Washington Watch

June 1, 2010

The QDR’s Budget Obsession

Strategies outlined in the Pentagon’s 2010 Quadrennial Defense Review were drawn to match budget decisions, and not the other way around, according to a panel of experts.

“Was the QDR a budget-constrained exercise? My tentative assessment is, yes,” said Stephen J. Hadley, co-chair of the 20-member independent commission to assess the QDR.

Hadley, national security advisor to President George W. Bush, and co-chair William J. Perry, former Secretary of Defense, testified in April to the House Armed Services Committee.

They were asked to provide a preliminary report on their panel’s activities. Congress directed creation of the panel last year, when members questioned why defense programs were being cut back or eliminated while the strategy underlying them was still being crafted.

Hadley said that the managers of any QDR must walk a fine line between planning to cope with each and every potential threat and laying out a realistic defense posture. Without some consideration of anticipated spending levels, the QDR would have become a useless “pipe dream, unsupported by real financial resources,” he said.

On the other hand, he and others implied, the QDR process loses relevance if its managers allow budget considerations to dominate and dictate what should be strategic decisions.

This was the view expressed by Rep. Duncan Hunter Jr. (R-Calif.), who voiced his opinion that the QDR should not attempt to reconcile itself with likely funding levels. Rather, the Pentagon should lay out security needs and let Congress worry about how to pay for them.

“We don’t need DOD telling us what we ought to spend,” Hunter said. “They’re there to give us their projection for what we ought to spend, but … when it comes to … how much we should spend, … that’s what we’re here for.”

Perry said that the force structure outlined in the QDR—equipment both in hand today and being developed or built—is “quite capable of dealing with any future military threats which I can envision right now, … in the next 10 years.” However, Perry said, he couldn’t guarantee whether the force structure will hold for 20 years.

Perry and Hadley said that their group—12 chosen by the Secretary of Defense and eight by Congress—have divided up the QDR evaluation into five subgroups, which will look at:

  • The nature of 21st century conflict.
  • “Whole of government” capabilities.
  • Force structure and personnel.
  • Acquisition and contracting.
  • The QDR process and beyond.

The panel’s final report is due to be delivered to Congress on July 15.

Is It Impotent and Obsolete

In the view of the Hadley-Perry wise man panel, the entire QDR process itself may be fatally hampered by its poor timing and incompatible purposes.

Former Pentagon chief Perry noted that, today, Congress is asking for “a much more ambitious study than we did in the Bottom-Up Review” of 1993, which was the first iteration of what has become known as the QDR. Such reviews have been released in 1993, 1997, 2001, 2006, and 2010.

Perry said, “You want a full-blown strategy, looking ahead 20 years, informed by, but not constrained by, budget planning. … The QDR is a very useful document, but it does not do that. In fact, it’s probably not possible.”

While the QDR did an adequate job of examining near-term threats and “rightly” placing priority on winning today’s wars, it ignored or failed to provide necessary detail on a host of vexing defense problems, Perry said.

There were no options presented to “control … spiraling health care costs,” which are devouring an ever-larger share of defense budgets, Perry said. Moreover, “we need options for how to decrease the cost and the time involved in acquisition programs,” and how to involve other parts of government in the business of nation-building.

“The QDR clearly spells out the need for doing that, but it does not spell out the details,” Perry said.

“We are wearing out and, in some cases, destroying our equipment at a very fast rate, and that is building up a due bill, which is going to affect future budgets in a very important way,” Perry warned, and the QDR doesn’t map out how to recover from the “wear and tear” of ongoing operations in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Those issues probably need their own separate study, and possibly a bipartisan commission—modeled along the lines of the base closure process—to tackle them, Perry asserted.

“Acquisition reform and health care and retirement costs are recurring themes of QDRs,” Hadley said, and a special commission might “actually make some progress solving these things” so that in four years’ time, critics are not “saying the same things … we said in this QDR.”

HASC ranking Republican Howard P. McKeon (Calif.) said that perhaps the QDR is “a step too far, given a new Administration [and] a new budgeting, and maybe we need to step back a little bit” and divide the task into smaller, more digestible chunks.

Airpower, McChrystal Style

In the months since Army Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal imposed new restrictions on air-to-ground attacks in Afghanistan, the Air Force has been applying more airpower, not less.

That was the word from a top in-theater USAF commander, Brig. Gen. Steven L. Kwast. Kwast, the head of USAF’s 455th Air Expeditionary Wing at Bagram Airfield, told reporters, “Not only are we doing more [since McChrystal’s tactical directive], but what we are doing is more profoundly bringing us to victory here, because it is more focused on protecting the people.”

The avoidance of civilian casualties has risen to the top of the Afghanistan debate in Washington, D.C.

In the wake of a series of civilian Afghan deaths from air attacks, McChrystal in July 2009 ordered field commanders to limit the use of close air support, “air-to-ground munitions, and indirect fires” when the target was in a residential area. He argued that civilian casualties, “in the long run, make mission success more difficult and turn the Afghan people against us.”

Kwast said that, since the order, the number of sorties has actually increased. However, the purpose of the sorties has shifted from dropping ordnance and toward the collection of intelligence-surveillance-reconnaissance (ISR) data.

“Airpower can be applied in so many ways,” Kwast said. “We can be there to shut down the enemy’s communications so they can’t fight. We can be … the eye in the sky so we can see the enemy, … understand what they’re doing, and we can wait and have tactical patience … until the enemy is in a place where there are no civilians.”

The idea that airpower has been muzzled is “one of those misconceptions in the American media,” Kwast asserted.

“The more this fight is a counterinsurgency, the more powerful airpower is, the more useful it is,” he said. “We fly more now than we ever have, because we need to be there for the ground force commander [and] the troops on the ground. And we are there to support them directly.”

Kwast acknowledged that “we have dropped fewer bombs since the tactical directive, because the ground commanders are becoming more and more focused on protecting the people instead of chasing the enemy.”

He continued, “You have to still chase the enemy, … but the emphasis has been placed on … the governance and the development and the security of the Afghan people. And so that focus has had the effect of fewer bombs dropped.”

Asked if the change in focus has meant that USAF aircraft now do more “show of force” missions—flying low and loudly over enemy forces to scare them away—Kwast said yes, in some places. However, “every village needs a different solution,” and while a show of force might be welcomed in one valley, it might be counterproductive elsewhere.

The MC-12 Project Liberty aircraft—a small, manned ISR platform that combines the full-motion video capabilities of a remotely piloted aircraft with human eyes on targets and communications capacity—has been “a godsend” in Afghanistan, Kwast said.

“It brings something we have not had before, in the way it lashes so many capabilities together. … It’s saving lives, every time it flies. … I cannot tell you how happy the ground force commanders are to have that capability here.”

Irregular Airpower—the Requirement

Giving the Air Force long-term and comprehensive irregular warfare capabilities will require a complement of 12,000 airmen, some 800 to 900 newly acquired aircraft, and up to $62 billion over 20 years, according to a RAND report issued in April.

The service should also anticipate that it will probably be in Iraq and Afghanistan long after the other services leave—potentially 10 years or more—as it builds up those countries’ air forces.

In a monograph, “Courses of Action for Enhancing US Air Force ‘Irregular Warfare’ Capabilities,” RAND authors put forward four steps USAF could take to give IW the emphasis it needs. The report is the first public estimate of the dollar cost of making the Air Force more IW-oriented.

“Course of Action Zero,” so named because it involves fundamentals such as climate and leadership, calls for setting up high-level USAF organizations to integrate IW as a prime mission, give personnel promotion credit for building IW skills and experience, and create thinking and strategy centers to develop IW operational concepts. This most basic action will require 180 people and a $7 million investment, with annual costs of $30 million.

Course of Action One (the second recommendation) places priority on success in Iraq and Afghanistan, where rugged terrain and poor roads highlight the value of airlift and combat airpower. USAF will have to help build both the Iraqi and Afghan air forces, requiring it to own, share, and provide both light close air support and intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance aircraft, and stay “perhaps for five to 10 years.” It will need to train more joint terminal attack controllers, generally strengthen the training pipeline for advisors, and set up air academies for both countries.

This second thrust would require 3,600 personnel and 200 aircraft “including additional intelligence-gathering MC-12s, the conceptual OA-X light attack platform, and a family of light cargo aircraft.” The initial bill would be $1.9 billion, with annual operating costs of $423 million.

In Course of Action Two, the authors aim at setting up global IW capabilities, mainly building worldwide partnerships with other countries to fight terrorism and insurgencies. The Air Force would create IW advisory wings, embed USAF IW specialists on combatant commander staffs, create regional air academies, build its own human intelligence capabilities, and provide more “transferable” aircraft to COCOMs. The bill would be 3,000 personnel, startup costs of $2.3 billion for people and 255 aircraft, and recurring costs of $374 million annually.

Course of Action Three looks out long term, and focuses on building USAF’s nonpartner capabilities to prosecute IW on its own. The authors called for USAF to develop stealthy, long-range gunships and a stealthy special operations forces “mobility platform” to get SOF troops in and out of denied airspace covertly. The idea would be to enable USAF to handle “surge IW operations” in the widest range of scenarios.

For the big IW missions, RAND anticipates a need for 93 manned ISR aircraft and 300 COIN-type aircraft, with a bill of 4,400 people and an initial investment of $4.7 billion, with recurring costs of $600 million annually for the 393 organic aircraft.

For the stealthy, high-tech capabilities, RAND pegged the cost at 1,320 people and $20.5 billion to develop, buy, and operate 48 highly specialized aircraft.

“Most of the resources would be needed beyond 2020,” the authors noted of their fourth course.

The authors said that Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates has given clear direction in ordering the services to adapt to “the long war.”

However, “the specifics present numerous challenges, not the least of which is the need to begin to change the USAF culture from one focused on the challenges of major combat operations (challenges that are not going away) to one equally accomplished in irregular warfare.” They note that fighting terrorism and insurgencies and supporting the “internal defense” of partners “could not be done without the Air Force.”