Revised and Updated February 9, 2009
Pursuant to law, the Department of Defense (DOD) will release its
Quadrennial Defense Review (QDR) strategy in just over one year.
Completing the QDR will require tremendous work, effort,
coordination, and significant manpower. The QDR is designed to
establish a 20-year defense program that is clear and consistent.
The most important purpose of this strategy exercise is to permit
fiscal, national security, and defense policies to drive defense
budgets, instead of letting the budget calendar dictate defense
Too often, the requirements of the budget calendar have
marginalized the more deliberate policymaking process. As the
incoming Obama Administration turns its attention to this essential
task, it needs to ensure that the policy process is the driving
force in defense planning. To achieve this, the Secretary of
Defense will need to carefully manage the calendar and issue clear
directives on how defense budgets will result from the relevant
Ultimately, the QDR's findings must be derived from the fiscal
policy and National Security Strategy of the new Administration.
These essential policy instruments should be used to set the stage
for the QDR's delivery. The review itself should define the
essential programmatic building blocks of the overall defense
structure and dictate that adequate resources will be devoted to
maintaining and, where necessary, creating these building blocks.
If done correctly, the QDR can put in place a defense structure
that meets U.S. national security needs and that has the resources
to sustain itself.
The Quadrennial Defense Review will be one of the first major
defense strategies generated under the Obama Administration, and
this seminal document will guide the military's strategic planning.
The QDR's importance and relevance have waned during recent
iterations even as the analytical process and support to the
strategy review have been bolstered. Congress should ensure that
the new assessment goes back to the basics, as originally intended,
to achieve sound national security planning with significant buy-in
from Capitol Hill.
Global Stability and U.S. National
America's interests span the world, and its military has global
reach and responsibilities. The U.S. military's primary purpose is
to deter attacks on and to defend the homeland. When required,
America's military must fight and win wars to protect U.S. security
interests. Success requires a military capable of defeating
traditional threats posed by nation-states, transnational threats
from terrorist organizations and organized crime, and dangers from
collapsed states, such as piracy. The United States cannot
arbitrarily pick the enemies that it wants to fight or ignore
potential threats that may become challenges or conflicts.
Employing military power involves successful direct action as
well as engagement and the presence of U.S. forces abroad. It is
everything from a show of force to power projection, including
training indigenous military elements. U.S. forces also protect
America's friends and allies and bolster their military
capabilities. The U.S. maintains a substantial deterrent force on
the Korean peninsula, has overseen Japanese security for the past
half-century, and upholds security guarantees to Taiwan. Similarly,
in the Middle East, the U.S. military presence contained the
expansive ambitions of Saddam Hussein, decapitated the belligerent
governments of Iraq and Afghanistan, conducted nation-building to
put these two countries on the path toward modernity, ensured
continued access to affordable petroleum for itself and the global
economy, committed to the protection of Saudi Arabia, and balanced
against the unpredictable actions of Iran after the overthrow of
the Shah in 1979.
Further, America's nuclear weapons and missile defenses not only
deter against and protect the country from attack, but also
alleviate the concerns of U.S. allies so that they do not need to
develop their own potentially destabilizing strategic arsenals. In
addition, America's military does more than fight. Because U.S.
economic growth is connected to the stability and prosperity of the
global economy, the U.S. uses its naval capabilities to protect sea
trade, thereby ensuring all maritime assets may transit freely and
safely. Eighty percent of international trade and 67 percent of
petroleum is transported by sea. One-quarter of global trade passes
through the Strait of Malacca alone, and one-third of the U.S.
gross domestic product (GDP) is derived from trade.
Additionally, when humanitarian disaster strikes, a strong
military enables policymakers to commit America's unique and vast
resources to assist countries in need, such as after the 2004
tsunami in the Indian Ocean and the devastating earthquake in
Pakistan in 2005.
Critics of America's defense spending often point to the size of
its defense budget compared with global spending in an effort to
argue for reducing America's hard-power capabilities. The U.S.
defense budget in real dollars is on par with spending by the rest
of the world combined. Many question how such a massive budget can
be justified, even during wartime. Even though the Cold War is
over, the U.S. still has global interests and global
responsibilities, and they cannot be protected with an insufficient
Those who have argued that America's defense budget is too large
also protest that it could be reduced if U.S. allies would invest
their fair share. While the defense budgets of European and some
Asian powers are in decline, "[t]o depend on allies to carry out
our strategy is the height of folly," as Representative Ike Skelton
(D-MO), chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, has
argued. While increased defense spending by France,
Germany, or Japan would be a positive development, America should
not reduce its own defense budget, thereby compromising security,
in the hope that others will fill the void. If U.S. allies increase
their defense budgets, America could then consider adjusting its
own budget. Until then, cutting spending and hoping for the best is
Minding the Budget Calendar
Because of the relentless demands of the budget calendar, the
new Administration needs to set the stage for proper delivery of
the QDR by creating a buffer between the demands of the budget
calendar and the strategy policy process. Further, to become an
enduring strategy for years to come, the QDR must serve the broader
purposes of the National Security Strategy. Therefore, both the
initial budget decisions and the conduct of the National Security
Strategy should precede the QDR.
Strategy always changes faster than force structure. Paring
defense budgets to what Washington wishes to spend can be justified
by adopting a more modest and restrained strategy. When demands
change, as happened with the outbreak of the Korean War, strategy
can be modified, but fielding forces adequate to implement abrupt
changes may take years. In the meantime, the cost of being
unprepared is often measured in the lives of men and women in the
armed forces and the compromised national security.
Because not every potential threat can be predicted and because
procurement cycles typically take decades to field a particular
system, the U.S. military must plan its forces around a grand
strategy and hedge with specific capabilities to meet any future
requirements. These core capabilities--many of which the military
possesses today--should be the mainstays of strategic planning.
- Protecting and defending the U.S. and its allies against
- Air dominance,
- Maritime control,
- Space control,
- The ability to seize and control territory against organized
- Projecting power to distant regions, and
- Information dominance throughout cyberspace.
No Administration can ignore the annual budget calendar, and the
Obama Administration will undoubtedly invest much time and effort
in the budget process. President Barack Obama should first seek to
establish a buffer between the budget process and defense policy to
prevent the budget process from driving defense policy. At the
outset, the Administration should announce that it will carry over
the Bush Administration's defense policies and budgets for an
interim period. The explicit message would be that U.S. defense
policy and budget changes will be the product of the pending
National Security Strategy and subsequent QDR. Specifically, the
new Administration should announce that the defense budget plan of
the Bush Administration for the remainder of fiscal year (FY) 2009,
including anticipated supplemental appropriations, will remain in
place. Next, the new leadership should announce that the
President's budget requests for FY 2010 through FY 2014 should be
considered placeholders until the QDR is completed, when the
Administration can frame a coherent defense plan for the coming
The Obama Administration's first official budget submission will
be for FY 2010. This initial submission may simply serve as a
bridge. By giving the new Administration significant time to craft
a longer-term budget request for defense and other areas of the
federal government, the budget process will allow the President and
his team to answer the most pressing question: How much government
can the economy afford? Assuming reasonable spending restraints by
state and local governments, the answer is no more than 20 percent
of GDP. With this fundamental question answered, all subsequent
budget deliberations are really about dividing the federal budget
pie. On this basis, the budget target for defense should be to
maintain today's levels of spending, adjusting for economic
growth--roughly 4 percent of GDP.
Implicit in this broader allocation of the budget is that
economic growth must come first over the longer term, even before
defense. Brookings Institution Senior Fellow Michael O'Hanlon is
certainly correct when he states, "The nation's economic and
demographic strength are as crucial to long-term national security
as are the armed forces, and good fiscal management should begin
from that premise." While military power will trump economic
power in the short term, economic power will trump military power
in the longer term. Federal programs, including defense, are funded
with dollars. A larger economy will permit larger allocations to
these federal activities under a policy that pegs total federal
spending at an appropriate level as a percentage of GDP. If the
Administration and Congress want to spend more, they should earn it
by growing the economy first.
Also implicit in budget determinations is that defense spending
has not caused the federal government's current and projected
fiscal woes. This point seems to have escaped Michael O'Hanlon and
other critics of establishing a floor for defense spending pegged
to GDP. Defense has gradually declined as a percent of GDP since
the 1960s, while spending on the major entitlements has generally
exceeded economic growth rates over the same period. (See Chart 1.)
Further, current projections show that spending on the major
entitlements will far outpace economic growth in the decades to
come. Going into the QDR, all stakeholders should
acknowledge that the economy can afford to devote no less than 4
percent of GDP to the core defense program. This approach offers a
long-term policy option for the broader federal budget that serves
to protect the U.S. economy.
Congress has directed that the QDR follow from the broader
National Security Strategy. This is appropriate because military
capabilities are not an end in themselves, but rather they are
means of providing national security. By design, the new
Administration's most immediate task will be to issue the National
While the details of the Obama Administration's National
Security Strategy will differ from the existing strategy, the core
provisions related to the defense posture should be rather
predictable because they follow from the vital interests that the
U.S. must protect and the roles that U.S. armed forces play in
achieving that end. The nation's vital national interests have
proven remarkably consistent and enduring over time. They
- Defending against and deterring strategic attacks on the U.S.,
including its people, territory, institutions, and
- Protecting Americans against threats to their lives and
well-being, short of strategic attacks;
- Preventing the rise of a dominant hostile power in East Asia,
Europe, or the Persian Gulf;
- Preserving U.S. security interests in the Western
- Maintaining access to foreign trade; and
- Retaining unencumbered access to resources.
Indeed, if the next National Security Strategy does not identify
these vital interests, it will be deficient, and Congress and the
American people should reject it. Such omissions would be akin to
having an Administration say that it is unwilling to defend the
American people against strategic attacks or that Venezuelan
interdiction of shipping in the Caribbean or a Chinese invasion and
occupation of Taiwan, Korea, and Japan would be of no concern to
the United States.
Based on a National Security Strategy that identifies these
long-standing vital interests, the QDR can describe the building
blocks that the military will need to secure these interests. Of
course, the U.S. military is not the only instrument of national
power that can be used to secure these interests. The armed forces
and civilian defense should accompany the other instruments of
The next Quadrennial Defense Review should live up to its core
purpose of detailing the means that the military needs to meet its
responsibilities. The QDR should outline the broad military
capabilities required to defeat a myriad of threats and emerging
challenges as well as hedge against the unknown. To bolster its
relevance, the next QDR should delineate how the strategy could be
implemented on an operational level, instead of creating yet
another fruitless budget-driven exercise.
Building Blocks for Defense
No defense review can precisely anticipate the full array of
operations that the U.S. military may be asked to perform up to two
decades in advance. For example, few anticipated the Iraqi invasion
of Kuwait even a year ahead, much less on the 20-year time horizon
of the QDR. However, because of Cold War planning to counter Soviet
conventional attacks, the Department of Defense possessed
sufficient conventional military strength to conduct Operations
Desert Shield and Desert Storm.
The unavoidable fact is that acquiring the manpower and weapons
for a strong military takes many years. A defense review that
attempts to meet specifically defined operational needs--for
example, special operations for countering al-Qaeda or
counterinsurgency operations in Iraq--will be short-sighted.
Instead, military leaders should focus the QDR on putting in place
the basic building blocks to provide the military with assets that
may be used to perform the necessary operations as they arise.
These building blocks must be sufficiently robust and redundant to
permit an effective response to surprises.
The next QDR should recommend the following basic military
building blocks to Congress:
Building Block #1: Strategic defense
By law, strategic force planning is under the purview of the
QDR's companion review called the Nuclear Posture Review (NPR).
Congress has already appointed the Congressional Commission on the
Strategic Posture of the United States (Strategic Posture
Commission) to address these issues, and it released its interim
report on December 12, 2008. Despite this division of responsibility,
this paper addresses both reviews in order to discuss all aspects
of the defense program and budget.
The Heritage Foundation has released a Backgrounder
stating what the Strategic Posture Commission should recommend to
Congress. It has also released a WebMemo on
the Interim Report of the Strategic Posture Commission. The
companion NPR, which is better described as a strategic posture
review, should follow Heritage's recommendations for the Strategic
Posture Commission. The chief recommendation is that the U.S.
should replace the retaliation-based deterrence strategy of the
Cold War with a strategy to defend the people, territories,
institutions, and infrastructure of the U.S. and its allies against
strategic attacks. Further, Heritage recommends executing this
defensive strategy by fielding an array of strategic forces that
combines offensive nuclear systems, conventional strategic strike
systems, and defense capabilities.
The U.S. strategic posture is not ideally suited for executing
this strategy because most of its elements were carried over from
the Cold War and its retaliation-based deterrence strategy. The
strategic nuclear force has been atrophying since the end of the
Cold War. Congress has been reluctant to pursue conventional
strategic strike systems, such as a conventionally armed Trident II
missile. The U.S. is building ballistic missile defenses, but is
still recovering from the 30 years during which the 1972
Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) Treaty all but barred the development,
testing, and deployment of missile defense systems.
Given the fundamental shift in strategy recommended by The
Heritage Foundation, making precise strategic force posture
recommendations is impossible at this point. This will depend on
President Obama issuing a strategic targeting directive that is
consistent with the "protect and defend" strategy. The NPR should
recommend, pending the execution of a new targeting directive, that
the Department of Defense pursue initial modernization efforts in
all three elements of the strategic posture--nuclear, conventional,
and defensive systems and capabilities--with the general purpose of
blunting strategic strikes against the U.S. and its allies. This
alternative approach recognizes that there is no direct route to
global nuclear disarmament at this time. Pursued appropriately,
however, it could lead to a circumstance in which global nuclear
disarmament may be sought more directly.
Building Block #2: Seizing and holding
territory against organized ground forces
In the conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq, U.S. ground forces
have been focused on the counterinsurgency and counterterrorism
missions. While this near-term emphasis on the counterinsurgency
and counterterrorism missions is appropriate, it would be wrong to
assert that U.S. ground forces no longer need to concern themselves
with the mission of countering organized enemy armies.
The chances are considerable that within the next 20 years U.S.
ground forces will face an enemy state's army in a land conflict of
significant size and duration. At that time, U.S. ground forces
will need to be capable of seizing and holding territory against
these armies. This means that the U.S. Army in particular must
include heavy forces in its mix of units. In other words, armored
and heavy infantry brigades must accompany the light infantry,
airborne, and special operations units in the Army.
In terms of acquisition programs for heavy ground combat, the
Army will need to obtain the next generation of armored vehicles
represented by Stryker brigades and the Future Combat Systems
(FCS). It will also need to field air and missile defense
capabilities organically with its forces through the fielding of
the Patriot and Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD)
Army aviation is in a state of flux. The Comanche helicopter
program was canceled in 2004. Yet the Army will need to field a
combination of manned helicopters and unmanned aerial systems.
Finally, the Army will need to modernize both its service-based and
joint command, control, and communications systems to support
large-scale ground operations.
Building Block #3: Counterinsurgency
The emerging threat environment is markedly different from the
Cold War landscape that shaped today's force. America's post-Cold
War enemies have sought to offset the Army's firepower advantage
based on two strategic understandings. First, "casualties are
America's vital center of gravity." Therefore, killing American
personnel is no longer a means to victory, but an end. Second,
America's enemies know that they cannot match U.S. soldiers
head-to-head, so they avoid direct engagement believing that if
they prolong the conflict long enough, America will tire of it
first. Consequently, their "strategic end game [is] not to win but
to avoid losing."
Since 2001, the United States has fought successive waves of
non-state groups that operate asymmetrically as dispersed networks
rather than as traditional military forces. Israel's experience
with Hezbollah shows the growing sophistication of the asymmetric
threat to the West. Indeed, the Hezbollah insurgency was much more
complex than the Iraqi insurgency with greater strategic planning
and tactical forethought. Hezbollah shows the limits of
traditional, conventional arms and the growing importance of
network-enabled warfare. Army leaders have drawn several
significant conclusions from these types of conflicts.
First, they demonstrate that the greatest challenge for land
forces is not irregular, traditional, catastrophic, or disruptive
conflicts, but rather the potential combination of all four types
of conflicts simultaneously. Second, "finding the enemy and
then rapidly acting on that information" is vital to success on the
battlefield. The Army will likely conduct operations
on the enemy's turf, where the enemy not only possesses greater
understanding of the battlefield landscape, but also has had ample
time to prepare a layered defense.
History continues to demonstrate that U.S. ground forces will
need to remain institutionally proficient in conducting
counterinsurgency operations. Clearly, counterinsurgency operations
will be a significant component of the effort to combat terrorists
in the long war against terrorism. Maintaining the
counterinsurgency building block is as much about applying doctrine
as how the ground forces are structured, trained, and equipped.
Nevertheless, the questions of how to structure, train, and equip
the ground forces remain relevant. In terms of structure, the
infantry forces in the Army and the Marines will generally be
responsible for the bulk of counterinsurgency operations. Thus,
these units should be the focus of counterinsurgency education and
training. In terms of equipment, the Army and Marine Corps will
need systems that permit them to mingle with civilian populations
that share the same space with insurgent forces. The array of
intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance capabilities
included in the Army's FCS program should offer potential
advantages in this area.
Counterinsurgency capabilities should also be acquired for a
range of constabulary missions, including stability, post-conflict,
homeland defense, and support to civil authorities at home and
overseas. "Constabulary" refers to hybrid roles and missions that
involve both military prowess, such as lethal fire against
"go-fast" boats in drug transit zones, and law enforcement
authorities, such as interdicting illegal migrants and protecting
Post-conflict operations require more than DOD participation.
They require multiple U.S. agencies to coordinate their activities,
especially in the post-conflict phase of a regime change.
Non-military expertise is essential to restoring basic public
services, repairing transportation and power generation
infrastructure, repatriating prisoners of war, assisting with the
return of refugees and internally displaced persons, creating a
judicial system, and restarting an economy and creating jobs. The
hard-power and soft-power skills needed to conduct effective
post-conflict tasks should be combined within regional teams, such
as the capacity to destroy the old regime and then restore
security, avert or alleviate a humanitarian crisis, and reestablish
a legitimate government. To perform all of these functions, the
regional teams must be able to work in a joint interagency and
multinational environment. The services must retain, refine, and
teach the operational concepts and practices relevant to
However, arguing that the U.S. military should focus solely on
irregular threats and refining counterinsurgency skills by shifting
from conventional skills and building weapons to counter current
threats is a zero-sum exercise. The QDR should recognize that the
U.S. military must be able to counter myriad threats and possess
unmatched capabilities in varying contingencies that are not
prioritized one over the other. A deliberate assessment of the
likelihood of potential threats and enemies is required before
procuring the appropriate capabilities to prevail in future
conventional and irregular conflicts.
Building Block #4: Growing and
modernizing the Reserve component
Congress should consider mandating the Department of Defense to
retain force training and force structure packages appropriate to
post-conflict tasks after major combat operations in Iraq and
Afghanistan subside. This could be achieved by training and
equipping allies to perform these duties, retraining and
reorganizing U.S. combat forces, and maintaining unique U.S.
post-conflict forces. Special post-conflict units could be
assembled from existing National Guard and Reserve units, including
security, medical, engineer, and public affairs commands. Since
many responsibilities involved in postwar duties are similar to
homeland security missions, these forces could perform double
Guard and Reserve forces are tremendous force multipliers. Their
value cannot be measured in fiscal terms alone. These essential
personnel relieve the strain that active-duty forces endure from
their high operating tempo at home and abroad. Guard and Reserve
forces provide countless benefits to the nation beyond warfighting
and responding to domestic emergencies:
These benefits include the reserve components' close ties to
their communities, the forward deployment of military first
responders throughout the country, civilian-acquired skills that
are not readily attainable or maintainable in a full-time military
force, the preservation of costly training and experience possessed
by service members who are leaving the active component, and the
maintenance of a large pool of strategic military capabilities.
With this kind of quantitative and qualitative return on
investment, the last thing Pentagon leaders should do is begin a
subtle dismantling of its two most cost-effective major commands.
Any prudent future defense strategy should encourage the growth of
these unique forces to meet national security needs and provide
specialized capabilities and skill sets.
The active and Reserve components must better plan and program
together to synchronize modernization investments and avoid
redundant capabilities. Active component modernization programs
should be vigorously reviewed and altered to ensure they meet
Reserve component requirements. For example, the U.S. Army should
create a comprehensive modernization plan for non-maneuver brigades
(for example, fire support, mobility, aviation, intelligence,
surveillance, and reconnaissance) that accounts equally for
strategic and tactical mobility. The National Guard's ongoing
missions highlight the need to provide equipment to the Guard that
can be used in all of its mission areas from domestic disaster
response to warfighting. Guard leadership has previously identified
the "Essential 10" dual-use equipment areas: joint headquarters and
command and control, civil support teams and force protection,
maintenance, aviation, engineering, medical, communications,
transportation, security, and logistics.
Building Block #5: Special Operations
An important element of success in the long war will be finding
and capturing or destroying the Islamist forces that use terrorism
as a tool. Given that these enemy forces are organized into widely
dispersed small cells, U.S. Special Operations Forces (SOF) are
ideally suited to conducting the counterterrorism mission. Special
operations units also fulfill vital roles in supporting
larger-scale military operations by operating behind enemy
However, these elite forces do more than kill or capture.
Training and equipping foreign militaries to avoid future conflicts
continues to be a critical special operations mission. Since 9/11,
the U.S. has worked diligently to train and equip foreign
militaries in counterterrorism and other military and stability
operations. Both U.S. Southern Command and U.S. Africa Command have
made building partnerships and enhancing strategic cooperation
central pillars of their missions. These initiatives also help to
prevent conflict by strengthening respect for civil-military
SOF units need highly specialized training to achieve their
capabilities. The weapons and equipment needs for these units fall
into niches. Insertion and extraction systems, including air,
submarine, and ground platforms, will be needed. This will require
extending and modernizing the MH-47 Chinook and the MH-60 Blackhawk
programs and procuring the highly capable CV-22 Osprey. In the
maritime domain, a number of platforms are nearing the end of their
service life, placing an increased emphasis on identifying the next
generation of surface and subsurface solutions. Special
Operations Forces also need highly lethal weapons that can be
operated by small units with sometimes tenuous supply lines.
Primary among these is the AC-130, on which the U.S. Special
Operations Command has relied heavily in the current operations to
the point that the aircraft have aged prematurely.
Building Block #6: Air superiority
Achieving and maintaining dominance in the air during wartime is
a trademark of the U.S. military, and it should remain so. In
the past, the U.S. has maintained this building block by acquiring
the world's most sophisticated aircraft and manning them with the
world's best pilots, whether Air Force, Navy, or Marine. However,
air superiority will increasingly be about acquiring the world's
best unmanned combat aerial vehicles (UCAVs).
The U.S. will still need to obtain the best manned combat
aircraft. In this regard, the trend has been in the direction of
combining the air superiority and attack capabilities in the same
aircraft. The Navy and Marine Corps F/A-18 Super Hornet is one
example. Even the F-22 Raptor has been given attack capabilities.
This raises the question of whether this is a healthy trend.
Overall combat aircraft superiority may be better maintained by a
platform dedicated to just the air superiority mission with another
platform dedicated to attack. Combined formations of these aircraft
could carry out combat operations.
If specialization proves to be the better alternative, the F-22
should be returned to its exclusive air superiority mission, and
the F/A-18 should be reconfigured to an "F-model" aircraft. The
Joint Strike Fighter should be shifted to an "A-model" aircraft.
The A-10 Thunderbolt should remain the premier close air support
aircraft, although the Air Force should be directed to initiate
designs for the A-10's successor. Likewise, the Navy should be
instructed to explore the feasibility of basing a new dedicated
close air support aircraft on aircraft carriers and amphibious
ships to support the Marines.
While UCAVs should not replace manned combat aircraft in the
20-year time horizon of the QDR, they will assume greater
responsibilities. For example, the Reaper UCAV is demonstrating its
capabilities in operations in Afghanistan and Iraq.
Both the Air Force and the Navy should continue to explore options
for using UCAVs for a variety of combat missions, including
suppression of enemy air defenses, attack missions, air-to-air self
defense, and even boost-phase missile defense in concert with the
Building Block #7: Long-range
Long-range bombers, particularly those that are capable of
delivering nuclear weapons, make a vital contribution to strategic
defense and deterrence. They also play a vital role in conventional
conflicts by delivering ordnance against enemy targets throughout
Amazingly, the Air Force continues to rely on the B-52 as the
backbone of its conventional long-range bomber force. As of
September 2007, the average bomber (including B-1Bs and B-2s) on
active duty was almost 32 years old, and this age will likely reach
40 years before a new bomber can be fielded. Furthermore,
technological advancements and proliferation of global air defense
systems in the past decade are making the B-52 more vulnerable.
Richard P. Hallion, former chief historian of the Air Force, notes
that the B-52 was designed to handle air defenses that today are
considered museum pieces. The Air Force's 2007 white paper on
long-range strikes also highlighted this dilemma: "the B-1 and B-52
are not survivable under the 2015-2020 expected threat picture."
While the 2006 QDR was instrumental in initiating the process to
acquire a new bomber, the Obama Administration needs to ensure that
this effort remains on target for 2018 and overcomes the myriad
technological obstacles that will inevitably arise.
A new long-range bomber could also bolster the air leg of the
U.S. strategic triad in protecting and defending the people,
territory, institutions, and infrastructure of the U.S. and its
allies against strategic attack.
Building Block #8: Projecting power
through the maritime domain
The U.S. Navy's primary responsibility is to defend freedom of
the high seas, including protecting sea lines of communications. It
shares responsibility with the Marine Corps for projecting power
from ship to shore in the littorals.
First, the Navy needs to be a blue-water navy. This means that
the fleet must include a balance of major surface and subsurface
combatants, including aircraft carriers, cruisers, destroyers, and
attack submarines. The most prominent capabilities of this balanced
fleet will remain:
- Controlling the surface of the oceans in broad areas,
- Controlling the air space over these areas, and
- Conducting anti-submarine warfare.
These capabilities enable the U.S. to project military power to
distant regions, including Asia, Europe, and the Middle East. They
also permit the U.S. to protect vital trade routes.
Once the Navy has established a forward presence in distant
littoral areas, which is permitted by its blue-water capabilities,
it should partner with the Marine Corps to project power from ship
to shore. This will require further balancing the fleet to include
amphibious ships, with supporting aviation systems and landing
vehicles, littoral combat ships, minesweepers, and maritime
prepositioned assets beyond those required for the blue-water
Building Block #9: Space access and
The U.S. heavily depends on space-based systems to support
military operations and its economy, but these systems are highly
vulnerable to attack. The Department of Defense needs to take steps
to reduce the vulnerability of its space-based systems and assume
the role of guardian of the space-based systems owned and operated
by private-sector merchants.
In this context, space and the high seas share considerable
similarities as geographic domains. No nation owns the high seas,
and no nation should own outer space beyond territorial air space.
Nevertheless, the U.S. Navy serves as the guarantor of access to
the high seas for all nations that wish to use them for peaceful
purposes. It denies access to the high seas to those forces that
would use the seas for hostile purposes. The U.S. military should
seek to play a similar role in space.
The first step in obtaining the ability to protect access to
outer space for commerce, while denying access to those with
hostile intent, is to achieve a robust level of space situational
awareness. Space situational awareness would permit the U.S.
military to identify the satellites in orbit and understand their
purposes. This means that the military will need systems that
monitor space on a regular basis and that can identify the purposes
of satellites with a high degree of confidence.
The second step is to field operationally responsive space
systems, which will increase the resiliency of satellite networks
by permitting the rapid replacement of satellites that are damaged
or destroyed by natural causes or enemy attack. This means
maintaining both replacement satellites and efficient and redundant
launch systems and complexes. The availability of responsive
satellites would have the added benefit of dissuading and deterring
the development or use of anti-satellite weapons.
The final step is to field offensive and defensive counterspace
systems. Defensive counterspace systems can be passive, such as a
system hardened against the effects of electromagnetic pulse.
Active systems could include defensive interceptors deployed in
space to counter direct-ascent kinetic energy anti-satellite (ASAT)
weapons. Offensive counterspace systems would permit the U.S.
military to deny access to space to those that would use it for
hostile purposes. In this case, a U.S. fleet of ASATs should be
developed, tested, and fielded.
Building Block #10: Deterring,
protecting, denying, and attacking in cyberspace
Modern warfare increasingly depends on advanced computers, and
no country's armed forces are more reliant on the digital age for
information superiority than the U.S. military. This is both the
American military's greatest strength and potentially its greatest
Today, the Pentagon uses more than 5 million computers on
100,000 networks at up to 1,500 sites in at least 65 countries
worldwide. Not surprisingly, potential adversaries have taken note
of America's dependence on information technology.
Cyber operations, including computer network attack and
exploitation, appeal to many state and non-state actors, including
terrorists, because they can be low-cost, low-risk, and highly
effective, and they provide plausible deniability for the attacker,
which can route operations through any number of surrogate servers
across the Web en route to its target.
The Defense Department suffers tens of thousands of computer
network attacks annually. Although the department is understandably
cautious about revealing the success of these attacks, some of
these cyber assaults allegedly reduced the military's operational
Although it is impossible to say how many raids go undetected,
cyber attacks have grown increasingly sophisticated. The threat has
evolved from the work of curious hackers to premeditated
government-sponsored operations that embrace a variety of
However, the requirements for structuring, manning, equipping,
and training U.S. cyber forces are still not well understood. Thus,
the first step for the QDR is to affirm the military mission of
guaranteeing U.S. access to cyberspace and denying access to those
that would launch cyber attacks against the U.S. or its allies. It
should assign to the appropriate service, probably the Air Force,
the responsibility of developing the necessary operational
concepts, trained forces, and equipment to fulfill this mission
effectively. To improve U.S. capabilities, this lead service should
look for best practices both inside and outside of government,
including the private sector's cutting-edge capabilities.
The DOD needs a risk-based approach to the cyber threat,
including an assessment of criticality, threat, and vulnerability
as well as measures to reduce risks efficiently and effectively.
This knowledge and leadership can be developed by establishing
effective interagency programs for professional development of
cyber skills through education, assignment, and accreditation.
Building Block #11: Global
To meet U.S. defense needs given U.S. global interests and
responsibilities, the military must have a logistical
infrastructure to support global operations. This infrastructure
includes airlift, sealift, maritime prepositioned assets, and
military bases overseas. The C-17 and C-5 provide the backbone of
the U.S. Transportation Command strategic airlift fleet. However,
with the C-17 production line expected to shut down in 2010 and the
outcome of the next-generation KC-X tanker still undetermined, the
future reliability of strategic airlift is in some doubt.
Fully stocked weapons reserves hedge against future
contingencies. Prepositioning military supplies and equipment
aboard ships in strategic areas and U.S. sealift capabilities
guarantee the availability of needed equipment in the event of a
major theater war, a humanitarian crisis, or other incident
requiring a military presence. Prepositioning also helps to
guarantee the military timely access to distant areas by reducing
America's reliance on foreign countries for basing rights. However,
with the expected shortfalls in amphibious lift ships, new
assumptions about their extended service life may exacerbate the
A worldwide information and communications system to manage the
broader logistical system is also critical. This logistical
infrastructure, including the information and management elements,
must be continuously maintained and modernized. The successful
realignment of overseas bases as part of the Global Posture Review
will also help to ensure that America's global reach and
flexibility remain intact.
Force Structure Considerations
The next step for the QDR is to translate these basic building
blocks of U.S. military power into a specific force structure
recommendation. The military force structure should be divided into
five components. The first component should describe the U.S.
strategic force structure, including ICBMs, submarine-launched
ballistic missiles, bombers, long-range ballistic missile defenses,
and air defenses including cruise missile defenses.
The remaining four components would correspond to the military
services, specifically Air Force wings, Army combat brigade teams,
Marine Corps expeditionary forces, and Navy ships and aircraft.
Strategic Forces. Currently, the U.S. strategic nuclear
triad has roughly 4,200 deliverable strategic nuclear warheads.
(See Table 1.) These include approximately 1,200 warheads on 450
Minuteman III ICBMs, 14 Trident ballistic missile submarines with
336 Trident II missiles that carry approximately 2,000 warheads,
and 20 B-2 bombers that carry about 320 warheads. The Air Force has
94 B-52 bombers, but only about half of them are equipped to carry
nuclear weapons. Under the 2002 Moscow Treaty on Strategic
Offensive Reductions, the U.S. strategic nuclear force will be
reduced to between 1,700 and 2,200 operationally deployed warheads
by 2012. The entire force, including platforms and weapons, has
been carried over from the Cold War through service life extension
The 2001 NPR provides the justification for the size of the U.S.
strategic nuclear force under the Moscow Treaty. While the
reasoning behind this number may be compelling, it is rather
obscure to the public. A recent report by Secretary of Defense
Robert Gates and Secretary of Energy Samuel Bodman states only that
"the size of the U.S. nuclear force is now based on the ability of
the operationally deployed force, the force structure, and the
supporting nuclear infrastructure to meet a spectrum of political
and military goals."
The active strategic defensive forces of the U.S. remain
limited. As of the end of 2007, the U.S. had fielded 24 long-range
ballistic missile defense interceptors in Alaska and California. By
2013, the U.S. plans to have 54 interceptors based in Alaska,
California, and Poland. Given the current and forecasted trends
in ballistic missile modernization and proliferation, U.S.
ballistic missile defense capabilities will continue to lag behind
the threat, although they are starting to catch up.
The force structure for the air defense of North America under
the North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD) is not made
public for reasons of operational security. Strategic
defenses provide no force structure dedicated to defending North
America against cruise missiles.
The Heritage Foundation recommends that the U.S. adopt a
strategy of protecting and defending its population, territory,
institutions, and infrastructure against strategic attack. This
will require a fundamentally different strategic force posture,
both offensive and defensive, than the current force posture, which
is almost entirely a holdover from the retaliation-based deterrence
strategy of the Cold War. At this point, making specific force
structure recommendations for U.S. strategic forces is not
possible. It must await the conclusion of a new targeting directive
the meets the needs of the "protect and defend" strategy. The
companion NPR, therefore, should state that the President will
issue a new strategic targeting directive in the course of 2009 and
will instruct Strategic Command to take the lead in developing the
subsequent targeting list and allocating strategic forces against
that list. This should lead to a new strategic force structure that
is appropriately sized and thoroughly modernized.
In the interim, the NPR should state that the existing U.S.
strategic nuclear forces plan under the Moscow Treaty will remain
in place. Regarding the defensive component of U.S. strategic
forces, the NPR should state that the U.S. will maintain its air
defense forces, initiate work on fielding cruise missile defenses,
and continue expanding its ballistic missile defenses, subject to
modification after the targeting directive and the targeting list
Air Force. The Air Force currently has 2,383 fighter and
attack aircraft, including the F-15, F-16, F-22, and A-10.
(See Table 2.) The F-35 Lightening will soon enter service.
This overall size of the Air Force fighter force structure is
about right. The QDR should recommend that the Air Force stay with
this number. In particular, it should clearly state that the number
should not fall below the current size of the force. The QDR should
also point out that this number is adequate only in the context of
a commitment to modernize the Air Force's fleet of aging
Army. The Army plans to increase its force structure to
76 combat brigade teams across the Army, with 212 modular support
brigades. The combat brigade teams will be broken down into 25
heavy brigades, 43 infantry brigades, seven Stryker brigades, and
one brigade equivalent of active combat regiments. (See Table 3.)
The airborne units will round out the broader Army force
The upcoming QDR should recommend continuing the Army plan to
increase its overall force structure. However, it should state that
this projected growth should be a cap. Expanding the Army beyond
this level could jeopardize proper funding for other elements of
U.S. conventional forces.
Marine Corps. Unique among the services, the Marine Corps
force structure is established in law. The Marine Corps has three
active Marine Expeditionary Forces (MEFs) and one in the reserves.
Each MEF contains a division-equivalent ground force, an aviation
wing, and a logistics group.
The QDR should make it clear that the Defense Department will
not seek to change the relevant law. The three-MEF standard is
appropriate for the Marines and should permit it to meet its combat
responsibilities. As with the other services, this force structure
number is dependent on appropriate levels of modernization.
Navy Ships and Aircraft. Shipbuilding was not a priority
during the Clinton and Bush Administrations. Annual procurement has
fallen to just 5.3 ships per year. A lack of funding and the
increasing costs of ships under construction have combined to
ensure a low rate of shipbuilding that cannot sustain the Navy's
30-year shipbuilding plan for a 313-ship fleet. In addition to the
strategic ballistic missile submarines, the fleet includes aircraft
carriers, cruisers, destroyers, littoral combat ships, amphibious
ships, attack submarines, converted Trident submarines, and
miscellaneous other ships. (See Table 4.)
The Navy's future force structure is the minimum size needed to
secure U.S. maritime interests, but it lacks the proper internal
balance and sufficient funding for the necessary shipbuilding
rates. Specifically, it shortchanges aircraft carriers, cruisers,
destroyers, and attack submarines in favor of littoral combat
ships. The U.S. has 11 aircraft carriers, and that number should
increase to 13 over the longer term. The number of cruisers and
destroyers should increase from a projected 88 to 100, and the
number of attack submarines should rise from 48 to at least 60.
This should be facilitated, in part, by reducing the projected
number of littoral combat ships from 55 to 20.
Further, the QDR should at least consider recommending that the
Navy proceed with DDG-1000 procurement instead of extending the
construction of DDG-51 Arleigh Burke destroyers by ensuring
that the DDG-1000s will have both air and ballistic missile defense
capabilities. However, this approach will leave the cruisers with
the Navy's primary air and missile defense missions. The QDR should
also include a serious discussion of America's shipbuilding
industrial base and how to maintain its strategic competitiveness
throughout the next two decades.
Maintaining military end strength--the number of soldiers,
sailors, airmen, and Marines permitted by law--is the most
expensive and most valuable element of America's military power
when the cost of training and equipping them is included. The
active-duty component of the military consists of fewer than 1.4
million persons, and the Reserve component has roughly 838,000
persons. (See Table 5.) Current plans will increase Army and Marine
end strengths by almost 10,000 additional soldiers and more than
7,000 additional Marines. The Air Force and Navy, by contrast, may
seek additional reductions in manpower.
Current projections for military end strength are about right.
However, the increases in Army and Marine end strengths should stop
when the projected increases are achieved. The Air Force and the
Navy may consider additional manpower reductions if their services'
leadership believe that technological advances permit doing so.
However, given the considerable cost of compensating military
personnel, all of the services need to find ways to slow the future
per capita growth in military compensation. They can do this by
continuing to pursue the "continuum of service" concept first
proposed in the 2006 QDR. Specifically, it appears that military
compensation is weighted in favor of deferred and in-kind benefits
over cash compensation. In this context, the services should seek
ways to limit the growth in these benefits, while continuing to
extend pay raises. Specifically, they should explore ways to
convert defined-benefit family health care and retirement plans
into defined-contribution plans. These changes should be
implemented on a gradual basis.
While cross-cutting issues like public diplomacy and cyber
security are best addressed primarily in the National Security
Strategy, the 2006 QDR appropriately highlighted strategic
communications while emphasizing that responsibility must be
integrated horizontally on a government-wide basis. DOD leaders'
and combatant commanders' understanding and operational application
of strategic communications has matured markedly over the past
three years. The Pentagon recently incorporated social scientists
into its operation and decision-making process in a program known
as Human Terrain Teams. These teams--trained in the customs and
values of local populations--have helped to "map" the cultural
terrain for soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan, contributing to the
gains in Iraqi security in 2007 and 2008. Defense officials have
also tasked regional combatant commands with coordinating
individual strategic communications programs. For example, U.S.
Southern Command has established the first Directorate of Strategic
While the Pentagon progress in creating a strategic
communications strategy offers a hopeful glimpse of the way
forward, various other civilian federal agencies need to make a
greater effort to bolster and coordinate their efforts in this
area. This is especially true if the Obama Administration wishes to
avoid the claims that the U.S. is militarizing its foreign policy
that would inevitably be levied against a strategic communications
strategy that appears to be driven solely by DOD efforts. Following
on the efforts of Southern Command, the next Quadrennial Defense
Review should recommend expanding the strategic communication
capabilities of all of the regional combatant commands. The
strategy should place a high priority on identifying a common
interagency definition for strategic communications. Public
affairs, public diplomacy, international broadcasting, and
information operations must be defined so that their implementers
understand their roles within the process to better advise and
Future funding should not be based on a series of high-stakes
bets. The military does not have the luxury of focusing solely on
conventional and state actors at the expense of unconventional and
non-state threats. The U.S. military needs to have not only the
most capable equipment, but also a sufficient number of weapons
systems and suppliers to meet national security requirements.
Avoiding budget spikes provides more than platforms; it provides
stability in defense planning and offers a steadier workload for
those constructing them. When budget requests change so
dramatically year to year--particularly when requirements stay the
same--the industrial base cannot plan ahead, and this increases the
cost of individual systems. The national security of the U.S. is
best served by a competitive industrial base, and defense budget
predictability will contribute to this effort.
As indicated in the beginning of this paper, the U.S. economy
can afford to spend 4 percent of GDP on defense. However, fiscal
policy cannot determine whether the U.S. should devote this share
of GDP to defense. Only defense policy can answer this
question. The 2009 QDR can and should answer this question in
specific terms. A careful review of the recommendations in this
paper, including the recommendation to maintain the basic
building blocks of defense and the associated force structure and
end strength, shows that devoting a minimum of 4 percent of GDP to
the core defense program would properly fund the needs of the
military. This projected funding of the core defense program
consciously excludes the costs of larger-scale military
operations. Such operations should be funded as they arise through
Coordinating with Capitol Hill
Within the DOD, the process is often focused on the interagency,
but the QDR leaves Capitol Hill entirely out of the process until a
final document is published. The QDR process should include
Members of Congress early in the process to avoid
irrelevance once the report is completed and to build movement
Providing for the common defense is an unending constitutional
requirement and a basic function of the federal government. As a
result, there should be considerable continuity in the broader
defense program from year to year, Congress to Congress, and
Administration to Administration. The 2009 Quadrennial Defense
Review does not need to be a radical departure from current
Defense Department plans. Instead, it should seek to ensure that
the military means for securing the nation and its vital interests
are sufficient to the ends of national security. If the Obama
Administration establishes a National Security Strategy in keeping
with America's tradition of leadership since the end of World War
II and uses the Quadrennial Defense Review to keep America's
military of sufficient size and strength to meet the needs of this
strategy, then it will have done its duty by the Constitution, the
American people, and the brave men and women who serve in
uniform. George Washington, the man who often struggled with a
reluctant Congress to build this nation's first army, would be
proud to see this duty fulfilled.
Baker Spring is F. M. Kirby
Research Fellow in National Security Policy and Mackenzie M. Eaglen is
Senior Policy Analyst for National Security in the Douglas and
Sarah Allison Center for Foreign Policy Studies, a division of the
Kathryn and Shelby Cullom Davis Institute for International
Studies, at The Heritage Foundation.