Last week I participated in a Department of Defense Bloggers Roundtable on President Obama’s new defense strategy with Captain John Kirby (USN), Deputy Secretary of Defense for Media Operations; and Dr. George Little, Pentagon Press Secretary. In support of the new strategy the Department of Defense published a paper called Sustaining U.S. Global Leadership: Priorities for 21st Century Defense. The following are the key missions as stated in the paper:
“Counter Terrorism and Irregular Warfare… Achieving our core goal of
disrupting, dismantling, and defeating al-Qa.’ida and preventing Afghanistan from ever being a safe haven again will be central to this effort.”
“Deter and Defeat Aggression…Credible deterrence results from both the
capabilities to deny an aggressor the prospect of achieving his objectives and from the
complementary capability to impose unacceptable costs on the aggressor.”
“Project Power Despite Anti-Access/Area Denial Challenges. In order to credibly deter potential adversaries and to prevent them from achieving their objectives, the United States must maintain its ability to project power in areas in which our access and freedom to operate are challenged…Accordingly, the U.S.
military will invest as required to ensure its ability to operate effectively in anti-access and area denial (A2/AD) environments.”
“Counter Weapons of Mass Destruction. U.S. forces conduct a range of activities aimed
at preventing the proliferation and use of nuclear, biological, and chemical weapons…In partnership with other elements of the U.S. Government, DoD will continue to invest in capabilities to detect, protect against, and respond to WMD use, should preventive measures fail.”
“Operate Effectively in Cyberspace and Space. Modern armed forces cannot conduct
high-tempo, effective operations without reliable information and communication
networks and assured access to cyberspace and space…Accordingly, DoD will continue to work with domestic and international allies and partners and invest in advanced capabilities to defend its networks, operational capability, and resiliency in cyberspace and space.”
“Maintain a Safe, Secure, and Effective Nuclear Deterrent. As long as nuclear
weapons remain in existence, the United States will maintain a safe, secure, and effective
“Defend the Homeland and Provide Support to Civil Authorities”
“Provide a Stabilizing Presence. U.S. forces will conduct a sustainable pace of presence
operations abroad…These activities reinforce deterrence, help to build the capacity and
competence of U.S., allied, and partner forces for internal and external defense,
strengthen alliance cohesion, and increase U.S. influence… However, with reduced resources ,thoughtful choices will need to be made regarding the location and frequency of these operations.”
“Conduct Stability and Counterinsurgency Operations… the United States will emphasize non-military means and military-to-military cooperation to address instability and reduce the demand for significant U.S. force commitments to stability operations. U.S. forces will nevertheless be ready to conduct limited counterinsurgency and other stability operations if required, operating alongside coalition forces wherever possible… However, U.S. forces will no longer be sized to conduct large-scale, prolonged stability operations.”
Conduct Humanitarian, Disaster Relief, and Other Operations.
Captain Kirby and Dr. Little provided some more insight on the new strategy. Dr. Little spoke first stating:
“…the Defense Department over the last year has been in the process of identifying several hundred billion dollars’ worth of reductions in future defense spending. The Budget Control Act that the Congress passed last summer requires that we identify nearly $500 billion in savings over the next 10 years. And Secretary Panetta, along with the civilian and military leaders of the department, decided early on, when the Budget Control Act was passed, that it was important that we identify future savings not through a numbers-driven process but by articulating a strategy that would guide their decisions on the defense budget. And the president was very much a part of this process all along…The strategic guidance that was issued today I think reflects, as the secretary said, a strategic turning point for the United States and the configuration of our defense system around the world.
The strategic guidance recognizes that we, even in the face of fiscal tight-beltening (sic), we have to maintain our commitment to protect the United States and to protect the finest military in the world.
There are some key shifts…, we’re going to be placing increased focus on the Asia-Pacific region. We have an arc of interests and alliances from Japan all the way to India, and that region is very important to us. There are geopolitical shifts there, economic shifts, and we are going to remain a Pacific power, and we’re going to remain committed to our alliances and interests there.
We will of course remain focused on the Middle East, and we’re going to maintain our commitments to Europe and to other regions around the world.”
Captain Kirby stated:
“…there’s just a few elements here in the strategic guidance that I think are worth noting about what this means for the military… We will be leaner, therefore…we will be smaller in terms of — in terms of numbers. But we’re also going to maintain the superiority that we’ve enjoyed in the technological spectrum. We’re going to remain networked. We’re going to remain very focused on cyber…
We are now and will remain a globally postured force. Some of where we will be will change in size and scope, but we’re still going to maintain the security commitments that we’ve made around the world.
And then the last thing — and this is a — it’s not a small point — is inherent in this strategic guidance, this strategy moving forward, is what we call reversibility. We want… the organization, the institution itself, to be flexible enough that if we have to reverse any of these decisions, if we have to — we need the ability to surge or regenerate a capability or force structure, we can do that, if we have to.”
There’s really not much change in the missions. What is different is the size of the military and the shifting of the focus to the Asia-Pacific region. During the bloggers roundtable we were told that more specifics on the force structure would be released sometime in February when the defense budget is presented to Congress. I suspect the 80,000 strong military force in the European theater may experience downsizing but I don’t expect to see much change in the size of our Pacific forces. As I’ve mentioned in earlier blogs, even at the height of our involvement in the Persian Gulf the U.S. maintained a significant military force in the Pacific. For instance, in a recent talk before the Center for a New American Security, the Chief of Naval Operations, Admiral Jonathan Greenert the navy has 100 of its 285 ships currently deployed and half are in the Pacific region.
The other thing that jumped out at me was the concept of “reversibility.” Basically as Captain Kirby stated if conditions change the U.S. will make a “course change” in the strategy. I think this was one of the most significant parts of the strategy. It means if some part or all is not working they will change it. My experience is this is something the military has always done. There is a common military saying that the war plans are out of date the first day of a conflict. The issue is over the last few years with increased media coverage of military operations a course change was sometimes seen as a sign of failure or weakness instead of a process that has to be flexible if you’re going to achieve mission success.
It’s nearly impossible to accurately predict the next major defense problem. There are many areas that a crisis could develop: Iran, North Korea, Cyber, etc. The strategy has to be flexible enough that the military can be reorganized if necessary to meet the new threat. The only problem I see if the military does major downsizing as expected they need to be very careful when it comes to what areas and skills are cut. There are some skill sets that take a while to reconstitute.
My favorite example of this involves the Battleship USS New Jersey. The ship was recommissioned for the last time in 1982. When they did that the Navy realized they had a problem. No one knew how to work the ships 16 inch guns. They called back to active duty a group of men who had served on the ship during World War II. In 1982 I was assigned to Panama as part of the United States Southern Command staff (now homeported in Florida). I was privileged to get a tour of the ship as it transited the Panama Canal. I met the recalled vets and never saw a happier group of guys. Some of their active duty time had run out and they were having such a great time some volunteered to stay longer.
Think I’ll end here but would like to direct you to an excellent blog about 50 Air Force Academy cadets developing a new UAV. Both professional military contractors AND cadets submitted designs, and surprisingly, the cadets’ UAV is the final model being considered. Here’s the link:
As always my views are my own.