A New QDR in a Different Atmosphere

By Commanders George Capen and Bryan Clark, U.S. Navy (Retired)

A new President with a mandate for change, two ongoing wars - one expanding, the other drawing down - and the reappointed Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, with an established strategy, make the conduct of this review distinct. It was conducted against a different backdrop, as well. The global financial crisis places doubt in future defense budgets' ability to pay for both of today's wars and reset the force to deter future conflicts. In addition, new strategies for defending Europe from ballistic missiles and for defeating the Taliban place new demands on the force that must be reconciled with ongoing imperatives to stabilize Iraq and prepare for future adversaries.

Secretary Gates' emphasis on winning today's fights and better supporting today's warfighter require establishing new priorities for a QDR. Past reviews focused on long-term threats and trends in warfare, leaving today's operations to combatant commanders and the services to address. The 2010 QDR must first have an impact on today's wars that have stretched ground forces to their limits and stressed all the services, and significantly influence how future adversaries perceive U.S. resolve and ability to adapt and win. To not highlight what needs to be done for today's Soldier, Sailor, Airman, and Marine would doom the 2010 QDR to irrelevance.

A Different Environment

The new review must also address the trends affecting the strategic environment DOD will likely encounter over the next decade and longer. Previous QDRs tackled challenges such as weapon proliferation or our dependence on and vulnerability in cyberspace by emphasizing future technology and transformation. This review must direct near-term action on these concerns. The United States is under attack in cyberspace today, while these potential adversaries aggressively develop nuclear weapons and purchase antiair, antiship, and communications jamming systems on the open market.

The new QDR cannot ignore the accelerating sophistication and immediacy of threats to the global commons. Piracy off the Horn of Africa, Iranian threats along the Strait of Hormuz, and disagreements over Exclusive Economic Zone rights in the South China Sea and the Arctic show that the maritime commons are not nearly as common as we would like. We have already seen many instances of the cyber commons being under threat. And space, previously a conflict-free zone, is now an emerging battlefield. Earlier QDRs considered these trends as future threats, not ongoing challenges of the day.

Previous QDRs were not conducted in the wake of eight years of war and with the hard-learned lessons in the nature of those conflicts. Although the 2006 review was completed early in the Iraq war, we were still coming to grips with the demands of counterinsurgency and stability operations and had not yet institutionalized the changes needed for these missions. At that time, early success in Afghanistan seemed to validate the transformational ideas of a small force, projected from long range, being capable of defeating 21st-century enemies in short order.

The Navy now has more than 26,000 Sailors at sea and ashore in Southwest Asia region, 13,000 of them on the ground in Iraq and Afghanistan. Ninety percent of the equipment and supplies for these wars comes in by sealift. Electronic attack comes principally from U.S. Navy airborne assets. The Navy flies one-third of all the tactical air missions in theater and conducts support missions, from explosive-ordnance disposal to detainee operations. Clearly the QDR will need to address the demands of today's conflicts and what those conflicts mean for the nature of future wars.

Resetting in Stride

While our forces currently remain engaged in Iraq and Afghanistan, DOD and the nation want them to come home before the next quadrennial cycle. With a reduced American appetite for large ground wars and the growing importance of global maritime concerns (an ever-increasing interdependence on the seas for worldwide trade, the need for more resources in developing nations, and an international capacity to provide emergency assistance), this QDR could reshape naval forces for the next generation and increase the emphasis on maritime forces in the nation's next grand strategy.

The 2010 QDR should establish priorities to guide the resetting and reconstitution of the force as our ground troops withdraw from Iraq and, later, Afghanistan. Deployed naval forces, though, will likely maintain a high operational tempo in the Middle East to provide intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance, support, and protection to our departing forces and relieving partners. To maintain this deployment tempo, naval forces will need to conduct their reset in stride - training for new missions, staying certified for existing ones, and repairing equipment between regular overseas deployments.

The Navy will have to pay for this reset using additional resources, as we do today with supplemental Overseas Contingency Operations funding, or by cutting elsewhere. Since supplemental funding will probably be reduced as our commitments in Iraq and Afghanistan wind down, tough budgetary choices must be made to support ongoing maritime operations. To sustain the Fleet through today's maintenance and tomorrow's procurement, the Navy must find greater efficiencies in the size and mix of our total contractor, civilian, and military forces, or identify innovative ways to reduce excess and underused infrastructure.

Growing Roles for Partners

For the past several years, increasing piracy, and the impact of this problem, has dominated headlines and led to major changes in the seascape of the international maritime situation. All nations depend on the free transit of the high seas to some degree for trade and resources. Many have already been affected directly by the acts of pirates, particularly around the Horn of Africa, across the Indian Ocean, and into the Strait of Malacca. As a result, a growing number of countries now deploy to and patrol those waters, with more than 20 nations contributing to counter-piracy efforts off Somalia and Yemen.

This burden-sharing is a welcome trend and an important aspect of the U.S. Cooperative Strategy for 21st Century Seapower. Past QDRs, especially the 2006 review, identified the need for the United States to work with partners to achieve security and stability in the global commons. Today's operations against piracy and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan show how partners are also becoming key contributors to our own national security.

With our naval and air forces likely to shrink in the next few decades and large, new ground deployments unlikely, it will be essential to the United States for partners to secure their own regions. The growing importance of partner navies also demonstrates the rapidity with which formerly regional forces can shift to conduct inter-regional operations. Four years ago, for example, China rarely sent military forces outside of the Pacific basin. However, in the past year the Chinese People's Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) deployed four groups of vessels on an overlapping rotation to escort merchant ships through the pirate-ridden waters off the Horn of Africa.

Japan, India, Korea, and Australia have all taken major roles in patrolling and improving security in their neighboring waters. Countries such as Singapore, Malaysia, and Indonesia have become key members in regional counterterrorism and anti-piracy coalitions. The list of involved navies will undoubtedly continue to grow. This requires even better coordination to share responsibility for our common interests. The QDR and subsequent strategic guidance should further facilitate the Navy's efforts to maintain maritime access and catalyze allied and regional partners to form coalitions against regional threats.

The War Online

The network-empowered force that won Desert Storm and rapidly eliminated Saddam Hussein's army in 2003 now requires the network to operate. Military forces today depend more on a C4ISR (command, control, communication, computers, intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance) backbone than during the span of previous QDRs. They operate far from landlines at forward operating bases, cooperative security locations, and on sea-based partnership stations or afloat staging bases. Meanwhile, adversary cyber operators have become more bold and capable in their attacks, and disruptive technology is becoming more widely available.

The QDR must address this both as a current challenge and an increasing future threat. Recognizing this, the Navy recently reorganized its headquarters (combining N2 [Naval Intelligence] and N6 [Communications Networks]) and created the 10th Fleet. These initiatives and the establishment of USCYBERCOM (U.S. Cyber Command) must be harnessed to establish a comprehensive approach to cyber offense, defense, and exploitation in our operations, plans, and investments.

Many places where U.S. forces will be expected to operate or fight are outside the range or coverage of the satellite- or ground-based communications they need. Airborne backup systems are already being employed to keep our highly distributed forces connected in mountainous regions of the Middle East or remote areas in Africa or Southeast Asia. These systems were only highlighted as future endeavors in previous QDRs. Today, they are essential.

Tough Choices to Rebalance

More than in previous QDRs, DOD faces very tough choices. The nation's military must support today's wars, deter tomorrow's conflicts, and address current challenges to our forces' ability to operate while continuing to sustain technological advantages against future threats. The differences in the background, environment, and concerns for this review highlight some ways naval forces can mitigate emerging risks for the nation:

  • Maintain inherent naval strengths. The Navy's ability to arrive on scene quickly, remain indefinitely, and win decisively results from our forward presence, agility, and flexibility. These fundamental advantages stem from multi-mission platforms that conduct air, surface, subsurface, and electronic warfare, etc., without having to return to base. They depend on the Navy being able to continue resetting in stride.
  • Build on asymmetric advantages. The Navy maintains significant advantages today in strike, undersea operations, electronic warfare, and the ability to conduct sustained operations in multiple areas. These advantages are beginning to erode, though, as competitors expand their submarine fleets and modernize their ability to confuse and defeat our sensors. Whether the information flows through the air or through a cable, our advantages today require sustained effort, to counter the proliferation of new spying, cyber attack, and jamming technologies.
  • Assure access and counter area denial. China and Iran are developing anti-access capabilities (and policies) intended to keep U.S. forces outside their desired spheres of influence. Unless we can demonstrate the ability to counter these threats, other nations will likely pursue this strategy. Countering specific area-denial capabilities may require concepts that prioritize temporary superiority over persistent dominance and accepting some risk in areas of lesser importance.
  • Maintain access to forward bases and logistics hubs. There are growing threats to the number of locations where naval forces can pull into port, load stores, and conduct logistics operations. Bases are becoming increasingly threatened by ballistic and cruise missiles. In other cases, the host government has denied access to previously reliable bases and infrastructure. Overall, these hubs - runways, ports, stockpiles, and repair facilities - are too vulnerable. New partnerships, new logistics concepts, capabilities for more dispersed operations, and less reliance on petroleum could help alleviate this.
  • Address energy and resource competition. As evidenced by the huge fluctuations in the cost of crude oil over the past several years, the availability and reliability of access to resources depends on the stability of international systems of finance and security. As more nations become developed and more dependent on oil, crises and conflict will more frequently erupt over resources, including those on the seabed. The Navy (along with allies and partners) must prepare to counter this trend. We must also address our own dependence on energy, which places enormous logistic and force-protection burdens on our deployed forces.
  • Build reliable partnerships. More countries are developing advanced navies, while some of our friends are reducing their maritime forces. New potential partners are traveling farther from home waters and operating with other navies. This will provide more opportunities to share responsibility in specific regions and allow U.S. forces to be the catalyst for security, as opposed to the principal provider of it.

Opportunities in Crisis

Crisis provides opportunities for change that would otherwise not exist. While today's force is not in crisis, it does face a much more challenging situation than what's been addressed in previous QDRs and a much more dynamic future environment. The imperatives discussed here highlight just a few needs that must be funded from what will likely be a flat or shrinking future budget. DOD budgets have grown significantly for more than a decade. History shows, however, that since World War II, defense budgets only grow for 10 - 13 years at a stretch. whether the nation is at war or peace. We should expect a dip in defense spending.

Manpower costs have grown significantly. In addition to resetting the force, continuing current operations, and funding new initiatives, we must pay for the quality people who are our greatest asymmetric advantage. To control overall costs, though, we will have to look closely at the size and mix of the Total Force - military, civilians, and contractors. For example, while the size of our Fleet and military end strength decreased by about 15 percent during the past decade, the number of Navy civilians remained static, and the number of contractors grew substantially. We need to determine what future trends in manpower categories will allow us to financially sustain the force.

Similarly, our infrastructure may not be properly sized for our current and future force. Previous QDRs and cycles of base realignment and closure have tackled underused facilities, but this time we have a fiscal imperative, two wars that must be financed, and inevitable further reductions in the size of our force.

We should look forward to the challenges and opportunities afforded by this QDR. More than at any other time in recent defense planning, we have an imperative for change, a need to address current concerns, and support for essential restructuring. Now comes the hard part - deciding.

Commander Capen, a contractor, works on various strategic initiatives and has been a frequent contributor to Proceedings. Commander Clark, a Navy civilian, is Strategy Branch head for the director of Naval Warfare Integration (N00X).



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