Washington Watch: In Pursuit of a Strategy

Aug. 1, 2001

After months of rumor and confusion, pieces of the new defense program are beginning to take shape. The Pentagon says the Quadrennial Defense Review–sidetracked last spring in deference to panels of outside advisors working behind closed doors–is on a “forced march” to produce preliminary recommendations by the end of July.

The QDR teams got detailed guidance from Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld in a document called “Terms of Reference,” described by a senior defense official as “a framework within which we want the analysis to proceed” so “it doesn’t become a completely open-ended exercise where anybody’s answer is of equal validity.”

The pursuit of a new strategy began in January, when the White House asked Rumsfeld to conduct a review on how best to transform the armed forces to meet the needs of the 21st century. Rather than having the Pentagon staff run the review, though, Rumsfeld called in outsiders, who reported directly to him. The bureaucracy, which has a history of smothering ideas it doesn’t like or finds threatening, was left in the dark.

To Rumsfeld’s conspicuous vexation, the rumors abounded: By various reports, he was going to cut aircraft carriers or Army divisions, shift the emphasis from Europe to Asia, kill a fighter aircraft program, or dump the standard by which the armed forces are supposedly sized to fight two Major Theater Wars.

According to Rumsfeld, most of what the newspapers said about his defense review was either speculation or flatly wrong. He told the Senate and House Armed Services Committees June 21 that no decisions had been made yet about strategy, force structure, or any specific programs or systems.

Now, a “senior group of military and civilian officials has agreed on some ideas that could become a new strategy and a force sizing approach,” he said. Those ideas will be tested through the QDR process.

Some of Rumsfeld’s conclusions are already clear from his June testimony as well as his recent statements to the press. Since the middle of May, he has given more than a dozen interviews to reporters from major news outlets. He takes the unusual step of posting a transcript of every press interview on the Pentagon Web site, where anyone can check on what he actually said.

It will be astounding, for example, if Rumsfeld does not propose a new strategy. He told Congress that “the current strategy is not working,” an assertion he had made before.

In response to a question during his testimony to the House, though, Rumsfeld said that “the reason it’s not working, obviously, is because we have not funded it adequately.”

He told the Senate that “suggestions that the ‘two nearly simultaneous Major Theater War’ approach has been scrapped are not correct” and that “we do not yet know whether the construct the QDR will examine will be better. It will be after the QDR before we will be in a position to make a recommendation.”

Even so, he warned that “an approach that prepares for two major wars, by its very nature, focuses military planning on the near term, to the detriment of preparing for longer term threats.”

His guidance to the QDR would seem to preclude the two­MTW option. It said the armed forces should be sized and shaped to decisively defeat an adversary in one critical area of the world and simultaneously conduct small-scale contingencies elsewhere.

Among other revealed Rumsfeld positions:

He believes that the armed forces are losing valuable talent because an up-or-out personnel system forces them to leave if they are not promoted.

Another round of base closures is needed. “Every expert who has looked at the base structure says it’s 25 percent too big,” Rumsfeld said to the Senate.

Preparing for the future requires that only part of the force, not all of it, be transformed. “The blitzkrieg was an enormous success, but it was accomplished by only a 13 percent transformed German army,” he said.

The armed forces are “underfunded and overused,” and the new defense program must “set us on a path to recover from the investment shortfalls in people, morale, infrastructure, and equipment.” Given the long lead time to field new weapon systems, “waiting further to invest in 21st century capabilities will pose an unacceptable risk.”

Road to the QDR

The effort to revamp the defense program has been dogged by misunderstanding, especially in the early phases.

The White House announced Jan. 31 that Rumsfeld would “undertake a force structure review to determine what the long-term strategic needs are for the Pentagon.”

Almost immediately, word spread through the Pentagon and the Washington think tanks that the strategy review would be completed by March and that it would be led by Andrew Marshall, longtime director of the Office of Net Assessment, the leading advocate of the technological Revolution in Military Affairs.

The regular Quadrennial Defense Review, already in progress, shifted to low gear. Only the insiders and the most senior people knew what was going on, and they weren’t talking.

The Defense Department said there was no timetable for the review but that it needed to be “thorough and fairly quick.” In actuality, Marshall’s study was one of more than a dozen that Rumsfeld had assigned, but more than three months elapsed before the Pentagon began to correct the rumors that were circulating.

“The review is not really huge,” Rumsfeld told the New York Times in May. “It’s been mischaracterized as top to bottom, or comprehensive, and so forth.”

He told the Washington Post that “the strategy paper is the strategy paper, and it doesn’t mean it’s the strategy.” Asked on the PBS “NewsHour” about expectations of a Rumsfeld plan for reorganizing the military, “It certainly never came out of my mouth that way.”

The findings of the study panels would be rolled into the QDR, which a senior defense official said had been put on a “forced march pace” to produce preliminary results by the end of July. By law, the QDR is due to Congress from the Secretary of Defense by Sept. 30.

Several of the panel leaders were brought to the Pentagon to present their reports to the press corps, but it was made clear that their work was unofficial. A senior defense official said that “the purpose of all those studies, including the Marshall strategy review, was to inform the Secretary’s thinking, and hopefully other people’s thinking, and push issues up, and they are inputs of a helpful but nonauthoritative kind.”

Terms of Reference

In its unclassified form, Rumsfeld’s Terms of Reference for the QDR runs 22 pages, framing the issues and giving detailed direction on how Rumsfeld wants the review to proceed.

It leaves the QDR teams little leeway or time. Their inputs to the senior-level review group were due by the middle of July.

Terms of Reference says that “US forces overall remain unrivaled, but are largely a downsized legacy of Cold War investment and therefore may not be optimized for the future.” It prescribes “a balance among force, resource, and modernization requirements” and directs the QDR to “identify tradeoffs” among near-term priorities.

Much has been said and written about the “two-MTW strategy,” but that is a misnomer. It is not a strategy and never has been. It is a standard, adopted in 1993 for sizing and structuring the armed forces.

The strategy inherited from the Clinton Administration is “Shape, Prepare, Respond”-Shape the international environment, Prepare now for an uncertain future, Respond to the full spectrum of crises-spun off from the earlier Clinton strategy of “Engagement and Enlargement.”

Rumsfeld wants to move toward a strategy that meets four defense policy goals:

  • Assure allies and friends by demonstrating the US’ steadiness of purpose, national resolve, and military capability to defend and advance common interests.
  • Dissuade, to the extent possible, potential adversaries from developing threatening forces or ambitions.
  • Deter threats and counter coercion against the US, its forces, friends, and allies.
  • Decisively defeat an adversary at the time, place, and in the manner of our choosing.

Terms of Reference lists 13 priorities for investment: people; experimentation; intelligence; missile defense; information operations; pre-conflict management tools; precision strike; rapidly deployable maneuver forces; unmanned systems; command, control, communications, and information management; strategic mobility; countering nuclear, biological, and chemical weapons and means of delivery; and infrastructure and logistics.

On precision strike, it says that: “US armed forces should develop new air-, space-, and sea-based distributed long-range platforms that can strike rapidly, and to the extent possible on a global basis, carrying larger payloads of weapons, especially for operations in theaters with limited forward basing or significant anti-access threats. Demand for long-range aerial platforms capable of penetrating enemy air defenses with minimal radar cross section will grow as anti-access challenges proliferate. The US will increasingly require platforms and systems capable of penetrating anti-access networks and conducting unwarned land attack. Suborbital space vehicles would also be valuable for conducting rapid global strikes.”

Terms of Reference further advises the QDR that US forces should be sized and shaped to concurrently:

  • Defend the United States.
  • “Deter forward” in such critical areas of the world as Europe, northeast Asia, east Asian littoral, and Middle East/Southwest Asia.
  • Decisively defeat an adversary in any one of these critical areas of the world.
  • Conduct small-scale contingencies of limited duration in other areas of the world, preferably in concert with allies and friends.

Rumsfeld Perspectives

One of Rumsfeld’s major themes, emphasized again in his testimony to the Armed Services Committees, is the strategic environment of uncertainty and the nation’s poor track record in anticipating conflict.

In the middle 1930s, the defense planning assumption was “no war for 10 years.” World War II was not expected.

He said that “in March of 1989, when Vice President Cheney appeared before the US Senate for his confirmation hearings as Secretary of Defense, not one person uttered the word, ‘Iraq.’ Within a year, he was preparing the US for war in the Persian Gulf.”

The new strategy will use “threat-based” planning to address near-term requirements “while turning increasingly to a ‘capabilities-based’ approach to make certain we develop forces prepared for the longer-term threats that are less easily understood.”

Rumsfeld told the Senate that “the US must have the capability to win decisively against an adversary. The US must be able to impose terms on an adversary that assure regional peace and stability–including, if necessary, the occupation of an adversary’s territory and change of its regime.”

He said the Pentagon would not abandon the two-MTW force-sizing standard until it had “something better” as a replacement. However, he pointed out that “in the decade since the two-MTW approach was fashioned, we have not had two major regional wars, which, of course, is good and may well be an indication of the success of the approach. On the other hand, we have done a host of other things, such as Haiti, Bosnia, Kosovo, noncombatant evacuations, humanitarian missions, etc.”

Those participating in the review felt “we owed it to the President and the country” to ask whether the two­MTW approach “remains the best one for the period ahead.”

Responding to a question from the House Armed Services Committee, Rumsfeld dismissed press reports that the strategic emphasis would shift from Europe to Asia.

“There have been pieces of the review that have characterized Asia as important,” he said. “The impression has gotten out that it means that it’s a zero-sum game, and if Asia is important, then the rest of the world is less important. And that would be an inaccurate impression.”

The armed forces today have shortages on all fronts. In his testimony, Rumsfeld cited the shortage of airlift, a decline in readiness, the aging infrastructure, the shortage of high-demand, low-density assets, and an aircraft fleet that is aging and costly to maintain.

Housing and other base facilities are badly run down. Rumsfeld said that the best-practices standard in the private sector is to recapitalize facilities every 67 years in the aggregate, but the Defense Department is currently averaging 198 years.

“We are so far off best practices, it’s like having a leak in this roof and not fixing it, year after year after year, and pretty soon you’ve got to fix the benches and the chairs and the floor and the carpet,” Rumsfeld told the House Armed Services Committee.

One of the study panels produced a gripping example. At Langley AFB, Va., in 1999, an F-15 fighter taxied over a deteriorated sewer drain cover, broke through, and the landing gear fell into the hole. Replacing the grate cost $500. Fixing the airplane cost $185,000.

Rumsfeld drew questions from Congress about how to pay for current force needs and modernization programs, to say nothing of such new initiatives as the Administration’s push for national missile defense. The tax cut of $1.35 trillion or more over the next 10 years does not leave much money on the table.

Rumsfeld agreed that “there’s a tension on spending” but said the Pentagon’s role was to make recommendations to the President and the Congress, and when the budget is set, to “balance the risks and make the best possible judgements we can make.”

Some savings were possible, he said, by “combining things that are duplicated and closing some things that need to be closed and not wasting money and privatizing some things that could be better run in the private sector.”

For example: “Take check writing. You’ve got hundreds and hundreds and thousands of human beings who are going to get a check. I don’t consider that a core competence of the Army, Navy, Air Force, or Marines. And we’ve got a choice. We can have that done internally, or we can say, wait a minute. There are people who know how to do this a lot better than we do. Let’s let them write the checks.”

The McCarthy Panel

The Transformation Panel said that transforming 10 percent of the force in the near term would be an achievable and sufficient goal. The chairman, retired Air Force Gen. James McCarthy, said at a Pentagon news conference June 12 that “most people think of Stukas and Panzers and characterize that as the German army in the beginnings of World War II. But, in fact, only about 10 percent of the force was transformed with that concept. Ninety percent of the forces that eventually conquered much of Europe was foot soldiers and horse-drawn cannon. But the effect was that this small transformation in terms of percentage of the force was overwhelming in its power.”

The panel proposed the creation of a standing Joint Response Force, formed out of existing forces, and said transformation should focus first on these “early entry” forces. A hostile environment–in contrast to a situation where US forces could deploy without resistance, as they did in Operation Desert Shield in 1990–was seen as requiring three kinds of forces.

The first wave would “set the conditions” in the first 24 hours. Next would come the forces to “establish control” within 96 hours. After that would come forces to achieve “decisive resolution” in 30 days or so.

The early forces would be strong on intelligence, command and control, special operations, and long-range precision strike. Over time, they would be supplemented by theater precision attack forces, ground combat units, and expeditionary land, sea, and air forces.

The panel produced an “A” list of key transformation programs:

Convert four Ohio-class ballistic missile submarines to cruise missile duty.

Give B-2 bombers large carriage capacity and flexible targeting capability. The panel did not recommend reopening the B-2 production line, although McCarthy said, “We built too few B-2s.”

Produce the small diameter bomb. McCarthy said a single B-2 would be able to carry 324 of the small diameter bombs, each of them employed against a separate target.

Convert nuclear air launched cruise missiles to conventional air launched cruise missiles, to be carried by B-52 bombers.

Accelerate deployment of an improved Global Hawk unmanned reconnaissance aircraft.

Develop a stealthy joint long-range cruise missile.

Develop a new long-range precision strike capability. It could be either a manned or an unmanned aircraft.

Accelerate the Navy variant of the Joint Strike Fighter to give carrier battle groups stealth and precision. At present, the Navy has no stealthy aircraft.

The CVNX next-generation carrier and the DD-21 destroyer were not on the “A” list of key transformational programs. Asked about those systems by reporters, McCarthy said, “We were not persuaded they were truly transformational.”

Rumsfeld was duly braced about that by Sen. Susan Collins (R­Maine) when he testified June 21. She quoted another member of the panel, retired Adm. Stan Arthur, as saying, “I certainly consider the DD-21 and CVNX to be transformational platforms, as well as enablers for follow-on joint force deployments.” Collins asked Rumsfeld whether the Transformation Panel had seriously evaluated DD-21 and CVNX.

“I was not aware of the briefing by General McCarthy,” Rumsfeld replied. “What happens with a study is you get an outside group or an inside group, they have a variety of opinions, they offer their opinions, they make their opinions public, and they do not represent departmental decisions, and they should not be taken as such. And people should not be nervous or concerned about them.”

(The F-22 was not on the transformational “A” list either, but nobody in Congress complained about that. McCarthy explained that “we considered the F-22 transformational, but not requiring any changes or anything of that nature.”)

The Jeremiah and Gompert Panels

The Morale and Quality-of-Life Panel, headed by retired Adm. David Jeremiah, denounced the “inflexible, one-size-fits-all personnel system.”

At present, military members can retire at 20 years, and few stay beyond 30. Officers who are not chosen for promotion are forced to leave. The panel said the 20-year up-or-out system had outlived its usefulness.

“We probably may not want a 60-year-old infantryman,” Jeremiah told the Pentagon press corps. “I’ve seen plenty of 40-year-olds that’ll drive the 20-year-olds into the ground. But 60 might be pushing the issue a little bit. But I’d be happy to have a 60-year-old information warrior. He or she has probably got 15 or 20 years of experience in the business and knows how to do it, knows all the tricks of the trade-at least the youngsters that are coming up now as they mature would. … The one-size-fits-all doesn’t work anymore.”

The Conventional Forces panel, chaired by David C. Gompert, president of Rand Europe, looked at the Pentagon’s investment portfolio from one perspective only: how the programs contributed to addressing future risk.

On that basis, the panel divided weapon systems and research into three categories:

“Highly compatible” systems-recommended for an additional $45 billion over the course of the Future Years Defense Plan-included the Joint Strike Fighter, the tilt-rotor V-22, the Comanche helicopter, upgrades to the B-2 and the B-52, expansion of the airlift fleet, DDG-51 destroyer, and R&D for unmanned combat air vehicles and the space-based radar.

“Moderately compatible” systems, recommended by the panel for an additional $35 billion in the FYDP. Programs in this category included the F-22, the CVN-77 aircraft carrier, and an upgrade to the Abrams tank.

“Less compatible” systems, which could be cut for a $10 billion savings in the FYDP. Included were the B-1 bomber, the C-5A tanker upgrade, the DD-21 destroyer, and the Army’s Crusader self-propelled artillery.

Some of the choices looked strange, but this panel began raising hackles in the Pentagon with early versions of its report in May.

One of the panel’s key messages was that “change permits reduced structure, which can finance investment shift.” US force structure in Europe was seen as particularly ripe for change.

“The forces that we would want in Europe today would be several deployable combat brigades in terms of ground forces,” Gompert said. “It happens to be a somewhat smaller number than the current two divisions that we have there.”

He added that, “I’m a student of European affairs and alliance matters, and I think we could make do with fewer forces in Europe.”

So far, the other panel reports have not been made public. A senior defense official said in June that the Marshall strategy paper remains classified.