Pentagon Review Spurring Large Changes

Washington Matters

Pentagon Review Spurring Large Changes

Transformational shifts in defense policy, security strategy, force structure and procurement priorities will follow a top-to-bottom program review under way this year at the Defense Department.

The 2010 Quadrennial Defense Review, which is used to reset and update a host of policies and programs to better reflect emerging and long-term threats, will be completed early next year and will widely influence defense budgeting and purchasing.

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This is the fourth such defense structure planning review since Congress mandated them in the 1990s, and it may be the most significant in the changes it sets.  

While Congress may alter some of the particulars of the QDR later next year, the overall thrust of the review and the changes it calls for are expect to be adopted and will be seen first in the fiscal 2011 defense budget plan. The QDR is signed off on by all the service branch chiefs and the president.

Among the largest shifts expected will be in war-fighting capability and posture. The current policy, which had been in place for decades from the early years of the Cold War, requires that the Pentagon be able to conduct two major conventional wars simultaneously anywhere in the globe.

That is expected to shift with the 2010 QDR to require the U.S. to be capable of managing one major conventional war, such as on the Korean Peninsula or in the Middle East, and one long duration, global, counter-insurgency operation that employs nonconventional warfare and tactics, such as those needed to confront and overcome non-state-based terrorism.

The QDR will likely call for the Navy and Air Force to focus their strategic planning and procurement more for future conventional wars and for the Army and Marine Corps to manage irregular or nonconventional counter-insurgency operations over the long term.

The first step to be ordered by the department will be shifting about $60 billion over the next five years, or $12 billion a year, from programs being deemphasized by Defense Sec. Robert Gates and others to new programs and procurement. Again, Congress may alter some parts of the policy changes, but it is unlikely to make wholesale changes to the QDR.  After years of double-digit budget increases in the past decade, the annual defense budget is expected to remain flat or nearly so for the period 2011-2015 at about $540 billion a year. About one-fifth, or $110 billion, will be devoted to procurement.

Military sources expect the QDR to call especially for expanded production of light, shorter-range cargo and troop transport planes, transport helicopters,  a much larger fleet of unmanned aerial drones, including armed drones , sophisticated road side and other mine detection systems,  light-armored trucks, mine-resistant ambush vehicles, night-vision-enabled small tanks for urban settings,  electronic-jamming warfare systems and cyberdefense systems, light, mobile generators, new ground-to-air missile defenses,  and advanced covert communication systems.

Among programs that may be deemphasized, although far from being cancelled, are long-ranger bombers, aircraft carrier replacement, amphibious Navy craft, heavy armored vehicles, some aging air defense systems, nuclear submarines, next-generation Navy cruisers, Air Force search-and-rescue vehicles, and space-based defense projects still in development, including a proposed space-based radar.

While some Navy programs are being shaved, the Navy is expected to be directed by the QDR to increase its forward-deployed presence in the western Pacific in part as a response to rising military spending by China in the region.

Ballistic missile-defense programs and research, which receive about $8 billion annually, are not expected to see any dramatic funding shift, despite efforts by some in Congress each year to tap missile defense to free up funds and despite the diplomatic controversy missile defense is creating with Russia.