Our boy Greg Grant has an awesome scoop on DoD Buzz revealing key concepts in the upcoming Quadrennial Defense Review.
Clearly Gates has pushed the services to embrace an affliction of "this-war-itis" in forging a plan to build a military that can respond more effectively to unconventional threats.
I'm a bit leery of abandoning the "big war" capability the U.S. has become so dominant in, but I then think about the Israel/Hezbollah conflict in Lebanon and reason that even a near-peer competitor would try to employ similar tactics. Then I bounce back to the Georgia/Russia spat last year and think "well, maybe a near-peer would try to bludgeon its way through"... and back and forth.
Be that as it may, when you strip all the scenarios away, I think it makes sense to posture the U.S. military to fight these unconventional wars because it relies on innovation, quick thinking, a broad skill set and the abondonment of rigid planning. Set-piece, conventional wars can be won with adaptability and outside the box strategy and tactics -- the same prerequisits for winning a "hybrid" war.
The strategic review will run through the summer with the intent to have it wrapped in time to inform FY 2011 defense budget decisions. There is some concern in the Pentagon that the short time line might prove inadequate for a comprehensive strategic review and could produce a rushed product, according to sources I spoke with. The worry is that the outcome will reflect the thinking and biases of the newly installed Obama team in OSD without adequately accounting for the views of the services. The QDR will be run out of the office of Under Secretary of Defense for Policy, Michele Flournoy. Flournoy played a similar though less prominent role in the Clinton administration so she is familiar with games the services play during a QDR.
This QDR will use the 2008 National Defense Strategy as a point of departure. A big theme in the strategy document, and a point Gates emphasizes repeatedly, is the need to achieve balance across the military. Gates has clearly decided what the future of conflict will look like and he believes the services are weighted far too heavily towards large scale conventional war and wants to shift their focus towards the lower end of the conflict spectrum. Last years National Defense Strategy concluded that although U.S. predominance in conventional warfare is not unchallenged, it is sustainable for the medium term, given current trends, Gates said.
He also wants the QDR to capture battlefield lessons from Iraq and Afghanistan and believes those should influence force structure and spending decisions. His call for more aerial drones and his push for big investments in Mine Resistant Ambush Protected Vehicles are examples where battlefield lessons have influenced spending choices; we should expect more of these. Gates says fewer costly, leading-edge weapons are needed to insure against the rise of a great power; greater investment is needed to add troops and buy greater quantities of less technologically advanced weapons for hunting terrorists and waging counterinsurgency campaigns.
I'd encourage you to read the rest of his comprehensive report on DoD Buzz and give your own views on where Gates should take the services. One thing I will say is that the QDR tends to have an impact in the short term, but almost always reflects the trends of the day. If all of the sudden World War III breaks out, the 2014 QDR will look more like one that might have been written in 1980.