Tuesday, February 2, 2010

The long anticipated QDR has finally arrived and all of us security geeks voraciously downloaded it yesterday and stayed up to the wee hours of the morning pouring over its every word desperately searching for something resembling a coherent defense strategy. Unfortunately, there is not all that much new to report. The QDR reminds us that we are still actively fighting two wars and that essentially we can't really figure out a way forward until we somehow extricate ourselves from those debacles. To that I say "Don't we need to be thinking at least ten years ahead if we aren't going to be caught off guard." The following is a critique of the 2010 QDR, which despite my overall disappointment, does have a few new ideas scattered amongst it.

First of all, I must point out that the major news media (cough CNN) got it wrong when they said that this QDR marked a strong change in DoD policy because it stated a departure from the previous strategy of planning to be able to fight and win two wars at the same time. In fact this QDR comes out and clearly says that the US wishes to maintain "the ability to prevail against two capable nation-state aggressors." The QDR does say that instead of fighting two wars simultaneously that we expect instead to be engaged in multiple small conflicts around the world for the foreseeable future. It is my understanding, and please someone challenge me if I am wrong here, that the DoD is now defining Iraq and Afghanistan as small wars. I would agree with them in the sense that casualty rates are drastically lower than previous conventional wars like Korea and World War II but even though these wars are costing us less in blood they do come with huge price tags. I thus believe that our operations in Somalia and Yemen would be more aptly refferred to as small wars than Iraq and Afghanistan.

The issue that I believe is the most innovative in this year's QDR is the sections dealing with Northcomm's future role in homeland defense. Previously, the US military has been reticent to officially state the fact that there are plans in place for the US military to step in and perform civilian functions such as disaster response and policing in the event of a national disaster either act of god or man made. And for good reason. The US military is already committed enough oversees to be now taking on domestic functions, there is also a fine line between responding to real needs on the ground and violating the posse committatus act. The 2010 QDR calls for Northcom to downgrade the size of CBRNE Consequence Management Response Forces (CCMRFs) and then merge these teams with national guard forces to form Homeland Response Forces in each of the ten FEMA regions. This move should help bridge the typical 3-5 gap between when a disaster occurs and federal authorities arrive on the scene. This large change in military thinking can be attributed to former CSIS scholar and now Principle Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Homeland Defense Christine Wormuth who argued for just this change in a report two years ago entitled "Managing the Next Domestic Catastrophe." See people, think tanks can make a difference....

My major complaint with the QDR is that it says that we will continue to upgrade our COIN capabilities but it fails to say whether or not we are going to make COIN the military's top priority or if we will continue to plan for fighting major wars (presumably against China and Russia). From reading Secretary Gates' recent articles in Foreign Affairs it is my belief that he and the civilian defense leadership believe that all future wars will be Hybrid Wars. This term refers to small groups of trained unconventional fighters using sophisticated weaponry to enact large scale destruction against conventional forces. While this way of fighting obviously applies to Hezbollah's 2006 war with Israel it would also likely be the preferred strategy of a state like Iran should it ever find itself at war with the US. In addition to using their advanced missile technology to harm our conventional forces, Iran is also likely to utilize suicide vessels and anti ship missiles to stop the US Navy's ability to launch attacks from the Persian Gulf. Hybrid war is the future but I barely see it talked about in the QDR. I am no insider but I would have to guess that the military services objected to an overemphasis on hybrid war because it is just the type of conflict that a large conventional force is unprepared to fight.

Secretary Gates has already announced the cancellation or delay of the following programs:
  • CG(X) Cruiser
  • C-17 Airlift Aircraft
  • DDG 1000 Destroyer
  • The Army's Future Combat Systems Program
  • Delayed the new aircraft carrier
  • Ended production of the F-22 Fighter
However, what the QDR doesn't mention (and really how could it) is that it is really not up to Secretary Gates which programs get cut from the budget. Congress will decide what equipment the DoD orders and the fact remains that the F-22 fighter, the new aircraft carrier and the C-17 are all incredibly popular programs on Capital Hill because they employ people in virtually every state. Gates may be trying to move the DoD forward, but he will only get as far as Congress will let him.

The last thing about the QDR I will mention is its vague references to China. The author's of this QDR made the very smart move of only making vague references to China and our efforts to counter China's strategy of area denial. It is evident to everyone in the Defense and security communities that China's preoccupation with area denial technologies is directed at diminishing the US military's ability to project power in East ASia, thus opening the door for China to become the regional hegemon. Foreign Affairs recently detailed the People's Liberation Army's (PLA) accumulation of area denial technology:

"The PLA is constructing over-the-horizon radars, fielding unmanned aerial vehicles, and deploying reconnaissance satellites to detect U.S. surface warships at progressively greater distances. It is acquiring a large number of submarines armed with advanced torpedoes and high-speed, sea-skimming ASCMs to stalk U.S. carriers and their escorts. (In 2006, a Chinese submarine surfaced in the midst of a U.S. carrier strike group, much to the U.S. Navy's embarrassment.) And it is procuring aircraft equipped with high-speed ASCMs and fielding antiship ballistic missiles that can strike U.S. carriers at extended ranges. Advanced antiship mines may constrain U.S. naval operations even further in coastal areas."

The 2010 QDR refers to "countries" that are acquiring this technology and discusses efforts to counter it, but shies away from directly chastising China. This is a very smart move. If the Chinese read the QDR (which of course they are) and see that the US military is openly stating its intentions to hedge against the threat of a stronger Chinese military in East Asia this is only going to lead to increased Chinese efforts to deny the US military access to basing and waterways in East Asia.

To conclude, I am disappointed that the 2010 QDR did not say more in regards to our nation's long term defense strategy, but this is not to say that it was not written well. I was particularly sorry not to see a discussion of institutionalizing our COIN capability into perhaps a COIN office. Growing the Special Forces in the short term is not the same as being equipped to occupy an as yet unknown country ten years from now. No one of course wants to do this, but as history has shown us, it may be in the DoD's best interest to start better preparing for things that it doesn't want to do...

And thats my fifty cents (inflation...)

Disclaimer: I know I can't spell, but to bastardize a page from Samuel Clemens, I would have spelled things properly if only I'd had the time


Anonymous said...

I definitely would agree with you over the having a need to create some kind of COIN interagency office that incorporated elements from the Departments of Agriculture, State, USAID, etc. I would say that the QDR is as good a place as any to bring it up.

As for the failure to emphasize hybrid warfare, I think that may be a bit strategic info sharing. We don't really need to plan for hybrid warfare if we just build up our conventional and unconventional capabilities separately but we do need a way to manage them if they were to be used simultaneously.

Lastly, I think that it's good of Sec Gates to mention all the programs we don't need (and fire those who continue to disregard his comments). The only thing stopping these wasteful programs is congress. But to the effect that Sec Gates has the JCS Chairman, general public, and president on his side the better.

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