The 2005 Quadrennial Defense Review: The View from the Pentagon

Report Defense

The 2005 Quadrennial Defense Review: The View from the Pentagon

March 11, 2005 3 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.

The 2005 Quadrennial Defense Review (QDR) should be quite different from past reports because of the unique conditions under which it is being conducted. By applying lessons learned from recent operations, new analytical tools, and strong, experienced leadership, the 2005 QDR has the opportunity to yield a report that will provide relevant guidance for years to come. At a recent Heritage Foundation conference, the Honorable Ryan Henry, Undersecretary of Defense for Policy, outlined the Department of Defense's strategic thinking and approach to prepare the 2005 QDR and embrace a historic opportunity to determine the Department of Defense's capacity to change.

Lessons Learned
Operations in Afghanistan and Iraq have provided numerous strategic and operational "lessons learned" that will contribute to the effectiveness of the next QDR. Similar to past shifts in defense thinking, such as in the 1930s, 1950s, 1980s, the U.S. defense establishment currently finds itself in the midst of great transition. Issues addressed in previous QDRs like force planning, risk distribution and missile defense remain relevant, but now it is essential that these elements closely align with strategy. Indeed, one of the major questions driving the 2005 QDR is how to align strategy with capability. Additionally, the demand of greater interagency cooperation between the Department of Defense and the Department of Homeland Security, especially in the "strategic commons" generated by the Global War on Terrorism-including ungoverned areas of space, sea, and cyberspace-requires that the Pentagon consider what capabilities it will need to advance larger national anti-terrorism strategies.

New Tools
The new model of "capabilities-based" planning will allow planners to look at problems in ways that were not possible in previous QDRs. Capabilities-based planning is defined as "the ability to achieve a desired effect under specified standards and conditions through combinations of means and ways to perform a set of tasks." This model does not focus extensively on "systems and platforms" but also considers certain standards and conditions:

  • Standards
    Magnitude (intensity and scope):
    What sort of campaign is required?
    Temporal (timing and duration): How long will the campaign be? How quickly must the desired effect be achieved?
    Geospatial (distance and coverage): How big must the operation be? How far away?
  • Conditions
    Operational Environment: What are the conditions (urban, mountainous, amphibious, etc.) under which operations will be conducted?
    Strategic Environment: What is the overarching nature of the threat or conflict-irregular, traditional, catastrophic, or disruptive?


If allowed to, excess formal structure can take on a life of its own and create stovepipes. Stability and team effort under the leadership of Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld will help to mitigate this effect. Establishment of the Terms of Reference and focus on a smaller number of "big" issues than in the past both increase the chance that innovative approaches will result from the 2005 QDR. Furthermore, the decision to move the programming process from September to February will greatly enhance the QDR's alignment with the defense Planning, Programming, Budgeting, and Execution (PPBE) process.

Basic Principles
In addition, the Department of Defense has developed a set of functional principles to guide the 2005 QDR process:

  • Foster a structural competition of ideas during QDR deliberations;
  • Ensure alignment among strategy, core problems, proposed approaches to addressing the problems, and apportionment of resources;
  • Balance near-term operational demands with longer-term challenges and opportunities;
  • Draw upon lessons learned from Operation Enduring Freedom and Operation Iraqi Freedom;
  • Generate resource-neutral recommendations for adjustments in programs and force structure, assuming that the top-line budget will not continue to rise;
  • Develop executable guidance as issues mature during the QDR process and then follow through with an execution roadmap;
  • Take direction from senior leadership; and
  • Employ an open and transparent process.

The QDR is not designed to be relevant to only a single point in time, nor is the process considered complete upon issuance of the final report. The QDR process generates two main outputs. First is the QDR report itself. And then there are a set of associated outputs, such as independent Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff risk assessments, follow-on execution guidance, and the actions of the individual services in response to QDR decisions. These outputs form a roadmap that extends well beyond the date on any given QDR report, allowing major transformational efforts to continue and develop in conjunction with future requirements.

For more information on the 2005 Quadrennial Review, see Heritage Foundation Executive Memorandum No. 954, Principles for the Next Quadrennial Defense Review and Heritage Foundation Lecture No. 864, The Quadrennial Defense Review: Some Guiding Principles.

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 to this piece. This paper is based on presentations given at "The 2005 Quadrennial Defense Review: The View from the Pentagon," held at The Heritage Foundation on February 3, 2005.


Jack Spencer
Jack Spencer

Vice President, the Institute for Economic Freedom