The 2005 Quadrennial Defense Review: The Reserve Component

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The 2005 Quadrennial Defense Review: The Reserve Component

July 7, 2005 5 min read
Jack Spencer
Vice President, the Institute for Economic Freedom
Jack Spencer oversees research as Vice President for the Institute for Economic Freedom and Opportunity.

Every four years, the Department of Defense conducts a review of its forces, resources, and programs and presents the findings of this Quadrennial Defense Review (QDR) to the President and Congress. The QDR provides a basic strategy for addressing critical issues like budget and acquisition priorities, emerging threats, and Pentagon capabilities for the next 20 years. At a recent Heritage Foundation conference, a panel of distinguished experts on Guard and Reserve issues analyzed the challenges facing the Reserve Component in QDR planning. In general, these challenges fall under three headings: Recruiting and Retention; Rebalancing and Restructuring; and Resourcing.


Important Considerations and Themes

The Department of Defense faces severe challenges on the horizon, as does the military's Reserve component. Personnel costs are increasing rapidly, wear and tear on equipment is driving recapitalization costs beyond estimates, the necessary transformation of the military from a Cold War posture to one better prepared for the 21st century is proving expensive, and attracting new recruits has become more challenging. It seems that, once again, even with increasing budgets, the Pentagon is not adequately funded to carry out its many responsibilities. If this QDR is to have long-term impact, it must detail a strategy to close the gap between the Pentagon's end and means. This will require a series of difficult trade-offs, some reallocations of resources, and a new approach to risk management. As part of this process, however, the Pentagon must consider the dangers associated with instituting too much change too quickly.


Today's Army-made up of the active, Reserve, and Guard components-is under tremendous strain and must be evaluated in the context of the Total Force. It has become painfully clear since 9/11 that adjustments need to be made in balancing what the force is asked to do and how it is resourced and structure to do it. Some suspect that the future force, according to transformation plans, will be unable to meet projected demands and operational tempos. Others question the worth of such projections; they believe that the United States armed forces should be transformed and restructured but believe that the United States can limit future armed interventions.


There is an imbalance between demand and supply, and this is beginning to have a corrosive effect. These difficulties mitigate the traditional advantages of the Reserve component: some skill sets and expertise are better cultivated there; it has historically cost less (although this cost advantage will narrow as it becomes a more operational force); and it is deeply embedded in local communities. The National Guard offers specialized assets, such as the state partnership program, leverage and coordination in the event of homeland security emergencies, and unique intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR) capabilities.


Important factors relating to the Reserve Component that must be addressed by QDR planners include the emergence of the Homeland Security mission; ensuring that the Reserve component has an adequate voice in planning and decision-making, especially at the intersection of the QDR and BRAC; the integration of forces and application to national interests; and coherent delegation of national security authority across the public sector.


Recruiting and Retention

Future needs and policies will determine the Reserve component's fate. Is the Reserve's situation likely to improve or worsen? It is likely to worsen if Iraq is not a spike or anomaly but represents instead a permanent increase in reliance on the Reserve component. And the situation is likely to worsen if there is no dedicated focus on Reserve component challenges at the highest levels of Department of Defense. The central issue is whether the United States can and should sustain the Reserve component as an operational reserve, recruit to it, and retain soldiers in it.


Spending single-digit percentages of the total defense budget for substantial recruiting and retention incentives is likely to yield double-digit results in readiness and professionalism. Reservists bring a wide variety of civilian skills, in addition to military skills, to military readiness. The nation cannot afford to duplicate this skill pool in order to keep Reserve component soldiers out of early deployments. Yet the nature of Reserve component deployments has clearly changed, causing a cascade of challenges for planners and Reservists alike.


What Are the Options?

Experts discussed four options for action with respect to the Total Army:

  1. Stay the course: Rebalance the force as planned. Continue to use the Reserve component as an operational reserve, but try to make deployments more predictable and manageable over time.
  2. Radically rebalance the force: Scrub every military occupational specialty (MOS) to determine if a certain job should be done by uniformed personnel or civilians; extract the most value from military billets.
  3. Rebalance the force and increase size by about 30,000, keeping the Reserve component as an operational reserve and adding funding for training and equipment to increase its readiness. Increasing the size of certain Reserve components may also be needed. However, this option was very controversial among the participants, with some opposed to any end-strength increase without first exploring efficiency gains within the existing force. There was concern that calls for increased end-strength are more a response to perceived shortages in Iraq than to long-term objectives.
  4. Return to using Reserve component as strategic reserve: Grow the active army by about 100,000. Although some experts believe this would break the bank and erode readiness (and is not be needed, in any case), others are concerned that the role of the Reserve component as a 'what-if' strategic force is being disregarded. Others argued that such an increase in end-strength assumes a future of perpetual armed combat-a very subjective view.

A successful QDR will depend on enlightened analysis, common sense, and proper appreciation for America's citizen-soldier force. Throughout the QDR, planners should keep in mind that the Total Force was created incrementally and deliberately, based on fundamental realities concerning needed capabilities, skill pools, recruiting and retention, practicalities, available technology, America's citizen-soldier history, and affordability. These concerns are still with us today.


For more information and analysis of the Quadrennial Defense Review and the Reserve Component, see Heritage Foundation Backgrounder No. 1762, "Large Increases in Manpower Not Needed at This Time;" Lecture No. 869, "The Army Reserves and the Abrams Doctrine: Unfulfilled Promise, Uncertain Future;" WebMemo No. 728, "The 2005 Quadrennial Defense Review: Strategy and Threats;" Lecture No. 876, "The Quadrennial Defense Review: Are Secretary Rumsfeld's Priorities Valid?," all available at


Jack Spencer is Senior Policy Analyst for Defense and National Security in the Kathryn and Shelby Cullom Davis Institute for International Studies at The Heritage Foundation. Kathy Gudgel, Research Assistant in Defense and National Security, contributed. This paper is based on presentations given at "The 2005 Quadrennial Defense Review: The Reserve Component," held on May 11, 2005, at The Heritage Foundation.


Jack Spencer
Jack Spencer

Vice President, the Institute for Economic Freedom


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