in any two of those four areas.
  • At the direction of the President, decisively defeat one of these two adversaries–to include invading and occupying enemy territory.
  • Decisively impose our will on any one aggressor of our choosing.
  • Conduct a limited number of contingencies short of war in peacetime without excessive stress on our men and women in uniform.”