Strategy Quo Vadis: The Cycle of Adaptation Through
Rationalization & the Case for a New SSC

November 17, 2000

Comment: #395


[1] Elaine Grossman, "Civilians, Military Strike MRS-05 Compromise, With A New Strategy, Mobility Study Likely A Point Of Departure," Inside The Pentagon, November 16, 2000. Attached.

[2] Derald Everhart, "Democrats See Bigger Military Budgets, But Want Strategy Change,", November 16, 2000. Excerpts attached.

Elaine Grossman's report describing the effects of the shortfall in strategic airlift (see Reference 1 below) is yet another indication that the courtiers in Versailles are about to reduce the requirements of the Defense Strategy once again in order to protect the porkbarrel of super high-cost legacy systems left over from the Cold War, like the F-22, the V-22 tiltrotor, the new attack submarine, and Crusader self-propelled gun.

New information from the field suggests the upcoming change may also open an exciting opportunity for an innovative redefinition and expansion of the Small Scale Contingencies that will face strategic planners in the future. To understand the ecstasy fueling the question of Quo Vadis Strategy, we must first place that question in a historical context, however. Fundamental forces are in motion and must be appreciated.


The key to maintaining a successful (Quo Vadis) strategy is to pre-emptively down-select to less demanding planning scenarios before the pressures to reform the status quo become overwhelming. Preemptive reductions paper over the problems caused by the rising cost of low readiness and weapons aging in the short term. They permit yet another shrinkage of the forces deemed necessary to execute the "strategy." Most importantly, a smaller force will make it seem possible to transfer money from operations and maintenance into procurement while ducking the criticism that you are robbing readiness to pay for the modernization porkbarrel.

Viewed over the long term, there is a rich legacy illustrating how this kind of dynamic strategic planning makes the Defense Department's plans/reality mismatch even worse than it is today. That is because the common denominator in another round of reduced strategic requirements is that the strategic change will have absolutely no effect on the contents of the Pentagon's hi-tech, hi-cost wish list of new weapons, except to rationalize a reduction in production (which is then blamed for the cost growth). This wish list will require steadily increasing defense budgets over the long term. In fact, a new reduced strategy, without more fundamental reforms, will merely reinforce the commitment to the unaffordable wish list of new high-cost weapons that is created the need to reduce the strategy in the first place. Thus the cycle of change is preserved over the long term.

What is different about the current crisis, however, is that we are rapidly approaching 2010, when the rising defense budgets will crash into the rising financing requirements of Social Security and Medicare.

To grasp the enduring momentum behind Versailles' cycle of "adaptation by rationalization," consider please the following: In the early 1960s, we began the integrated top-down, "threat-based" strategic planning, programming, and budgeting decision making process (i.e., the PPBS), by claiming we were preparing to fight two and one-half conventional wars - a major war against the Warsaw Pact in Europe, a major war against China and a half war somewhere else (Korea, probably). Today, that half war would be called a Major Theater War or MTW.

By 1969, however, our experience in Vietnam revealed the 2 1/2 War scenario to be a preposterous fantasy. So, we down selected the planning scenario to One and One-Half wars in 1969, a rationalization greased by Nixon's trip to China (a clearly shortsighted decision in retrospect, given our current desperation to define an emerging superpower threat).

The Reagan spendup retained the less demanding 1 and 1/2 war scenario through the 1980s, claiming a requirement for 10 days to mobilize and 15 days to deploy our reinforcing forces to Europe. This 25 day window was a great budget inflator, but it was also preposterous, as proven by the fact that it took us five months to get ready to fight a half war against Iraq in 1991, well before the problems of the mid 1990s materialized. Students of history will recall that in 1950, the United States, with a far less ready force facing a much tougher adversary in more difficult circumstances, was able to mount the stunningly successful Inchon Invasion on September 15, 1950, only three months after North Korea invaded South Korea on June 25, 1950, carving up Task Force Smith while pushing the Eight Army into the thinly-held Pusan Perimeter at South Korea's southern tip.

With the end of the Cold War in the early 1990s, the mirage of the 1 and 1/2 War planning scenario suddenly evaporated, so we produced a new reduced scenario of being prepared to fight two Half Wars simultaneously (now dignified by the label of Major Theater Wars, or MTWs) plus a variety of Small Scale Contingencies (SSCs). The "simultaneous" restriction was relaxed subsequently to "nearly simultaneously" as the 1990s wore on, a minor mutation reflecting again the larger process of protecting the status quo via "adaptation by rationalization."

As I write this comment, References 1 and 2 below show that pressure is clearly mounting to reduce the scenario to one "Half War" scenario plus some variety of Small Scale Contingencies SSCs.

Contrary to conventional wisdom, a new reduction in the threat scenario will be greeted with cheers in Versailles.

Liberals and Defense Intellectuals will declare victory for reigning in the Pentagon's voracious "warfighting" appetite. But as Senator Carl Levin (D-Mish) and Rep. Ellen Tauscher (D-Calif.) said at a recent National Security Conference held a Tufts University, the new strategy will require increased budgets (see Reference 2 below). So conservatives will be pacified by the uninterrupted and increasing flow of funds to their friends in the Military - Industrial - Congressional Complex (MICC), which is, after all, the real name of the game.

The undifferentiated mass of Soldiers and taxpayers, of course, will pay the bill, but, then, Versailles has a long tradition of letting them eat cake while it feasts.


But there is another problem with the looming change: with the reduction in strategy to a single One-Half War, the role of Small Scale Contingencies suddenly takes on added importance and becomes a crucial engine in the budget escalator rather than an afterthought. The question is how to power the escalator.

This brings us to the issue of where strategy is going - Quo Vadis?. Bluntly stated, peacekeeping and nation building may not be enough to keep the funds flowing.

Not being invited to the Tufts conference, nor being privy to its wisdom, I took it upon myself to ask a retired Marine for an analysis of alternative SSCs that might fill the gap. This man is apolitical and one of the finest officers I have ever had the privilege of knowing. But, being a former war fighter, he did not know how to answer such a question, so he retransmitted an email he received from and active duty Marine officer in the hope that it might help

Surprisingly, he may have scored a direct hit!

In evaluating the return on investment stemming from the possibility suggested in the information below, please bear in mind that I can not vouch for the force structure numbers outlined in the following email. But if his calculations are within 50% of being true, they provide the seed corn for a for a new and truly exciting SSC mission.

By the way, do not let the negative tone of the message distract you from appreciating the fascinating possibilities implicit in the analysis that follows.

Email from Retired Marine

From: Retired Officer XXX
Sent: Thursday, November 16, 2000 12:01 PM
Subject: FW: Amazing Facts

I wanted to share this with you. It came from an active duty Marine-one of the best I ever met. I wonder why so many are disillusioned?

"I'm sending this from my home email account because I want to discuss a matter that may conflict with my apolitical role as a military officer.

We are in the midst of exercising one of our regularly scheduled incremental training exercises with the ROK Marines in Pohang. Unfortunately, the non-availability of lift in the theater has severely retarded the deployment of a single reinforced infantry battalion. We're piece-mealing their movement through the heroic efforts of Marine embarkers and our AMC LNO's <Editor's note: liaison officers>.

It seems most of the available strategic lift is tied-up with a President of the U.S. (POTUS) event [i.e., trip to Vietnam]. The figures below are shocking in their sheer numbers and cost alone.

However, when juxtaposed against the impact on operational readiness for our Division (we're not the only force affected), I think you'll understand my deep-seeded concerns. I only wish the American public could have visibility on these matters.

The upcoming POTUS trip to Vietnam requires:

  • 26 C-5's 33

  • C-17's

  • 4 C-141's

  • 10 KC-10's

  • 1 C-130

The one-week trip will cost: $63,442,954.00 (For the above airlift)

III MEF's total airlift budget for FY01: $6.9 Million = moving 27,000 Marines and 3,000 Short Tons

I know this disturbs a few of us, but to the citizens we serve, its probably not a big deal. Thought you would appreciate the above.

Semper Fi"

End of E-mail

Of course it is not a big deal! It is clear that this field officer does not see the larger strategic picture implied by these numbers. But his blindness should not be allowed to blind us to the longer-term national interests served by the size of the forces required to support this kind of mission.

The magnitude of these forces raises the possibility of an explicitly designed POTUS SSC, which, if coupled with the obviously larger number complementary smaller scale Congressional SSCs, will more than make up for the budgetary loss of a One-Half War.

Rest assured, dear reader, when armed with powerful facts like these, the courtiers in the Pentagon and on Capital Hill and in the think tanks (waiting for jobs in the new administration) will be saved, and the life style of the MICC will continue to prosper and flourish in the hard times of the post-Cold War era.

Chuck Spinney

[Disclaimer: In accordance with 17 U.S.C. 107, this material is distributed without profit or payment to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving this information for non-profit research and educational purposes only.]

Reference #1

[Reprinted by Permission of Inside Washington Publishers: This article may not be reproduced or redistributed, in part or in whole, without express permission of the publisher. Copyright 2000, Inside Washington Publishers.]

Inside The Pentagon
November 16, 2000

With A New Strategy, Mobility Study Likely A Point Of Departure

As senior Pentagon civilian and military officials work to resolve their differences on details of a long-awaited study on mobility requirements, one near-certainty is emerging: a new administration will likely make changes to the national military strategy that render airlift considerations in the Pentagon's "Mobility Requirements Study 2005" incorrect.

Requirements for airlift are "definitely going to change" after the Clinton administration leaves office, said one industry analyst. "It's a question of how much."

Following four meetings of the Joint Chiefs of Staff in their top-secret "tank" since last May and intense discussions on the issue between the military and the Office of the Secretary of Defense, the so-called MRS-05 is almost ready for delivery to Capitol Hill after two years in the making, a senior military officer told Inside the Pentagon this week.

The Pentagon's civilian and military leaders have struck a compromise in wording that allows the MRS-05 report to voice two viewpoints: first, the military's conclusion that airlift programmed for 2005 "is insufficient to meet national military objectives" for fighting two overlapping major theater wars in different regions, according to an MRS-05 draft executive summary; and second, the determination by key Pentagon civilians that more optimistic -- some say "realistic" -- assumptions would greatly mitigate airlift shortfalls identified by the Joint Staff-led study.

According to the draft executive summary, obtained by sister publication Inside the Air Force, the Joint Chiefs of Staff have endorsed a conclusion in MRS-05 that 54.5 million ton miles a day in airlift capability will be needed in 2005 to meet military requirements under the current national military strategy. That strategy, which calls for a capability to fight and win the two major wars "nearly simultaneously," would leave the Pentagon with a 10 million ton-mile-per-day shortfall, about half of which the Air Mobility Command expects to make up by 2012, ITAF reported Oct. 27.

The military had hoped MRS-05 would recommend erasing the remaining shortfall by procuring additional C-17 airlifters and making modifications to C-5 planes, as well as implementing some new operational measures.

But OSD's civilian leadership -- concerned about the price tag associated with a hefty new requirement -- will also include wording in the MRS-05 report reflecting the view that less investment would be needed if, for example, the Pentagon relies to a greater degree on the Civil Reserve Air Fleet, according to senior military sources.

"The incredible complexity of the issue makes finite answers impossible," said one such officer.

Meanwhile, the introduction of a new military strategy in the course of the 2001 Quadrennial Defense Review (QDR) could throw a serious hook into the report's assumptions. Without knowing exactly how the new administration might change the strategy, it is impossible to say if the airlift shortfall in 2005 would be mitigated or, conversely, further aggravated.

Expectations are, though, that the new administration will update and modify the two-war scenario, likely resulting in at least slightly different standards for force structure and warning times for major threats. Potentially, these standards could see substantial changes, senior officials say.

Many strategic thinkers in and outside the Pentagon believe the Defense Department will continue to prepare for two wars in distant theaters as part of a wide continuum of potential threats, but assumptions about the size, nature and timing of these wars may change.

Some officials believe the Pentagon should revisit how it fights large-scale wars, even if a two-major-war scenario is preserved as a force sizing and planning yardstick.

In MRS-05, which assumes a traditional approach to fighting land wars in Korea and the Persian Gulf, "we're letting an anachronistic paradigm drive us" to foreclose strategic options and funnel dollars into airlift accounts, rather than allow the military to "transform into the force of the future," said one senior defense official in a Nov. 9 interview. "We're still adhering to tenets of the past."

But others were confident that, with a new administration coming in, MRS-05 will be seen as a starting point rather than a final decision. "It's a data point," said the industry analyst. "It's a snapshot of where they are today, given current assumptions." As such, the Pentagon's new leadership in January must revisit the study's conclusions, this source said.

One senior military officer, interviewed Nov. 14, agreed, noting the military has invested "extraordinary effort" in giving MRS-05 "higher fidelity" than previous such efforts.

MRS-05 "ought not be" a wasted effort, this officer said. Rather, the study "is either [a means] to ensure that the existing strategy is feasible, or an important point of departure for a new strategy," according to the senior officer.

One senior defense adviser to the recent Gore presidential campaign echoed these thoughts, saying MRS-05 "is likely to provide valuable input." But, this source said, "it and any other studies concluded in this time frame are likely to be examined in the context of the QDR, which could change the strategic assumptions on which it is based."

Regardless of strategy details, the next administration will probably be faced with an airlift shortfall of some magnitude, sources anticipate. "The question is how much of a shortfall can we tolerate," said the industry expert. But "instinct" suggests that for any strategy, risk would be mitigated by the application of additional airlift, the source said.

-- Elaine M. Grossman

Reference #2

"Democrats See Bigger Military Budgets, But Want Strategy Change"
November 16, 2000
By Derald Everhart,
Special to



"I believe we should structure our forces to deal with one major-theater war and one or two smaller-scale contingencies," <Sen. Carl>Levin  <D-Mich.> said.

While the senator said he did not believe the restructuring would save money, and might in fact cost more, there would be gains.


Larger military budgets are also in the future, Levin said.


While the military is equipping itself with the best and most sophisticated weaponry, <Rep. Ellen> Tauscher <D. Calif.>said, potential adversaries "will be using a rundown warehouse to put together a Molotov cocktail or bomb with instructions from the Internet.

"I'm not saying we should abandon all our traditional warfighting mechanisms to concentrate solely on combating terrorism or tribal warfare," she said. "What I'm saying is that we have to do it all."


"There will be increases [in spending]," Tauscher said. "But it has to be targeted and within the context of a balanced budget."

Defense Economics and Acquisition Reform

The New QDR