The 2010 Quadrennial Defense Review
February 2, 2010
The 2010 Quadrennial Defense Review (QDR) report is the latest in a series of policy statements by Secretary of Defense Robert Gates that includes many speeches, the 2008 defense strategy, and a Foreign Affairs article on “reprogramming” the Pentagon for twenty-first century challenges. It is both consistent with and amplifies themes that Secretary Gates has struck throughout his tenure. As he states in his cover letter, “This is truly a wartime QDR. It places the current conflicts at the top of our budgeting, policy, and program priorities, thus ensuring that those fighting America’s wars and their families—on the battlefield, in the hospital, or on the home front—receive the support they need and deserve.” And in a continuation of a process that began in April 2009 when he announced his historic FY2010 budget decisions, Secretary Gates “put his money where his mouth is” and significantly increased Department of Defense (DoD) spending on the wars being fought today and the warriors (and their families) that are fighting them. Far from being a “no news” QDR, the 2010 QDR report provides both a clear rationale, which is sometimes eloquent, for its strategic priorities and a listing of the FY2011 budgetary decisions that continue to implement those priorities.
In my view, the 2010 QDR decisions fall into three tiers of significance. Of most importance is the elevation of “prevail in today’s wars” and “preserve and enhance the All-Volunteer Force” as two of the four “priority objectives.” In accord with its risk management framework, which includes operational and force management risk, the 2010 QDR report addresses those challenges with a lengthy list of force enhancements, mostly for the “enablers” such as manned and unmanned intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR) systems and increased capabilities for counterinsurgency, stability operations, and counterterrorism, which has become the new catechism for “irregular warfare” in Pentagonese. The 2010 QDR report includes an entire section on “Taking Care of Our People,” which give substance to the secretary’s frequently stated belief that people are America’s greatest asymmetric advantage.
On the second tier of importance is the emphasis that the 2010 QDR report gives to homeland defense. Although the department has long given lip service to this critical mission since 9/11—homeland defense was the first “one” in the 2001 QDR force planning construct of 1-4-2-1—this is the first time that the department has really invested significant resources in its capabilities to support civil authorities in responding to disasters both at home and abroad. Joining homeland defense on the second tier is the continued emphasis, which started in FY2010, on capabilities for irregular warfare, now defined as counterinsurgency (COIN), stability operations, and counterterrorism (CT), and the much increased focus on building the security capability of partner states and countering the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction.
Although it does not directly affect budgetary priorities, the decision to abandon the canonical “two major regional conflicts” as the department’s force planning construct for shaping and sizing the force is important and worthy of third tier status. DoD will still plan for “two capable nation-state aggressors but now recognizes it must be “capable of conducting a wide range of operations, from homeland defense and defense support to civil authorities, to deterrence and preparedness missions, to the conflicts we are in and the wars we may someday face.” Moreover, it must be prepared to do them “under a range of different circumstances” in “disparate theaters” and in “overlapping” timeframes. Rather than embrace a “point solution” force planning construct like the 2001 QDR’s 1-4-2-1, the department assessed alternative force structures against a robust set of planning scenarios that were packaged in different combinations and then decided on which FY2011–FY2015 it would “buy” and, in a major departure from recent QDRs, stated explicitly what the major elements of that force structure are. In my view, this is a significant advance in force planning methodology.
In the category of “stay tuned for further developments,” I would include the actions taken to “operate effectively in cyberspace” and to cope with the growing anti-access and area denial capabilities of potential adversaries. For example, the department has expressed the clear intent to develop a new joint air-sea operational concept for power projection and the new joint long-range strike capability needed to implement it, but for the time being these are “incompletes” that can’t be graded. The same is also true for its proposals to reform security assistance and ensure that the global defense posture is flexible and adaptable. Finally, although a number of important priorities (such as acquisition and export control reform) were discussed in “reforming how we do business,” it is notable that nothing really was said in how DoD could improve the efficiency of defense business processes. This used to be called “defense business transformation,” and even though the Pentagon has failed repeatedly to achieve it, it has to keep trying, because at some point the urgency of addressing the federal budget deficit of $1.3 trillion in FY2011, will make savings from efficiency gains the only source of new defense spending.
Clark Murdock, Senior Adviser, CSIS; former director of policy planning, Office of the Secretary of Defense, and U.S. Air Force