The Pentagon's Inadequate Vision for Safeguarding U.S. Soil: What's Needed from the Reserve Components

Report Defense

The Pentagon's Inadequate Vision for Safeguarding U.S. Soil: What's Needed from the Reserve Components

November 9, 2006 15 min read Download Report
Jim Carafano
Vice President, Kathryn and Shelby Cullom Davis Institute
James Jay Carafano is a leading expert in national security and foreign policy challenges.

(Delivered March 16, 2006)

The Quadrennial Defense Review (QDR), released in February 2006, outlines the Pentagon's strategy for addressing critical issues like budget and acquisition priorities, emerging threats, and necessary military capabilities. While this mandatory report to the Pres­ident and Congress offers a satisfactory strategy to meet the nation's short-term national security needs, it does not adequately address long-term require­ments, particularly preparing for homeland security missions and sustaining and transforming the National Guard.

What is missing from the QDR is an initiative to develop significant new capabilities to perform important missions such as homeland security. If, five years from now, the U.S. military has to assist in a disaster similar to Hurricane Katrina, the Pentagon's response will look pretty much the same as it does today. The QDR did not require developing the kinds of forces needed to respond to such contingencies. In particular, it did little to address needed capabilities on land, air, or sea-most specifically, the role of the National Guard, which will be essential for homeland security missions. Nor did the QDR adequately con­sider the fiscal challenges of ensuring the Guard will have sufficient and appropriate equipment and the right kinds and numbers of units for its future tasks.

What the QDR Says

The QDR details many of the Defense Department's post-9/11 initiatives to enhance the role of the mili­tary in homeland security. These include establishing the U.S. Northern Command, creating an Assistant Secretary for Homeland Defense, expanding the number of Civil Support Teams, creating joint head­quarters within each state, and standing up Nation­al Guard Enhanced Response Force Packages.[1] The report also summarizes and explains the military's role in implementing the National Maritime Security Policy and its own Strategy for Homeland Defense and Civil Support.[2] Beyond these contributions, the QDR has little to contribute. The Pentagon offers less a vision of the future and more of an explana­tion of the status quo.

What's Missing

In contrast to the QDR, the White House's les­sons-learned report on the national response to the disaster in the wake of Hurricane Katrina called for a "transformation" of the National Guard.[3] The White House report did not call for making the Guard a domestic security force, but it did argue the Guard needed force structure, training, and equipment more suited to its domestic response missions. The White House report, however, was short on details. That was left to the Pentagon. The QDR, however, gives little insight into what these forces may look like. I believe the National Guard forces ought to large and robust and dual-use, suitable for domestic missions at home and many of the tasks our military is called on to perform overseas.

Why a Transformation?

Most disasters, including terrorist attacks, can be handled by emergency responders. Only cata­strophic disasters-events that overwhelm the capacity of state and local governments-require a large-scale response.

In "normal" disasters, whether they are a terrorist strike like those on 9/11 or a natural disaster such as a flood or snow storm, a tiered response is employed. Local leaders respond first and turn to state resources when they are exhausted. States then turn to Washington when their means are exceeded. Both local and state leaders play a critical role in effectively communicating their require­ments to federal officials and managing the response. In most disasters local resources handle things in the first hours and days until national resources can be requested, marshaled, and rushed to the scene. That usually takes days. With the exception of a few federal assets such as the Coast Guard and Urban Search and Rescue, teams don't roll in until well after the response is under way.

In catastrophic disasters, tens of thousands or hundreds of thousands of lives are immediately at risk. State and local resources may be exhausted from the onset and government leaders unable to determine or communicate their priority needs. And unlike New York after 9/11 there were few place communities to turn for immediate help after Hurricane Katrina. The small communities around cities like New Orleans, Biloxi, and Baton Rouge had little extra capacity before the storm; now they had their own problems.

National resources have to show up in hours, not days, in unprecedented amounts, regardless of the difficulties. That's a very different require­ment from mounting a national response to nor­mal disasters. In a catastrophic disaster the national response needs to be immediate, mas­sive, and effective, not just because unprecedent­ed numbers of people and property are at risk, but because the credibility of government at all levels is at risk as well. If citizens perceive the government response as credible, that percep­tion will measurably defuse the tension, fear, and frustration that follows in the wake of a disaster and it will prompt communities to be more self-confident and resilient in their own responses to the disaster.

Having the military play a prominent role in the immediate response to catastrophic disasters makes sense. It would be counterproductive and ruinously expensive for other federal agencies, local governments, or the private sector to maintain the excess capacity and resources needed for imme­diate catastrophic response. On the other hand, maintaining this capacity would have real utility for the military. The Pentagon could use response forc­es for tasks directly related to its primary warfight­ing jobs-such as theater support to civilian governments during a conflict, counterinsurgency missions, and postwar occupation-as well as homeland security. Furthermore, using military forces for catastrophic response would be in accor­dance with constitutional principles and would not require changing existing laws.These forces would mostly be National Guard soldiers, which are the troops that have the flexibility to work equally well under state or federal control.

What Transformed Forces Would Look Like

There is a role for the Army, Air Force, and Navy in transforming the National Guard to provide the kinds of capabilities needed for the right force.

Land Forces

The land force needs to be large enough to main­tain some units on active duty at all times for rapid response and sufficient to support missions at home and abroad. For catastrophic response, three com­ponents would need to be particularly robust: med­ical, security, and critical infrastructure response.

Medical. The United States does not have the capacity to provide mass military medical assets that are well suited for dealing with catastrophic casualties. The current defense medical support available for homeland security is too small and ill-suited for the task. Rather than field hospitals that take days and weeks to move and set up, the mili­tary needs a medical response that can deal with thousands of casualties on little notice, deploy in hours, assess and adapt existing structures for med­ical facilities, and deliver mass care to people in place rather than moving them to clinical facilities.

Security.Virtually no American community is prepared to deal with widespread disorder, partic­ularly in an environment where infrastructure is widely disrupted or degraded. These will require a military response using specially trained and equipped personnel who are practiced at working with civilian agencies. These troops should prove just as adept at conducting counterinsurgency operations in urban terrain overseas, where neu­tralizing the enemy and protecting civilian lives and property are equally important. This force should look much more like a constabulary unit than traditional infantry forces or military police.

Critical Infrastructure. The U.S. military has the command, control, and assets and units capable of providing for immediate reconstitution and protec­tion of critical resources; the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has the capacity and expertise to manage large-scale contracts under difficult, stressful con­ditions; and the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), which frequently partners with the military for disaster response, has the expertise to conduct needs assessments and coordinate com­munity recovery. Response teams reinforced with a large cadre of Reserve contracting officers could be paired with the Corps of Engineers and FEMA to provide an effective infrastructure protection and recovery force for disasters at home or overseas.

Oversight. Any large-scale response, which will undoubtedly involve multiple agencies, will raise concerns about inefficiency, fraud, waste, and abuse. Maintaining the credibility of the response from the outset is essential. A Special Inspector General will be needed to provide trust and confidence that oper­ations are being performed in an appropriate and transparent manner. This inspector general capabili­ty should be built into the force from the start and its mandate should include looking at intergovernmen­tal and interagency coordination, program manage­ment, acquisition and contract management, and human resources.


Homeland security forces should be self-deploy­able and self-sustaining and capable of operating in austere environments where critical infrastructure is significantly degraded. The Air Force's efforts to enhance its expeditionary airfield capability over­seas will be well suited to domestic security in the United States. The Air Force needs to develop a strategic plan to base its Air National Guard forces that support these missions in coordination with the land response forces. In addition, the Air Force's Light Cargo Aircraft program will be essen­tial for future domestic security missions. Finally, the Air Force should look to reduce its less neces­sary air security missions such as air patrols; these missions might be more properly done by the Coast Guard, Customs Border Protection air assets in the Department of Homeland Security, and ground based defense systems.[4] On the other hand, there is clearly a role for the service to par­ticipate in theater and cruise missile defenses that might be needed to protect the U.S. homeland under some contingencies.[5]


The emerging potential for maritime threats and low-altitude attacks, as well as the utility of mari­time forces in responding to many catastrophic disasters, also augurs the need for an organizational structure that better utilizes the Navy's capacity to support homeland security. Several states with maritime interests already have state naval militias. In fact, the New York Naval Militia assisted in the response to the terrorist attacks of 9/11. Creating a Navy Guard to include all coastal states would offer several advantages. A Navy Guard would provide coastal states with more resources to address their state maritime security and public safety require­ments. Unlike the Coast Guard, the Navy Guard would focus on state needs when not on active fed­eral service. It would also provide an organization within the National Guard and the Navy that treats homeland security missions as an inherent respon­sibility and would work to develop the requisite competencies and capabilities to fully support these tasks. Finally, a Navy Guard would provide a suitable partner for the U.S. Coast Guard to ensure seamless integration of the Defense and Homeland Security departments' maritime operations.

What About the Forgotten Guard?

As the Pentagon considers how it will implement the White House mandate to transform the Nation­al Guard, it should give serious consideration to a too-long-neglected issue: the appropriate role of State Defense Forces in the national response.

U.S. law allows states to raise and maintain State Defense Forces. These forces can be critical to states when their National Guard troops are deployed on federal missions. And, as the emer­gency response to Hurricane Katrina demonstrat­ed, these groups can be an important supplement to the National Guard, particularly during cata­strophic disasters. When trained, disciplined, and well organized, local responders are essential for providing immediate aid and security. The Penta­gon should play a role in encouraging states to better organize, train, equip, and plan for the employment of these volunteer units.[6]

How Do We Pay for This?

There is no money in the defense budget for the kind of transformation that is really needed to ful­fill the White House mandate. Indeed, there is not enough money in the proposed long-term spend­ing plans for the Pentagon to pay for the force envi­sioned by the QDR. The QDR's greatest failure is that it did not alert Americans to this danger.

In the periods following World War II and the Vietnam War, the United States had what is referred to as a "hollow force"-insufficient resources to provide for adequate training, new weapons and equipment, and ongoing operations. The United States must prevent the hollow force from recur­ring.[7] The danger of returning to a hollow force is real. Few would believe that the share of the U.S. economy devoted to defense spending is actually projected to decrease, but a recent study by the Con­gressional Budget Office reveals that this is in fact the case. The defense budget as a proportion of U.S. GDP fell from an average of 6 percent in the 1980s to 4 percent in the 1990s. The CBO now predicts that defense spending will drop to 3 per­cent of GDP by 2011 and 2.4 percent by 2024.[8]XREF

The defense budget is heading in the wrong direction, and given the projected growth in enti­tlement spending, the problem is likely to grow worse in the long term. Given the threats, this path is too dangerous to take. Sustained long-term bud­get increases over those currently projected by the CBO are necessary to ensure that America's forces are prepared for an unpredictable future. The QDR failed to make the case for higher defense spending, nor did it highlight that lack of entitlement and tax reform are becoming national security issues. The lack of will to address these problems will mean there will not be enough to pay for the defense we need in the 21st century. The President and Con­gress will have to address the entitlement and tax reform issues to create any credible hope that there will be enough in future defense budgets to pay for the transformation of the force.

Even if there is enough money in future defense budgets to pay for the military we need, transfor­mation of the National Guard will not occur with­out some fundamental changes in how we fund the force. The Total Force Concept is inadequate and counterproductive.[9]

A suitable replacement for the Total Force Con­cept would have to achieve three critical objectives:

Perhaps most of all, the military requires a new funding paradigm-a paradigm where National Guard needs are no longer an afterthought.

James Jay Carafano, Ph.D., is Assistant Director of the Kathryn and Shelby Cullom Davis Institute for International Studies and Senior Research Fellow for National Security and Homeland Security in the Douglas and Sarah Allison Center for Foreign Policy Studies, at The Heritage Foundation. He spoke on March 16, 2006, at the Conference on Implementing the 2005 Quadrennial Defense Review (QDR) at the National Defense University, Washington, D.C.

[1] Department of Defense, Quadrennial Defense Review Report, February 6, 2006, pp. 15-16. See also, James Jay Carafano, "Citizen Soldiers and Homeland Security: A Strategic Assessment," Lexington Institute, March 2004, at (November 4, 2006).

[2]  Quadrennial Defense Review Report, pp. 25-27. See also, James Jay Carafano, "Defense Department's Serious Thinking About Homeland Security," Heritage Foundation WebMemo No. 790, July 8, 2005, at

[3] James Jay Carafano and Laura Keith, "Hurricane Katrina Lessons Learned: Solid Recommendations," Heritage Foundation WebMemo No. 998, February 23, 2006, at

[4] Jack Spencer and James Jay Carafano, "The Use of Directed-Energy Weapons to Protect Critical Infrastructure," Heritage Foundation Backgrounder No. 1783, August 2, 2004, at

[5] James Jay Carafano, Ph.D., and Alane Kochems, "Making the Sea Safer: A National Agenda for Maritime Security and Counterterrorism," Heritage Foundation Special Report No. 3, February 17, 2003, pp. 10-11, at

[6] James Jay Carafano, Ph.D., and John R. Brinkerhoff, "Katrina's Forgotten Responders: State Defense Forces Play a Vital Role," Heritage Foundation Executive Memorandum No. 984, October 5, 2005, at

[7] James Jay Carafano and Paul Rosenzweig, Winning the Long War: Lessons from the Cold War for Defeating Terrorism and Pre­serving Freedom (Washington, D.C.: The Heritage Foundation, 2005), p. 34, at

[8] Congressional Budget Office, "The Long-Term Implications of Current Defense Plans and Alternatives: A Summary Update for Fiscal Year 2006,"October 2005, p. 8, at   (November 4, 2006).

[9] James Jay Carafano, "The Army Reserves and the Abrams Doctrine: Unfulfilled Promise, Uncertain Future," Heritage Foun­dation Lecture No. 869, April 18, 2005, at


Jim Carafano
James Carafano

Vice President, Kathryn and Shelby Cullom Davis Institute