QDR: China Tops Iraq, Osama?

By Noah Shachtman

January 23, 2006

Republished from DefenseTech.org

For months, now, word has been leaking out about the Pentagon's every-four-years master plan, the Quadrennial Defense Review.

Finally, we’re starting to see some excerpts from the big document itself, thanks to Inside Defense. My quick, subject-to-instant-revision first impression: Rumsfeld & Co. are focusing more on China than they are on Osama.

Very roughly speaking, there are two factions jockeying for control in the Pentagon. One thinks that the U.S. military is going to spend a big chunk of the next twenty years hunting down terrorists and stabilizing screwed-up states. The other believes that China has to be smacked down, before it bulks up to superpower status.

The first group gets the rhetoric. “[P]repar[ing] for wider asymmetric challenges” is one of the “fundamental imperatives for the Department of Defense.” We’re in the middle of a “Long War,” according to the QDR. Iraq and Afghanistan are just part of it.

There’s organizational and personnel help, to go along with the lofty words. The Combatant Commanders – the guys in charge today of the boots on the ground – will get more of a say in how future weapons are bought. The QDR boosts Special Operations Forces by 15% and “increase[s] the number of Special Forces Battalions by one-third.

U.S. Special Operations Command (USSOCOM) will establish the Marine Corps Special Operations Command. The Air Force will establish stand up an Unmanned Aerial Vehicle Squadron under USSOCOM. The Navy will support a USSOCOM increase in SEAL Team manning and will develop a riverine warfare capability. The Department will also expand Psychological Operations and Civil Affairs units by 3,700 personnel, a 33% increase. Multipurpose Army and Marine Corps ground forces will increase their capabilities and capacity to conduct irregular warfare missions.

These changes are not insignificant. They’ll require billions to back them up. But the China-watchers, on the other hand, get the kind of gold-plated new hardware that costs tens, even hundreds, of billions to make. As Inside Defense notes, the QDR “leaves intact all of the military services’ most prized weapon system programs. In fact, some programs will see significant increases.

Many involved in the review believed at the outset that the QDR might call for a resource shift between the departments -- specifically from the Air Force and Navy to the Army -- that did not materialize.

The Air Force, which set as its highest goal for the QDR the protection of the F-22A fighter, managed to extend production two years beyond 2008, which means it can work [on] going beyond the planned 183-aircraft buy.

Similarly, the Navy in late November was granted permission to move ahead with its next-generation DD(X) destroyer program, which will consume a big chunk of the service’s shipbuilding account as the QDR-directed enhanced submarine procurement is set to kick in.

…As for the Army, the QDR confirms the service has protected its top priority, the Future Combat Systems program…

…The QDR also leaves intact the Marine Corps’ top priorities, including the V-22 Osprey and its Expeditionary Fighting Vehicle…

“What they’ve done, in effect, is say, ‘Yeah, Rummy, we’ll make all these promises. Of course, you’re not going to be around to hold us to them. In the meantime, we will sustain our programs and build program momentum with Congress and industry,’” said a source familiar with the QDR findings.

The China crowd also gets what looks to be some big-time new, as of yet undefined, weapons programs. That includes a new, long bomber of hypersonic drone that can conduct “global strike” missions against unruly states.

“The United States' experience in the Cold War still profoundly influences the way that the Department of Defense is organized and executes its mission,” the QDR notes. “But, the Cold War was a struggle between nation-states, requiring state-based responses to most political problems and kinetic responses to most military problems. The Department was optimized for conventional, large-scale warfighting against the regular, uniformed armed forces of hostile states… [Today] many of the United Slates' principal adversaries are informal networks that are less vulnerable to Cold War-Style approaches... Defeating unconventional enemies requires unconventional approaches.”

But it does not require, apparently, a wholesale change of direction. Terrorist-type threats will get some new attention. But the Defense Department isn’t about to optimize for that threat, the way it did for the Soviet Union. Big money will continue to be spent on fighter jets designed to duel with the Soviets and destroyers designed for large-scale ground assaults. Grunts on the ground won’t get much more than they do now. The war on terror may be “long.” But, apparently, it’s not important enough to make really big shifts.

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